The Denim King

Starting from Shenandoah River State Park…

the Shenandoah

and completing the 105-mile drive through Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive from Front Royal to its southern terminus…

park map (2)

exposed us to more rain in 4 days than we had seen in all of one year on the road. There were moments when the deluge abated long enough to give us broken clouds and glimpses from some of the nearly seventy overlooks of the infinite Piedmont range to the east…

Thorton Hollow Overlook

and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.

green to blue infinity

But mostly, we held our breath as we rolled along the two-lane ribbon of asphalt that wound around the mountains and climbed through a fog and cloud cover so dense at times that Leah and I asked ourselves if our summary road trip on the way to retiring the Airstream could literally be a watershed event.

Our travel plans were non-negotiable, as campgrounds had been prepaid along Skyline Drive and the first 300 miles of the connecting Blue Ridge Parkway before we’d exit eastbound toward Charlotte. We had given ourselves this time aboard the Airstream as a last hurrah–a chance to enjoy one more trip and indulge in driving one of America’s great “scenic” byways.

A moving van brimming with our belongings was awaiting departure from New Jersey to Florida, and slated for delivery by the first Monday in June while we slogged through foul weather on our way to Huntersville, North Carolina where our Airstream was destined for dry dock until the following year, giving us ample time to put our St. Augustine house in order and acclimate to Florida living.

Meanwhile, current weather stats revealed that remnants from Alberto (the first official storm of the 2018 hurricane season) had dumped over eight inches of rain along our travel route, punishing nearby dams and washing out essential bridge footings ahead of us, but we dutifully soldiered on, imagining the glorious views that would be to our left and our right.

Every so often, we’d take a break from our mountain miasma, and venture into the valley to escape the cloudburst and capture some of the local color (see A Touch of Blue and Mount Airy, NC), only to return to the Airstream and listen to the downpour pelting the roof like a torrent of bullets.

At times, we’d have a moment of clarity, like when we reached Mabry Mill at Milepost 176 (see Favoritism) and stopped to gawk at red-tailed hawks as they danced atop the thermals,

dancing hawks (2)

but it would be another hundred miles of slogging through doomsday rain before we’d catch another break from the storm.

Eventually, we disengaged the Airstream at Price Park Campground near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and backtracked to investigate Flat Top Manor, a 23-room, 13,000 square foot national historic landmark…

porch.jpg

and once the summer home of Moses Cone, son of German Jewish immigrants originally named Kane,

Cone manor.jpg

and aptly nick-named the The Denim King, for Moses and his closest brother Ceasar dominated the textile industry by acquiring and building manufacturing mills throughout the deep South, becoming the world leader in denim, flannel, and corduroy fabric production, and the sole supplier to Levi Strauss for its “501” brand jeans. Moses Cone, entrepeneur, conservationist and philanthropist had led the South to the Promised Land.

Moses and Bertha built their mansion at the turn of the 20th-century for $25,000 with every modern convenience of the time, despite their 20-mile distance from the nearest railhead, and the remoteness of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

storm brewing

The couple (they never had children) enjoyed central heating, indoor plumbing, telephone, and gaslight–for Bertha eschewed electric light–disliking its unnatural glow and how it affected her skin tone. However, years later, after the death of Moses in 1908, she allowed electricity into the house, replacing the blocks of ice once cut and carried from Bass Lake with a food refrigeration system supplemented by one light bulb in the basement pantry.

pantry

The house stands empty, and appears unfinished. No furniture accentuates its over-sized rooms, and cracks have ravaged once-smooth walls.

master bath

closet window

But there are notable wall decorations…

letter

and at one time, a treasure trove of avant-garde art adorned the mansion thanks to lasting friendships and patronage between two unwed Cone sisters, Dr. Claribel and Etta,

Cone sisters (2)
Dr Claribel & Miss Etta (Cone Sisters) by Ronald Brooks Kitaj, c. 1997-2000

and Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Their collection ultimately passed to the Baltimore Museum of Art, now recognized as the Cone Wing, and valued at over $1billion.

Today, the estate–managed by the National Park Service–services over 25 miles of carriage roads and trails.

cone sign

Leah and I dared the rain, and hiked five miles to the Observation Tower at the southeastern edge of the property, where we were rewarded with pastoral guests,

young head old ass

hare

intriguing butterflies feeding on unknown feces,

butterflies

and a breathtaking panorama of nearby Boone–home of Appalachian State University, endowed by Moses Cone–and the neighboring wilderness.

Observation tower view

Upon our return, we stopped to pay respects to Moses and Bertha, buried together under Flat Top Mountain,

grave stone

and overlooking 3,500 acres of his legacy, where an orchard of 35,000 apple trees once produced prized fruit for the gentleman farmer.

grave site

The rain returned during the brief drive back to Price Park, but abated just as quickly to capture a lasting moment of smoke wafting across Sim’s Pond.

smoke on the water

The next morning–our travel day to Charlotte–we awoke to blue skies and sunshine beaming across Grandfather Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain

The run-off from Price Lake was fierce, barreling down Bee Tree Creek.

overflow

Rangers alerted us that the Parkway heading south had been temporarily closed. Flash floods and mudslides had forced a partial shutdown of Interstate 40, necessitating a detour through rural America before we could connect with I-77 S.

Putting our Airstream on blocks in Huntersville was bittersweet. It marked the formal ending of Streaming thru America, but our future holds new surprises.

Already, we’re pre-planning a trip to circumnavigate the Great Lakes during the summer of 2019. Until then, we’ll have to settle for a journey of a different sort, and I hope to keep the world posted.

The Aftermath, or If I Could Be Anywhere Else Right Now

It’s been 48 hours since arriving home after one year of steadily moving about the country. However, now that I’m physically situated in one place, it seems my mind continues to wander, yearning for places I’ve been or yet to experience. I fear I’m going through wanderlust withdrawal.

The feeling is eerily reminiscent of adjusting to the constant sway aboard a boat–to where I’ve finally gotten my sea legs–yet after docking, the motion of the ocean has robbed me of my equilibrium. Nothing seems normal to me. I still feel adrift, like a bobbing buoy.

Perhaps it’s some sort of jet lag (without the jet), or some kind of Post-Travel Stress Disorder, where my internal GPS continues to send rerouting instructions with every step taken, redirecting my brain and body back to the Airstream presently parked in Lakewood.

Acclimating to everyday life has been challenging, as I’ve yet to re-establish my new old routine, or shake off unsettling circadian rhythms of disorientation. Already, I’ve forgotten which cabinet holds the coffee mugs, or where to find the bottle opener, or what it was like to sleep on a king-sized mattress. Even after unpacking, I’m likely to open the wrong dresser drawer to find my socks.

Of course, it’s only been two days since landing, so I’m certain the confusion will abate and I will eventually adjust to a different way to fill my day without hesitation. But in the meantime, I will travel to my favorite places through my photographs, and dream about the possibilities.

One special destination–among more than a hundred visited in the past year–that still resonates to my core is reliving the beauty of Banff.

Mount Victoria (2)
Mt. Victoria watching over Lake Louise

Epilogue

We pulled the Airstream onto Colonial Airstream’s parking lot in Lakewood NJ, on St. Patrick’s Day, ostensibly marking our one-year anniversary Streaming thru America, and my one-year anniversary of blogging with WordPress under the same moniker.

Colonial Airstream

This has been a journey of a lifetime after a lifetime of journeys. It seems that everything I’ve done up until last year’s departure has prepared me for this adventure: as a NYC taxi driver, I honed my driving skills; as a restaurateur, I learned to cook using simple ingredients to create meals with complex flavors; as a camper, I grew up with an appreciation of nature and an affinity for adventure; as a producer, I perfected a perspective for planning and budgeting; as a carpenter, I mastered my mechanical skills; and as a special educator, I learned how to gain acceptance with the many special people we’ve met along the way.

This has also been a trip of numbers. As road warriors, Leah and I have travelled to 127 destinations: covering a total of 44,600 miles (5,500 flying miles) to thirty-six U.S. States; one Mexican State (Quintana Roo); and four Canadian Provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia).

Cost-wise, Leah acted as bursar for the trip, and took responsibility for all data entry into a categorized spreadsheet. Using round numbers, our largest expense was campground fees at nearly $13,000. We stayed at a smattering of National Parks (only because gaining online reservations are fiercely contested up to a year in advance), a few State Parks, a handful of Provincial Parks, some County and City Parks, predominantly private RV parks (many Good Sam and KOA affiliates), and an occasional Walmart parking lot when we were transitioning between longer distances. As a rule, we rarely travelled further than a tankful of gas, or the rough equivalent of 400 miles.

Entertainment was our second leading expense at approximately $10,000, which covered films, concerts, shows, tours, park fees, and ample opportunities for sampling the best food of the area, from fine dining to dive bars.

Next, we spent nearly $8,000 purchasing food and groceries–including paper products, personal hygiene, and liquor–with the lion’s share spent at Walmart and Costco.

And our last largest expense was for gasoline and liquid propane, which ran us close to $8000. We made 115 trips to the pump for 3300 gallons of gas, yielding an average of 11.8 miles per gallon from coast to coast to coast, while towing mileage topped out at 10.1 MPG.

Living aboard the Airstream for a year was also an exercise in living with less. At 240 square feet from stem to stern…

2017-airstream-flying-cloud-27fb-2-e1521351550640.png

and cargo limited to a folded rear seat and 52.8 cu. ft. of storage behind the cab of our Ford F-150 pickup…

2017-ford-f-150-carry-on-seats-folded (4)

we learned to live efficiently, but never uncomfortably.

Leah and I scaled down to a small wardrobe of layering, using a combination of casual sportswear, appropriate outerwear and a wide variety of outdoor footwear to address most weather conditions.

