Sunday, February 28, 2016

While Death Valley is cerebral...

the Mojave National Preserve is in-your-face blue collar. It's gritty, stark and there's not a lot of amenities. (No hotels, no gas and no stores.) 

I'd guess there's more cattle roaming in the Preserve than people. I was OK with that. I  just had to watch where I was stepping. 

There's 1.6 million acres to explore. It's a land of abandoned mines, four wheel drive roads, lonely mountain ranges, compelling mesas and a campground where the residents almost whisper. It's that quiet. I really liked that part of the Mojave. 

Outside the Preserve but still within the Mojave Desert lies remnants of America's Mother Road-Route 66. 

One day I purchased a night's worth of firewood in Fenner, California. The gas station/convenience store was all that remained of the town. They were cashing in on their Route 66 notoriety. That wood set me back $18. I guess you can say I have money to burn. 

Along Route 66 in Amboy, California the school sits vacant behind a chain link fence. There's no teachers to say "class is now in session." There's no fidgeting students either. Roy's is the only business. I think they sell gas. The cabins were bare shells. 

Now there seems to be more Europeans and Asians who follow what's left of the Mother Road than Americans.
I wonder if those foreign tourists ever think about those Okie Dust Bowl refugees who once took that road to the Promised Land of California only to to find it wasn't so milk and honey after all. John Steinbeck immortalized their plight in the "Grapes of Wrath." It's the Route's sad legacy. 

I'm now in Joshua Tree National Park. It's not quiet, in fact it's kind of nuts. I'll visit a quieter part today. I hope most of the visitors go back to work on Monday. (Those poor snooks). I want the Park to myself. 
OK. I'll share it with a few of you.

Keep following me along!
Cheers with a coffee,

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Have I got a deal for...


For a mere $5,000,000 (chump change for The Donald) you can own your own unincorporated town in California. 

Nipton comes with 80 acres of prime Mojave Desert real estate. You are not just buying sand and mesquite bushes. No Sir or Madame. This giveaway sales price includes the famous Nipton Hotel. 

But wait! There's more! The present owners are so swell, they will pitch in the Whistle Stop Cafe, the Nipton Trading Post and my temporary residence-the Nipton RV Park all for the same low price. Such a deal! 

So what if the campgrounds rest rooms has dirt floors? The local cats have discovered this substrate makes an excellent litter box as well. It's these simple touches that enhances the overall wilderness experience of being in the high desert. 

The asking price doesn't include the six residents who call the zip code 92364 home. You might have to deal with them on a one on one basis. As the saying goes, "Everyone can be bought." You can always go across the border to Nevada to purchase a pound of flesh. (Legalized prostitution.) 

It's a quiet town. The only traffic is the Union Pacific trains that toot their way through every so often. The railroad tracks are so close to my Van, I can practically hand the engineer an IPA as they head to who-knows-where. (Maybe Salt Lake City to Los Angeles and visa versa?)

Yet, the moon is rising and the stars are shining. It's all good in Nipton, California.

Good night from RV site # 4,

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Parting is such...

Sweet sorrow. 

With an end of game full moon silhouetting Death Valley and it's Super Bloom, it's time for me to get along Little Barley. 

I spent my time in this vast park hiking to places where a twisted knee would allow me to get to.

There's just a few real trails, so I was pretty limited. Fortunately, flowers don't mind being neighbors with paved or dirt roads. I scored many oh-ah moments just the same. I just wish I could have seen and done more.

I'll make up for this the next time I venture this way. There will definitely be a next time.

Today, I'll be heading to Nipton, California. A place famous for not much. The town (if you can call a hotel, general store and campground a zip code) prides itself as a place of sloth. I plan on icing my knee, resting it and looking out into the Mojave Desert void.

I read about Nipton in the now defunct National Geographic Adventure magazine. Maybe that's why the monthly tabloid died a sudden death. They gave too many Nipton-like recommendations. 

There will be a full report with photos ASAP. 

Wish me luck on the knee. I won't be doing much wandering or wondering if I need a surgery.



Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sometimes it's best...

To let the pictures do the talking. 

While I was hanging out at an scenic overlook, a woman opined "Well, now it's all about the flowers."  

I beg to differ. Its about the vastness, the wildness, the extremes, the sunrises and sunsets and cool stuff in between.

The more time I spend in Death Valley National Park the more enamored I become to the place. If this park were a woman, I would ponder matrimony. It's that good.

A full moon good night from Death Valley,

How do you like that selfie?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Whether you look down from the top...

Or up from the bottom, Death Valley National Park is one Mother Lode of a gem. It tops the acreage scales at 3.1 million.  That's about five Rhode Islands. It's the largest Park in the Lower 48. It resides almost entirely in California, the most populated state in the USA. There's a smidgeon of parkland that somehow snuck across the border to Nevada. The Nevadans must have been distracted by a "Girlie" show in Vegas when this happened. 

