Fry's Epic Journey, Last Entry, Long Beach and Home

When we started our Epic Journey last September we knew this last week had to come someday but it did not really seem like a reality until it was upon us.
We were in Seaside Oregon on Sunday, March 24.  We found a church in town called North Coast Family Fellowship and attended their worship service.  It was a sunny day so we went to see the sights in Cannon Beach, OR, a favorite spot for many in the Pacific Northwest.  Cannon Beach was a big favorite on this particular Sunday as there were lots of people wandering the streets and even more on the beaches.  We drove through the town of Cannon Beach, looked at the beach form the car but could not find parking so we drove on south to Tovana, the beach where Haystack Rock is so very prevalent.  We found a Mo’s Restaurant and, since Mo’s is our most favorite seafood restaurant, we had a delicious meal there.  We were able to sit at a window table that looked right out on the beach and Haystack Rock.  After lunch we visited the walkway that was right on the beach and viewed the magnificent scenery in the sunshine.  It was a wonderful day at the ocean with lots of people there. 
We drove back to our condo ready for a nice afternoon of rest and NCAA basketball tournament games.  When we tried to unlock the door, however, we found our key card did not work.  I went to the front desk to see what the problem was and was told we were to have checked out of the resort that day.  Since we were used to doing our traveling on Monday, I did not see how this could be right, but upon checking our records found that we had only reserved this condo for 6 days and we were to be in Long Beach that day.  Luckily, the Long Beach condo was only 40 miles away so we quickly packed everything into the car and headed north.  We drove through the city of Astoria and across the long bridge that crosses the Columbia River and under the sign that said “Entering Washington”.   We had a feeling of accomplishment to have driven through 34 states and the District of Columbia and returned to our own state of Washington.
The condo at Long Beach was also very nice.  It is built right on the sand dunes with a boardwalk in front of it that goes along the beach.  Our room was on the ground floor and did not look to the west so we had to go outside to see the boardwalk and the ocean.  We did this several times during the sunny days we were there, often just sitting on the boardwalk and basking in the sunshine while looking at the Pacific Ocean pound on the sand.  We also did some sightseeing along the Long Beach peninsula including a trip to Oysterville, the oldest settlement on the peninsula.   Oysterville was established in 1854.  It was a hub of oyster farming as the name suggests. It was the seat of Pacific County until the seat was relocated to South Bend in 1893. There has been some effort to preserve the school, church and some of the homes, and they are interesting to see.  We found it interesting that the history of this area is not nearly as old as much of the history we have encountered on this trip.  Some of the buildings we were in on the east coast had been in existence over 200 years when this town was built. 
The area of Long Beach is a favorite vacation spot in the northwest.  Since we were there during a spring vacation week there were lots of people around and everything was open and operating.  While we did not indulge in them, both the horse rides and the go carts were hopping businesses during the week.   On Easter Sunday, March 31, we went to Peninsula Baptist church for their Easter worship service.  We arrived about 20 minutes early and were invited to share their Easter Brunch.  It was fun meeting the people of this church over a meal before the service and a surprise to us since we did not know it was happening.  Linda sat down at the table for the brunch and while chatting with the gentleman next to her found they had been high school classmates!  After the service we went to a delicious lunch at Jimella’s Restaurant.  The owner of this restaurant is a delightful lady who used to own “The Ark”, a well-known restaurant on the peninsula until it closed 8 years ago.  The food in this restaurant was terrific and we would highly recommend it to anyone travelling to the Long Beach area.
Monday morning, April 1, we loaded the car for the last time and headed the last 200 miles to our home.  It is a nice drive up the coast along highway 101 through South Bend and Raymond to Montesano and on to Olympia.   Coming through Tukwila we saw the skyline of Seattle and the beauty of our city.  It was good to see our home area again.
This adventure has been one of the most incredible experiences of our lives.  During our planning of this trip we had set many goals and accomplished nearly every one of them.  We learned a vast amount about our country, the people and the varying cultures as we travelled.  We saw historical sites that made the founding of our country and the struggle to make our nation great really come to life.  We saw some not to be missed scenery, and had new realizations of what areas of our country really look like.  We got to experience up close and personal the hospitality of the south, the pride of Texas, the ‘attitude’ of New York and many other cultural differences.  Without the guidance and protection we have felt form God, as well as the ability to use the Worldmark system for our lodging this trip would have not been nearly so successful.  We never had a problem with the weather, the car, our health or our accommodations that could not be solved.  Having the challenges of needing special needs rooms was even met with very few difficulties.   It was a terrific experience.
The most wonderful time of the trip, and the part we will return to, was with our family in Virginia Beach.  We had a wonderful two months and three holidays with Nancy, our daughter, Mike, her husband and Nick and Jeff our two grandsons.  This little family welcomed us like none other and showed us off to their friends, family and church.  We were made to feel like rock stars whenever we were with them.  We are actively working on plans to be together with them as much as we can with the 3000 mile separation that exists. 
In our experience there have been many who have said how envious they are of what we were doing.  I would answer that with the challenge to set your priorities to seeing the country as soon as you can.  I wish we had done this several years ago by taking a sabbatical or leave of absence from work and doing a trip like this.  While it takes a lot of time and some expense, it is very worthwhile.  There is a lot of difference between flying to various spots in our country and seeing the country from the road level.  We feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity.  
We now have the challenge of learning how to be retired at home.  We have had time to explore some of the options we have but have not settled on anything other than doing additional travelling in the future.  For now, in the words of the great nursery rhyme:  “Home again, home again, jiggity jig.
Jim and Linda. 

Fry's Epic Journey, Entry 22, Clear Lake and Oregon Coast

Worldmark at Clear Lake is a beautiful condo on the north shore of the lake near the west end.  Since this is a very large lake, the largest in California, this puts the condo about 20 miles west of the highway that comes from the Napa Valley.  This lake is located at about 1400 foot altitude in a small mountain range.  It is reported as featuring the best bass fishing in the United States.  We saw lots of evidence of this in all of the bass boats we saw on the water and on trailers in the area.  I did not get to experience the bass fishing first hand, though as it was just too expensive to rent a guide and a boat. 
The condo was in the town of Nice, CA.  This is a very small resort town with many nice houses right on the lakeshore and several for rent properties such as RV parks and condos.  The town has a few restaurants that are open during the summer season and two gas stations.  It is not an exciting town in March.
We had a very pleasant week at Clear Lake.  It really felt like a vacation as there were very few activities to entice us to do anything but enjoy the sunshine and the condo.  Our condo looked right out across a lawn to the lake.  We enjoyed the sunsets over the lake every night, however the sunrises were too early for our behavior pattern.  There were several Mallard Duck pairs that lived near the condo as well as a large flock of American Coots.  Linda soon found out the birds all liked bread and would cluster around the condo whenever food was presented.  We even bought a loaf of bread just for them.  By the end of the week we had a flock of Mallards and Coots around our door all of the time.  They learned rapidly what a soft touch we were.
On Monday, March 11, we left Clear Lake on the longest of all of our travel days at 7:15 AM. It was a sunny, clear morning as we headed for Depoe Bay, Oregon, as distance of 505 miles requiring 10.5 hours of time on the road.  We had to make a big decision about what path to take; head east 20 miles to I-5, north to Corvallis, OR and then west to the Oregon Coast or head 20 miles west to Highway 101 and follow that all of the way to Depoe Bay.  After researching both routes we found they were within 5 minutes of taking the same amount of time, although the I-5 route was shorter by 50 miles.  We decided we had not seen the 101 route and it would be far more interesting so we headed west. 
The 101 route took us gradually up into the coastal mountains.  It took about an hour to get to Willits, CA, the “Gateway to the Redwoods”.  We were now surrounded by very large evergreen trees – the first evergreens we had seen since Colorado.  They were a beautiful reminder of our Pacific Northwest home.  The regular fir trees soon became massive, ancient Redwoods that were right along the highway.  We were in a dense forest of these giants for the next hour.  It had a very remote feeling and was like driving through a park for 60 miles.  Even the sunshine had a hard time finding its way through the canopy of thick tree branches above, as the automatic headlights kept coming on and going off as the light filtered through.
The exit from the Redwoods was just before the city of Eureka, CA, which is near the Pacific Ocean.  From Eureka we headed due north the rest of the way up the coast and entered Oregon very close to the city of Brookings, Oregon.  We were very pleased to be in Oregon as the gasoline prices fell by $.75 per gallon just by crossing the border.  Brookings is a delightful little town that is in a sun belt.  The average temperature in Brookings is 72o year around and flowers bloom all year long.  They were in bloom as we came through, and it was delightful. 
Just north of Florence, OR, the highway takes a route that is right along the beach.  The Oregon coast from there to Seaside is very rocky and rugged.  It makes for the most beautiful scenery we encountered anywhere on our entire trip.  The ocean smacking up against the rocks and sending plumes of spray 20 feet in the air can be witnessed around nearly every corner.  While this is not the smoothest, straightest or least congested highway, it is certainly one of the most scenic. 
We arrived in Depoe Bay around 6:00 PM and checked into our condo.  In this facility of 88 condos, every one of them has an oceanfront view.  It is three stories tall and looks out onto a rocky outcropping that yields fantastic water movement with very large waves splashing frequently.  We were on the ground floor so we just had to go out of our sliding door and we were on a lawn overlooking the ocean.  It was wonderful.  The first thing we watched when we got there was a beautiful sunset over the Pacific.  Wow!!
On Wednesday after our day of rest, we headed for the town of Depoe Bay, just 2 miles south of our condo.  Our first stop was at the Whale Watching Center on the waterfront in Depoe Bay.   The Depoe Bay area is on the migration path of gray whales as they move up the west coast from Mexico to Alaska.  Approximately 18,000 of these magnificent beasts make this trek each year and are about 2 miles from the beach at this time of year.  In the late summer as they migrate back to the south, these same whales come right into the shore at Depoe Bay for feeding.  They might spend days right in the bay!  While we were are the center a whale was spotted by one of the volunteers working at the center, but he only saw one “blow” and could not find the whale again.   They had seen whales every day, though and were very expectant of continuing to see the whales. 
Next, we went to the docks in the “World’s Smallest Harbor” as Depoe Bay has labeled itself, and inquired about fishing in the ocean.  I made a reservation to go bottom fishing the next day as salmon season had not opened yet.  It was a 5 hour trip to catch ling cod and rock fish.  From there we went to the grocery store and back to the condo for the evening.
The next morning was chilly but dry and clear on the ocean.  The boat left the dock promptly at 8:00 AM.  It was a 33’ long boat with a skipper and three of us fishing.  We went out through the very narrow opening to the harbor and into the open ocean.  We headed north about 3 miles and stopped to fish.  Our lines were rigged with a weighted hook on the bottom with rubber “bait” on it and a second hook with a bright colored ribbon attached about a foot above.  We were instructed to drop the line all the way to the bottom and then reel in slowly from there stopping about every 4 feet for a few seconds.  The rocking of the boat provided a jigging motion so that was not necessary.  We drifted for about 20 minutes then moved to the start of that location or to a new location depending on the productivity.  Initially we all started catching ling cod that were about 25” long (legal to keep above 23”) until we were very close to our limit of 2 apiece.  We also caught a few rock fish but they were much slower than the ling cod.  After we had our limit of ling cod we moved to an area the skipper said was good for rock fish.  He was right.  We were catching rock fish every time we let our lines down.  I even caught one on each hook three different times.  By noon we had limited the boat on all fish and headed back for the harbor.  The wind had started blowing and the ride back was very rough and wet for all.  Luckily it was not far.  We had a great day of fishing and I brought home about 15 pounds of great eating. 
The rest of the week was spent doing those things we all do at the Oregon coast.  We watched the surf, watched a storm come in over the ocean, went to a seafood buffet on Friday at Gracie’s in Depoe Bay and generally took it very easy.  This is feeling more like a vacation than the learning experience that we had on the rest of the trip.  We do not feel the urgency to see everything that is offered here as we will come back to this area. 
On Sunday we drove to Newport for a church service and then went to Mo’s for a seafood lunch.  In all of our travels and eating of seafood on three coasts (including the gulf coast in Louisiana) this was the very best of seafood.  We even brought some clam chowder back to our room to have with our dinner later.
On Monday we moved again from Depoe Bay to Seaside, Oregon. This was a very short, 2 hour trip.  We stopped in Tillamook at the cheese factory and took a tour.  Even though we had seen this tour before, it was still interesting to see the cheese made.  The tasting room was also fun. 
We arrived at our beautiful condo in Seaside at 3:00 and moved into our room.  We then took a short stroll on the beach before dinner.  It is such a beautiful sandy beach with rolling surf and a great boardwalk that we could both access.  We will be very comfortable here for the next week and then make our move just one hour up the coast to Long Beach, WA for our final week.
More about that later.
 Sorry there are no photos.  We are having trouble with the program we use for this blog.  It will not let us add photos at this time.  When corrected we will have some photos for you.
Jim and Linda 