The galley held two pots, two pans, two mix bowls, and Corel for four; a drawer of utensils and a drawer full of cooking and kitchen gadgets; a traditional assortment of spices and herbs; one presspot (mine), one two-cup percolator (Leah’s) and two coffee mugs; a tiny toaster, a hand mixer, a built-in microwave, a compact vacuum, and a VitaMix–my biggest indulgence for emergency frozen margaritas.

Electronics included: two mounted LED TVs, two tablets, one laptop, a color compact HP printer, a Kindle, a pair of UE Booms, Jaybird wireless earbuds, a Lumix DMZ-FZ300 for photography, and a tangle of cables and charging accessories.

The truck bed was home to a couple of stadium chairs, a CLAM screen enclosure, a 2000-Watt Honda generator, a hefty tool chest, and a portable Weber grill.

Our bicycles clung to the backside of the Airstream, tied to a Fiamma rack.

bikes.jpg

Getting along for 365 days was our biggest experiment, and a wild card for this trip’s success. While there was no denying our compatibility, we would often joke if we would still be smiling and talking to each other by day 365.

Our roles were defined early on, seemingly divided along gender lines: I did the routing, navigation and driving, the setups and breakdowns at RV sites, and all the general maintenance; while Leah acted as cleaning commando (inside and out) and laundry lieutenant. Invariably, Leah prepared a simple breakfast and packed a light lunch, while I played chef de cuisine for dinner.

Although our living quarters were tight, our door usually opened onto something spectacular, from sunrises…

sunrise (2)

Grand Canyon sunrise (2)

to sunsets…

Mt. Pleasant, SC

sunset

sundown panorama (2)

so most of days were spent exploring the extraordinary.

We brought along a cribbage board and backgammon set, thinking that when our conversation ran dry, we could always resort to games, but when it was the two of us together lounging in our lair, we either stretched out along the dinette streaming Netflix when internet allowed, or sought alone time at opposite ends of the trailer, separated by a sliding screen or a swinging lavatory door.

Our queenish-sized platform bed was roomy and comfy. And the only times we slept apart was for five days when I was fighting the flu. Otherwise, our sleeping cycles alternated between retiring together, or more often than not, Leah retiring early while I night-owled to edit photography du jour, or posted to my blog.

Although this blog is by no means the end, it has been a means to an end. Streaming thru America has given me a springboard to dive into my desire to write consistently for a audience bigger than one, and a jump-start to reinvigorating my passion for photography. Combining my writing and photography in a travel blog has been reaffirming and therapeutic, and the motivation I needed to pump out 160 posts of 100,000 words and 2800 photos along the way.

What started as a forum for family and friends has grown organically to a following of 1900 plus fans through WordPress and social media, with viewers from 140 countries along for the ride. I am awed and humbled every day that people from all over world find value in my words and pictures. And I am determined to keep going.

Long before we started out, Leah had already decided on our exit strategy–that once we’d completed our trip, and our Airstream had served its purpose, we’d put it on the selling block. But I had a different vision–that this trip would lay the foundation for future trips around the continent. While it would never be as epic as this particular journey, I could nonetheless foresee regional trips to faraway fields and streams for a month or two or three.

However, after shoving off and putting hundreds of miles behind us, the new and scary gave way to familiar and fearless, and Leah was hooked.

As it happens, there were so many destinations that we short-changed in favor of keeping the whirlwind spinning (see An Olympian Apology), not to mention sections of the country that we bypassed all together, that today we feel compelled to prepare preliminary plans to patch the holes in our past itinerary.

For now, the Airstream sits in the dealer’s lot awaiting its spring maintenance, although the fourth nor’easter forecasted to hit this area in as many weeks makes us yearn for the Texas heat spell we endured last April (see “We’re on the Road to Nowhere”).

When we return to Towaco, we’ll have a house to sell and a household to pack away for our anticipated move to St. Augustine (see Finally!). Then, in a few months, we’ll recapture the glory of living as seasoned road warriors, as we savor the feeling of hauling our reconditioned Airstream through the Shenandoah Valley and over the Blue Ridge Mountains to a long-term storage solution in Charlotte NC.

And before too long, it will be time to hitch up the Airstream like old times, and follow the road on a new course and a new adventure.

Until next time,

streaming thru america

Happy Trails!

Titans of Industry

Every student of science, history and commerce knows the importance of Thomas Edison’s contributions (2332 worldwide patents),

Early-Light-Bulb (3)

and how through his imagination and industry…

patent schematic for kinetescope

kinetescope projector
Kinetoscope Projector

inside the phonograph

he single-handedly reshaped the 20th century.

No less famous and equally as successful, Henry Ford’s lifetime commitment to automotive innovation was without peer.

Edison's Ford

V-8 engine (2)

Now put the two titans together…

Historic Friendship

as next-door neighbors within their Ft. Myers, FL winter compound…

Eden

beside the Caloosahatchee River…

dock1

and the sum exceeds the parts. Adding John Burroughs, the nation’s leading naturalist and conservationist of his time to the party,

Edison_Burroughs_Ford (2)
Edison, Burroughs, Ford

resulted in the birth of the car-camping movement in America as we know it today: motoring across the country in search of fulfilling outdoor recreation and adventure.

camping caravan

Better known as The Vagabonds, the caravan later included tire magnate, Harvey Firestone, who would travel with the pack across America for the next ten years, taking vacations in an elaborate Packer and Ford motorcade that always included Edison’s battery of batteries to light the campsite,

batteries

a Ford chuckwagon attended by Firestone’s personal chef,

chuckwagon (2).jpg

and a pack of newspapermen and paparazzi who would record The Vagabond’s every step and conversation.

Edison’s inventions are presented in historical perspective in a comprehensive on-site museum space that credits Ft. Myers as an inspirational Eden for Edison’s genius.

There Is Only One Ft Myers

Additionally, by recreating his West Orange, NJ laboratory in Ft. Myers,

In the Lab

Edison's Lab

Lab2

office

Edison could work uninterrupted throughout the year, never missing an opportunity to tinker or embellish on an idea, while enjoying the comforts of a home…

Living Room

dining room.jpg

Pantry

bedroom

and grounds…

Edison home

Caretaker cottage

pool

the tree

that he designed in 1886,

Designing a Retreat

and Mina attended until his death in 1931.

Mina and Leah

Henry Ford acquired the neighboring bungalow known as The Mangoes in 1916,

Henry Ford and cottage

and the two titans drove each other to continuing heights of excellence in achievement.

But of all their noticeable accomplishments, their mutual love of country living coupled with the enormous publicity generated by their expeditions most certainly inspired an army of auto owners and outdoor enthusiasts to follow their example.

Thus, The Vagabonds paved the way for the popularity of motor camping, and gave rise to a recreational industry that advances the dream of this sojourner’s lifestyle: where the highway is my lifeline and my Airstream is my cradle.

Note: Historic photos courtesy of Edison and Ford Winter Estates collection.

 

 

Pictures of Home

For the past eleven months, I have suffered from an acute case of Restless Body Syndrome (RBS)–unable to stay in one place for more than an average of three to four days. And to my knowledge, there is no known antidote for this kind of wanderlust.

While there is much to be said for having a home with all the trappings of comfort and familiarity (for which I am grateful), I nevertheless feel a natural compulsion to feed my travel addiction–at times surrendering to the physical and psychological cravings of visiting someplace new on a regular basis.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of support groups around the country–known as RV parks and resorts–that are very accepting of those among us who are afflicted with RBS, and assuage us with electric, water and sewer, and occasionally, high-speed internet.

A ten-step program has been developed by self-help travel gurus to combat the irritation associated with RBS:

  1. Subscribe to Travel and Leisure, and National Geographic.
  2. Watch Amazing Race on CBS.
  3. Log on to Kayak, Trivago, or Travelocity.
  4. Smell a pine tree.
  5. Build a fire…outdoors.
  6. Eat a s’more.
  7. Lay in a hammock.
  8. Open and close a stadium chair.
  9. Take a brief cold-water shower.
  10. Follow Streaming thru America

Leading pharmaceutical firms have been quietly conducting cutting-edge research to advance a cure for RBS. And there is widespread speculation that a vaccine is being developed for the travel bug.

Additionally, Congress is contemplating passage of the Rio Grande Act, whereby an extremely narrow Wal-Mart will be built along the entire Texas-Mexico border for RBS out-patients to shop, duty-free.

Until then, I offer my services as your tour guide for a random retrospective of my many homes from March 2017 to present.

Towaco, NJ
Towaco, NJ
Ligoneer, PA
Ligonier, PA
Walmart, WV
Lewisburg, WV
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans, LA
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio, TX
Big Bend State Park, TX
Big Bend NP, TX
Grand Canyon, NP
Grand Canyon NP, AZ
Zion NP, UT
Zion NP, UT
Estes Park, CO
Estes Park, CO
West Yellowstone, MT
West Yellowstone, MT
Banff, Ca
Banff NP, Alberta, CAN
Corvallis, OR
Corvallis, OR
Klamath, CA
Klamath, CA
Hat Creek, CA
Hat Creek, CA
Quincy, CA
Quincy, CA
Las Vegas, NV massacre
Las Vegas Massacre, NV
Valley of Fire, NV
Valley of Fire, NV
Joshua Tree NP, CA
Joshua Tree, CA
Mt. Pleasant, SC
Mt. Pleasant, SC
Delray Beach, FL
Delray Beach, FL
Melborne, FL
Melbourne, FL
Bradenton, FL
Bradenton, FL

To be continued…

Designated Driver

Yesterday marked a historic moment in our personal timeline, given the 10-plus months since Leah and I have actively roamed the continent in search of new adventures and discovery in our Airstream. And yesterday’s achievement–seemingly overshadowing all previous accomplishments to date–will most likely define all others to come for the duration of our travels. While this statement smacks of grandstanding and hyperbole, the relative importance of this achievement cannot be overstated.