Here you can still get far away from the maddening crowds. I love that part of this desert wonder. Today I sat alone on a mountain top for about an hour. I smiled a lot as I took it all in. There's so much to see and explore here. If I had a 4X4 Barley the Van, I would really be able to do it justice. (And hope not to get stuck or broke down). 

Barley II will be a tricked out macho 4X4 van. 

Ahh! The Super Bloom. The budding beauties are marching north and up the slopes. 
The rate of travel and type of bloom seems dependent upon altitude and latitude. What can I say? The flowers march to the beat of a different drummer, and I'm OK with that.

On my way back to Arizona, I'll do my best to follow these peaceful soldiers as they make their way across the desert landscape.

From Furnace Creek, CA,
Happy Friday,

PS. The last shot is how you ice a bum knee in the desert.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I'm Bloomin' in...

Love with Death Valley's Super Bloom. 

In a park with so many touchy feely names like the Funeral Mountains, the Devils Golf Course, Dead Man Pass and Dante's Viewpoint one wouldn't expect so much life!

But here's proof positive. Death Valley NP is in the midst of a rare ohh-ahh event. The last two Super Blooms were 1998 and 2005. I drew the Flower Lottery on my luck for being here. 

Death Valley is a stand alone inspiring park of crazy extremes. It's a cerebral beauty that you need to think about. (Like Baseball). 

My favorite: From Badwater (at -282" the lowest point in North America) you can look up across the valley to Telescope Peak. Its over two miles above you. Your mind cannot absorb such a scale. Don't even try to. Just except it and smile. 

Despite a bum knee, I'm still smiling. 

As far as the names of the flowers goes, there's pretty yellow ones, the lovely purple varieties and the exquisite orange kind. The botany lesson is now over. 

From clean Barley the Van, I even washed the sheets. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Super Bowl vs. Super Bloom...

OK. The Super Bowl scores more viewers. The commercials are funnier. The half time show can feature Ms. Jackson and Justin Timberlake in a "wardrobe malfunction." Sometimes there's a great football game. I.E. NY Giants beating the NE Patriots twice. You can drink lots of beer if the party is at your own pad. You can bond with buddies and family members.

All these cool things aside, I'll take a Death Valley National Park Super Bloom any day. Look at those freaking flowers! They are Mother Nature's attention getting device. Even a curmudgeon like Andy Rooney would smile below those frowning white eyebrows. 

I loved the artist palette of color so much, I purchased properly nearby. It needs works, there's rooms with a view and it's a great starter home. All those wonderful realtor cliches. But! Location! Location! Location! In a quiet neighborhood. I'll take it.

Cheers from the National Park that nearly did me in,

Monday, February 15, 2016

As I was falling over backwards...

on the cusps of a cliff. This is what I was thinking.

A) So this is how it ends.

B) Those petroglyphs I scrambled up to take photos of weren't worth dying for.

My leg snagged on something, interrupting physics from pushing me to my final tipping point. My lower appendage decided to bend and not break. It torqued. Now I possess one very swollen knee. 

The whole incident scared me. Bad things can happen so fast. 

I'm not a patient patient. I've been told this a number of times from my too many orthopedic doctors and unfortunately surgeons too. 

The healing process takes me out of my retirement routine. Wake up, drink coffee, eat, take a hike, relax and wait for Happy Hour. The getting better time leaves me too many hours to think of my reality. I'm really alone out there and here. As I continue to age this will become more of an issue. That scares me too. 

Hey! Its a beautiful day in Death Valley National Park. I've got a bag of ice on my knee and an cold IPA in my paw. 

It's near record heat at Furnace Creek too. April temperatures in mid February. Go figure.

Here are the petroglyphs I nearly became a buzzard's kosher appetizer for. 

I dodged the great inevitable and got to see another Death Valley sunset.

I'll be more careful in my future. The blog must go on.


Monday, February 8, 2016

A South America...


I've been back in the USA for over a week and one Super Bowl. Between sleeping and eating too much, (I'm catching up on both) I've had time to think about our Southern Continental neighbor. 

Decades earlier than this past trip, folks would ask me why I hadn't visited any place in South America. My answer was truthful. I wasn't excited about going to countries where the who's calling the shots head honcho changes hands as often as a busy Biker Bar changes kegs of Bud Lite. (That's often. The more macho the bar, the wimpier the beer).

Now that situation has changed in a good way. South America seems to be almost tranquil compared to many tumultuous regions. Remember the good old pre-911 days? The world seemed so much gentler then.

With that excuse for not going gone. I decided to try my fortune with an untested traveling companion and visit Chile.

When Lisa split for work obligations the difficulties of South American travel for an older solo non-Spanish speaking wanderer became a bit too real. I grew frustrated by the lack of road signs, the pantomiming I had to do to get my point across and two kinds of breath-holding banos. The really foul WC's where I sought immediate psychiatric counseling or the ones where I could wait to speak to a shrink manana type.

As the trip continued it took a lot more effort to ignore the hordes of hungry hounds, the piles of detritus at impromptu landfills and the all too sad look of poverty in many places. (I can say the same thing about pockets of the US too). Without a travel partner to vent to, I internalized the experience too often. I got homesick.

