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Heceta Head Lighthouse

As stated in our last post, we are spending the month of June volunteering for Oregon State Parks as interpretive hosts at Heceta Head Lighthouse.  Located between Florence and Yachats, this sentinel has been guiding mariners since it was first lit on March 30, 1894. 

 

Standing at just 56 feet high, the building’s stature could be considered somewhat short. 

It is the commanding position on the headland that gives the lighthouse the height it needs to send its beam out 21 miles to sea.  The curvature of the earth is the only thing that limits it from projecting further. The focal plane of the bullseye on the lens above mean (average) sea level is a whopping 210 feet!

Back in 1775, a Portuguese explorer named Don Bruno de Heceta was sent by Spain on a mission to chart the waters from San Diego north to the Arctic Circle.  When he reached the waters off of the headland where the lighthouse sits today, he noticed that there was a large shallow area several miles from the shore.  That ridge of seabed became known over time as Heceta Bank, and is actually a raised area on the edge of the North American Plate.  Subsequently, the headland itself became known as Heceta Head.

Fast forward 75 years to the Westward Expansion and the California Gold Rush.  With the surge in ship traffic up and down the coast, there was a need for reliable navigational aids.  The U.S. Lighthouse Service received congressional appropriations for lighthouses in California and Washington, but it took longer to fill in the dark voids along the Oregon shore.  The last area to be lit was from present day Newport down to Winchester Bay.  Three locations were chosen:  Yaquina Head Light at Newport, Umpqua River Light at Winchester Bay and Heceta Head Light, halfway between the other two. Construction on Heceta Head began in 1892.  Considering the rocky coast and the fact there was only a rough wagon road over the headlands to the site, the project was a formidable challenge.  Some of the materials were brought in by ship and unloaded into smaller surf boats and rowed ashore.  Others were brought around the headlands to the south at low tide on calm days.  Still others were brought over the wagon road. Considering those challenges, it is quite amazing to note that the lighthouse, the two oil houses, the keepers house and the assistant keepers duplex were all completed by 1894.  On March 30 of that year, the first keeper lit the kerosene lamp in the first order Fresnel lens and Heceta Head Lighthouse was officially in service.

The Fresnel lens that was used at the lighthouse was made by Chance Brothers in England.  Most lighthouse lenses in the United States came from France and were made out of silica based glass, which had a greenish tint to it.  Chance used a sulpher based glass which gave the optic a slight yellowish hue.  It was found that the Chance Brothers lenses actually had a higher candlepower, due to that color difference. At the time that Heceta Head used a kerosene lamp, the output of the lens was rated at 80,000 candlepower.  

The current 1000 watt bulb increases the output to 2.5 million candlepower, a full 500,000 units brighter than a comparable silica glass lens!  As a result, Heceta’s light is the brightest on the west coast.

When the lighthouse was first opened, the 4000 pound lens rotated one revolution every 8 minutes.  There are 8 separate panels of prisms, each radiating from a bullseye in the center of each panel.  As each bullseye would align between the light source and the mariner’s eyes, the entire panel would flash.  As a result, Heceta’s signature was one white flash every minute.  Each lighthouse has its own unique signature, so mariners are able to tell where they are at by timing the flashes.  When Heceta changed from a hand wound clockwork mechanism to an electric motor, the lens speed was increased to one flash every 10 seconds.

Touching on the original clockwork at the lighthouse, it was powered by a 200 pound weight that would descend from the lens to the watchroom floor.  That took 39 minutes to go that distance, and resulted in the keepers having to constantly climb the steps and rewind the mechanism.  A request was made to the Lighthouse Service for permission to cut holes in the watchroom, service room and first landing floors, so the weight could descend to the base of the tower.  Permission was granted and the modification was completed, which increased the winding interval to 4 hours. 

There were three keepers that worked rotating shifts to maintain the light at Heceta Head.  Their responsibilities included filling the lantern with kerosene oil, winding the mechanism, polishing the lens, painting and whitewashing the buildings and general cleaning and upkeep of the lightstation. Things began to change in 1932 when the Oregon Coast Highway was built, which passed within yards of the station.  Electricity came on the heels of the road in 1934, and the oil-fired lantern was replaced by an electric light bulb.  That eliminated the soot on the lens from the kerosene, which resulted in less cleaning. Following that, the clockwork was removed and replaced with an electric motor.  With the decreased workload, the Lighthouse Service eventually reduced the quantity of keepers from three to two.  The head keeper was moved into one half of the assistant keepers duplex. The main keepers home was sold for $10 with the stipulation that the buyer must dismantle and remove it.

With the onset of World War II, there were heightened concerns of Japanese attacks along the west coast.  Defenses were built all along the shore from Southern California to the Canadian border. Heceta Head became host to a bevy of Coast Guard personnel, along with what was described as several vicious guard dogs. Patrols originated from the station to the north and south.  A couple of barracks buildings had to be built where the former head keepers house was, and it was noted that perhaps they had removed the first structure a little too soon.  Once the war was over, the barracks were removed.