First some background and a confession. I never wanted a truck to pull our Airstream. Afterall, when the trailer is off-hitch, the truck would become our daily ride. And driving a truck around town wasn’t my style…er, I mean, I was somewhat intimidated by driving such a behemoth.

I fought the notion that only a truck could safely tow our 7200-pound capsule, and actively researched the specs of all late-model SUV’s that matched the appropriate torque and towing capacity for our trailer: I weighed in on internet forums to glean the best information relative to our Airstream size; I emailed with others who made similar trips, under similar conditions with equipment modifications; and we attended New York’s Auto Show in April 2016 with every intention of narrowing our options.

But browsing through so many choices in one place only muddied the motoring waters, and raised the level of my unawareness. There were so many considerations: fuel economy, gas vs. diesel, storage capacity, safety, reliability, comfort level, audio, GPS, and of course, price.

After test-driving a Grand Cherokee, Audi Q7, Infiniti QX-80, Nissan Armada, GMC Denali, VW Touareg, and Ford Expedition, I was beginning to have serious doubts about my original premise: SUV over truck.

When all was taken into consideration, I manned up, and went with the Ford F-150.

shiny and new

To me, it was the smartest choice of all available choices.

at the Jersey Shore

“I’m so excited for you, dear,” Leah pretended. “But you’ll never catch me behind the wheel of that thing. It’s huge. All I can say is, ‘You’re on your own.'”

If a man is measured by the size of his truck, then Leah unwittingly hit the jackpot. However, her driving abstinence left me blue.

Over time, the F-150 ride felt like any other ride. My reticence and apprehension soon melted away in favor of a solid understanding of the technology I relied on to negotiate the truck’s box-like bulkiness through traffic.

instrument panel

Or so I thought…

A close encounter with a concrete sidewall in a cramped Philadelphia parking lot while attempting to steer through a narrow exit ramp left me as crushed and broken as the aluminum door panel.

accident 1.jpg

While the front-end was willing, the back-end was not.

accident2

Fortunately, time, insurance, and $6,000 heals almost everything…except one’s memory and ego.

Even today, I believe that Leah delights in recounting my failure in Philly.

But that’s ancient history.

Time has lapsed, and 34,000 miles later–and true to Leah’s word–I can personally attest for every turn of the truck’s odometer. In the course of our travels, we have run into many couples who share the driving, and have discovered many women who drive exclusively for whatever reasons, but Leah seems to be the only one I know who tells me how to drive while never sitting behind the wheel, except to wipe the windshield…

…until now.

Having been incapacitated by a sinus infection and subsequent flu for the past two weeks, and with laundry by my bedside mounting to levels exceeding the ground elevation of the state of Florida, it was time to visit the washing machines. Normally, in all other instances, for convenience sake, I would schlep the top-heavy wire basket to the truck, and drive to the laundromat, whether down the road, or around the corner.

But yesterday, I was in no condition; I could barely move. While I was languishing in my delirium, I thought I’d heard the F-150 roaring awake. The 5-liter V-8 was growling through its idling phase, and maching on my migraine. I momentarily managed to pull myself from bed, and peered through the broken velcro bonds of the curtains just in time to see the F-150 cautiously backing out, and lunging forward into the lane.

truck thru window

In disbelief, I gathered my senses, and texted Leah, “I’m calling 9-1-1. The truck is gone.”

Twenty minutes later, I was stirred awake by the ping of my phone with Leah’s response, “Yup.”

“Thank goodness,” I noted to myself, before returning to my coma.

Hours later, Leah returned with a basket of folded laundry.

“You took the truck,” I asked/celebrated.

“I did,” she remarked. “No big deal.”

And that’s where I left things–not even a mention about the 300 feet distance from the Airstream to the facilities.

Today, when I awoke, there was little improvement in my health–all my original symptoms were still firing like a well-tuned sick machine (see: Quarantine Capsule). After more than two weeks of feeling lousy, I wondered if this was the new normal.

“We’re low on milk and you definitely need another box of tissues,” exclaimed Leah.

“Looks that way,” I managed.

Incredulous, “I can’t believe you went through a box of tissues in one day! Anyway, I guess I’m going to Publix on my own, since you sure don’t look like you’re up to driving me there,” Leah volunteered.

“So, are you thinking about taking the truck?” I posited.

“I don’t think I’m ready to take the truck out in traffic yet. So, maybe I’ll ride my bike to the store, or just walk,” she confessed.

And that’s what she did.

I suppose my role as the dominant driver is as secure as ever.

Notes:

WPC–Variations on a Theme

Quarantine Capsule

For the past couple of days, while the world continued spinning on the outside, our heads and stomachs were spinning on the inside, so Leah and I felt it only right to isolate ourselves inside our thin protective layer of Airstream aluminum. However, yesterday, we broke the seal of our quarantine capsule long enough to scoop up the provisions scattered across the lawn of our RV dock dropped by the Red Cross airlift (just kidding)–only to button up again, and shamelessly drift back to our TV bingeing (not kidding).

In actuality, we momentarily left the recycled air of the Airstream on Wednesday, to venture across the highway to the Urgent Care Center. My cold symptoms and sinus headaches were no better after a week in Mexico, so it was time for medical intervention. And Leah was now reporting symptoms of her own, and blaming me for sharing.

After taking a number and waiting patiently in a room full of sick people wearing yellow face-masks, it was my turn to to be treated…soon.

“Why are you here?” intoned Nurse Ratched, speaking through a yellow face-mask of her own.

“Congestion and sinus headache,” I coughed.

“May I see your ID and insurance card, please,” asked the intake operative.

I offered my Driver License and Medicare Card–my first time using it.

“Just so you know, you’re responsible for the $42 surcharge not covered by Medicare,” she alerted.

Offering another card, “But I have my supplemental insurance from EmblemHealth. This should cover it.”

“I’m sorry but your supplemental insurance is not valid for the balance,” she argued.

“No need for an apology. EmblemHealth is a bonafide payer. Trust me. They’re supposed to cover the Medicare balance,” I insisted.

Nurse Ratched seemed annoyed that she wasn’t collecting any money from me. She pecked some data into her computer monitor, and eventually provided me with a yellow mask and a pile of papers to fill out before being seen.

After an hour, Dr. B confirmed, “You’re got acute sinusitis. I’m treating it with a 6-day steroid pack, and an antibiotic, but only to be taken if symptoms continue after a week.”

“I guess I’m off the hook for your cold, since a sinus infection isn’t contagious,” I declared.

Usually, within the confines of a small park, there are self-appointed watchdogs who keep tabs on the comings and goings of all park residents with a perfunctory wave, but I don’t think anybody missed us, or even noticed when we returned from our brief encounter. We’ve survived here in relative obscurity since pulling into the Timberlane RV Park and Resort of Bradenton a few days ago.

Usually, after setting up camp, we’d walk among the giant coaches and 5th wheels to compare and contrast, wave to our fellow campers in arms, and find common ground: the office, the laundry, the social hall. But not here. And even if we were up to it, the freezing temperatures in central Florida have driven the most ardent RV residents into the hive of their own tiny houses, leaving us with little chance of introducing ourselves–all of us waiting for Florida’s Big Thaw and Saturday’s potluck dinner, scheduled for 4PM.

Thursday and Friday were true days of recovery. Leah lounged under blankets in the front of the Airstream (the bedroom), catching up on Shameless, while I stretched out in the rear of the Airstream (beside the dinette), streaming episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

2017 Airstream Flying Cloud 27FB (2).png Occasionally, there were moments of silence and relief, but more often than not, the reflexes between us were too strong to hold back, and the Airstream would erupt into uncontrollable and otherworldly jags of coughing, sneezing, hacking, expectorating and farting. I wondered if our noises echoed beyond our asylum, and if the neighbors suspected if something inhumane was going on under their noses, like the tragedy in Perris, CA.

But then the cabin would go quiet, and I figured we were safe from watchdog surveillance. As gross as it sounds, the hardest decision during those two days was figuring whether to swallow or spit.

Now it’s Saturday, and recovery is on the horizon. Residents are already parading to the social hall with specialty, home-made, wrapped dishes in hand, in eager anticipation of creating new best acquaintances for another snowbird season.

I hope they like supermarket chocolate chip cookies.

T Minus 3 Days and Holding

Leah and I had counted down to the last possible day when we could tour Kennedy Space Center (KSC) while still parked at Melbourne’s Land Yacht Harbor,

Land Yacht Harbor

an Airstream-only campground (with a sprinkling of some other brands–SOBs), mostly occupied by retirees and their vintage motorhomes,

Land Yacht (2)

and trailers.

vintage airstream

At first, the weather on the Space Coast was uncooperative–cold and rainy–but we were determined to time our visit in conjunction with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch–the first scheduled launch of the year, where the rocket’s reusable first stage would attempt a controlled landing back at Cape Canaveral Air Force base. Of course, we were departing for Playa del Carmen on Saturday, so we had also run out of time.

With a break in the weather, we would make a day of it at KSC,

rocket park

and apparently, so would thousands of other visitors. With the rest of the country seemingly paralyzed by meat locker temperatures the first week of 2018, we felt fortunate to feel the sun through brisk winds and crisp air.

Nasa ornament (7)

After mapping our itinerary for the day at the nearby Visitor Center, we filed past the admission gate…

explore

through a labyrinth of attractions dedicated to Mars exploration…

rover stats

Mars rover

Orion capsule

and a dedication to fallen explorers…

Heroes and Legends

in search of an Astronaut Encounter…

astronaut encounter1

with Heidi Piper…

Piper portrait (2)

a mission specialist, credited with flights aboard Atlantis in 2006 and Endeavor in 2008 to expand the systems and living quarters aboard the International Space Station. In addition to following her career from Navy to NASA, her presentation included factoids about the Shuttle and the shittle, detailing the water-recycling and freeze-drying properties of the squateroo.