Fry's Epic Journey, Entry 21, Monterey

Monday, February 25, we left the glitz and excitement of Las Vegas to move on to our next destination.  While we had a fun time in Vegas we were ready to get back to our ‘normal’ existence.  Too much Las Vegas can be hard on people.  We left just before 8 and headed out of town.

Mountains surrounding the Mojave Desert (2)  
Mountains coming out of Nevada

Comng out of Las Vegas

Las Vegas is located in the pointy end of Nevada where crossing to California is not a long trip.  It does require climbing up over a small mountain range.  Everything was still the desert brown color we had gotten used to since it was what we saw from west Texas until now.  The last little town we passed through as we were leaving Nevada was Primm.  The population of Primm is 436 and the community's economy is based on its three casinos, which attract gamblers from Southern California wanting to stop before reaching Las Vegas 40 miles to the north, or as a last chance to gamble before leaving Nevada. The community's hotels also serve as reliever hotels on the occasions when Las Vegas hosts major conventions. Most of Primm's residents are employees of the casinos.
This town looks like a Las Vegas wannabee with its glitzy casinos and even an amusement park with a roller coaster.  It is a fitting departure from Nevada.

Windmill Farms in Barstow CA (2)   Windmill Farms in Barstow CA (3)

As soon as we crossed into California we found we were at the edge of the Mojave Desert.  This dry area does have its interesting new industrial interests springing up in the form of solar power generating fields and many windmill farms.  These can be seen frequently from the freeway.  The town of Baker is in the middle of this area where the temperature in the summer hovers right around 110 degrees.  Just north of Baker is Death Valley where the highest temperature (134o F.) in the United States was recorded in 1913.  I think Baker was appropriately named.

Agriculture in Bakersfield    Bakersfield oil wells (1)

After crossing the Mojave Desert area and passed Edwards Air force Base we again started climbing over one more mountain range.  As we crossed the summit of these mountains we were in the small town of Tehachapi, CA and we saw something we had not seen for a long time – green fields.  All of a sudden the color of green was everywhere being on the rainy side of the coastal range of mountains.  We were delighted by this change in scenery that continues into Bakersfield, a very productive farming area in Southern California.  We were also surprised to learn that the Bakersfield area (Kern County) is the highest producer of oil in the United States.  There are many oil pumping stations along the route that took us through this area.


Marina Dunes Wind Swept Trees   Worldmark Marina Dunes
We continued west out of Bakersfield instead of taking I-5 because we wanted to see areas we had not seen before.  We took a route that crossed the mountains on a very windy road to the town of Paso Robles.  This was another of those roads we wished we had not chosen to take due to the rate of climbing and the dubious quality of the road.  We passed through Paso Robles and entered Highway 101 and followed this man highway into Salinas, took a left and drove into Marina.  Our condo was called Marina Dunes and was located in the middle of the sand dunes just a few feet from the Pacific Ocean.  We had now gone from coast to coast to coast!
The beach at Marina Dunes (6)The beach at Marina Dunes (3)

Tuesday was our rest day.  By mid-morning I was ready to get out a little so I walked down the path to the beach access.  I was thrilled to see the beautiful Pacific Ocean.  This is an ocean that behaves like an ocean should.  It was blue and green in color, had very large breakers and lots of foam and the sun sets into it instead of rising out of it like on the Atlantic.  I walked down the beach for a little way and then back up the dunes to the condo.  It was good to be back on the ocean.

Fisherman's Wharf at Monterey (1) Pacific Ocean in Monterey (1)
Pacific Ocean in Monterey (2)

On Wednesday we took a drive to see Monterey, about 10 miles away.  We drove down Cannery Row and saw the quaint shops, went to the waterfront and located the aquarium.  Next we drove on down along the ocean side and stopped to just watch the surf beat against the rocky shore.  We drove on to Carmel and stopped at a little park along the ocean just to look.  Carmel is a very quaint town full of high end shops on a hill just above the ocean.  We skirted around the 17 mile drive, promising that we would return on another day to take in that adventure.

Aquarium Signs (1)

We got to the Monterey Aquarium by 10 on Thursday morning and parked in a garage for the day.  We walked to the entrance of the aquarium and were standing with a group of people waiting to enter.  One of the ladies in the group asked us if we already had tickets to the aquarium and when we told her no she said they had a group ticket allowing them to enter and two of the people in their group had been unable to come that day.  She invited us to use their tickets so we saved the price of admission ($35 each) and went in with them.  They turned out to be a group of volunteers putting on the Monterey Dixieland Jazz Festival the next three days.  We had a good chat about being volunteers putting on events.

Aquarium African Penguins (4)   Aquarium African Penguins (5)

Aquarium African Penguins (6)

The aquarium was a wonderful experience.  While we had been to the aquarium in Atlanta this one was very different.  Atlanta was all about bigness.  It had very large viewing areas and very large fish like Beluga Whales, Dolphins and Whale Sharks.  Monterey did not have the big fish but rather specialized in Jellyfish and Seahorses.  We started by watching feeding time for penguins.  These were very interesting birds as they live as couples as long as it is practical to do so.  If something happens to one of the members of the couple, they find another to be with.  They sound like people.  They are also very aggressive next builders and while the aquarium provides them with ample material to build their nests, they still enter the area of other penguins to steal their nesting material from their nests.   They even used the feeding as a diversion to their thievery stealing all they could from each other’s nests while the food was being handed out.  These are not aggressive birds and when they caught a penguin stealing from their nests they would just stand close and glare at each other.  They were very entertaining.

Aquarium Crystal Jellys (1) Aquarium Sea Nettle Jellies

Aquarium Umbrella Jelly Aquarium Jellys

The display of Jellies and Seahorses at Monterey Aquarium is legendary.  Since these critters are propelled by ocean currents they must be in a constant flow of water.  If the water is not flowing they will sink to the bottom and wait for the current to pick them up.  The Monterey Aquarium has devised a method of constantly moving water in the tanks for the Jellies.  This allows them to gracefully move in a slow pulsing motion through their tanks.  The Jellies are many colors, shapes and sizes.  These organisms function without a brain.  They have nerves that operate on a stimulus response system.  The same stimulus always elicits the same response.  They do have four stomachs, though, and after they have fed these are plainly seen.  It was very interesting learning about these animals and seeing them was beautiful.

Aquarium Seahorses (4) Aquarium Seahorses (2)

Aquarium Leafy Sea Dragon Aquarium Weedy Sea Dragon

The most unusual animals in the exhibit were the Seahorses.  There are many kinds of Seahorses from the ones that are typically seen in a variety of colors and with the ability to change color to adapt to their surroundings, to the Dragon Seahorses which have a body that looks like Puff the Magic Dragon but fins resembling a kelp bed.  None of the Seahorse varieties are very good swimmers but depend on the currents to carry them from place to place.  Most of their swimming motions are for steering their bodies.  They also use their tails to wrap around kelp and seaweeds to hold them in one place if they find one they really like.  However, the most amazing Seahorse twist is that the males produce the baby Seahorses.  The females deposit eggs into the males pouch initially.  The male then fertilizes the eggs and carries them until they hatch inside his pouch.  When they are ready to face the watery world, the males push the baby Seahorses from their pouch to give birth to them.  The new father Seahorses then stay and protect and hide the babies for the first few days to get them started.  It is good to know this information but I hope it does not change the way we do things.  The Seahorse exhibit could occupy a lot of time.  We spent the entire day in the Aquarium and left when they announced the doors were closing.  It was a great experience in a wonderful place.

On Friday the weather changed to foggy and cold all along this coastline.  The visibility along the beach was severely restricted so we stayed inside, napped and watched movies. It was a very relaxing three days.  We were thinking that either Saturday or Sunday would be clearer but they never were so we did not get back to the 17 mile drive that would take us through vistas of the homes of the rich and famous (Clint Eastwood has a home there) as well as a drive along Pebble Beach Golf Course.  Another time, perhaps.

Downtown Napa Napa Sutter Home Winery

Napa Valley Wine Country (2) Napa Vineyards (3)

We left Marina Dunes on Monday with drizzly, cold weather and headed inland a little.  We were heading for our next stop in Clear Lake, CA, just north of the Napa Valley wine country.  Our route took us to San Jose, up the east side of San Francisco Bay and then into the town of Napa, which is designed to look like a small village in Italy.  The Napa valley was interesting with its many vineyards and chateau’s and the feeling of Italy was very prominent.  As we drove the sun came out and drove the clouds away and we were able to see the vineyard areas in sunshine.  What a quaint area that would be worth time to explore more.

Clear Lake
Leaving Napa valley was a climb into the mountains. We rose about 1500 feet in elevation on a 7 mile twisty course through green trees.  It was a pretty drive and fun for me but Linda did not enjoy all of the twists and turns of the road.  We broke out of the trees into a very large valley with the mountains continuing on all sides.  In the middle of this valley is Clear Lake, the largest lake in California.  We found our condo, Worldmark Clear Lake, about 15 miles up the north side of the lake.  We checked into a beautiful condo with a full view out to the lake.  This will be our comfortable home for the next 7 days.
More about Clear Lake will be written next week.

Jim and Linda  

Fry's Epic Journey, Entry 20, Las Vgas

Picacho Peak   Arizona Landscape (2)

We had a very interesting President’s Day going from Tucson to Las Vegas.  We knew this was going to be a long day because of the stops we had planned and since it was a national holiday we might encounter holiday traffic,  so we left before 8 AM and headed north on I-10.  This took us into Phoenix where we met Stan and Jan Aukland, my brother in law and my sister, for breakfast.  We had a great visit and spent most of the time talking about how we would get together next time.  We left Phoenix at 11:00 as planned and went north through the rest of Arizona.  This highway offers some interesting scenery which is unusual for the desert part of the country.  The plants along the route changed to Joshua Trees, first just one or two together, then a complete forest of these strange tree type of cacti.  These grow up to 50 feet high and have evergreen “leaves” that almost resemble a pine tree.  They are only found in the southwest area around the Mojave Desert.  The area we were going through was also increasing in altitude to being about 3000 feet most of the time.  While the weather was very sunny, the temperature was staying in the mid 50’s.  As we approached the northern part of Arizona the topography changed to being very hilly with some very deep gorges.  It was in interesting drive.