In 1963, the lighthouse was fully automated.  All of the windows below the lantern room were sealed over to prevent vandalism. Occasional maintenance was undertaken by the Coast Guard to change the light bulb, grease the rollers the lens rotates on and clean the windows.  In the 1960’s, the Coast Guard turned over the lighthouse to Oregon Parks and Recreation, except for the lens and one oil house.  Those were deeded to the state park at a later date.  The assistant keepers house is owned by the U.S. Forest Service and is leased as a bed and breakfast.

In 2012, a major restoration was undertaken to restore the lighthouse.  Today it stands proud on the headland shining its beam through the same lens it did 123 years ago.  Diana and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to showcase the beautiful sentinel this month, and to foster interest in the history of the location.  We have met people from all around the globe who have come to visit the beacon.  It’s that sort of curiosity and interest that ensures Heceta Head Lighthouse will still be shining brightly 123 years from now!

Redwoods and Rocky Shores 

Heading into Northern California on US-101, we were really impressed with how beautiful the region was.  The hills along the winding road soon were filled with progressively taller forests, eventually transitioning into groves of coastal redwoods.   We spent a night in Myers Flat to quickly explore the Avenue of the Giants, knowing we were going to be spending a full day at our next stop in Redwood National Park.  While checking out the visitor center at Humboldt State Park, we noticed the campground next door. 

When we walked in to take a look, we realized that it was the same place that our friends Lee and Tracy had hosted at back in 2015.

The next day, we drove up to Klamath and set up on a riverfront site at Klamath River RV Park.  We decided to do a little exploring, so we drove down towards the ocean.  One of the first things we saw was the entrance to the old US-101 bridge over the Klamath, which was washed out in 1964.  

The span featured these concrete grizzly bears on the railings, similar to the gold bears on the new span farther upriver.  Why are the bears on the new span gold?  Well it seems that back in the 1950’s, several friends were at a local bar discussing how the town needed to be spruced up.  They set out that night sweeping up the streets and washing windows on the businesses.  To top it all off, someone suggested they coat the bears on what is now the old bridge with some gold paint that he had in his shed.  When the California Department of Transportation saw them the next day, they sent workers with turpentine to remove the golden hue.  This went on back and forth several times until the state finally gave in and left the grizzlies as the townsfolk wanted them to be. 


 
When the new bridge was built, the highway department adorned the approaches with these bedazzled bruins as a tribute to the Golden Bear Club of Klamath.  😊

The other point of interest on our drive that afternoon was the old World War II era early warning radar station along the coast.

The trail down to the facility was not maintained, so we couldn’t get any closer. Disguised to look like a farmhouse and barn, the structures actually housed radar equipment, a generator, and two 50 caliber anti-aircraft guns.  This particular station is the last of 65 such stations that once were located up and down the entire coast.  If they detected any military boats or aircraft that didn’t belong, they sent out a warning. Having not heard of these defenses before, we wondered aloud, ” What sort of things like this exist today that we don’t know about?”

We drove to the national park visitor center in Crescent City the next day to get our bearings.  We had business to take care of that required good wifi, so we knew our time would be limited in the park. We made good use of the local library’s wifi, and checked out town before heading out to see the big trees.

Battery Point lighthouse sits just off the mainland.  There is a trail out to it that is accessible only at low tide.

From there, we drove up into a grove of trees northeast of town.

The height on the coastal redwoods can get quite a bit taller than sequoias, even though they aren’t as old or as big around.

Even after they’ve fallen, they are gigantic!

They are so rot resistant, large trees take root in them and grow to impressive heights before the nurse log has a chance to decay.  

After spending nearly a month exploring California, we arrived in Oregon on Tuesday, May 23rd. Our first stop was in Port Orford.  We drove out to Cape Blanco to check out the lighthouse and the westernmost point in the contiguous United States.

The wind was blowing so hard, we had trouble holding our footing!  It was incredible!

On Wednesday, we arrived at Carl G. Washburne State Park north of Florence, Oregon.

This is our campsite for the month of June, as we will be interpretive hosts just south of here at…

…Heceta Head Lighthouse!  This sentinel has held a special place in our hearts since we visited it during a special nighttime tour back in 1996. We will be giving tours until the end of June, when we will be moving on to a different adventure. Our internet is non-existent at our campsite, but we do get service in the day use and at the lighthouse. If we are slow to respond to comments, that’s why.   Please stay tuned as we explore the central Oregon coast over the next month!

Rendezvous in Napa

Back when we were planning our trip west, Diana asked her cousin Nancy if she and her husband David would be interested in meeting us in either Napa, Yosemite, or Oregon.  The former worked out better (lodging-wise) for them, so our rendezvous dates of May 15th through the 19th were set!

On our way north to Napa from Three Rivers, we spent the night at a Harvest Hosts location in Lodi; Jessie’s Grove Winery.  Home to the oldest Zinfandel vines in the Lodi area, the land this winery is located on is a fifth generation ranch.  We purchased a bottle of one of their old-vine Zinfandel wines, which was excellent.