Following a profound 3D IMAX film on space exploration–as only Captain Picard, aka Sir Patrick Stewart could narrate–we gravitated to the Orbit Cafe…

Saturn rocket and Orbit Cafe

where freeze-dried ice cream was not an option on the menu (albeit, available at the gift shop).

From there, it was an hour-long queue…

bus queue

with enlightening graphics along the way,

bus queue graphis

for the tour bus…

bus tour interior (2)

that carried us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, with drive-by glimpses of the Vehicle Assembly Building,

rocket assembly

bus tour

and a launch pad along the way.

launch tower (2)

After experiencing a multimedia simulation of the Apollo 8 lift-off,

Apollo mission control

we were giddy with excitement to witness the technology that captured Kennedy’s imagination and took us to the moon. But nothing prepared us for the enormity of the Saturn V rocket stretching across a football stadium-sized hanger.

rocket oulets (2)

Measuring 111m/363 ft long,

stage 1

booster (2)

we slowly strolled the length of the boosters, making our way through the different stages suspended above our heads…

stage 2

stage 3

before approaching the grounded command module,

command module

which dwarfed the Apollo 13 L.E.M. hovering above us.

LEM (2)

Behind a bordering wall, the Apollo 14 capsule rested on a protected pedestal in a dimly lit room which seemed to heighten the drama.

Apollo capsule (2)

We transitioned to a multi-sensory surround presentation of a space shuttle launch, culminating in a dazzling, thunderous lift-off that shook our core. When the exhaust plume cleared, the projection scrim rose for the big reveal…

Atlantis shuttle (3)

giving all of us a true appreciation for the engineering wizardry that could shoot a glider strapped to a rocket into space,

shuttle belly

and have it safely return to earth…flying a total of 33 missions and over 126,000,000 miles before retiring!

shuttle tail

And how apropos, that the mission transport vehicle selected by NASA should feature an Airstream to introduce our astronauts into space?

mission transport (2)

Unfortunately, the SpaceX mission that we so wanted to witness was put off until Sunday, when a worthier weather window made the wonder more winsome.

This is how the launch looked to us from Mexico, where we streamed it in awe.

Airstream Albatross

Sometimes things don’t always go as planned. And sometimes there are insufficient numbers of military acronyms to express the frustration that Leah and I felt as we searched in vain for Airstream storage in anticipation of a spontaneous week away to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

With the weather in central Florida turning colder by the day–not to mention the deep freeze that had tied up all the Northeastern states in an icy straight jacket–the thought of lounging on the Mayan Riviera, and sipping a Corona, while paying homage to Kinich Ahau left us as starry-eyed as Donald Trump during a total solar eclipse.

Trump squints and points (2)

All that we required was a place to drop the Airstream, although more easily said than done. Leah and I initially made a round of investigatory calls after strategically determining that the best place to leave our Airstream would be somewhere within the Palm Beach vicinity, since we were flying out of Ft. Lauderdale and relocating to Bradenton. From there, it would take under four hours to cross Alligator Alley to our last long-term residence before making our move North beyond the winter thaw.

“Sorry, but we’ve got nothing here!” or “Unfortunately, we’re completely full!” were recurring answers from facility reps who bothered to answer the phone or conveyed the common courtesy of returning our voice mail.

“So now what?” Leah lamented.

This was an unexpected SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up).

“A small setback. I guess we should work our way South, and consider calling storage centers in Lake Worth,” I proposed.

After a time, Leah landed a reservation with Public Storage, the largest brand of self-storage services in the U.S., with more than 2200 storage rental facilities nationwide, and net sales of $2.5B. Like all short-term rentals, we would be charged a monthly rate despite needing only 10 days of parking for our Airstream.

Oh, well. At least we’ve secured a space!

Finally, a move-in reminder arrived to Leah’s e-mailbox:

 

From: “Public Storage” <DoNotReply@publicstorage.com>
Date: January 4, 2018 at 8:09:50 AM EST
To: leahandbon****@gmail.com
Subject: Move-in date reminder

A friendly reminder about your move-in date

Hi Leah,

We’re looking forward to seeing you on 01/05/2018, when you have a reservation for moving your stuff into storage.

Please be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before closing time on your move-in date to make sure you have enough time to complete your rental. The location’s office hours are:

MondayFriday: 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
Saturday/Sunday: 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED AT MOVE-IN
A government-issued ID for paperwork
A copy of this email (recommended)
Reservation Details
Manage Your Reservation | Reserve Another Space
LEAH SCHWARTZ
PHONE: (201) 841-****
EMAIL: leahandbon****@gmail.com
RESERVATION #
716618871MOVE-IN DATE
01/05/2018
Add to CalendarSPACE DETAILS
10’x30′ Unit (300 Sq. Ft.)
Uncovered parking
Monthly Rate: $98.00
One-Time Admin Fee: $24.00
Total Move-In Cost: $122.00
LOCATION
2701 Lake Worth Road,
Lake Worth, FL, 33461
(561) 964-0261
Get Directions
OFFICE HOURS
MondayFriday: 9:30 AM – 6:00 PM
Saturday/Sunday: 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM
MOVE-IN TIPS
We’ve got all the packing supplies you’ll need, like boxes, tape, and locks.
Packing and storage checklists? We’ve got ‘em.
Plan the best way to use your space with our online Storage Size Guide.
Read our blog for ideas, inspiration, and organization from storage experts.
Looking forward to meeting you here,
Your Public Storage Team

We picked up I-95 South from Melbourne, Florida, and drove 120 miles to Lake Worth on the morning of January 5, until we arrived at Public Storage two hours later. Typically, like all other arrangements we’d made thus far, Leah entered the office to complete the transaction, while I waited in the F-150 with the trailer coupled behind me. Ten minutes later, I answered a call from Leah through the console.

“What’s up? I asked.

“You’re not going to believe this,” she began, “but we don’t have a storage space!”

“WHAT? Are you fucking kidding me?” I answered, incredulous of our situation.

“I know,” she blurted. I could hear the venom in her voice. “Just a minute, I’m not finished with them!” she fumed.

We were no longer engaged in conversation. Instead, with the call still open, I was now listening to Leah’s explosive exchange on the other side with the center’s manager.

“This is bullshit! You’re telling me after my husband drove two hours to get us here, that even though you issued me a confirmation for a parking space, you’re not gonna honor my reservation?”

Asorny, the regional supervisor, responded, “Technically, the reservation didn’t come from me; it came through the reservation center. But with our new system, the reservation center has no way of knowing the individual site’s inventory levels. That’s why we encourage our customers to always inspect the site first.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Leah levied. “How on earth can you promise something you don’t have? Well, you better find us something elsewhere, ’cause I’m not leaving until you do!” Leah asserted.

Now speaking to me, “I’ll call you back.” And the phone went dead.

For the moment, we were holding steady at SUSFU (Situation Unchanged: Still Fucked Up)

Another ten minutes passed, and Leah, dejected, climbed into the truck.

“Not good,” she announced. “They called around, and there was nothing.”

“What did they say?” I was curious, although it really didn’t matter anymore.

“They said, ‘Sorry ma’am, but you’re on your own.'” lamented Leah.

At that moment, we crossed over to TARFUN (Things Are Really Fucked Up Now). I seemed as if I was flying a silver albatross that had lost its landing gear, and it was getting late in the day.

Suddenly, a tap on the passenger window by a tiny, middle-aged Hispanic woman took us by surprise. Somehow she inferred that we were desperately in need of storage. She reiterated in broken English about another nearby facility on Congress St. that would have space for us, but she couldn’t recall the name.

Without the name of the place, we couldn’t call ahead; we would have to see for ourselves. Given our situation, it was too good a lead to ignore, so we followed her directions, and easily located Easy Storage a mile away…

But they were full, which now placed us in the TARFU (Totally and Royally Fucked Up) zone.

After another round of phone calls, we chased down two additional dead-ends which carried us to the far reaches of town, somewhere between Disheartened Drive and Discouraged Court.

Yet we soldiered on. A cold call to Storage Rentals of America at 7000 Military Trail in Riviera Beach seemed promising. Jim, the manager confirmed that a 10 x 30 foot parking space was presently available for a reasonable fee.

And so, back again, up I-95 North we trudged, only to discover that the available space beside the building would never permit the severe turning radius required to back up the Airstream. Jim knew it the moment he saw us drive past the office, but felt he had to break the news to us personally, despite my struggle to find a 50-foot parking spot on a nearby road away from traffic with limited turn-around access.

Not knowing what else to do at the moment, I assumed the BOHICA (Bend Over, Here It Comes Again) position.

Resuming our way back to nowhere in particular, we passed Life Storage, and called them on a lark. We were transferred to RJ at Delray Beach, who guaranteed us a 10 x 30 foot space near the security gate for $141.00. It was worth a shot. Like a pinball in search of an elusive target, we bounced back to I-95 South for a date with RJ, who’d be expecting us with open arms.

We eventually arrived at the location at 4 pm, only to discover the office locked with a hastily written note taped to the door, declaring: “Back at 5”.

Leah was on the edge of tears. “I’m about to lose it,” she confessed. “We were just on the phone with this guy. He was expecting us.”

“And who goes out to lunch at 4, anyway?” I chimed in.

Cautiously steering around the unsecured cramped lot without noticing without any discernible space for the Airstream left me limp. I knew at that moment that we were approaching FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition) status.

A last ditch call to the Life Storage reservation center revealed that we had inadvertently mapped the tertiary location, when the full-range storage center was a mere half-mile away. I took a deep breath, and u-turned across six lanes of rush hour traffic to finally arrive at the bonafide destination.

RJ was waiting for us, and escorted us to the space. To his credit, the space was open and available, but tight, requiring the skill set of a neurosurgeon to negotiate the pass. However, before I panicked and pushed the FUBUSH (Fucked Up Beyond Unbelievable: Situation Hellzone) button, I would give it my best effort, because this was our last chance to ditch the hitch.