Kingman, AZ (1) Along Route 66 (2) Along Route 66 (4)

We entered the city of Kingman and headed west from there.  Our next destination was Bullhead City where we were visiting Shirley Clark (my step sister) and her husband, Boyce.  We were given some directions and had our GPS to guide us.  When the directions and the GPS disagreed on the exit we were to take we should have been more wary.  Since the directions were non-specific regarding exactly which exit to take, we went with the GPS.  In this part of the country, gasoline stations are not on every corner, so we should have stopped in Kingman to fill up.  The instruction from the GPS had us exit the freeway just west of Kingman and take an adjacent highway.  This highway was the original ‘Route 66’ that passes through this part of the nation.  Route 66, the first paved highway built in the US in 1926, originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles.  This route was 2488 miles in length.  While this road has been replaced by the interstate system some of it still exists.  The original road has been improved and realigned but where it still exists it is a usable highway.  Not being sure of what we were doing or where we were heading, we decided to take the historic drive for a while.  We soon learned the difference between the interstate highways we use now and those built in 1926.  This was a very narrow road with no services other than antique stores.  As it separated itself from the main road and started to climb the side of the mountain we were unsure about it, but this as the historic highway and had many years of experience getting people where they needed to go.  It must have been very difficult building this highway that clung to the side of a mountain and had many switchbacks and hairpin turns as it snaked its way over the mountain.  Meeting traffic coming the other way was interesting especially where there were no guardrails and drops of many hundreds of feet at the outside of the 18” shoulder.  Even our GPS refused to give us any correct information as it forecast upcoming roads that never materialized.  We did survive the climb to 6,000 feet and started a descent.  Our gas gauge in the car was starting to be alarmed but it said we could go another 60 miles so we were not critical.  We finally came to a road sign announcing the town of Oatman just 6 miles ahead.  What a relief.

Oatman, AZ (2) Oatman, AZ (4) Oatman, AZ (7)

Oatman, Arizona is a former mining town in the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona.  Located at an elevation of 2,710 feet, it began as a tent camp soon after two prospectors struck a $10 million gold find in 1915, though the area had been already settled for a number of years. Oatman's population grew to more than 3,500 in the course of a year.  The current population is 128.  Wild burros freely roam the town and can be hand-fed carrots and "burro chow," both readily available in practically every store in town. Though normally gentle, the burros are in fact wild and signs posted throughout Oatman advise visitors to exercise caution. The burros are descended from pack animals turned loose by early prospectors.  Being a national holiday the local commerce group decided this was a good day to have the town opened up for lots of festive celebrations that attracted many people into town.  As we drove into town the roads were full of people and cars and burros.  There was no concern being given to walking right on the road and it was difficult to drive through town.  It was a cute restoration of a mining town with all of the appropriate services; restaurants, a hotel, bars and souvenir shops.  The one thing that we noticed, though, is that Oatman did not sell gasoline.  While it would have been fun to join the many other people enjoying Oatman, we did not stop.  Finally our GP caught up with where we were and told us we were 17 miles from Bullhead City.  We nearly coasted into the first gas station we found and put 19.5 gallons into our 20 gallon tank.  We found the lovely home of our friends in Bullhead City, AZ, and had a very nice visit with them until 6 PM.   Bullhead City is right across the Colorado River from Laughlin, Nevada, a very popular gambling town.  We were amazed by the very large hotels lining the river bank on the Nevada side.  We proceeded across the river and found ourselves back in the Pacific Time zone giving us a one hour do-over, which we spent driving the remaining miles into Las Vegas.

Our condo at the Worldmark Las Vegas Boulevard was very nice.  We did have a bit of trouble checking in as the first room we were assigned was not an adequate accessible room.  The management cleared up the situation though and an hour later we were moved into a very nice room.  This is a very large resort with three swimming pools, hot tubs and a lazy river in a courtyard that is surrounded by the 14 buildings with condos.  We got all settled in for a week in Vegas, baby!

On Tuesday we decided to take a rest day. This means we stay at the condo and rest from the rigors of the travel the day before.  We signed up for a lunchtime owners meeting at the condo where Worldmark tells about changes for owners, and tries to do a little marketing.  We attended this, had a nice lunch and when we were done, they gave us $125 worth of free meals at numerous restaurants along the strip.  Toward the later afternoon, Linda wanted to get a haircut so we drove to a beauty shop nearby and she got all trimmed.  Even on the road normal maintenance things have to be done.   Our first trip into the strip in Las Vegas was a drive through in our car later on Tuesday evening.  Linda had not been to Las Vegas for over 35 years and she was amazed by the mega resorts along the strip, each one bigger and more elaborate than the next.  After just one drive through we decided to wait until the next day to return, and we had better plan our day because there was a lot to see. We decided we wanted to go to the strip, have a late lunch and see a show.  We ordered tickets to see the Terry Fator show at the Mirage.  While tickets for shows are very expensive we wanted to see this one ever since Terry Fator won America’s Got Talent four years ago.

Vegas Strip Ceasars Palace (1)   Vegas Strip Paris (4) Vegas Strip Paris (7)

We started our first day on the strip by catching the hourly shuttle from Worldmark into the strip.  It even had a wheelchair lift on the shuttle making it possible for us to use.  It dropped us off at Caesars Palace and we were in a whole different world of glamour and glitz designed to cater to every entertainment wish one could have.  We walked through the Caesars Palace and crossed the boulevard on one of the overhead crossings.  We strolled past three blocks of The Quad and The Tropicana and went into Paris.  We were headed for Le Village Buffet in Paris.  What fun it was to see the décor of this resort and casino that is a very close resemblance to Paris France, complete with the Eiffel Tower.  The legs of the Eiffel Tower even extend into the building making the theme very plausible.  We strolled down Le Boulevard and viewed many small shops and restaurants that had a definite feel of being in Paris.  We were delighted with the buffet as it was decorated as a village with the store fronts all around and a cobblestone covered courtyard.  Even the ceiling of the building is painted to look like blue sky with soft white clouds.  After our very nice, leisurely meal we strolled out of Paris and crossed the street to the Bellagio just in time for their fountain show.  This show is done every hour using massive nozzles in a lake in front of the hotel that is two blocks long.  The presentation is a musical show with the waters “dancing” to the music.  The water sprays are as much as 60 feet into the air and cover the lake.  It is very exciting and well done.

Vegas Strip Terry Fator Adds (1)        Vegas Strip Ceasars Palace Shops (6)

Next, we went back through Caesars Palace to the Mirage where we picked up our tickets for the show later that night.  We still had two hours before the show so we went back into Caesars Palace and strolled through the shops all the way to the Atlantis show.  While waiting for the Atlantis show to begin (every hour) we looked at and purchased a memorable bauble made of red Swarovski crystal as a little souvenir of our trip.  The Atlantis show is a telling of the fable of the sinking of Atlantis done with animatrons and including lots of smoke, water shooting and splashing and fire coming from a sword.  It is an impressive show.  

Terry Fator Show (3) Terry Fator Show (15) Terry Fator Show Monty Carlo (9)

We arrived at the Terry Fator Theater in the Mirage at 6:45 for the 7:30 show.  We stood in line for just a very few minutes when an usher came to us, noticing Linda’s scooter, and asked us to come with her into the theater.  She led us to our seats which were in the front row of this 1000 seat theater!  This was a wonderful show.  Terry Fator is so multi-talented.  He is a very good singer and performs not only with his own singing voice but does impersonations of many other singers and sounds like the other singers.  He does his show using 8 different puppets and very effective ventriloquism.  He is so believable that he does not receive the credit he deserves for his singing and comedic talent.  It addition to the ventriloquism, he performed several songs that he wrote.  Not only was this show first class entertainment it was also presented with no swearing or smutty references.  It was clean, classy fun from the start to the finish.  This was, by far, the most memorable time we had in Las Vegas.

Nevada 003 Nevada 013   Nevada 022
Nevada 049     Nevada 032

We returned to the strip on Thursday just to do more sightseeing.  This time we had our meal at Harrah’s then walked through the Venetian.  We went to the second floor where a square in Venice has been built in the hotel.  The ceiling is painted to look like the sky and as the day moves by the light on the ceiling changes just like it would outside. There is a canal built in the square that has gondolas in it with singing gondoliers.  These take people for rides through the canal system that even extends to the outside of the hotel. Since boarding one of these is a little too rigorous for Linda, we just observed.  This area also features living statues; people made up to look like they are made of marble and they strike a pose and stand as still as statues.  It is somewhat alarming to see these ‘statues’ move when their shift is over.  As we were sitting watching these statues several people came out of some doorways dressed in period costumes and performed an opera tight in the middle of the square.  It included a jester, a juggler on stilts, a clown and four very talented opera singers.  Their performance was fifteen minutes long and was very engaging. 

Nevada 060     Nevada 074

Our next stop was across Las Vegas Boulevard to the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino.  In the front of the casino, adjacent to the street, is a scene that includes a large pond with two pirate ships in it.  Three times each evening a show is performed using this as their stage.  This is a musical show that ends in a cannon battle between the two ships and one of the ships sinks into the pond.  Everyone ends up on the other ship and they sing and dance their way into a happy ending.  It is a pretty spectacular show that we were able to see.  While it is designed to bring the audience into the casino that did not work with us as we were ready to head back to our condo.  On the way back to the shuttle bus we encountered another crowd in front of the Mirage.  This was a gathering waiting for the next eruption of the volcano at the Mirage.  We waited in the crowd for a very few minutes and watched the spectacle of this volcano as it erupted smoke and fire into the air for about 10 minutes.  For us these performances were like being in Disneyland.  We thought they were very fun and exciting.  Even senior citizens who choose not to drink or gamble can have a great time in Las Vegas!

MGM Grand (1) MGM Grand (6)
MGM Grand (9)

On Saturday we drove our own car to the end of the strip that is a long walk from where the shuttle served.  We parked at the MGM and wandered through this massive complex and finally found our way to the strip.  We were standing right across the street from New York, New York Casino and Hotel.  This is a building that replicates the city of New York complete with the Brooklyn Bridge, a tugboat on the East River and the Statue of Liberty.  It even has a roller coaster on the roof that winds its way through the New York skyline.  Inside the casino is a recreation of the various boroughs in New York City with the businesses that are on the streets in the original city.  We had lunch at a small replica of Greenburg’s Deli.  The authenticity of this display of New York is terrific. 

California, Monterey 030

We then went back to our car and drove to ‘Old Las Vegas” the site of the original casinos in the city.  This is the area at the extreme north end of Las Vegas Boulevard made famous by Bugsy Malone when he started Las Vegas with the building of the Flamingo.  The original casinos built in this area are no longer standing but others have been built with famous names like the Flamingo and The Golden Nugget.  This section of town away from the main strip has made some interesting adaptations to try to bring the people to their casinos.  They have an area called the Fremont Street Experience.  This is an area that is six blocks long and three blocks wide that has been covered with a rounded roof two stories above the street.  Street performers abound along this street with everything from rock and roll bands to drum soloists to a competition for the guys that twirl signs on the street corners advertising homes for sale.  Then, every hour the roof over this street becomes the world’s largest video screen and puts on a video show overhead.  It is really fun to be involved in this scene.  We were very glad we included this part of Las Vegas in our visit.