Here we are with current owners Wanda and her son Greg.  We enjoyed listening to Wanda tell the story of how her great grandparents met.  Joseph Spenker first saw Anna at a wedding and told her he would pick her up the next day, as he was going to marry her.  True to his word, he came with his wagon while she was in the middle of doing laundry and off they went…tossing her wet clothes in the back.  They were married before the sun set and raised two children on this farm, Jessie and Otto.  Jessie was the glue that held the business together through Prohibition and The Great Depression; hence the name on the winery is hers.  A delightful story from a charming woman that made for another wonderful Harvest Hosts stop…a ‘must’ if you are ever in Lodi.

We arrived in Napa on Monday, May 15.  After setting up, we spent the evening with Nancy and David.  Over dinner and a bottle of wine, we plotted our next four days.  We decided that we would alternate days of driving and planning, which ended up working out tremendously well!

Tuesday was theirs to plan.  We started out in downtown Napa at Capp Heritage Vineyards’ tasting room.

We spent darned near an hour with Gary going over some of their offerings.  He was extremely entertaining!

After lunch, we headed to  The Hess Collection.

Situated high on Mt. Veeder, this winery occupies the land and a wonderful old 1903 building that is leased from the Christian Brothers.  Several of the buildings on the property were damaged in a 2014 earthquake, along with thousands of gallons of wine being spilled into the courtyard.  Renovations are still underway.

We were part of a semi-private chocolate and wine pairing, which was coupled with a tour of Donald Hess’ collection of contemporary art.  Our tour mates were Mike and Jenna from Boston.  Jenna writes an excellent lifestyle blog called Boston Chic Party.  We toured some of the old Christian Brothers vines, the barrel cellar, and then the art collection.

These two large images appeared to be photos, but are actually paintings!

In this piece, the artist left off the heads… as she felt that when people are in a group, they don’t use them.  

The tasting itself consisted of these handmade chocolate truffles that were paired with four wines.  

It was definitely first class!

Wednesday, Diana and I took our turn and we all headed over to Santa Rosa. Our destinantion was the Charles Schultz Museum.

This giant mural is actually made up of hundreds of four panel Peanuts comic strips.

David…an excellent cartoonist himself…couldn’t resist having at Snoopy’s typewriter.  😊

This is the studio where Charles Schultz composed his Charlie Brown cartoons we all loved so much.

They also had this large sculpture showing the progression from young Charles’ actual dog Spike into the final version of Snoopy.

From Santa Rosa, we headed to Sonoma Valley and toured Benziger Family Winery.  

Diana and I actually took this tour back in 2005 and loved it.  It was still as good as we remembered it to be.

Thursday, David and Nancy took us on a cave tour at Failla Vineyards in Napa Valley.

Their wines were elegant…which we translated to having a lighter taste to them.  Definitely a nice tour!  

Our second and final wine tour of the week was a curvy trip to the top of Spring Mountain to Pride Mountain Vineyards.

Their winery is housed in this picturesque timber frame structure.

That brick inlay in the concrete is the Napa/Sonoma county line.  It bisects their cave and creates an extra layer to their business, as the tax accountant has to figure what percentage of the product came from each county.

We explored the many arms of their cave, tasting different varietals along the way.  Jay was our outstanding tour guide, who was a fountain of knowledge.  We were surprised to learn that Napa and Sonoma’s total production only accounts for 4% of all of California’s wine!  Pride’s offerings were more robust.  Definitely worth the winding trip up Spring Mountain!

On Friday, we capped off our week with a trip to Muir Woods and Sausalito.

The trees in Muir Woods were amazing, but we came away with the feeling that the place was being loved to death.  The crush of tourists (including us) really distracted from the natural setting.  There were upwards of six tour busses in the parking lot at any given time.  We did get out to the Muir Beach Overlook, which had a fantastic view over the Pacific Ocean.

After lunch in Sausalito, we walked the docks.

This funky town is known for its crazy houseboats.  Yep…that’s a floating Taj Mahal.

And with a cloudless sky, we couldn’t resist taking a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge!  It was a fun way to cap off a really great week with Nancy and David!

Next up, a trip up the coast to see the coastal redwoods!  In addition, we will reveal the first of our two gigs we have planned for the summer.  We are extremely excited to be able to share this with you!  Take note that our internet connection and cell service will be spotty at best, so bear with us.  Be sure to stay tuned!

Kings Canyon National Park

We almost didn’t go….

After a very full day on Wednesday, May 10 at Sequoia, we planned to spend Thursday getting caught up on chores and such.  We planned our visit to Kings Canyon for Friday, still not totally sure what we were going to find there.  We seriously considered skipping it all together, as a quick check of Google Street View wasn’t revealing much more than a tree-lined road.  Well, something stirred in us that Thursday morning and before we knew it, we were in Edsel and headed for Sequoia’s brother to the north!

Rather than take the same road we took the day before, we decided to try the road that ran west of Sequoia through the foothills. What started out as a two lane road with painted lines quickly turned into a narrow country lane, somewhat reminiscent of the roads we experienced in Kentucky.  I had to tame my inner Formula One driver, so as to not go over the side. 😉. The road gained elevation as we went, eventually leading us to the entrance to Kings Canyon.