I’m happy to report that the angel who whispered directions in my ear delivered me to the promised land–helping me to navigate the back end of the Airstream between the Isuzu on the right…

right side

and the Avenger on the left–

left side

despite limited swing clearance from the front of the F-150.

parked

When all the paperwork was finally completed, and the Airstream was left behind, Leah boarded the F-150, and we were on our way to visit a nearby friend in Delray Beach, who would listen to our recounted quest before awakening to an early morning departure the following day.

It was then that Leah shared the news:

“RJ wanted you to know,” she emphasized, “that what you did back there was some of the finest parking he had ever seen.”

That’s the moment I realized that we would never be selling this Airstream!

Moon Over Muddy Mountain

Now that Leah and I are nine months into Streaming thru America, a familiar question often arises from family, friends, and fellow bloggers: “What’s your favorite place, so far?” It still remains the most difficult question to answer. Here’s why:

We’ve covered over 32,000 miles to 104 distinct destinations–with amazing views of beaches, mountains, prairies, canyons, and deserts. We’ve toured cities and suburbs, villages and vicinities, parks and plantations, graveyards and ghost towns.

Thus far, we’ve crossed the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back; we’ve traveled as far north as Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada to the southern edge of Florida within the Everglades; We’ve ascended Trail Ridge Road to the Rocky Mountain tundra at 12,183 feet to the salt flats of Death Valley’s Badwater Road at 282 feet below sea level.

Having slogged through Los Angeles and Miami traffic, we’ve also driven hours through remote regions without a soul in sight. We’ve cursed the crowds at Yellowstone and Zion, and celebrated the isolation of Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks. We’ve witnessed numerous national monuments, and bore witness to monumental tragedy in Las Vegas.

While we’ve camped at some of the fanciest and most expensive RV parks in the country, we’ve also boondocked at Walmart parking lots, always meeting new people from around the world, yet reminiscing with old neighbors we discovered at a scenic overlook in North Dakota.

Despite having written over 80,000 words and shared over 2,500 photographs of our adventures this year, I feel compelled to answer that one nagging question, but forgive me if I pause for a moment longer to filter all the information collected to date…

The one location that stands out over all the others is Valley of Fire State Park–16-miles outside of Overton, Nevada–as much for the solace and cleansing it brought us after the Las Vegas massacre, as for it’s raw and natural beauty.

And from this experience, I’ve reluctantly selected one photograph that captured my imagination and exemplified my feelings–two days after the world grappled with senseless inhumanity.

sheep and moon (4)

May 2018 bring us closer together as we work to build bridges between communities, and discover a path to peace and tolerance.

 

 

 

Home Invasion!

As if straight out of a horror film, our Airstream has been overrun by ghost ants. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen bugs in the trailer, because bugs are an undeniable consequence of living outdoors, and a way of life. However, while occasional spiders, love bugs, moths, gnats, no see-ums, and mosquitoes have all managed to infiltrate our home at one time or another, it’s not until recently, that so many unwelcomed six-legged insects have made themselves comfortable without an invitation.

Long considered a well-established resident of South Florida and other tropical and subtropical environs, Tapinoma melanocephalum workers are thought to have illegally immigrated from Asia or Africa–where to this day, as an affront to our democracy–they continue to worship their queen, while spreading their vermin and contaminating our food.

Despite their small stature, at 1.3 to 1.5 mm long, I’m certain that had there been a border wall to protect us from this infestation, these pests would never have gone on to infiltrate the foundation of our trailer, and rob us of our American dream.

And had the FBI taken notice and properly profiled these larvae from the beginning, none of this would have ever happened. To be sure:

They have 12-segmented antennae with the segments gradually thickening towards the tip. Antennal scapes surpass the occipital border. Head and thorax are a deep dark brown with gaster and legs opaque or milky white (Creighton 1950). The thorax is spineless.

The gaster (swollen part of abdomen) has a slit-like anal opening which is hairless. (Smith and Whitman 1992). The abdominal pedicel (stalk-like structure immediately anterior to the gaster) consists of one segment which is usually hidden from view dorsally by the gaster (Creighton 1950). Stingers are absent.

The small size, combined with the pale color, make ghost ant workers hard to see (Smith and Whitman 1992).

At the very least, these ants have been extremely annoying, invading every part of the Airstream in a matter of days. We discovered them in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the closet, in the bedroom, and ON MY PILLOW! EWW! Leah has been reflexively swatting phantom bugs from her arms and legs at the the very thought of our new colonists.

Quickly, ants were now to blame for every miscellaneous skin bump, itch, or irritation on her body.

While camping at John Dickinson State Park in Jupiter, it was hard to ignore the many ant hills throughout the sites. I backed the Airstream into stall #43, and soon located several small cones of sand with limited ant traffic. Being careful to not disturb them, I thought they might return the favor, but the ants had a different agenda.

“Oh my God!” shrieked Leah. “They’re everywhere! They have to be stopped!”

Leah laid into the ants like they were ISIS terrorists. Her flip-flop was a particularly effective weapon in her campaign to eradicate the enemy. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!

“Gotcha!” she bellowed.

She came down hard on the ants, but there was no quit in their little legs as they they rebounded in their crazy dance, scurrying around in all directions at once, before darting into their hiding places–provoking her ire and igniting her wrath.

“We’ve got to do something!” she vowed.

A trip to the garden section of Home Depot offered several interesting choices that promised instant relief, but we opted for Raid. Somehow, the notion of killing ants with a lightning bolt stirred our sado-masochistic sensibilities.

retail bait

After returning to the Airstream, Leah tore into the packaging with a vengeance. Out popped eight plastic bait traps, looking like a mini Buster Keaton pork pie hats.

Declaring all-out war on ants, we strategically scattered them around the Airstream, often debating the locations of the most effective kill zones. For the most part, I acquiesced to Leah’s judgement, so long as I secured rights to wage war in the bathroom, which I considered my domain.

I closely observed the ants racing inside the aluminum channel along the wall, and knew exactly what I had to do. I wedged one of the little white poison pucks behind the soap dish, and waited for the feeding frenzy. After a minute or so, a curious ant came to inspect the trap, as if the Sirens were luring it to its certain death…

ant on a trap

…and swallowed it whole.

ant takes the bait

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “One by one, you will eat the poison and die!”

I launched into my end-zone victory dance with a firm belief that we were now winning the war on ghost ants like never before. And that there will be so much winning, that we will tire of winning so much.

**Feature Image: Ghost ant worker, lateral view. Drawing by Division of Plant Industry**

Eureka!

A stopover in Eureka Springs, AR along the way to Branson, MO produced some Eureka! moments and other assorted revelations.

For one, there are seventeen registered churches in Eureka Springs, ministering to two thousand healing hearts and souls around town, plus a Tibetan Buddhist temple and an integrated monastery of celibate brothers and sisters.

Religious overtones are also pervasive throughout town. Our Airstream was parked along Passion Play Rd., above the hallowed hollow where The Great Passion Play’s dramatic reenactment of the last week of Jesus Christ is the #1 tourist attraction in the area, and The Christ of the Ozarks rises nearby, hovering above the dense woods of Magnetic Mountain.

Jesus of the Ozarks

Christ sign

Big Jesus side view

Also looking down from town, the Crescent Hotel–recently added to the National Register of Historic Places–delivers luxurious living and salon services, in what’s billed as America’s Most Haunted Hotel.

Historic Crescent Hotel

Crescent Hotel

A fourth-floor lookout…

P1100279

provides familiar views in the distance,

Jesus over sunset

and an overlook of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church of Hungary–listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the only church in America with entry through the bell tower.

St. Elizabeth Church1 (2)

Stunning religious “art-chitecture” can also be found at the Thorncrown Chapel, a jewel of glass and wood tucked into the hillside atop a ledge of flagstone.

Thorncrown Chapel1 (2)

Inside Eureka Springs’ Victorian historical district, the Byzantine-styled First Baptist Church stands at the corner of three intersecting streets with entrances at each of its four levels, giving it four distinct addresses and cause for another Ripley’s entry.

First Baptist Church

The charm of downtown carries through its narrow winding streets, acute corners, and graded roads of 30% or greater, routinely decorated with accents of fine art…

down the street

Steps to Spring St.

…and frivolity.

Humpty Dumpty gnome

horn orchestra (2)

Eureka Springs came by its name naturally, manifesting no less than sixty-two springs that gushed from the mountainside with so-called healing properties. Its establishment as a resort community during the 1870’s prompted visitors from near and far to “take the waters” by drinking up and soaking in its therapeutic juices.

civil war healing

90% cure rate

Today, over a dozen springs have been restored to former glory.

Magnetic Spring plaque

Magnetic Spring

And while the water is no longer potable, the park habitats have given the springs a new lease on life,

Harding Spring

Basin Spring

and have renewed the town’s reputation as a popular healing destination,

Eureka Healing (2)

with an emphasis on preserved charm.

County Courthouse

top floor (2)

ball and house

facade

facades.png

Palace Hotel gazebo

Perhaps the biggest paradox of Eureka Springs would have to be the town’s united commitment to all things ghosts and Halloween, given its adherence and roots in Christiandom, while billing itself as “the place” for the best Halloween party in America…

Grand Central Hotel

Chile Lily

…breathing spiritual relevance into Euripides’ quote: Money is the wise man’s religion.

Palo Duro Canyon Tailwinds

Wouldn’t you know it?! Texas has a Grand Canyon of its own in the middle of its panhandle called Palo Duro. And the best way to see it is from the saddle of a horse while riding at the bottom of the canyon floor.

We’d been wanting to go horseback riding for the past few months, but something always interfered with our plans, or time wouldn’t allow. But Leah was determined.

“If you can ride in a balloon, then I get to ride a horse,” she declared.

And true to her word, reservations made on Thursday got us an early ride time with Jennifer at Old West Stables inside the state park.

stables

stables1 (2)

We mounted Buster and Lloyd,

our ride

and rode along an unmapped equestrian trail that took us along the foothills of the canyon walls…

on the trail2

and through the hills and ravines of a basin carved by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River over one million years ago.