Bellagio   Vegas Strip Paris (7)   Vegas Strip Paris (1)

On Sunday we made our last visit to the strip taking the shuttle back to Caesars Palace and walking back to Paris for an incredibly wonderful Sunday Brunch at Le Village Buffet.  We finally had used up the last of the meal vouchers we had from the Worldmark Owners meeting we had attended and we had a wonderful meal.  After lunch we wanted to see the Bellagio Dancing Waters show in a large lake that has been formed in front of this casino-hotel.  However, due to the windy conditions of the day the show had to be cancelled.  We had seen a little of this show earlier in the week, though so we were not completely disappointed.  We caught a shuttle at 4:00 and returned to the condo.  We spent the evening packing and preparing for the next journey in the morning. 

Our next trip was on Monday and covered the distance across a bit of Nevada and all of California as well as going north as far as the Monterey peninsula.  More about that in the next entry.
Jim and Linda.

Fry's Epic Journey, Entry 19, El Paso and Tucson

West Texas Vegatation (3)   West Texan Hill Country Highway (8)

We left New Braunfels by 8:00 Am on Saturday, February 10.  Our route took us across the hilly part of Texas to the city of Boerne.  This was an interesting part of this trip with the small rolling hills with some small trees and some green vegetation.  We went through this small town so we did not have to go all the way back into San Antonio.  This route cut about 50 miles off our driving distance.  At Boerne we entered Highway 10, one of the two main east/west highways across west Texas.  This was a long, straight highway through very desolate land with the occasional oil well and water pumping windmill.  While the hills continued somewhat, the sights are restricted to desert-like sandy, rocky ground with a few small mesquite trees and some small plants. This area was very uninteresting to drive through, but to get out of Texas you must drive it.  The highway was smooth and at least 2 lanes in each direction.  Most of it was not under construction, which was an anomaly, and the 80 mile per hour speed limit made this go by quicker, which was a blessing. 

Speed Limit 80     Sonora, Texas

We stopped for fuel and a meal at the town of Sonora.  The gas station was fine, the town was very old, not in good repair and when we stopped at the local Dairy Queen for lunch and went inside, it was so yucky that we drove on.   We finally found a good looking truck stop and had lunch there.  When we left our lunch stop the wind started increasing in speed.  As we were crossing the flat, desert areas we noticed a brown “fog” around us.  This was dust being driven by the wind. The speed of the wind was approximately 40 miles per hour and coming right at us from the west.  At one point a wind gust made vision very difficult and an empty 55 gallon drum flew across the highway right in front of us! Between the speed of the wind and the 80 MPH speed of the car and the brown dust this was a very difficult drive.  If we slowed down very much we were in danger of other cars not seeing us in time to react so we had to go the speed limit.  In addition to all of this we did not have any internet connection on this stretch of road and the temperature had increased to 78 degrees and we could not ventilate the car because of the dust, so we needed air conditioning on.  Our gas mileage was pitiful on this stretch and the gas stations are not plentiful.  We were below ¼ tank when we decided to stop and fill up, not sure where the next station was.  The wind made it difficult to stand up outside, but I was able to fill the tank paying $3.89 per gallon.  We left the station and went less than 5 miles down the road and saw a group of stations that were advertising their fuel for $3.39 per gallon.  Feeling foolish, I drove on into El Paso where we arrived around dusk.  When we got out of the car at the hotel we noticed our dark blue van was grey from all of the dust on it.  We went to find a car wash to clean the car but were told they were not washing cars because of the dust storm.  We were so tired from this trip we ate dinner (KFC) in our room and fell into bed. 

West Texas Duststorm (3)      West Texas Duststorm (1)

Sunday morning dawned bright, sunny and had very little wind and we found a car wash that was open.  We were stopping in El Paso for two nights so we could rest and to visit our friends the Davis and Mueller families, former pastors from our church in Monroe, Washington.  These two families are starting a church in El Paso.   On this Sunday morning they were having an all church work party for their church in their newly rented building.  We decided to attend a worship service at Cielo Vista Church in the area and then went to the church where our friends were working.  After that we spent the afternoon and into the evening visiting with them at their homes.  We did not have time to do any sightseeing around El Paso, but did find it to be a very Mexican city in the US.  The US-Mexican border (the Rio Grande River) goes through the middle of the towns of El Paso and Juarez.  Both English and Spanish are spoken interchangeably throughout this area. Even the hotel breakfast was served in a Mexican restaurant and included several Mexican dishes on the breakfast buffet.  I had never had chili as a breakfast item.

Entering New Mexico (2)   New Mexico - Arizona Mountains (1)   New Mexico - Arizona Mountains (6)

The next morning we left El Paso and continued our trip to the west in sunny, calm weather.  About 60 miles west and north of El Paso we crossed the border into New Mexico and changed into the Mountain Time zone.   Shortly after that we had to stop at a border patrol inspection station.  We did notice a very increased presence of border patrol vehicles in this area and throughout the southwest.  The scenery and the highway in eastern New Mexico were very similar to west Texas, probably because neither area has any water.  The speed limit also stayed at 80 MPH.  We did notice the occurrence of cactus plants along the road.  These are mostly Prickly Pear and Yucca plants.  While cactus is a wild growing plant in the desert, different kinds of cacti grow in different areas.  As we got into the western side of New Mexico we started seeing mountains up to 7,000 feet high in the distance.  Some of these even had snow on them.  We crossed the Continental Divide about this time as well, as our elevation increased to 4500 feet.  We stayed on this high plateau most of the way into Arizona.  

Arizona weather change (2)   Entering Arizona Yucca Plants
As we entered Arizona the rain started.  The temperature had dropped to the high 30’s and the rain even had some snow mixed in.  This rain/snow mix continued through Tucson and when we arrived at our condo in Oro Valley (15 miles north of Tucson) the temperature was 36 degrees and it was a steady rain/snow mix.  Since it was 4:00 in the afternoon the combination of weather and rush hour traffic made this entry into the area very slow and frustrating.  It was good to have this crossing of west Texas/New Mexico/east Arizona finished and we were very happy to check into our lovely condo for a week. 

Snow on Catallina Mountains - Oro Valley (1)     Snow on Catallina Mountains - Oro Valley (2)

Even though the weather forecast had been for up to 3” of snow in the area of our condo, the next morning dawned clear but quite cold.  The surrounding Catalina Mountains all had a dusting of snow on them.  It was interesting to see this weather in the desert.  We spent the day at the condo resting from our trip of the past few days.  On Tuesday we were back in the car to go to Phoenix and visit our friends, the Ryan’s.  This couple lives just across the cul-de-sac from us at home.  They have rented a beautiful home in Goodyear, AZ for two months to test their reaction to the snowbird lifestyle.  We had a delightful lunch with them and then met my sister and brother-in-law for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant.  Phoenix is a two hour drive from where we are staying and we were glad to get back “home” that evening.

Saguaro cactus Raptor Show Barn Owl (2) Raptor Show Harris Hawk (1)

Two days later we took a short ride to the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum just to the east of the city of Tucson.  This is a large area adjacent to the Saguaro National Park.  This is a combination of a zoo, a natural history museum and a botanical garden.   There are 2.5 miles of paths traversing 21 acres of beautiful desert with a very good explanation of what is found in this desert region.  It is located in an area that has bountiful amounts of the saguaro (pronounced suwaro) cactus.  These are the stereotypical cacti that are used by Taco Time as their trademark.  This species is only found in the desert of Arizona and northern Mexico and they grow in “forests”.  Suguaro will grow typically to 40 feet tall and live in excess of 200 years.  While the museum features many species of cacti, the saguaro is the most prominent.  This museum also features more than 300 species of animals, birds, insects and snakes of the desert.  The insects and snakes, including several varieties of venomous snakes and very large and dangerous spiders) are in cages for public view, but are also wild in the nature of this area.  We only saw the ones in the cages – happily.  Twice a day the museum has a raptor free flight show in the museum.  They gather the observers of the show in one area of the desert and two trainers put their birds through an amazing display of their flight abilities, their hunting practices and an overall education about these magnificent birds of prey.  The show we saw included four different types of raptors:  a grey hawk, a large barn owl, a Peregrine falcon and a family of 5 Harris hawks.   The star of the show, flight wise, was the Peregrine falcon.  This bird flies at speeds that are usually around 40 miles per hour, but when it finds its prey, it goes into a dive to pounce at a rate that has been clocked in excess of 200 miles per hour.  It is also capable of changing direction in an instant and even flying upside down during some of its antics. The best hunters were the Harris hawks who hunt as a team.  One of these birds will scare the prey to move and the others will join in causing the prey to run into the area where the remaining family members can strike the prey.  They all join together to share a dinner of the fresh prey.  This was an amazing show that brought us right up close to these birds and taught us a great deal of respect for raptors.

Arizona 053 Arizona 067 Arizona 052

We also toured their aviary; a large area that is screened in so the birds have ample room to fly but cannot escape.  Most of the birds in this aviary have been either been brought here as injured birds or have born in the captivity of this aviary to the injured birds.  There were approximately 30 different types of birds at this time, but the display is constantly changing as the birds are released when healed and capable of living in the wild or when new birds are brought in for care and treatment.  These birds are treated and nourished very well and due to their constant contact with humans, they are tame enough that we were able to see some of them very closely.  We then went to the hummingbird display which is very much like the aviary, but restricted to six varieties of hummingbirds only.  We spent an hour watching these tiny birds do their aerobatics, including hovering in mid-air right in front of our faces!  Linda also found a hummingbird nest with a bird setting on it.  The nest is about the size of half of a golf ball and was very hidden in the branch of a tree.   We finally left when it was announced that the museum was closing for the day. 

Old Tucson Artisans (3) Tucson (3) University of Ariona (1)

On Saturday we took a drive into the city center of Tucson.  We drove around the large buildings and found our way through the streets that are having a trolley system installed.  This made for some very interesting traffic flows.  We stopped at a one block area called Old Tucson Artisans that houses artisans from the area.  We enjoyed the tiny shops filled with various artwork, pottery, jewelry, clothing, etc.  We found a souvenir for the southwest area – a pair of silver and turquoise earrings made by Zuni Indians.   They are a little nicer than a t-shirt.  We also drove through the campus of the University of Arizona on to finish our driving tour of the city.

Goodyear (2) Rancho Vistoso Condo - Oro Valley AZ (1)
On Sunday we found a small church in the area of our condo and attended the service then went to one more Mexican restaurant for a great lunch.  The rest of the day was spent enjoying the 75 degree weather and preparing for the move the next day to Las Vegas.  More about that trip in the next entry.