Looking at this photo and the previous one, it’s hard to believe they were taken an hour apart!  Our fears of a cloudy day soon dissipated as we drove further into the park.  We stopped at the Grant Grove Visitor Center to gather more information about Kings Canyon and ended up speaking to Ranger Meredith, a seasoned dynamo full of enthusiasm for her beloved workplace.  That stop paid off in gold as the day progressed. As we headed to the heart of the canyon, the road actually leaves the park for a stretch and enters Giant Sequoia National Monument.

This outstanding area was elevated to monument status in 2000.  The road through it is the only way to get into the main portion of Kings Canyon. With most of the turnouts on the opposite side of the road, we opted to catch them on our way back home.  Seeing what we had to look forward to was like knowing we were going to have a great dessert after our meal.  😃

One thing Ranger Meredith asked us was “Any geologists here?”  We expressed our interest, so she told us to go exactly 1/2 mile past Boyden Cave and look at the rock wall on the driver’s side.  She said that even though there isn’t a pulloff, stop in the road and take a photo…and if the cars behind us didn’t like it, too bad.  😉

Wow!  I guess this says a lot about the makeup of subterranean California!

From there, we headed upriver to Grizzly Falls.

This powerful torrent was the culmination of Grizzly Creek just prior to it entering the Kings River.

From there, the road re-entered the national park.  Our next stop was Roaring River Falls.

It definitely was roaring!  Diana asked a NPS trail worker what we could expect to see in July, if we had come then instead.  He said that the river would actually be higher in July, as the warm temperatures would be melting the mountain snowpack more quickly than it currently was.  

From there we went to Zumwalt Meadow.

We crossed this suspension bridge along the way.

We also had to cross over this flooded pathway, as a small creek was over its banks in this section of the trail.

This was the payoff at the end of the trail!  It was a very peaceful place to be.  From this point, the road went just a little farther to a place called Road’s End.  Diana spoke with three hikers there who had crossed the Sierras from the east.  It took them six days.  They had snowshoes as part of their gear, and they mentioned that there still is a lot of snow at the higher elevations.  There are several trails that leave from Road’s End that are more our speed, and we definitely want to return to try them in the future.

Heading back out the same road, we had a little surprise along the way.

Three wide load trucks with what appeared to be some sort of temporary housing units on the back came by!  I was over as far as I could possibly get, and had a few thousand foot drop off to my right.  Yikes!

The difference in height between the river and the mountaintops is around 8200 feet, making Kings Canyon one of the deepest canyons in the United States!  

As I stated earlier, we almost didn’t make the trip that day.  The next morning, the clouds hung at 2000 feet, so we wouldn’t have seen much of anything.  We were glad we made the effort when we did, so we were able to see the spectacular scenery that Kings Canyon has to offer.

Though it is a bit of a challenge to get to, take the time to experience it.  You won’t be disappointed!

Next up, we head towards Napa Valley!  Be sure to stay tuned!

Sequoia National Park

At a coffee shop in Kentucky last November, we scheduled a five day stay at Yosemite National Park as part of our trip to Oregon from Florida.  Record rainfall this winter took out a couple of key bridges between the campground we had reserved and Yosemite, and it would have increased the trip into the park to 2-1/2 hours.  While considering our options, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks showed up on our radar.  A few phone calls later, our new destinations were set!

These two parks are operated as one administrative unit, but are vastly different.  With that in mind, we will give Kings Canyon its own post following this one. We arrived on Tuesday, May 9 and set up base camp at Kaweah Resort in Three Rivers, just outside of Sequoia’s southwest gate. We drove up to the visitor’s center and picked up our maps, information, and our Junior Ranger book.

The next day we set off to discover Sequoia National Park!

As we entered the foothills, it quickly became evident that the roads were full of curves and hairpin turns.  It was seldom that we cleared 30 miles an hour, which was just fine with us.  There were plenty of turnouts to allow us to get over and let those with a tighter schedule to pass.  It was in these foothills that Moro Rock first came into view.  Knowing there was a pathway to the top, we headed that way.

Our first stop was at Hospital Rock.

This gigantic boulder was the winter home for up to 500 Potwisha Indians, and features several petroglyphs.  Hale Tharp, a settler originally from Michigan by way of Placerville California, gave the rock its name after two acquaintances of his were treated by the natives there for injuries they had sustained elsewhere in the mountains.

Just before Moro Rock is a trail leading to Hanging Rock.

Not exactly a place a person would want to be in a rain, ice or snow storm.  😉 The view from there was outstanding!

The trail does offer one of the better vantages of our next destination.

After the Hanging Rock Trail, we then began our ascent up the spine of Moro Rock.  The 350 rock stairs were fashioned in the 1930’s by the CCC and provide a fairly (but not totally) safe route to the top.

This is definitely one place where you want to heed the Stay on the Traîl signs!

Looking back, Hanging Rock can be seen in the center of the photo.  That’s quite a drop off.

The view from the top is breathtaking!  We want to note that this is not a place to be if there is a threat of bad weather.  Lightning can be an issue up here.  We also saw one woman scooting back down on her bottom, so a fear of heights comes into play on this climb.

From the vistas of Moro Rock, we descended into the forest that this park is so famous for.  Actually, the word descended  is a misnomer.  We gained a fair amount of elevation before we reached the taller sequoia trees.  That boggled our minds as typically the higher the elevation, the shorter the trees. That’s not the case here!