We passed colorful rock formations resulting from a geologic compression of four distinct periods layered over the course of 250 million years.

canyon wall.jpg

While I enjoyed the scenery, and the quiet of the canyon,

canyon peak

canyon strata

I had the disadvantage of riding behind Leah’s horse, Lloyd.

Leah and Lloyd

Lloyd was a farter who always positioned himself behind the lead horse.

on the trail3

And no matter how many times I tried to hold Buster back…

on the trail4

…we would always find our way back behind Lloyd’s swishing tail,

Buster follows too closely

where Buster was always greeted with a slow and steady current of foul wind, followed by an evacuation.

The hour passed as easily as Lloyd’s breakfast, and we found ourselves back at the stable, in time for Lloyd’s lunch.

back at the ranch

Once finished, we took a ride back to the lodge at the top of the canyon for a better perspective of the second largest canyon system in America,

canyon vista1

overview detail

before returning to the basin’s scenic road to explore the Big Cave,

BC trail

an opening in the red rock that’s not as big as it’s unusual.

cave entrance

cave mouth1

Big Cave inside out

cave opening (2)

The Texas panhandle is as flat as a cowpie, and wide as the open sky.

Airstream sunrise1

Thankfully, Palo Duro Canyon provides some variety to a linear landscape, and adds some color to a pale prairie palette.

 

Milestones

What started out as an intimate blog intended for sharing our cross-country adventures with family and friends has taken on higher meaning and greater dimension. After seven months of 100 posts, 10,000 views, 4000 visitors from over 150 countries, and a new family of nearly 1000 followers, this blog has eclipsed all that I could have imagined.

It has changed how I look through a lens and how I craft a story. It has transformed my posts from informative to entertaining. The discipline has made me a more fluent writer and sharper photographer, for which I am thankful.

Your collective thoughts and comments are a driving force to improve my content, and I am grateful for the feedback and acknowledgement.

I’d like to think that this evolution and subsequent statistics are because of my new and loyal audience, and I thank you dearly.

Additionally, my apologies to Leah, who must now contend with my newest obsession.

Sleepless in Las Vegas

Seldom am I so amazed that I am speechless or at a loss for words…

After visiting twenty-nine U.S. National Parks, four Canadian National Parks, a dozen National Monuments, numerous State and Provincial Parks, and driving thousands of miles of scenic byways over the past twenty-nine weeks,

captured on:

Leah and I have yet to discover a place that is so captivating that we didn’t want to leave…until now.

Rainbow Trail panorama (2)
Leah and me

Valley of Fire State Park allowed us the chance to finally exhale, after America held its collective breath trying to make sense of yet another senseless killing spree, when a maniacal sniper opened fire on a crowd of 20,000 innocents a ¼-mile away.

We were 4½ miles out of harm’s way, staying at an RV resort off I-15 at the time, and wondered about the incessant sirens screaming past our open windows after 10 pm that fateful evening..

“I can’t believe how much crime they have here,” Leah exclaimed.

“Wouldn’t want to live here,” I offered.

Switching on the TV, all stations were locked on breaking news of an active shooter at the strip, but details were sketchy with the story developing by the minute. We quickly realized that we were listening to the soundtrack of a massacre: SWAT teams, police, EMT, and ambulances were sprinting past our Airstream–in and out of the danger zone.

Originally, we booked a couple of days in Vegas to decompress, and intended on exploring the strip in search of available show tickets once the Airstream was unhitched. But the prospects of casino crawling quickly faded after an afternoon of relaxation by the pool. Then again, we figured there would always be tomorrow.

Yet by morning, as the tragedy at Mandalay Bay unfolded, the thought of unthinkable loss left us gasping for air.

Leah summed it up: “It doesn’t feel right having fun when we’re surrounded by so much pain and suffering.”

We needed a getaway. We took off for Red Rock Canyon to escape the inhumanity, and clear our heads.

Callico 1

Keystone Notch Trail

Red Rock Canyon panorama

It was a small dose of nature for the day, and helped to heal our heavy hearts.

The following day, we moved our Airstream fifty miles east, to the Valley of Fire, where we found the perfect antidote to murder and madness. We found a place where we could breathe,

rainbow road (4)

and the only sound at night was silence.

The park has an abundance of features and formations.

Beehive2
Beehives
Arch Rock1
Arch Rock
Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock
Silica Rock
Silica Dome
Atlatl Rock
Atlatl Rock
Mouse's Tank
Mouse’s Tank

But the hiking trails off White Domes Road offer the biggest reward.

Rainbow Vista  gave us an opportunity to scramble over rocks with more colors than a box of Crayolas.

Roadside formations1 (2)

Roadside formations2 (2)

Roadside formations3 (2)

Roadside formations4 (2)

Roadside formations5 (2)

Roadside formations6

A loop through the deep red sands of White Domes transported us to the 23rd century set of Star Trek: Generations.

monolith (2)

White Dome Trail2

slot canyon2

Slot canyon4

canyon opening

keyhole (2)

A stroll through Fire Canyon during late afternoon gave us the impression that each rock radiated from within.

Fire Canyon (2)

rock foot

Magic light

Fire Canyon Arch

sundown

But I was unprepared for the exhilaration I felt after reaching the Fire Wave.

FW8

FW7

FW3

FW1

FW9

FW2

FW6

FW5 (2)

I’ve adopted Valley of Fire as my Muse. Even now, when I close my eyes, I believe I’m  living in Candyland–a magical world where the cliffs look like candy, and all the residents of the world are tolerant of each other. 

This post represents a milestone of sorts, as its #100 in my series of posts for Streaming Thru America–a blog intended to showcase and celebrate the diversity of beauty throughout the country. I dedicate #100 to all the victims, and their families, and I salute the first responders, the good Samaritans, and the medical personnel, who continue to fight for the living.

How Low Can We Go, Part 1

Death Valley is known as a land of extremes. From atop Telescope Peak (the highest point in the park at 11,043′) it’s possible to see the highest point in America (Mt. Whitney at 14,505′) and the lowest point in North America (Badwater Basin at -282′)–all from the same spot. The Panamint towers on the west hold onto snow for three months of the year during winter, while the valley below is the driest place in North America, with annual rainfall under 2 inches. Temperatures have ranged from 134° F to 15° F at Furnace Creek’s weather station.

At 3.4 million acres, Death Valley is the largest National Park outside Alaska. The park is 140 miles long and demands reliable transportation due to its vast and unforgiving character. Nearly 1000 miles of pavement and dirt roads provide access to numerable sights, but the conditions are so punishing, that picking and choosing what to see and do requires reasonability.

With only two days to see the park, Leah and I split our tour around the park’s extremes: on day one, we’d drive the busy low elevation roads–where the weather reigns hotter than anywhere else in the western hemisphere–to explore highlights to the east; and on day two, we’d travel the remote off-road trails to the west, in search of cooler mountain air.

To make it easier on ourselves, we parked the Airstream on an expansive open gravel lot at Stovepipe Wells, where a dozen other trailers and coaches joined us as we listened to early morning howls from a pack of coyotes hunting the birds that frequent the septic pump at the far end of the campground.

A restless night gave way to a convenient start the following day, with a quick trip (almost unheard of in this National Park) around the bend to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

dunes1

Wandering out to the highest ridge at 100 ft. can be arduous, as the shifting sand will swallow every step.

dunes

However, better traction is available in the dune valleys, where the hard crust anchors the creosote and mesquite shrubs.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

We continued past Furnace Creek…

CA-190.1 (2)

until we reached the Golden Canyon. With the sun arcing across the eastern sky, we wove our way through the passage,

canyon opening

always hugging the canyon walls where we could for a chance at shady salvation.

canyon shade

While the sun was relentless, it was the scenery that left us breathless.

Einstein rock

Golden Canyon spur

Cathedral Red Rock

Back in the truck with the air conditioning cranked to recovery mode, we took CA-190 past the Artists Drive detour, and turned onto a last ditch road that resembled the landscape. At the end of the quarter-mile was a large clearing smack in the middle of an alien landscape called Devils Golf Course*, an immense arena of jagged rock salt deposits turned into land mines that makes for hazardous hiking.

golfcourse panorama.jpg

Devils Golfcourse1.jpg

While no one can ever prepare for surviving in extreme heat for extended periods of time (by now it was now 103° F), we were ready to take our chances in Badwater Basin–the hottest and deepest place in America.

Walking onto salt flats that cover 200 sq miles sounds as overwhelming as it should,

Salt Flats (2).jpg

…yet the impression of watching people walk out so far they almost disappear, helps put the enormity of Badwater Basin into perspective.

Badwater

Leah and I u-turned from this point, and back-tracked to Artist Drive–nine miles of looping and dipping black-top that weaves through narrow rock channels until it opens onto a gargantuan portion of Neapolitan ice cream known as Artists Palette.

bowl of gelato

Five million years of eruptions altered by heat and shaped by wind and water has produced a spectrum of colors across the slopes. On closer inspection, the colors are surreal.

Artist's Palette

Palette detail

While the truck had enough fuel to carry us another two-hundred miles, Leah and I were running out of gas. As we’d ride from one spot to another, we’d repeat the same refrain throughout the day: “Oh, wow! Did you see that? That was amazing! How is that even possible?” We were living on fumes of inspiration.

We closed the day with a visit to Zabriskie Point,

Badlands

a magical setting that showcases the harsh beauty that makes Death Valley so unforgettable, and a place that can awaken the hibernating soul within us. Some go so far as to breach the safety of the overlook, and climb closer to the edge to symbolically feel closer to their personal truth.

One such group of chanting and meditating hippies was seated on plush mats near the cliff edge, their diaphanous silks of many colors flowing in the hot breeze. They were seemingly oblivious to the large number of amateur shutterbugs who were standing on the observation platform and complaining about their compromised view of the Badlands.