Jim and Linda


Fry's Epic Journey, Entry 18, Texas

Texas state lineTX state line

Today is our last day in the great State of Texas.  That is how we refer to it, but the local citizenry call it the Independent Republic of Texas.  That feeling of standing alone, independently, is what the single, lone star is all about.  And the lone star appears everywhere.  It is on license plates, road signs, homes, clothing, light fixtures, drawer pulls, jewelry, boots, belt buckles and painted on the streets.  In the history of Texas there is a lot of prominence given to their battles and attempts to become an independent nation and with settling on becoming a state of the US.  This is the same feeling we witnessed when learning about the first colonists to the original United States becoming independent from the British.  Texas has been under the rule of six different nations:  Spain (1519-1685; 1690-1821), France (1685-1690), Mexico (1821-1836), Republic of Texas (1836-1845), Confederate States of America (1861-1865) and the United States of America (1845-1861; 1865- )  This is why we hear of the Six Flags over Texas.  It is also a great name for a group of amusement parks. 

car at condo
Texas 016

We have enjoyed our stay in this part of Texas.  The weather has been as good as it can be with daytime temperatures running into the mid 70’s to low 80’s with puffy white clouds in blue skies.  It feels like a nice summer in Seattle but it is still the beginning of February.  Our condo is in the city of New Braunfels.  This is an area that was settled by German immigrants who came for the land and were successful in setting up their own culture here.  The blending of the German, Mexican and Texan cultures has made for an interesting area.  There are neighborhoods and restaurants representing each group.  The city of New Braunfels is also considered a water playground for the surrounding area with two rivers, the Guadalupe and the Comal, that offer river rafting, tubing and fishing most of the year around.  The scenery around here offers some very nice river pictures.  Please understand, though, water is not a common substance in this part of the world.  The surrounding land is very arid, brown and treeless and is even more so with the current drought that has been felt over the past year.   The beauty comes in very small doses. 

San Antonio (2)Alamo church shrine
Alamo Long Barrack

We have done three main side trips while in Texas.  Our first was to explore the San Antonio area, only 30 miles away from our ‘home’.  We went there on Sunday, January 27, for a trip to the Oak Hills Church, pastored by well-known Christian preacher and writer, Max Lucado.  This is a very large church with 5 campuses in the San Antonio area.  We were not able to hear Max Lucado in person but he did have some involvement in the service through video.  After the service we went of Rudy’s, a very popular Texas barbecue restaurant.  We had some very good pit smoked meats and the greatest sweet cream corn ever (It was so good that we brought home a container of it and returned two days later for another container).  We returned to San Antonio a second time to be tourists visiting the Alamo and the River Walk, the two areas San Antonio is best known for.  Prior to visiting the Alamo we watched the 2006 video made about the battle at the Alamo.  We were very well prepared for seeing this national shrine.  Our day started visiting the site of the Alamo.  The building we usually consider to be the Alamo was the chapel, one building in a 6 acre compound (that only the chapel, one part of a barracks and some outbuildings remain) that housed the defenders of this area when fighting the war with Mexico.  It was at this location in the spring of 1836 that Santa Ana and an army of more than 2000 soldiers defeated the 200 resolute Texan settlers during a 13 day battle.  The Texans ended up losing the lives of nearly all inside the Alamo, including well known individuals Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.  The only survivors were some women and children who were spared and allowed to go free after the siege.  Santa Ana was defeated 45 days later by Sam Houston, who was not present at the Battle of the Alamo, and his small army, giving Texas its independence from Mexico, making it an independent republic until it obtained statehood in 1845.   
San Antonio RiverwalkRiverwalk fountain

We also visited the River Walk on this same day.  The River Walk is a 4 mile long series of canals that have been built to serve primarily as flood control for the San Antonio River.  San Antonio River Walk is a public park open 365 days a year, lined with individual businesses composed of restaurants, hotels, attractions and more.  The canals are large enough to have sightseeing barges on them that are very popular.  We found this to be a very interesting concept but it was not easy for mobility challenged individuals.  The paths were narrow and often sloped towards the water.  The only access to the canals, which are two stories below street level, was though hotel elevators along the River Walk.  While there are crossover bridges along the canal, these are not accessible due to the stairs that are employed for the crossings.  We spent a short time at the River Walk, getting the idea and flavor, but not really being able to completely enjoy this feature of San Antonio. 

DallasOld Red CourthouseX marks shots on Elm Street

Our next adventure was the following Saturday and Sunday.  We drove the 260 miles from ‘home’ to Dallas.  The first impression of Dallas is very positive as it appears to be a chrome and glass oasis in the prairies.  This is a city that is shiny and new looking.  The historical sections of the city, while still preserved, have been eclipsed by the modern buildings all around them.  Our main target for this visit on Saturday was the Sixth Floor Museum in Dealey Plaza.  This museum is on the sixth floor of what was the Texas School Book Depository, the building from which President John F Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.  At the time of this event, Linda and I were both high school students and we remember the day very well.  This is one of the finest displays of history that we have witnessed.  Through the use of individual speaker devices the time from the election of JFK through the assassination are chronicled very professionally.  The mood in the facility is one of silent respect and solemnity.  As the presentation took us to the time of the presidential motorcade turning onto Elm Street we were at the window from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired three times at our president.  The locations of the car at the time of the shots are marked by X’s on the street below.  This was a tearful, sobering sight for both of us, bringing back memories of that fateful day nearly 50 years ago.  If ever in Dallas, this museum should be visited.  It is wonderfully done.   

Stonebriar CC (4)

After our visit we checked into a Comfort Inn and spent the night in Dallas.  We had dinner in a local restaurant and had a great time together.   On Sunday morning we left the hotel at 8 AM and headed for Stonebriar Church in Frisco, Texas, only 15 miles from our hotel.  This is the church that is pastored by Chuck Swindoll, one of the most well-known Christian pastors in the nation.  We entered their sanctuary and were completely in awe as we viewed the 3,000 seat room with a massive stage and a full pipe organ covering the front wall of the facility.  As we were waiting for the service to begin one of the ushers welcomed us to the church and asked if we would like to meet Chuck Swindoll.  He brought him over to our seats and we were able to casually converse with this man we have been listening to on the radio for over 35 years.  The service featured a 180 voice choir accompanied by an 80 piece orchestra all on the stage.  This was a time of worship and excitement as the music special was “Amazing Grace” with full choir, orchestra and even a bagpipe!  It was a wonderful service with an excellent message delivered by one of our most favorite people.  We left at the end of the service and drove the four hours back ‘home’ to New Braunfels.  We arrived there in time to stop in at a barbecue pit named Coopers (there are numerous barbecue restaurants in this area) and took our smoked, barbecued meat back to the condo to have as the featured item for our own Super Bowl party.  I enjoyed the game as it was close, and Linda and I both enjoyed the commercials.   We will enjoy next year when the Seahawks are in the big game.
AustinTexas State Capital
Star in dome topSenate chandalier

On Wednesday, February 6, we left the condo and drove 45 miles to Austin, the state capitol of Texas.  Our purpose was to see the capitol and the city.  We drove through a little of the town and went to the capitol building.  We took a guided tour through the capitol.  This is the fourth state capitol building, all in Austin.  The first two were too small, the third burned down.  This building was completed in 1888 and is constructed from sunset red granite blocks hewn from a quarry at Marble Springs not far north of Austin and delivered on a special railroad that was constructed for that purpose.  The main feature of this building is a 218 foot high dome with the “Goddess of Liberty” on top.  This is a statue of a woman, draped in the flag of Texas, holding a sword in one hand with the other hand pointed to the heavens holding a five point star in it.  The item we saw most often in the capitol building was the five point star of Texas with one letter on each of the points.  The star is everywhere (Maybe this is to remind the people where they are?).  The legislature was in session while we were there, but they had adjourned for the day.  The building was very crowded nonetheless because it was 4H day at the capitol.  There was also a rattlesnake convention (?) going on to further crowd the area (with people – not snakes).  After our tour we went into the restaurant area of Austin to Guero’s Taco Bar, a highly recommended Mexican restaurant.  We had some very good Mexican food – all home made in the restaurant.  We did enjoy Austin.  The people were very friendly and the city was clean. 

Tomorrow morning we leave New Braunfels and drive the other half of the state of Texas to El Paso.  We are anticipating a long day in the car and have been warned not to expect great scenery.  We still want to see it.  It is part of our country.  We will only be in El Paso for two days to visit our former pastors from Monroe, WA who have moved back to El Paso.  We are looking forward to the visit.  Then, on Monday, we will move on to the Oro Valley just outside of Tucson, Arizona for next week.  More from there.

Jim and Linda

Fry's Epic Journey, New Orleans, Entry 17

City with SuperdomeMardi Gras DecorationsDecorated football Statue

Completely by accident and with no planning, we arrived in New Orleans on the first day of Mardi Gras and at the beginning of the Super Bowl preparations all going on at once.  This made for a very exciting visit to this very unusual city.  Mardi Gras is a famous two week celebration in New Orleans.  This started as a religious observance of a time for carnival and partying for two weeks ending on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  Lent is observed by several religions as a 40 day span of time for self-denial to remember the suffering of Christ before Easter.  So, Mardi Gras is a time for indulgence in anticipation of not being able to indulge for a while.  Having the Super Bowl at the same time as Mardi Gras posed a logistical problem in the city so it was determined that Mardi Gras should start one week early, last for one week, be put on hold for the weekend of the Super Bowl, and then resume for the week just before the beginning of Lent.   It is actually a three week period of partying, celebration and revelry throughout the city.  We were only there for the first week but that was exciting enough. 

Hotel BalconyGarden District
St Charles Streetcar

Our condo is on Saint Charles Avenue right at the beginning of the Garden District, an area of antebellum mansions that have been restored and are owned and occupied by many rich and famous people (Archie Manning, father of Peyton and Eli, as well as actor Nicholas Cage).  Running down the middle of the two lanes of Saint Charles Avenue is the Saint Charles Avenue trolley .  This mode of transportation features 120 year old trolley cars that have been restored to original condition.  They run on tracks with trolley wires above for power.  This trolley will provide a very bumpy, lurching and rocking, ride into the downtown area of the city, just a few blocks from the famous French Quarter, for seniors for $.40 each way.   It is about 2 miles each way.
Canal Street  NOLAMississippi NOLAMan VS Food Stage

On Tuesday, map in hand, I boarded the trolley and headed for downtown and the French Quarter.  Linda was not feeling well as she had caught a cold, so she stayed in the condo to attempt recovery.  I got off the trolley at Canal Street, a main street with the very large hotels and classy shopping areas such as Saks Fifth Avenue.  I strolled down Canal to the waterfront (on the Mississippi River) and got a good view of the mighty river.  It was muddy and contained several very large ships loading and unloading cargo.  While there I happened upon a stage set up with half Baltimore Raven colors and the other half in San Francisco 49er colors.  I snapped a picture and was then told that no pictures were allowed.  This was a stage set for the TV show “Man VS Food” that was to be filmed with a Super Bowl theme.  They wanted to keep the set a secret so no pictures were allowed.  Well, I got one.