Words can not describe how impressive these trees are.  That tree is most likely well over 1000 years old.  The small tree to the left is also a Sequoia.  The bark on these trees is soft and squishy, about the consistency of a ripe avocado.  As you can see on the smaller tree, the needles are similar to a cedar or arborvitae.

They actually grow in a mixed forest.  There are several groves of them scattered around the park.

And there’s Diana waving from Edsel in the Tunnel Log!  

We traded photography duties with a couple at these twin sequoias.  One of the trunks showed a large forest fire scar.  These giants rarely succumb to fire, as the bark is flame resistant.  The trees have a surprisingly shallow root system, considering their size. The usual cause of death is that they simply lose their balance and fall over.



Which is exactly what happened with the Buttress Tree.   This giant actually toppled over in 1959 on a clear day with no wind.  It’s remarkable how little it has decayed since then.

And here’s two sequoia wannabes with the real deal!  I guess this could be called a shameless sequoia selfie. 😉

Of all the mammoths in Sequoia National Park, one stands larger than the rest.  In fact, it is the largest tree by volume on the face of the earth!

The General Sherman Tree!

This coniferous colossus is estimated to be 2200 years old!  To give visitor’s an idea how tall it is, the trail from the parking lot 1/2 mile away begins at treetop height (275 feet).  Walking back up the trail afterwards…at an altitude of 6000 feet above sea level…really drives the point home.  This tree is simply magnificent.

Next up is Sequoia’s neighbor to the north, Kings Canyon National Park!  Be sure to stay tuned!

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Giant Sequoia growing kit and other fun items on exploRVistas Amazon link available by clicking HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Friends, Family, and the Foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains

After spending time with family in Oceanside, we headed up to San Dimas to establish a base to do more exploring and visiting.

We were fortunate to snag this site at East Shore RV Park, which featured a tremendous view of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Our focus during our time here was to catch up with some old friends, visit with more family, and see some of the local sites.  We also honed our urban driving skills on the famous L.A. freeways!

On Thursday, we headed towards Woodland Hills to visit with friends.  We stopped along the way at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery, as Diana noticed there were several celebrities buried there.  We saw the graves of Bette Davis, Liberace, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

It was not lost on us that we were there on May 4, otherwise known as Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you).

From there, we went to one of Diana’s friend’s home in Woodland Hills.

Here we are with Debi and her husband Jamie, along with Debi’s parents, Jeane and Ron. Debi’s mom was one of Diana’s Girl Scout leaders along with Mrs. Faust. (We visited Mr. and Mrs. Faust a couple of years ago in Michigan). Having the same leaders from second through twelth grade made this group of girls very close and many of them still keep in touch. Their troop was very active with many camping trips, including a two week Hike Across Michigan. Diana joked that Debbie’s dad and Mr. Faust should have earned merit badges for driving motorhomes full of teenage girls from Michigan to Yellowstone National Park and back.  It was great to catch up with all of them and to finally be able to meet Jamie!

On Friday, a longtime friend from college came to visit us!  We hadn’t seen Tim since he left West Michigan in 1989 to work for Paramount Pictures.  He and his wife Kim have two lovely daughters and have had great careers in Hollywood. It was really good to catch up with him.  😊

On Saturday, we headed to Pasadena to catch up with Betsy and her husband Wayne.

We met Betsy back in college and we’ve kept in touch ever since. Wayne was our tour guide for the day as we checked out the area.  They treated us to dinner afterward, which was very sweet!

He works at The California Institute of Technology, so we were able to get an in-depth walk through the beautiful campus.  It’s inspiring to note that 33 Nobel Prize winners have graced these grounds.

The fictional characters Leonard and Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory work at Cal Tech.  We didn’t see them here at the astrophysics lab.  😉

From there, we checked out Huntington Botanical Gardens, the Rose Bowl, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills.

This is the Red Carpet area that leads into the Dolby Theatre where the Academy Awards are held.  It’s actually a mall that is lined with stores on both sides, which are curtained off for the show.  Who knew?

I’ve always known that I had stiff competition, in the fact that Diana wanted to marry Opie when she was growing up.  😉  (I always did like the nice guys 😊 Diana).  Thank you for the marvelous day, Betsy and Wayne! 

On Sunday, we went to Glendora to visit with more of Diana’s California relatives. Diana’s mother was the youngest of eight children. One of Joyce’s sisters, Lucille (Don), and one of her brothers Ken (Margery), and their families moved from Michigan to California in the 1950’s. Diana is one of 23 cousins on her mother’s side. The main reason for coming to California this spring was a long overdue visit to see these family members, and it was wonderful beyond our expectations!

Seated in the front is Aunt Margery.  From the left are Judy, Mike, Evie, Gregg, Judy, Diana, myself and Wes.  A total of 20 of us attended a get together at Aunt Margery’s home. We were so excited about seeing each other, we failed to get photos until after the following people had left: Uncle Don & Aunt Barb; Barry & Dawn; Evie’s daughter Kelly, her husband Mike, and their son Oliver; Judy’s son Wyatt, his wife Syndi, and their sons Gage & Gavin. As stated in our last post, Diana had not seen some of them since she was a young girl. Others she had yet to meet. We were moved at the outpouring of love from them, and we are determined to not let so much time pass before our next visit!