Since I believe that we all share the same view equally, I took a narrow path down to where they were sitting to set up my camera shot. I nodded politely as I crossed their viewing angle, and bid them hello.

“I’ll bet their grumbling up there about how we’re spoiling the view for them,” declared the Elder.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of that going on,” I indicated, “but the light won’t be like this forever, so ‘I’m not gonna waste my shot.’

Zabriskie Point

Elder stated, “Y’know, if they were that bummed out, they’d come down here the same as you”

Setting up my shot, with my back to Elder, I commented, “That’s true, but many aren’t as bold as you, and just as many can’t physically make the climb down here. Figure it out!… While you’re praying for world peace, you’re also ignoring the needs of people right behind you.”

“I guess that’s true,” noted the Eldress.

I took the shot…

Zabriskie panorama

and hiked back to where Leah was standing.

“Y’know that group of hippies below us? I think they’re leaving,” I announced.

“That’s gonna make a bunch of people happy,” predicted Leah.

When I saw them rolling up their mats, I figured that like me, they probably had enough heat for one day, or they finally came to their senses before the heat robbed them of their last strand of reasonability.

* Not a Trump® property yet, but the family is working on it!

Close Calls

We arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar for the Air Show, but couldn’t park any closer than one mile from the tarmac–where all the action was happening. I suppose if we wanted to upgrade from free to VIP status, we could have enjoyed preferred parking privileges closer to the airfield, but it was a beautiful day for a walk through a military base in sunny San Diego.

I was directed by Marine plebes to a general admission parking lot bordered by McDonalds and Chipotle. Leah and I opted to carry our own lawn chairs and snacks in lieu of paying for grandstand seating or any of the other enhanced options intended to pamper guests, including: a shaded lounge, gourmet food stations, a hosted bar, a commemorative coin, and less-frequented Porta Potties. But bringing our own chairs to the air show gave us more flexibility to move around the base. Besides, it was a beautiful day to schlep a heavy metal chair in a bag through a military base in sunny San Diego.

I think we were midway to the airfield, and steps away from the first security checkpoint when I saw something that deserved a second look through my camera. I peered through the viewfinder to discover the low-battery warning flashing in the frame before the screen went dark. Of course, it was my intention to exchange this battery with the battery charging inside the truck before we headed out, but I guess I was distracted by the notion of walking through a military base in sunny San Diego on such a beautiful day.

Leah found cover under a tree, while I dropped my chair and water bottle and hiked back to the truck to recover the freshly charged battery. Twenty minutes later, I rejoined her and we crossed the road where we were greeted by three security officers in camouflage fatigues.

The ranking officer addressed Leah first. “I’m sorry to tell you ma’am, but you can’t enter a secure facility with that fanny pack around your waist. For everyone’s security and protection, all bags…unless they’re clear…are prohibited.”

It was no use arguing with three people in uniforms on their own base, but Leah objected, “But I’m only carrying my water, my wallet and some snacks.”

The officer continued, “Your choices are to surrender it here and I can let you pass now, or return it to the safety of your vehicle if you still want to own it.”

And that’s when I remembered the graphic that caught my eye before my camera failed.

be-clear-header.jpg

“Do you have any idea how far it is to our car?” I interjected.

“I’m aware, sir, and there’s nothing I can do about that. Clear bags are the rule for everyone’s safety and protection,” he reiterated.

“I’ve just about had it with this air show!” Leah exclaimed, and stormed away. But she never got very far. She was delayed at the crosswalk by the marine directing traffic.

“I have an idea,” she said sotto voce, as I caught up with her.

We crossed back to the other side of the road, and turned into a nearby barracks parking lot away from view.

Leah removed her black waistpack and emptied the contents. Out came the water thermos, the wallet, and a baggie of pretzels. She loosened the chair bag drawstring, and stuffed the waistpack deep into the chair bag with the fragile pretzels sitting on top.

Cinching the drawstring, “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna give them my fucking bag!” she exhorted. With her water in hand and wallet in pocket, we crossed the road for the third time.

I proposed, “They’re never gonna believe that we ditched the pack in the truck and made it back this fast. So if they ask, we tell them that we handed it off to a friend to hold for us. Okay?”

Leah indifferently, “Whatever.”

When we approached the security team, Leah mimed that the pack was gone. “Are you gonna let us in now?” she mocked.

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am. I hope you enjoy the show,” he stated sincerely.

“Isn’t there some kind of shuttle for senior citizens?” Leah intoned, playing the sympathy card.

“If you cross to the other side of the road, there’s a golf cart that will carry you and your things to the gate for 3 bucks a person,” he answered.

“How far’s the gate from here?” I asked.

“Straight up this road, ’bout half a mile,” security responded.

Leah outraged, “Are you kidding? Six bucks for half a mile? No way!”

“You’re right,” I reminded myself. “It’s such a beautiful day for a walk, lugging a heavy metal chair through a marine base in sunny San Diego.”

After arriving at the airfield gate, we were stopped by a second security detail dressed in pressed khakis and carrying guns.

“I apologize, but those chairs can’t enter this facility because they’re in bags,” an MP declared.

“You’ve got to be shitting me!” Leah unloaded. Emphatically, “Then why didn’t those boys down the road stop us at the time. They saw us carrying these bags over our shoulders,” she declared.

I covered my face to hide my grin. This was turning into a huge clusterfuck.

I took a breath. “What if we took the chairs out of the bags, and carried the chairs to the airstrip?” I suggested diplomatically. “Then it’s just a chair and a bag, instead of a chair in a bag.

They looked at each other and shrugged. “No problem, sir.” Followed by, “Please enjoy the show.”

We stripped the bags off our chairs, with Leah being especially careful to reposition and secure the waistpack into the folded seat.

“Thank you for that, now may I please see your IDs?” stated the second officer.

Leah dug her wallet out of her pocket, thumbed through her cards to locate her licence, and handed it to the third officer, who scanned it with his portable reader.

I was incredulous. “You’re not gonna believe this…” I started out.

Leah was glaring at me.

Continuing, “…but my wallet’s in my truck parked a mile down the road, and I’ve already had to go back once to get a fresh battery for my camera. So, there’s no way of showing my ID unless you guys wanna drive me back,” I lamented, “even though it’s a beautiful day for a walk through a military base in sunny San Diego.”

He looked the two of us over. I desperately communicated telepathically that he was putting my fate in Leah’s hands, and that he needed to show some sympathy and mercy.

Surprisingly, the marine announced, “Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the show. Beyond this point, no one’s gonna hassle you for ID.”

Taken aback and winking, “Thank you. You may have just saved my life.”

After clearing checkpoint two, we advanced to the third and final security detail whose job it was to scan our bodies. We emptied our pockets onto the tarmac, and stood with arms and legs locked in a frozen jumping jack, while a soldier ran his wand up and down and around.

“All clear,” he announced.

We collected our belongings, and shuffled along with full arms.

“That was a close call,” I whispered.

“You’re telling me,” Leah laughed. “They would have found my camping knife in my pack.”

We weaved our way around small pockets of people–on the left side of a thinly populated grandstand,

Grandstands

and settled three deep from the front fenceline to see what everyone else had come out to see–the elite precision flying squad known as the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels.

While clearance can be a serious issue when pulling a trailer–and I’ve had my share of close calls with our 28 ft. Airstream: like backing into a sleeve of an RV site with little to no front-end swinging-room; or negotiating a tight parking lot; or backing out into a busy road after inadvertently turning into a dead end–it still can’t compare to formation-flying in a $60 million aircraft with 22,000 lbs of thrust with only six inches separating the wingtips of two F/A-18 Hornets.

duet

After fueling, the fighters lined up in take-off order,

Blue Angel lineup

and took to the sky in a burst of thunder.

delta formation

A variety of formations quickly consumed an hour of time…

2 up 2 down

2 up 2 down1

breaking off

and approximately 4250 lbs of fuel (or roughly 600 gallons) per plane.

4 abreast

banked formation

The Department of Navy estimates an average running cost of $11,000 per hour to fly each plane,

landing

with a yearly operating budget for the Blue Angels at $35,475,000.

side by side

While I’m far from militaristic, it’s impossible to ignore the skill set and nerves of steel of the U.S. Navy’s most accomplished pilots, and their ability to control a mighty military machine for the purpose of entertainment versus destruction.

And that’s what I call a beautiful day in sunny San Diego!

4 across

 

Knock, Knock

We are anchored at RV site #1 at Pine Mountain Lake Campground in Groveland, CA, the closest town (albeit 24 miles away) from Yosemite’s western gate. The sites at PML are terraced on a steep hilltop better suited for mountain goats, although there is 50 amp power and a water bib, should goats ever feel the need for air conditioning and a shower.

The pop-up caravan at site #2 has just packed up and pulled out, leaving us completely alone and feeling somewhat relieved. After being cramped for so long at so many “RV resorts”, it’s nice to enjoy the breathing room that comes from having space on both sides of our home, when more often than not, RV parks keep us closer to neighbors than a Grey Poupon commercial.

Yet, despite the constant flux of RV park populations, and the proximity of rigs from stall to stall, there is an unwritten code of ethics that’s very reassuring–where neighbors seem to respect the property of others that typically extends beyond the footprint of one’s camper. Unattended grills, bikes and lawn chairs are a large part of open-door living at campgrounds, and are seldom disturbed by others.

However, when left alone, the isolation can be disquieting and peculiar, leaving us to wonder what it’s like to be on our own.

After breaking camp by mid-morning, the enervating 100 miles of stop-and-go driving from June Lake, over the Tioga Pass, through a crowded Yosemite NP to our final destination at Pine Mountain Lake took up most of our day. Ordinarily, after setting up, a secluded mountain setting would invite us to open our windows for a crisp cross-breeze of fresh air, but Groveland had served up a helping of haze with a side a smoke, giving us little choice but to button-up the Airstream to protect us from the effects of fires in the forest.