Peru and Machu Picchu was a welcome reprieve for me. I met sixteen English speaking people who hadn't heard any of my stories yet. They told good yarns too. I've noticed people who take the chance of travel are pretty entertaining and interesting. That week salvaged my South American trip. I needed that.

Please don't get me wrong, the places I saw were intensely beautiful and eye catching. The people are friendly even though they couldn't understand me and visa versa. I never felt threatened other than a few scary driving moments. It's an experience worth checking out. For me, I would think twice about running solo again. It's too much alone time even for a curmudgeon like myself.

Now back to the present: I phoned GEICO today to restart my full insurance coverage on Barley the Van. Before I hung up, the nice agent asked me, "Would you be interested in an insurance policy for renting or for your other properties"? 

"I already have an insurance policy with GEICO for my only property. The van is bought and paid for too." 
The line got real quiet. As a goodbye, I said, "It's a long story."

So readers, please keep looking into my blog. The story will continue. 

Cheers from almost sunset time at Saint Pete Beach, Florida.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Most Impressive Thing...

about Machu Picchu. 

Hint: It's not the Inca Ruins.
Hint: It's not the cloud forests.
Hint: It's not the crazy steep terrain or majestic mountain scenery.
Hint: It's not a thing either. 

It's the Porters. 

Here's the new math of the Inca Trail. It takes twenty-three Porters to man haul the camping requirements of seventeen paying Gringos and three guides for a three night-four day Machu Picchu journey. 

At the completion of Day One's meander, Alex announced there would be a "Meet and Greet" with these extraordinary men. 

After dinner we assembled in a circle: North Americans in one hemisphere, Peruvian Porters in the other and three guides straddling the Equator between the two. 
Alex told us about the Porters in his melodic way of speaking English. Here's the gist of what I heard: (Some of this information came from Mary Lou, an employee of Valencia Travel.) 

The Porters live at 12,000' in remote villages. Many are subsistence farmers. Some of their homes lack electricity or running water. Valencia Travel is one of the few tour companies who provides health insurance while the Porters are on the Inca Trail. The Shining Path guerrillas made life even more difficult for them. When the Porters are on the job they each carry fifty-five pounds of gear. Chewing coca leaves is as much a part of their culture as drinking four glasses of wine during a Passover Seder is for Jews. They speak a language that is passed on by word of mouth-Quechuan. They work hard so they may one day earn enough money for their children to get a proper education. Tip money from us Gringos is a major source of their yearly revenue.

While Alex was speaking, I looked across the 20' gap separating the vacationers from the employees. Despite the fact we were all Homo Sapiens, to me it felt like a "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" moment. I couldn't fathom what it would be like to wake up hungry or with no source of real income. For us softies from North America, a bad day is when Starbucks pours soy milk instead of real milk into our morning coffee. Our cultural, economic and physical differences were light years apart. 

Yet, I admired them for their endurance, toughness and boundless energy. Their ages ran from 18-60. Their skin tones covered the spectrum of cafe con leche to burnt mahogany wood. A few sported a snaggletooth grin. Some stood in a supplicant posture. (That bothered me.) Every one of these human transporters were shorter and weighed less than me. I'm 5'4" and tilt the scales at about a $1.38. 

They practically ran up the passes bearing their cumbersome loads. Once in camp, their work day would begin again. Set up the tents, fluff up the sleeping pads and bags, heat water for tea, boil water for drinking, distribute warm water for washing up, cook meals, wait tables and clean up the whole mess. Repeat until the last camp three days later.

I saw them eat once. At that day's end, the cook prepared a huge white meal for them. Their bowls were piled high mostly with carbohydrates. I never saw any of them drink water. Coca Colas and a yellow liquid called Inca Kola was the only fluids I noticed them quaffing. On Day One local women provided them with a juice-like drink at one of their infrequent rest stops. They wore blue uniforms with the prominent Valencia Travel logo imprinted upon them. They were hustling advertisements for their employer. The rest of their clothes were a mish mash of hand-me-downs from former guests. Whether or not the footwear fit their tiny feet was problematic. 

There's an hierarchy within their ranks. There's a Head Porter, one Chef, an Assistant Chef and one Waiter. I don't use the word Chef lightly. The meals which were created within that humble cooking tent was fine cuisine compared to most of the grub I ingested in South America. Lots of thought and hard work went into those feeds.

Of course, there's the new guys. They had the unenviable tasks of hauling five gallons of sloshing water (41.5 pounds) up the staircase I mentioned in the following blog.
In other words, they performed the stupid hard jobs in order to prove their mettle. 

So the bottom line, what did these Mighty Mights make for their gargantuan efforts? Valencia Travel suggested a 100 Soles tip/Porter (About 28.75 USD). They wrote that this would be a very generous gratuity. That's what we handed them.

Isn't that crazy?

I'm on my way to Saint Pete's Beach to find a nice bar to watch the Super Bowl. It'll cost me more than $28.75 to drink and eat there.


PS. One Porter photo was provided by Oliver.