From the excitement and bustle of the Los Angeles area, we move next to the majesty of the High Sierras.  Be sure to stay tuned!

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The Big Bang Theory and other great items from exploRVistas Amazon link are available by clicking HERE.

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

 

Oceanside and San Diego

After spending a considerable amount of time in the desert the past few weeks, we crossed over the Laguna Mountains in Southern California and into the wonderfully cool temperatures of the San Diego region.  Our plans were to see Diana’s relatives who live in the area.  We arrived in Oceanside on April 27 and met up with Diana’s cousin Barry and his wife Dawn for dinner. 

The next day, the four of us hopped the Coaster train to San Diego to do a little touring!

These tiled pillars in the Santa Fe Depot were fabulous!  The building was opened in 1915 and has been in use ever since.  It was built by the City of San Diego in an attempt to lure the Santa Fe Railroad to make it the western terminus for its transcontinental railroad.  Los Angeles ended up winning that competition.

We walked to the bay to see the aircraft carrier USS Midway and to check out the waterfront.

I even kissed one of the pretty girls while we were there!

We had a nice lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, caught a pedicab back to the depot and headed back to Oceanside.  Our driver was very upbeat and entertaining, despite having to haul four adults across town.  😉

The next day, Diana and I hopped in the Escape and headed back south along the Pacific Coast Highway.

One of the surprises for us was the Veterans Memorial on Mt. Soledad.  There were semi circles of black granite tiles with veterans names, photos and stories inscribed in them.  Any U.S. veteran, living or dead, can have a plaque there.  Prices start at just under $1,000 and go up, depending on the size of the tile.

From the top of the memorial, there was a tremendous view to the north…

…and to the south!

From there, we skirted the western side of San Diego to visit Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma Lighthouse.  This maritime sentinel had been on our list of places to see since way back at the turn of the millennium when we were members of the U.S. Lighthouse Society.  That organization featured the lighthouse at that time and caught our eyes.

Built on the top of 400 foot high Point Loma in 1855, the lighthouse was the highest in the United States during its 36 years of service.  It’s demise was brought about by the fact that it was too high to be seen by ships during foggy periods, resulting in the lighthouse keeper occasionally having to discharge a shotgun who warn passing ships.  To solve that issue, the New Point Loma Lighthouse was constructed in the late 1800’s at the base of the hill.

While it was a simple home in a remote location, the views from the windows of the harbor and the ocean made life here worth the hardships.

The next day, we got together in Oceanside with several of Diana’s relatives at a gathering that Barry and Dawn hosted at their timeshare.

On the left is Gregg and Diana’s cousin Evie, who Diana hadn’t seen since she was in fifth grade. On Diana’s left is her cousin Sandra, who was visiting from Delaware.  Next is Dawn and Diana’s cousin Barry, then Aunt Barb and Uncle Don, then me.  Several of us went down to the beach to watch the sunset later on.

Diana and I finally put our feet in the ocean, marking the completion of our trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific!  Thank you so much, Dawn and Barry!  We had a fabulous time! 

On Monday, Barry and Dawn took us on a tour northward from Oceanside up to Huntington Beach.  We made stops in San Clemente, Balboa Island and Huntington Beach, where they treated us to lunch.  We really enjoyed spending some quality time with them!

The following day, we went to see Uncle Don and Aunt Barb at their place in Escondido.  They took us out for lunch and we also spent some time visiting in their beautiful home.  It was great to be with them! 🙂

That wrapped up our time in Oceanside!  Next up, we move north to San Dimas to explore the Los Angeles area and to visit with friends and more family!  Stay tuned!

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Old Point Loma and other Amazon items at our exploRVistas link by clicking HERE. 😊

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Organ Pipe and a Low Tire

After leaving Tucson, we made a quick hop over to Ajo, Arizona to see Organ Pipe National Monument.  Seeing that this was one of our shorter travel days at 136 miles, we thought we would do a little exploring after we set up camp.  As we started to drive away from our campsite, the tire pressure warning indicator came on in the Escape.  Well, Ajo isn’t exactly a booming metropolis, so we asked the campground owner where we could find a tire store.  They suggested the used tire shop down the street.  The business consisted of a well worn building filled with old equipment and a bevy of used tires.  It was run by an older Hispanic gentleman and his wife, who happened to be eating their lunch at a combination desk/kitchen table/parts counter.  I immediately could sense that this guy had been here for years and knew his stuff.  😉. He jacked the car up, took the wheel off and proceeded to dunk it in an old claw foot bathtub filled with dirty water.  It didn’t take long before he found the leak, which actually was from a failed patch that we had done in Kentucky.  He explained that it was too close to the sidewall and would never hold long term, so I had him plug it and went off looking for a new tire.  There was a Napa parts store close by and he explained to me that the closest tire dealers were in Phoenix.  After a few phone calls, I located an identical Goodyear SR/A at a Goodyear store in Goodyear, Arizona, of all places. So off we went on an 80 mile journey to Goodyear.