Leah was first to bed, while I spent some time editing photos for the blog. I don’t know exactly what time I fell asleep in front of the computer, but I was startled awake at 11:30 pm by a knock on the door, followed by a weak plea for help.

Shaking off the groggy feeling, I turned up the lights and fumbled to unlock the door. Had I been more coherent, I probably would have ignored the distress call, and filed it under “too weird for worry”. But instead, I reacted otherwise.

“Are you in some kind of trouble?” I asked, cracking the door a few inches.

A disoriented rail of a woman with pulled-back hair and dressed in black spandex workout gear was standing by my door.

“I’m lost, and I need a ride home. Can you please drive me to my house?” she pleaded.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, growing increasingly suspicious of her request, and feeling angry that I may have put Leah and myself in jeopardy by answering the door.

“My husband and I had a disagreement and he dropped me here, and I have no way of getting home. I live on the mountain, but I don’t know where I am, so could you please drive me home?” she reiterated.

She didn’t appear upset–just confused, but so was I.

When Leah and I began preparations for our year-long adventure, a common question among friends and family was, “Are you taking a gun with you?”

My response was always the same: “Are you fucking crazy?” But now I’m not so sure.

“I’m not from around here, so I don’t know how to get you home,” I asserted. But what I was really thinking was: “You’ve got to be kidding if you think I’m leaving Leah behind, while you ambush me outside the Airstream or on the way to your home.”

“Then will you let me use your phone so I can call someone?” she suggested.

I anticipated the question. “I’ll be right back,” I announced, closing the door. I reached for the phone I recently replaced two weeks ago, switched on the exterior light, and re-opened the door to find her drinking from a large water bottle. I wondered what else she was hiding on the other side of my door.

“Since we don’t know each other,” I volunteered, “how ’bout I dial the police for you, and you can ask them directly for help?…”

She hesitated as I entered 9-1-1, “…Cause it sounds to me like this warrants a call to the police.”

“Sheriff’s office, what’s your emergency?” answered dispatch.

Switching the phone to speaker, I offered, “I’m calling from Pine Mountain Lake Campground in Groveland, CA. A woman has knocked on my camper door who claims that she’s lost and unable to find her way home. Are you able to help her?”

“Is she still there?” asked the dispatcher.

“She is, and she’s asked me to drive her to her house somewhere nearby,” I confessed.

The dispatcher took over. “Are you alright ma’am? Are you hurt in any way?”

The stranger responded, “I’m okay. I just don’t know where I am is all, and it’s dark, and I don’t know how I’m gonna get home.”

The dispatcher continued, “Can you tell me your name and where you live?”

“My name is Amber and I live at 20247 Longview St.,” claimed the knocker.

“Were you born in 1964?” asked the dispatcher.

“Yeah,” responded Amber.

“Well, this office is not a taxi service, Amber, but if you like, I can offer you the numbers of a few local cab companies who can get you home,” suggested the dispatcher. “Is that a good option for you?”

Amber, dazed, “Sure.”

To Amber, “Be right back.” I let the door slam behind me, and I scrambled for a pen. The dispatcher dictated phone numbers for three taxi services and signed off.

Getting back to Amber, “I’ve got three choices here. Which number would you like me to call?”

“I don’t have the money for a taxi. Can you just tell me the direction to the main road?” asked Amber.

“Ferretti Road is at the bottom of the hill. You can’t miss it,” I declared, and double-locked the door.

From the “bedroom” Leah called out, “What the hell was that all about?”

“I don’t even know where to start, but I hope she’s gone,” I asserted.

“Maybe we should bring in the bear spray from the truck as a precaution,” Leah recommended.

“Only if you get it,” I replied.

“Fuhgeddaboutit! I’m not stepping out there,” exclaimed Leah.

At Leah’s suggestion, I called Pine Mountain Lake Association security, who completed a sweep of the property, but came up empty. Their promise of an increased patrol through the night was reassuring, but the peculiar notion of ever enjoying peace and quiet as a solitary guest in a campground now seems highly overrated.

Redwoods and Blue Seas

California stopped us right in our tracks. We had just crossed the Oregon state-line, only to be unexpectedly diverted to a border patrol checkpoint.

“What could we have possibly smuggled into California from Oregon that would need further inspection? Maybe they’re looking for the coyote who’s been running Canadians into the States?” I posed.

“More likely, there’s a bounty or some kind of quota for captured Mexicans,” Leah contributed.

Ahead of us, the RV from Nevada was being questioned. He pulled away, and then it was our turn.

Waiving us forward, “Wow,” the California agent exclaimed. “You guys are all the way from New Jersey?”

I’m almost certain his eyes lit up behind his dark glasses. “Do you know anything about gypsy moths?” he asked.

“We are, and I do,” I responded to both questions.

“Well then, since you won’t be needing this brochure about gypsy moths, would you do me the favor of pulling up to those cones over there,” he indicated, “and I’ll have an officer come by to check things out in a jiffy. We won’t keep you very long.”

“Are we really getting checked for moths?” I asked rhetorically, as I crept to the cones.

“I don’t know,” Leah admitted, “but I can see two guys in my mirror, and they’re coming up to the Airstream, and one of them is carrying something big, but I can’t make it out.”

“I suppose it makes sense, considering the importance of protecting America’s timber land,” I stated. “In fact, what this country needs is a net. The United States government should cast a tremendous net over America’s airspace to protect us from immigrant leaf-eaters that only mean to do us harm. These are very bad bugs–the worst you’ll ever find anywhere–and these bugs have to be stopped before they threaten the security of this great country. Believe me. Thank you very much.” I campaigned.

“And this net…are you gonna get the bugs to pay for it?” Leah mused.

The inspector set the car dolly on the ground and crab-walked around the Airstream undercarriage while on his back, poking around with his fingers and a flashlight. He started on the left side of the Airstream, and I followed him as he scooted under the tail to the other side for more of the same.

After completing the circle, he stood and declared, “All clean. These campers are completely sealed. Those guys do a good job.”

“And made in America!” I chimed in.

He stamped my official Certificate of Inspection, and bid us safe travels.

certificate-of-inspection.jpg

Certified predator-free, we were now permitted to resume our journey throughout California, with Redwood National Park as our first stop.

Redwood National Park is a splinter of a park that hugs the rocky northern coast, and reaches across the Yurok Reservation and reciprocating California State Park affiliates.

Because Redwood is not a traditional National Park, it can easily get under your skin. Navigating through the blurred lines of park boundaries always had me wondering if we were “in” the park or not, as we rode Redwood Highway through forests and meadows to beaches and towns.

Unlike other parks, there is no entrance fee, but then again, there’s also no practical way of collecting a fee when the road is open to all traffic.

We set up camp on the bank of the Klamath River,

Klamath River sunset (2).jpg

and explored in earnest the following day when we followed the river to the estuary,

Klamath channel (2)

where a family of barking sea lions,

 

and humans…

ocean play

…frolicked in the sea spray and sea foam.

sea foam

We continued our hike along the Coastal Trail, with views north…

Bird Rock

…and south of High Bluff overlook.

coastline overlook

“I miss the ocean,” I confessed to Leah. “There’s something serene about staring into the surf.”

Although three months had passed since visiting the Jersey shore, I was immediately transported back to a familiar scene of waves rhythmically crashing against the rocks.

crashing waves

“Let’s go find some redwoods,” Leah advocated, pulling me out of my trance.

We branched out to a deeper part of the jigsawn park, and settled on a grove of giants dedicated to the beatification efforts of Lady Bird Johnson by Richard Nixon.

Lady Bird plaque

With ancient redwoods as old as 2500 years and reaching upwards of 380 feet, the notion of something bigger than oneself becomes more than a literal interpretation.

sunglow

skyscraper

treetops

redwood grove

How fortunate we felt to be bathed in streaming shafts of light–dancing between feathered limbs, and flickering in the balmy breeze.

shafts of light

There’s much to learn from trees that have survived the dinosaur. Redwoods are a family of trees that share root ancestry to keep them anchored. They propagate by seed or by sprout, and are known to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the younger and stronger sibling.

twins

The redwood’s bark may grow to two feet in thickness to protect itself from fire damage. However, repeated fires can eventually penetrate through the bark, leaving the tree to rot out from the core,

burned out redwood

and yet…it may still survive.

burned out but alive

Even in death, there is a twisted beauty to be found in its decomposition.

rotting stump

At the dedication ceremony to honor Lady Bird Johnson, President Nixon intoned,

…to stand here in this grove of redwoods, to realize what a few moments of solitude in this magnificent place can mean, what it can mean to a man who is President, what it can mean to any man or any woman who needs time to get away from whatever may be the burdens of all of our tasks, and then that renewal that comes from it…

As I strolled through the grove surrounded by God’s fingers, oh, how I prayed that Donald Trump could take Nixon’s advice, and listen to the trees’ whispers for just “a few moments”.

Corners

A small corner of the sky captured most of America’s attention and imagination on August 21, 2017. It was the celestial event of the millennia that brought a momentary pause to many people’s lives as they looked up and marveled at the source of our very existence.

Leah and I had our own corner of the parking lot at Benton County Fairgrounds in Corvallis, OR.

Leah lounging

A party atmosphere surrounded us. Some were expecting a spiritual awakening, and some were interested in the science of the occasion, but for most of us it was a social connection. We sat around with family, friends and strangers, looking goofy in our mylar glasses…

3 loungers1

…as we shared a brief moment together as sun worshippers.

We all held our collective breath at the precise moment the moon completely eclipsed the sun. And then there were cheers.

totality

For one brief moment, we were all related. For that one instant during totality, we had turned the corner, and became the human race.

And just like that…

partial eclipse (3)

…it was gone in a flash, and a tear passed the corner of my eye.

Sadly, it’s going to be a long time before our next solar eclipse.