French Quarter (1)Street BandDancin to Street Music
Jackson Square (2)

From there I walked 6 blocks into the French Quarter.  This is a very old area with two to three story buildings with retail shops on the ground floor and living quarters above.  They have very ornate metal railings protecting the balconies.  These are all decorated for Mardi Gras in gold, green and purple with lots of shiny and glittery materials.  The stores are selling souvenirs, clothing, voodoo supplies, jewelry; just a complete array of whatever you want.  The area also has many bars and restaurants that feature a wide array of entertainment.  I was there during the day so the action was not going on.  I also came across several street performers playing music.  The first group I found had a bass fiddle made from a gas tank from a pickup truck, a washboard, African drums and a guitar for the melody.  The other performers were more conventional.  They were all playing some really good jazz that was fun to listen to.  One group included 7 instruments playing in front of the park.  It was great.  I found a restaurant to have some good New Orleans seafood for lunch, and then continued walking to Jackson Square.  The square is one of the main focal points in this area and a wonderful place for people watching.  It covers one square city block and has St. Louis Cathedral on one side with the street in front being a stage for many varied activities.  For the Super Bowl, it is the headquarters for the CBS broadcasts.  It was fun to see all of the stage sets with all of the Super Bowl colors and decorations.  I then went across the park to the Café du Monde and bought some beignet’s (French doughnuts) to take back to Linda. Walking out of the French Quarter and back up Canal Street, I headed for the trolley. It was an interesting tour and left me with some sore feet.
French Quarter BalconyBubba Gump'sFrench Quarter (2)
Musical Legends Park Statues

On Wednesday Linda felt well enough to go back to the French Quarter.  This time we drove to the waterfront and parked. We then walked through some of the same areas as I had seen the day before.  We had lunch at Deanie’s, a spectacular restaurant recommended to us by our good friend, Don Walker, featuring the tastes of the Gulf Coast.  The crawfish was superb.  After lunch we spent some time in the French Market and along the waterfront.  We then headed back to our condo driving through the Garden District and looking at some of the fabulous homes in that area.  The history of New Orleans is extensive and involves influences from English, Indian, Spanish, African and French cultures all mixed together.  The city was very involved in slavery and played an important main part in the civil war.  All of these influences can be seen in the area.

  Mardi Gras StatueRiver TrafficStairs up to the Mississippi

The topography of the city is also an important theme in New Orleans.  It is very flat and has an altitude of two to nine feet below sea level.  It is on the Mississippi delta so it is very swampy.  New Orleans is surrounded by water with the Mississippi river going through the city and the very large Lake Pontchartrain adjacent to the city.  A very elaborately engineered system of dikes protects the city from being underwater.  When these fail the result is a catastrophe as was the case with hurricane Katrina.  It is unsettling to climb up stairs from the city streets to get to the level of the river.  New Orleans, being below sea level, has a problem of water coming up through the ground.  For this reason their cemeteries are all monuments above ground rather than being dug into the ground.  It is an awesome spectacle to see.

  Creole QueenCreole Queen (2)

On Thursday we had a very special time.  We had made reservations for a jazz cruise on the sternwheeler, Creole Queen, on the Mississippi River.  This was a cruise up the river along the waterfront, seeing the skyline of New Orleans.  The buffet dinner was served as we were leaving the dock and the jazz group played all of the standards.  The boat was a beautiful replica of the old sternwheelers that used to be seen along the Mississippi as the standard.  This one did not burn wood as the original boats but it was powered by a paddle wheel on the stern.  The city was beautifully lit making this a wonderful evening.

Mardi Gras FloatMardi Gras Parade (6)Mardi Gras Parade (4)

Mardi Gras got into full swing on Friday.  One of the main activities of this celebration are the many parades through the area.  Fraternal organizations in the area called Creux host as many as 25 parades through 4 routes in the area.  Each of the Creux has its own theme that is carried in the parade.  One of these routes is Saint Charles Avenue to Canal Street.   We were warned about the parades that were happening that evening along Saint Charles, right in front of our condo!  We decided not to take the car out of the parking lot on that day due to having possible problems with street closures for the parade. Instead, we visited with some other travelers from Winnipeg, Canada, went to lunch at a small local restaurant and prepared for the evening.  We were ready for the parade and had our spot on the street with many others from the condo and the local area.  The parade started with a demonstration of force from the New Orleans Police Department with motorcycles and cars with lights and sirens.  This was followed by numerous marching bands, drill teams with massive loudspeaker systems on pickup trucks, horse mounted drill teams and very large floats.  The floats were two stories high with elaborate characters made from paper mache, ladies in very festive costumes and people throwing multicolored bead necklaces’ and other trinkets to the crowds.   The entire scene is very rowdy with the spectators screaming for the beads and following the floats down the street in the parade and the very loud music being pumped form the speaker systems and marching bands.  Linda was very brave being in this crowd on her scooter.  I was kept very busy catching necklaces for her.  After an hour the parade stopped only to be followed twenty minutes later by an entire second parade!  After the parades people piled into the French Quarter for more revelry until morning.  And to think this goes on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for three weekends.  They do kneaux how to party!  What an experience for us to get a little taste of this.  Our evening ended after the second parade.
Streetcar Decoration (2)Streetcar Decoration (3)Blimp for Super Bowl

Saturday was our next travel day.  We left New Orleans at 8AM while most of the city was still resting from the night before.  We did see one parade forming up as we left, however.  Our path took us across all of Louisiana.  Because of the sea level altitude and the preponderance of water, most of these 200 miles is on bridges with swamps, rivers and lakes on both sides of the car.   The vegetation is mostly cypress trees growing in the water.  As we crossed into Texas this same condition continued until the altitude started to rise.  Then we started seeing a few oil wells and even one herd of long horn cattle.  We arrived in New Braunfels, a suburb of San Antonio about 7 PM and found our very nice, western themed condo.  This will be a nice, quiet place for the next two weeks as we explore this part of Texas.  More later.

LA to TX (2)LA to TX (3)Texas state line

Jim and Linda.  

Fry's Epic Journey, Entry 16, Atlanta

I need to start with a correction of a mistake in my last entry.  I said we visited Charleston, North Carolina.  Well, that is not possible as Charleston is in South Carolina.  That is where we went, and I apologize for the error.  We are now in New Orleans, Louisiana.  We just arrived and have not done anything yet.  I do need to tell you about our visit to the Atlanta area because it was very special. 

On our last day in Myrtle Beach we returned to Calabash, NC, for one last meal of their most excellent seafood at Ella’s Restaurant.  We found a little touch of history there that I found very interesting.  When comedian Jimmy Durante ended his weekly radio program in the 50’s he always said the line “Good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are”.  This statement dates back to a visit paid by Durante to Ella’s Restaurant where he met the daughter of Ella the owner of the restaurant.  He was taken with her and told her he would make her famous.  From then on he used the line to end his programs and, sure enough, Mrs. Calabash became a very famous name.

On Saturday, January 12, we left Myrtle Beach on a very warm and muggy morning.  The humidity was in the 90’s – in January.  The car was comfortable though due to the AC that we ran all day long as the temperature rose to 78 while we were traveling.  This is very unseasonal for this area, but we were sure happy to see the clear skies and nice conditions for driving.  Our route took us across the entire state of South Carolina from east to west and almost all of the way across Georgia in the same direction.  We stopped in LaGrange, a small town just 20 miles east of the Alabama border for our next week.

The route across South Carolina was on some older highways instead of freeway.  These older roads are slower but very interesting.  Little towns and business are all along the road and require speed limits of 35 to 50.  This is rural southern America with weathered, small homes right along the highway, many with roadside stands advertising the local produce offerings of sweet potatoes, collard greens and boiled (pronounced “bawled”) peanuts.  We did not find any of these small stands to be open though as it is the middle of winter and there are not enough travelers to merit opening the “store”.  We did see a few pickup trucks selling from the back of the truck but we did not stop, however we were interested in trying the peanuts and greens. 

South Carolina Live Oak with Moss

The topography of this area is flat.  The elevation stayed at less than 100’ for most of the entire state.  The rivers, because they have very little downward drop, are very slow moving and are surrounded by very large swampy areas with cypress trees draped in moss.  Much of the highway has been built as bridges over these wetlands.  We did see some interesting birds but no ‘gators.  As we got into Georgia the landscape changed to having more rolling hills.  Some of the highest hills even were as high as 600’.  We stopped in Augusta for lunch and then moved on toward Atlanta.  We did notice the vegetation had changed to pine forests and oak trees.  Coming into Atlanta was a big shock as the city starts very abruptly after the lazy countryside and all of a sudden there are many freeway interchanges, large buildings and a drastic increase in traffic.  We skirted across the southern side of Atlanta and at the airport we headed south another 50 miles to LaGrange. 

Our accommodations in LaGrange are different than most of our stops.  We could not find any facilities through our timeshare system in the area that had handicapped rooms so we had a Comfort Suites room for a week.  It was well prepared for special needs purposes, but did not have a kitchen and was smaller than we were used to.  It did have breakfast included in the price, though, and was in the middle of many fast food restaurants. 

West Point Lake, LaGrange GA
Soil at West Point Lake

On Sunday we took a drive through LaGrange and found it to be a very picturesque little town with old buildings and homes dating back to before the civil war.  The town is also very close to West Pont Lake, a very large body of water on the border of Georgia and Alabama.  This lake is a reservoir controlled by a dam at the south end of the lake.  This is the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.  During this time of the year the water level is down in the lake and the shoreline is red dirt.  In the summer when the lake is full of water it becomes quite a resort area featuring boating, swimming and one of the main stops for the professional bass fishing tour. 

Aquarium Albino AlligatorAquarium Beluga Whales
Aquarium Dragon Fish
Aquarium Large TankAquarium Reef Fish (2)Aquarium Cleaning the Pirahna Tank

On Monday we drove to Atlanta and met up with Don and Linda Walker, some friends who used to live in the Seattle area until retirement when they moved to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, approximately 4 hours from Atlanta.  They had planned a day for the four of us that started at the Atlanta Aquarium.  Atlanta has the largest Aquarium in the world and we had a great time touring this marvelous facility.  The aquarium is divided into 7 different exhibit areas.  We were able to see beluga whales, albino alligators, and 20 foot long whale sharks, hundreds of different species of tropical and non-tropical fish, frogs, snakes, otters, 400 pound groupers and giant catfish.  These are displayed in very large tanks that resemble their natural surroundings as can be done.   We also went to a show called Dolphin Tales featuring 5 trained dolphins and their handlers.  The dolphins were spectacular doing a myriad of jumps, flips, tail walking, carrying their handlers on their backs and even two dolphins with a man standing on their backs like a water skier!   What a terrific sow and a wonderful morning at this famous aquarium. 

CNN in Atlanta
Jim and Don Walker at CNN World Headquaters in AtlantaCNN

Next we went a few blocks to the CNN (Cable News Network) world headquarters building for a tour.  This building has a 15 story high atrium in the middle with offices and studios all around.  There is an eight story escalator that is the largest escalator in the world from the main floor of the atrium to the middle story offices.  The four of us too a guided tour of this facility and saw how the news was gathered and reported 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  We did not get to see Anderson Cooper or even Piers Morgan while we were there.  We did get to push Linda’s scooter at the end of the tour as her batteries ran out of power.  We sat in the lobby of the adjacent hotel for a half hour with the scooter plugged in to regain enough power to get to the car.  From there we took a short driving tour of Atlanta and saw the site of the 1996 Olympics and also the capitol building with its golden dome.  Finally we went to a local restaurant for a great dinner together.  It was a fun day and we thank Don and Linda for all of their hospitality.

On Tuesday we were back on the road for a tour to the city of Columbus, GA, about 40 miles farther south from LaGrange.  This was a nice drive through rolling hills covered with pine trees.    Linda’s brother, Steve, has a daughter who lives in Columbus.  Steve and his wife Shari drove from Florida to visit with their daughter and us.  We spent just a few hours in Columbus looking at this very southern city and had a reunion lunch of barbeque.