After paying for the tire, I couldn’t help but ask Nile the store manager if there was a connection between the town’s name and the tire company.  He explained that the city was named after the business, and that the store we were standing in was one of the first Goodyear tire stores.  He showed us an old photograph on the wall of the building in its early years, which looked like not much more than a 1920’s era gas station.  Over time, it had morphed into the full service auto center it is today. Back in 1916, Goodyear purchased a large amount of land in the area to grow cotton, which was used in tires back in those days.  

They eventually build this aerospace facility there, which manufactured blimps and airframes.  All of this amazing history we might have never known, were it not for that low tire pressure warning!   We drove the 80 miles back to Ajo, making what was our shortest travel day of this trip our longest. 😊

The next day, our friends Jeanne and Keith drove down from Mesa, so we could explore Organ Pipe National Monument together. We met them at the 2014 Fall RV Dreams Rally and had lunch with them last April in Junction, TX. It was great to see them again! Our first stop was at the Kris Eggle Visitors Center.

It was named for National Park Ranger Kris Eggle, who was killed in a shootout in the park with Mexican drug smugglers in 2002.  Kris was a Cadillac, Michigan native, and was previously a ranger at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Stocked up on information, we set out to explore the park.  We chose the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Drive as our first trip of the day.

It didn’t take long before we found a crested Organ Pipe cactus…

…and our second Western Diamodback rattlesnake of the trip!

This double arch was perched high up on a mountain ridge.

This unique Saguaro caught our eye also.  

The blooms were close enough to get a good look at.  Amazingly, a bee had descended into this bloom as I prepared to take this photo.  It completely disappeared into the flower!

Along the way, we saw this unusual outcropping.  What does it remind you of?

After the Ajo Mountain Drive, we decided to go down and take a look at the border.

Wow.  This was not the friendly border we had experienced in Big Bend last year.

At a few points, the border fence snaked up the hillsides.  After driving a few miles along it, we decided we had seen enough.  We headed back to Ajo to check out a little more of the town.

We toured the Immaculate Conception Church, with its colorful stained glass.  We also visited the town plaza, although most of the businesses surrounding it were empty.  

That didn’t matter, as we had a great day with Keith and Jeanne!

Next up: California.  Stay tuned to see what we discovered!

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How to ride the blimp and also search our Amazon link here!
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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

 

 Saguaro Serendipity

Diana and I have seen a huge chunk of this continent, but we had never seen a Saguaro cactus (pronounced sa-WAH-row) until this past week.  As we drove into the Sonoran Desert on I-10 in Arizona, they began to appear along the roadside.  Diana likened them to cartoon characters and my mind immediately went to the Peanuts comics, in which Snoopy’s brother Spike always seemed to be surrounded by them.

We were concerned that we were going to arrive in Tucson too late for any hiking or meetups, as it was getting too hot, the snakes were out, and all of our blogging buddies had headed north. After we set up at Mission View RV Resort, I decided to see what was happening online.  I noticed that Steve and Mona Liza from Lowe’s RV Adventures had posted that they were still in town, even though they were supposed to have moved on. Although we had followed their blog for years, we had yet to meet them. Well it turns out that Steve found out he had cancer that required surgery.  We contacted Mona Liza and said we would like to meet them, if they were up to it.  I explained that I was a 7 year cancer survivor, and was doing well. She replied that Steve was in the hospital recovering from his surgery, but she would love to meet us.  We set up a time to meet for dinner the next night.  

The next morning, we were up early to try to beat the heat.  Our destination was the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  This facility is a combination of zoo, botanical garden, art museum, aquarium, and aviary.  It was recommended to us by several people, and we figured it would be a good introduction for us to the unique Sonoran Desert.  While we aren’t on board with caging otherwise healthy mammals, we thought the other aspects of the museum were well done and helpful.

The desert blooms were absolutely beautiful.

This spinytail iguana kept watch over the surroundings.

The butterflies were enjoying the spring blooms.

The museum had a great hummingbird aviary.  This is a species called Anna’s Hummingbird.

And just to prove this was more than just a zoo, a Western Diamondback rattlesnake slithered across a very busy pathway in front of us!

One thing we learned after getting to the Sonoran desert was that the Saguaro cactus normally bloom in May.  Most winter RVers miss this, as they typically move north before the cactus show their flowers.  As luck would have it for us, the blooms appeared early this year!

The bees were hard at work pollenating them.  Each individual bloom is open less than 24 hours before it closes to begin the process of becoming fruit.

Even the doves enjoyed a soft place to land!

After we finished at the museum, we went to Saguaro National Park West.  We picked up our Not-So-Junior Ranger book so we could learn more about the park.  Seeing that this park has an east and west unit, we saved the bulk of the exploration for our trip to the east unit the next day.  We headed back to Tucson and met up with Mona Liza.

What a fun and energetic person to spend an evening with!  We went to dinner with her at a funky little outdoor restaurant called La Cocina.

She cracked up after she caught me trying to take a photo of her listening to the band.  We had a great time, and it was good for all of us to get together and talk.  Here’s hoping Steve’s recovery will go smoothly and we will all enjoy a meet up in the future.