Warm Springs GA 028Warm Springs GA 027

Warm Springs GA 026
Warm Springs GA 007

Thursday we took a very special side trip about 45 miles east to Warm Springs, GA.  This very small town is famous as the Little White House from the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidential years.  Warm Springs is named for the local springs with 86-88° mineral water being delivered at a rate of 900 gallons per minute.  The local Indian tribes considered this site a therapeutic area and it was a peaceful gathering place for all of the tribes.  It was later built into a resort area using pools featuring the mineral spring waters as therapy pools for many ailments. Seeking recovery from paralysis after having polio in 1924, FDR came to find relief from his pain and struggles in his damaged muscles. The warm mineral water provided buoyancy and mobility not available out of the water. As President, the press reported this visit to Warm Springs for therapy and many polio survivors went to the pools for therapy too. When FDR saw the numbers that needed help he decided to use 2/3 of his wealth to purchase 1200 acres including the mineral springs, and the run-down resort building.  Over time, the original resort was demolished and a building program was established by FDR that resulted in the Quadrangle that we toured. It amazed us to learn how accessible it was and included elements in design we have not seen in other public places, even though it was built in the 1930’s.  These buildings proved that accessibility in building design should become a reality.  Our modern ADA laws were brought about due to this pioneering effort.  During our tour we saw a wall featuring the faces giving tribute to some of those who have contributed to the science of finding the polio virus, creating a vaccine, finding therapies and durable medical equipment to help polio survivors, and those who have brought an awareness and campaigned for funds to help with the financial burdens of having had polio. It was at this Warm Springs facility that Roosevelt came up with the idea of needing to have a national campaign to raise funding to find a cure for polio. The plan was for Roosevelt to ask each citizen of the nation to send in dimes to fight “infantile Paralysis” as polio was then known.  It was comedian Eddie Cantor who came up with the title of “March of Dimes” for this campaign.  This was very successful and assisted in paying for the buildings at Warm Springs as well as helping many people stricken with polio.  This was a very emotional tour for Linda, a polio survivor from her childhood.  Although this facility was a great step in combating the disease of polio, and ended with a vaccine that has nearly eradicated polio in the US, it must be remembered that there are many people in the country who are still suffering from the ravages of the disease.  For these people polio is more than a bad memory; it is a condition that is still affecting their lives every day.

Our guide was very knowledgeable about the facility, FDR, and had stories from many polio survivors.  We were the only people on this tour (normally 1 hour in length she took 2 ½ hours). Her name was Linda and her husband’s name is Jim!

Prior to visiting the rehabilitation center we had lunch at a restaurant in an antebellum home in Warm Springs.  The menu was all southern food.  It was a great lunch of black eyed peas, carrot soufflé, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes and fried apples.  Before we left Warm Springs we stopped at a small roadside stand and purchased a sack (the farmer dipped them out of a bucket and poured them in a plastic grocery sack) of boiled peanuts.  These are peanuts that are boiled in salt water in the shell. We found them to be wetter than we had imagined and as they sat in the bag they became very mushy.  We were told to microwave them for 2 minutes to dry them, and it helped some.  We are not big fans though.  I guess we are not southerners, although we do enjoy grits.  What a great, memorable day.

The rest of the week was spent in LaGrange making preparations to move on Saturday.  We left at 7:30 in the morning and drove all day to get to New Orleans.  This drive took us through the rest of Georgia, across all of Alabama from east to west (and passing into the central time zone), where we saw an interesting mixture of rural farms, cattle ranches and massive factories building Kia and Hyundai automobiles.  Just before leaving the state of Alabama we went into Mobile to see another Deep South city.  We also stopped for lunch and had our first taste of Gulf Coast seafood.  We also traversed the corner of the state of Mississippi and ended in New Orleans, Louisiana where we are spending a week.  This was a day of being in 4 different states.  It was very interesting and changed the topography from the rolling hills back to the very low altitudes all the way down to 10 feet below sea level in Louisiana.  It is very interesting to look out of the car window and having the water above the level of the street, held back by a levy.  It looks like a large wave could cause a major flood.  No wonder hurricane Hugo was so very devastating.

We have not seen much of New Orleans yet but have big plans for the week. Our condo is in a building on Saint Charles Avenue just outside the Garden District, an area of large, old homes.  It is very attractive and will be very educational.  More about that next time.

Jim and Linda

Fry's Epic Journey, Myrtle Beach, SC, Entry 15

Christmas and New Years’ celebrations are past and what great memories they hold for us.  Christmas in Virginia started with a Santa Claus parade along the street in front of our condo and attending the “Lights Along the Boardwalk”.  It included going to a concert by the Virginia Beach Chorale for a wonderful afternoon of very well performed Christmas music from around the world.  We also went to a live performance of “A Christmas Carol” done by a local church.  It was well done and had great special effects of the various ghosts of Christmas flying above the stage.  I was also able to practice and sing a Christmas Cantata with the Suburban Christian Church choir and orchestra.  Our daughter, Nancy, and her husband, Mike, sing in this choir.  In October, Nancy sent the music to me to practice.  When we got to Virginia Beach, I started practicing weekly with the choir and on December 9 we performed a very nice Christmas program.  It was great being able to do Christmas music.  Of course, the highlight of our Christmas was to spend it with our two grandsons, Nick and Jeff.  They brought a spark to Christmas that can only be brought by children.   On New Years’ Eve we celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary with our annual visit to a movie theater.  We saw Les Miserables and the Beach Movie Bistro.  We followed that with an evening of playing games with family.  Since we are really aging our New Years’ Eve celebration ended with going to bed at least an hour before the end of the year at midnight.  2013 came in anyway.
Lights on the Boardwalk (2)Ocean Sands lobby treeHappy New Year

When I last left you we were in Virginia Beach and the Huskies were just ready to play in the Maaco Bowl.  I guess they should have tried to get more ready as they lost that game but made a pretty good showing.  Now on to the Seahawks to give us sports thrills.  We are in the middle of the opponents land here the south.   We left Virginia Beach last Saturday and travelled south to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  We watched the Seahawks beat the Washington Redskins, the very favorite team of most of Virginia Beach.  On Saturday we will travel to La Grange, Georgia just 1 hour south of Atlanta where we will be in the middle of the Atlanta Falcons homeland.  This should be interesting. 

Travelling from Virginia Beach to Myrtle Beach was a very interesting drive.  When the Atlantic Ocean comes in contact with land it presents one of two types of areas.  One is a very pleasant, long sandy beach with the waves lapping against the shore and occasionally becoming larger waves and breakers.  It is very picturesque and causes lots of beautiful homes and hotels to be built.  This is the scene that we lived in at Virginia Beach for two months.  The second type of area is a swampy inlet that can go inland for many miles.    We were within a few miles of the Atlantic Ocean all of the way across the state of North Carolina and it was all very swampy with large cypress trees growing out of the black water.  Our path took us along the Great Dismal Swamp for several miles followed by different areas of swampy grasslands and an occasional small farm.  The altitude never exceeded 50 feet above sea level. The ditches along the highway were full of water due to the very high water level.   We stopped for a driving break at Merchants Millpond State Park and were very surprised to learn about the swamps around that area and the small river that ran through it.  It is a great area for fishing but I did not have any urge to do so when I saw the sign that stated “…keep your distance from the alligators”.   We did. 
Boat launch in the swampCypress in the swamp

We had a very nice day of driving, although it was a longer day that we thought it was going to be.  The speed limit in the south is 45 on a lot of highways, and there are many stoplights on the highways.  Our arrival in Myrtle Beach was well after the sun had set so we did not see a lot of where we were.  We did check into a beautiful condo on the south end of the strip of hotels on Myrtle Beach.  The resort we are in is across the street from the ocean and we cannot see it from our room, but we have a great garden right outside that makes us feel like we are deep in the tropics. The daytime temperatures are in the mid 60’s and we have seen no rain.  It is a resort atmosphere. Everywhere we look is another golf center.  There are probably 10 major golf courses, some with very famous names, in the area that boasts over 100 courses in a ten mile area.  All the rest are miniature golf courses called “golf adventures”.  They are very elaborate with mountains and volcanoes, dinosaurs, waterfalls and rivers, pirate ships and other features.  They appear on every block but they are all closed for the winter season so we will not try them out. 
Myrtle BeachAtlantic at Myrtle Beach

This area is also very popular for the seafood accompanying the southern cooking and hospitality.  On Monday we went to a very small town right on the border of North and South Carolina called Calabash.  They have a very distinctive method of preparing their seafood by giving it a very light breading before frying it on a grill.  It is called Calabash Seafood and has caught on all over the area.  We went to Ella’s Restaurant in Calabash, the original restaurant to introduce this type of cooking.  It was a marvelous meal of very fresh seafood, oyster stew, and hush puppies.  Yummy!! 
Calabash charter fishing dock (3)home of the original Calabash seafood

On Tuesday we went to another area called Murrells Cove just south of Myrtle Beach.  Here they have a boardwalk that goes through the grassy marshes and has signs explaining the swampy grassland.  This is an area that was frequented by sailing ships owned by both merchants and pirates.  It is a very seafaring town with restaurants called “Canal Rats”, “Drunken Jacks and the “Dead Dog Saloon” and the motto “A nice little drinking village with a fishing problem”.   Our meal at the Dead Dog Saloon included shrimp and grits, fried oysters and more hush puppies.  Southern cooking is not really considered health food as they do a lot of deep frying and use a lot of butter, but it sure is tasty.
Marshwalk at Murrells Inlet (2)Marshwalk at Murrells InletHush Puppies at Dead DogShrimp and grits at Dead Dog

On Wednesday we took a 1 ½ hour drive to Charleston, North Carolina.  This is a very interesting port city right on the Atlantic.  It is one of the oldest cities in the United States having been settled in the 1650’s and is still a major port in the south for both merchant ships as well as cruise ships.  Our visit started at the visitor’s center, built in an old train station.  From there we boarded a trolley that was equipped with a lift for Linda’s scooter.  It took twenty minutes to get her on the bus and situated but she was able to get on and we did get to ride.  This took us through the main streets and shopping areas of Charleston and dropped us off at the public market.  From there we walked to the “Old South Carriage Company” and were able to board a horse drawn carriage for a tour of the city.  They even had a ramp that Linda was able to drive her scooter up and then transfer to the carriage.  This was a 1 ½ hour tour around the city with a very knowledgeable driver and guide.  We learned the following on this tour:
Linda is on the TrolleyOld South Carriage

  • Charleston was founded in 1650 and most of the houses were built and rebuilt from then on for the next 200 years for several reasons.  Fire, earthquakes, hurricanes and the Civil War were all factors that drove the rebuilding.  The most popular style of home has been the “one room” style.  This is a one room wide home several rooms deep and several stories high.  The entry of the home is on the east side through a portico, an outside hallway that serves all of the rooms.  This type of construction allows the south and west breezes to blow through the entire house for cooling in the hot summers in Charleston.  These homes also feature a lot of wrought iron gates, fences and trimmings as well as hand blown glass in the windows.  The street lights and porch lights are mainly gas lights.  The city has very strict standards that protect the historical voracity of the homes as well as subsidizes the gas lights so they can burn 24 hours a day.

Charleston One Room with PorticoCharleston One Room Home with Portico

  • The homes in the main residential area of Charleston are divided by Broad Street.  This is like the “other side of the tracks” conversation.  Those addresses situated North of Broad (SNOB) were the “haves”.  On the other side are the South of Broad (SOB’s) were the “have mores”.  The reflected property values today are in the range of $500 - $1000 per square foot in the SNOB area.  The SOB’s run around $1500 - $2000 per square foot.  This is for the regular houses.  The mansions are at the $5M and up range.  There is a very prestigious award given for homes that are restored extremely well.  This award will add about $1M to the value of the home but it does cost just a little more than that to do the restoration.  We won’t be moving here.

Charleston MansionCharleston Mansion (2)

  • The homes in Charleston are built very close together because the land was at a premium.  Much of the land where the homes are now built was claimed from the ocean by filling in the swampy area.  This made the land very expensive so the homes are built on very small lots but are several stories high.  We saw some houses that were less than a foot apart.
  • The city of Charleston has been destroyed by 5 major fires over the past 200 years.  A major fire is defined as one that involves 100 buildings or more!  These have been devastating but each time the city has been rebuilt and each time it has been a little better.  There are buildings that have survived all of the fires and a 7.5 Richter scale earthquake as well as several major hurricanes.  These, however are now supported with hurricane bolts that go through the buildings to hold them in an upright position.  Some of them lean and are sinking but they are there. 

Charleston Home with Earthquake Bolts

  • One of the major causes of the fires was the open fire kitchens in the homes.  A law was passed in the 1840’s calling for homes to build separate kitchen buildings for the homes.  This worked well in slowing down the fire rate but it did have its drawbacks.  Since the kitchens were not attached to the homes, the prepared food had to be carried by the servants (slaves) from the kitchen to the house.  The masters were concerned that the servants might be snacking on the food as it was in transit so they passed a rule that the servants had to whistle while carrying the food since it is not possible to whistle and eat at the same time.  This worked well also, but the whistling called all of the dogs in the areas to the source of food being transferred.  To stop this, the servants would cook small balls of dough and carry them to throw to the dogs to keep them away.  These became known as “hush puppies” and have since been enhanced and served at many restaurants through the south.  So when eating the delicious little doughnut flavored morsels dipped in honey butter, you are essentially eating a form of dog food!
  • As you recall from your history lessons, the first shot of the Civil War was shot at Fort Sumpter, an island that protects the port of Charleston.  The Civil War is very important in the history of this city and many of these folks still are keeping their confederate money because they believe the south will rise again.
  • This is a city with so many churches it has been nick-named the Holy City.  There are also laws still on the books that no building may be taller than the tallest church steeple in town.  The churches are many and varied.  Many have graveyards adjacent to the church (as opposed to a cemetery which is a burial site not attached to a church) with very old grave markers in them.

Charleston Church and StreetCharleston Church with CarriageCharleston Unitarian Church, Wrought Iron, Painted Glass and Graveyard.

  • The city has what is called the 75 year rule.  Anything that is present that has been around for more than 75 years may not be moved by the hands of man.  This includes old stone fences that are crumbling and curb stones that are in front yards.

This was a great way to see Charleston and learn about this important and interesting city in the Deep South.  While we were in Charleston there was a very large cruise ship at anchor within view of much of this historical city.  What a contrast in the old and new side by side.

We finished our adventure with a ride back to the visitor’s center.  This was a real adventure as the trolley that tried to get their handicapped lift opened malfunctioned and could not be operated either in our out.  A second trolley came and tried to unfold their mechanism but had the same problem.  So, we had two trolleys that were both unable to move and were partially blocking the narrow street.  Luckily, Linda had not been on either of the lift mechanisms when they stalled so we were still on the sidewalk.  The trolley company finally called a city bus and they came and loaded us up for a great ride to the visitor’s center.  Those trolleys might still be there trying to get themselves unstuck.

Our final adventure in Charleston was a delightful dinner at Victoria’s on King.  This is in the middle of the main shopping area of the city.  We again sampled the southern fare with shrimp and grits and she-crab soup.  While it was wonderful, some pacific coast king salmon or halibut and good old Duke’s or Ivar’s clam chowder would be just as good.  

We have one more day staying in this area and then we travel on, this time heading west to Georgia as we start our trip back to Seattle.  This is a great trip and we are learning vast amounts about our country and a little about ourselves.

Go Seahawks!!


Fry's Epic Journey, Entry 14, Virginia Beach and Monticello

It is about time I sat down and did some writing again.  It has been 6 weeks since I last wrote but I do, of course, have an excuse.  I am just not sure we have done enough to not be boring. We have been in one place just doing mostly normal living.
Boardwalk looking north
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We are still in Virginia Beach, VA, with our family who lives here (Nancy and Mike, our daughter and her husband, and our grandsons Jeff, 18 and Nicky,6).  We have just had a great time being involved in their day to day life for the past 6 weeks.  And when we were not with them, most of our time has been spending time right here in our condo looking out the window.  We have wall to wall, floor to ceiling windows in our condo here that look out onto the boardwalk, the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.  We are on the 5th floor so our view is wonderful, private and not so high as to be scary. Every day the ocean seems to change as the breakers go from very large and three rows breaking to no breakers at all.  Sometimes the tide brings in some seaweed and leaves a line where it was the highest.  Other times it cleans all of the seaweed away.  From our window we have seen surfers on the ocean, many large commercial and Navy ships heading out or into port, smaller fishing boats and day cruisers and one offshore racer just practicing. We have seen many birds and Linda has identified three different types of seagulls (and I thought they all looked alike), and are able to tell which way the wind is blowing by the direction they face on the beach (they always point into the wind so it does not ruffle their feathers).  We have also seen many dolphins or porpoises swimming by.  We have always seen these in groups of up to 5 swimming in the same direction.  On some days we will see a total of 20-30 of these all heading north.  Another day they are all heading south.  There does not seem to be a pattern but they are all consistent with each other.  It is a thrill watching them come to the surface for breaths of air and slowly roll in the waves showing us their head, their back dorsal fin and their tail as they disappear under the water.  We even get to see surfers and horses from our window.  Our window is a great entertainer where we have spent lots of time including eating most of our breakfasts and lunches in front of it. 

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Surfers and horses at Virginia BeachSurfers at Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach is a sprawling city that starts at the Atlantic Ocean and extends inland about 10 miles. Virginia Beach is very near the Virginia-North Carolina state line.   The city is built on very sandy ground in between many small waterways and little lakes as would be expected with the ocean area.  There is a 4 mile strip of hotels within the first two blocks of the beach that are up to 20 stories tall.  The rest of the city is mostly smaller buildings up to 3 stories high and lots of strip malls.  West of the city of Virginia Beach is the city of Norfolk and Suffolk.  To the north, on the north side of Chesapeake Bay are the cities of Portsmouth and Newport News.  Chesapeake Bay is a very large inlet from the Atlantic that has become a major port on the east coast.  The highway coming into this area goes through a mile long tunnel that goes under the bay.  

his area is very military with Norfolk having the largest US Navy base in the world. Several very large navy ships sit in the Naval Base harbor in Chesapeake Bay and come and go out into the Atlantic on various maneuvers.  In addition to Norfolk are Naval Air Station Oceana, and other military installations covering every branch of the service.  These military installations provide employment for a large percentage of the population of the area.  (Oceana also provides very loud jets, similar to the Blue Angels’ planes, flying over the city every day all day long.  Their flight path often takes them right over our hotel.  We have become so used to them that they do not even disturb our retiree midday naps anymore.) Because of the military influence, the population is from all over the country.  We have met very few natives of this area.  We see cars from many different states’ license plates including some from Washington!     

There have been a few excursions over the past weeks.  One day Jeff called us and invited us to go to Old Dominion University where he is a freshman.  He showed us all over the campus on a walking tour of the buildings that house classrooms, offices and the bookstore where ODU shirts were purchased.  It is a very beautiful campus located inside the city of Norfolk.  This institution was started by William and Mary University, the oldest institution of higher learning in this area having been founded in the mid 1600’s (Thomas Jefferson’s alma mater).   Old Dominion broke away from W&M in 1930 as an independent school, so many of the buildings are modern.  It has grown steadily over the years and now has over 25,000 students.  Jeff is very happy to be finishing his first semester at ODU and receiving a 4.0 gpa (a little Grampa boasting). He plans on finishing his college career at Old Dominion.

Tree lined walk at ODUODU Monarks fountain (2)

We have also taken the ride down the Boardwalk to look at the beautiful lights and decorations.  We did this with Mike, Nancy and Nicky after attending the Santa Claus Parade in front of our hotel.  It was delightful seeing the excitement of our 6 year old grandson as well as the exciting decorations done along the boardwalk. 

moreVA Beach 008Santa Parade

The other outing we have taken was an all-day drive to the town of Charlottesville in the center of Virginia to visit Monticello, the plantation and home of Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson built Monticello on 5,000 acres of rolling hills.  He was his own architect and designed the 3 story, 21 room home to be comfortable for his family, efficient to heat and light and able to accept visitors in large numbers and for extended visits.  This home, pictured on the US nickel, took over 40 years for Jefferson to complete. The home and its furnishings have been wonderfully maintained since it’s completion in 1809.  The home and its grounds are now owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, a private nonprofit corporation who has done an exemplary job of preserving this national treasure, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Monticello 010The Nickel view (back entrance)

This was a very impressive visit and an immersion into US history.  Our tour of Monticello started at a visitor center with a short movie about the life of Jefferson followed by a tour of a museum in the visitor center.  These highlighted many of the accomplishments of Jefferson including being the author of the Declaration of Independence. After that he spent the next 33 years of his life in public service serving as a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly and to Congress, as governor of Virginia, US minister to France, national secretary of state, vice president and, finally, our third president of the United States.  He was the president who purchased the Louisiana Purchase and was the originator of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  In retirement, his final achievement was the founding of the University of Virginia. We then were taken in a bus up the hill to Monticello (meaning “small mountain” in Italian) to the site of the mansion and plantation.  We were able to have a guided tour of the home (yes, it was completely accessible for Linda) as well as spend as much time as we wanted in the surrounding gardens and landscape.  Here we learned how sustainable Monticello was by growing the vast majority of its own food including the milling of its own wheat.  The downside to all of this is that Jefferson accomplished most of the building, planting and growing using the nearly 200 slaves he owned.  It is a paradox that while many of his writings called for “all men are created equal” and “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that he was an owner and proponent of slavery.  He did say that slavery was not a good thing and should be abolished, but by some future generation.
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This was a great visit and a wonderful experience.  We have seen so much of the history of the founding of our country while in Plymouth, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC and now in Monticello.  We have said many times how much of an advantage the school students in this area have to experience the history first hand instead of just reading about it in their history books.  Any opportunity to visit these areas and see the history should never be passed over.  Seeing how frail our country was and how difficult the founding of an independent nation was cannot be overlooked.  The fact that this experiment in living has become the greatest nation on earth increases patriotism exponentially.

We are now all ready to experience Christmas in Virginia.  It feels much like Christmas at home except for the weather being not rainy (it was nearly 70 degrees this week and I went walking on the Boardwalk in shorts) and the menu including grits, hushpuppies and collard greens.  Nancy, who was an excellent cook when she moved here, has been able to add a southern influence to her menus so our Christmas feast will be memorable.  We do want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful celebration of the New Year. 

I guess I have found enough to write about to not be too boring.  Now, it is almost time to watch the Huskies in the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl.  GO DAWGS!!  

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Jim and Linda