The next day, we checked out Saguaro National Park East.  We took the 8.3 mile Cactus Forest Loop Drive into the foothills of the Rincon Mountains.

Remember the cartoon characters?  “These flowers are for you, my dear!”

And check it out…we became Not-So Junior Rangers!  Thanks to Gaelyn at Geogypsy for tipping us off to this great program.  It makes exploring the parks that much more fun!

Next up, we head to Ajo!  Stay tuned for that adventure!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!
 

Glistening White Sands in a Mysterious Basin

After we navigated our way through El Paso, we saw a big yellow sign up ahead…New Mexico!  Diana had been there as a youngster, but I had never set foot in its boundaries.  Officially, it was my 49th state, and it was our 48th as a couple. (Neither of us have been to Hawaii, and Arizona was in our youths.)

I got out of the truck and stomped my feet in a happy dance! It was good to be there!

The branches of the ocotillo cactus were clelbrating along with us!

We set up base camp in Las Cruces on Wednesday, as we wanted to see White Sands National Monument the following day.  

Wednesday evening, we did a little exploring. This is the town square in neighboring Mesilla, where the Gadsden Purchase was signed in the 1850’s.  That transaction was when the U.S. bought southern New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico, mostly so a southern transcontinental railroad route could more easily be established. As a result, the land that Tucson, Bisbee and Yuma sit on are part of the United States.

This building, now called the Billy the Kid Gift Shop, was once the Capitol of New Mexico and Arizona.  It was also where the famous outlaw was found guilty and sentenced to hang in 1881.  He escaped from the jail and was killed later that year.

The temperatures had been steadily rising as we journeyed west, so we knew we needed to get out to White Sands early on Thursday.  Having spent plenty of time on the sand at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan, we were expecting White Sands to be a lot warmer than it was. 

The majority of the morning was actually a bit chilly!  

We drove the loop road and got out at several stops to climb up on top of the hills to get a better view.

The dunes seemed to go on forever!  This area is so vast, it can easily be seen by astronauts from space.  This national monument sits in a large basin that is bordered by mountain ranges to the east and west.

Despite the barren appearance of the landscape, signs of life were everywhere.  The sand…actually gypsum…was cool to the touch.

The roadway through the dunes was hard packed sand and was well maintained.  As we drove around, Diana read the park literature to me that explained the proximity of the monument to the nearby White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.  Occasionally, unexploded bombs land in the monument, so there are warnings not to pick anything up.  Also, they advise that GPS devices will occasionally be blocked, as well as US-70 being closed for missile testing a few times a week.  Several times, the lady in our Garmin would announce “Lost Satellite Reception”…even though we has an unobstructed view of the sky in all directions.  In addition to that, we kept hearing an occasional boom.  There definitely was some strange things happening out there.  

After visiting the monument, we drove north to Alamogordo to see what was there.  We weren’t very impressed with the town, so we headed back southwest.  We tried to catch a glimpse of the landing strip at Holloman AFB where the Space Shuttle Columbia landed once, even taking a dirt road along the perimeter of the base.  No luck on that one.  The Garmin continued to announce that the satellite reception had been lost….and we heard more booms.  Heading back down US-70 towards Las Cruces, we spotted a sign for a missile museum at White Sands Missile Range.  With all the strange goings on, our curiosity got the best of us…so we headed towards the base. Yes, I realize that we had our fill of plane, ship, and automobile museums on this trip…but this was missiles!

Getting on the base was easier said than done.  We were subject to a security clearance check in a building before we reached the gate, then our vehicle was going to get a good going over.  We chose to leave the vehicle parked outside the gate and walk in.  It was nice to know that we passed the security clearance!

The display area consists of two museum buildings and an outdoor display area.  We started out in the main museum building, which we found to be fascinating.

This is a WAC Corporal rocket.  One of these launched from White Sands in the 1940’s and was the first manmade object to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

I found this map interesting.  It showed the locations of the Nike missile sites that formed the Ring of Steel around important locations during the Cold War.  I never knew that Detroit and Chicago actually had missiles, nor did I know that the U.S. left so many major cities unprotected. I did know my hometown had a lot of Russian missiles aimed at it though!  So in an odd sort of way, I found this display comforting.

Remember these drills?

The other building at the museum houses a restored V2 rocket.

This is one of the rockets the U.S. captured from Nazi Germany at the end of WWII.  The scientists who developed them, including Werner von Braun, surrendered to the U.S. and were brought to White Sands to assist with our missile program. The knowledge we gained from the Germans and these rockets allowed us to become the superpower we are today.

From there, we toured the outdoor display area.

Remember the Patriot missiles from the Gulf War?  Here is a great example of one.

This is a Fat Man bomb casing…the same as the one that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

And a Nike Missile…the type that protected our cities in the Cold War.

While the display was sobering, it was indeed ‘the real deal‘.  None of it was sugar-coated, therefore we found it to be immensely interesting.  As we were walking around the displays, we heard more booms.  This is an active base and the testing goes on with regularity. We can only hope that it will keep us out of harms way.

We only lightly touched on New Mexico, and we will be sure to see more of it in the future.  Stay tuned as we continue to head west!

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!