Friday, February 27, 2009

Eye of the Rabbit, Eye of the Whale

Location: Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur

Guerrero Negro is a small town of somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 people, depending on who you ask. Some are employed in the normal service jobs -- gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, and the like. The best job in town is in the world's largest salt mining operation, where the employees can shop in the company store (goods at half price), their kids go to the best school in the area, and they live in a housing development that has paved streets and a gate (most of the side streets here are dirt). Don't come here and expect to get a job there, though -- the jobs are inherited, so only the children of workers can get them.

The other industry here is tourism, and by that everyone means the Gray Whale (Ballena Gris). Just east of Guerrero Negro is a round cove officially called Scammons Cove, but everyone calls it Ojo de Liebre, or Eye of the Jackrabbit. It got its nickname for murky reasons that seem to involve someone thinking the surrounding area looked like a hare (it doesn't) or that the cove was shaped like a hare's eye (why a hare? Just how different is a hare's eye from, say a squirrel's or a coyote's or a bird's?).

This cove is special, however, because each winter it fills with 1000 or so gray whales, who come here to calve and then nurse their babies until the end of March when they return to the Pacific Ocean. The females weight 35-45 tons and average 48 feet long (males are a bit smaller), but the babies only weigh a paltry 1 ton at birth and are 15 feet in length.

 Today we took a boat excursion into the lagoon. We eventually found ourselves in the middle of the whales, watching them surface, blow, and dive. At first the whales we saw were only in the distance and that alone was thrilling -- but as we moved through the cove, they started to come in closer and closer until they were about 50 feet away. We would see one, or maybe two cows at at time. Near the end of our trip, we had a couple whales who were curious enough about us to dive directly under our boat and come up next to it, babies at their sides. On man on our boat almost got to touch one of them -- just as he was reaching down, the whale "blew" and covered him in water! I was just forward of his seat, so I got a good look at the whale, and the whale got a good look at me -- I got to see this gigantic eye staring at me just before she submerged. Amazing.

It was extremely difficult to get good pictures -- the whales behavior was unpredictable and the sea was very choppy so not only did I have to try to anticipate where the whale would be, but I had to try to snap the shutter when we were not rolling on the waves (good thing I had Dramamine!). But I'm posting a few that at least show how close we were to the whales.

This was truly a special excursion that I will not soon forget.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Road to Guerrero Negro

Current Location: Guerrero Negro, Baja California Sur

As we have been traveling southward, we have been seeing a type of succulent that only grows here in Mexico -- the Cirio (Fouquiereia columnaris or Idria columnaris), or "Boojum tree." It's structure is often refered to as an "inverted carrot" because it is thick at the base and tapers to almost a point at the top. The Spanish word cirio means "candle" -- the plant was named cirio because it resembles tapered Mission altar candles. Obligingly, the plant's flower is like a golden "flame" blooming at the top.

As we neared Cataviña, we passed through a huge bolder field populated with a forest of cirio and cardón cacti (the tall, saguaro-like cactus):

Here is what the cirio "flame" looks like:

And here is what the leaves look like. In times of low moisture, the plant will drop the leaves so the available water can be concentrated in the white, bark-like trunk:

As we wind our way down to Cabo San Lucas, I have discovered some things and have been told some things:

  • It is not correct, or even polite, to refer to this peninsula as "Baja," but rather it should be called "Baja California." The word baja means "lower," so to call it just Baja is rather like calling New York, "New."
  • Cactus (nogales) and ham omelets are good.
  • Shrimp cocktail, served here as shrimp in lime marinade with onions, tomatoes, and cilantro (what I think of as shrimp cervice) is wonderful, especially from a street vendor who serves it in a huge margarita glass.
  • Hydroponic tomatoes are grown here in abundance making the prediction of Epcot's Living With the Land, that this was the way crops would be grown in the future, come true.
  • A truck can get it's tires changed while it is still pulling a two-tiered metal-grate cart, both tiers loaded with goats. I'm thinking it would be better, were I a goat, to be on the top tier.
  • Riding in an RV on a narrow road, with a drop-off instead of a shoulder just outside the white line, can be terrifying when inches separate you and oncoming traffic. John is doing a fabulous job driving, so it is not fair of me to make little "eeeeeee...." noises when an 18-wheeler comes barreling at us from the northbound lane -- but sometimes they slip out. I've learned it's often best if I just close my eyes.
  • Fence posts can be constructed from cactus ribs.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hola from Baja California

The border crossing went smoothly for all nine rigs -- the Wagon Masters, Ben and Nancy, were in front, then the seven customer's rigs, and then John and I in the Tailgunner position. Our job, in addition to learning the route, is to watch for any of our group who might need help along the way.

Once we had been waved through the US/Mexican border crossing in Tijuana, we began heading south along the Pacific coast. We followed the snaking border fence for a few miles, but finally left it behind for the decidedly nicer view of the Pacific Ocean. This stretch reminded me of Big Sur in California – it has the same rugged cliffs, winding roads, and amazing drop offs.

By the end of the first night, we had translated most of the road signs (those near the border were conveniently bilingual), negotiated several toll booths (for a couple rigs this meant learning the hard way to bypass the “Exclusivo” lanes, the equivalent of our Easy Pass. They had to back out), and realized that cars, people, and stray dogs will all dart into your path with no warning.

Our stop the first night was an RV park by a small tidal bay where egrets and other shore birds dined on small but plentiful fiddler crabs, and humans dined on excellent tortilla soup, a Mexian plate consisting of a chile rellano, taco, tostada and enchilada, and, of course, margaritas. We toured a fabulous world-class museum of collected art from the Maya, Aztec, and several other cultures that the owner of the resort had accumulated over 60 years of collecting. We were treated to a beautiful sunset with the mountains in the background and a sunrise just as beautiful the next morning. Day one done!


Day two found us on narrower, windy roads that snaked through the mountains for miles and miles. We hugged the right-side white line as oncoming semis, tankers, and RVs sped by in the oncoming north-bound lane, and it is a wonder that no one lost a mirror or worse.

We passed through several small towns where the colors were bright, the buildings shabby, and almost every business sign was hand-painted. Each town had what seemed to be an obligatory stray dog that sniffed along the roadside or lapped water in roadside puddles. We saw prickly pear farms, a woman hitchhiking as she balanced a box on her head, and two men who had come into town on horseback.

We were waved through our first military checkpoint, as soldiers dressed in camo, rifles at their sides, watched from the middle of the road. We gassed up at a Pemex, the only brand of filling station in Mexico, and used our pesos for the first time. In Mexico, green pumps are gas instead of diesel, and diesel is in black pumps -- good to keep straight!

Everywhere we went, the people were very friendly. Construction workers, playing children, and even some of the soldiers smiled and waved to us as we passed through. Day 2 ended in Colonia Vicente Guerrero, in a campground owned by an Italian woman and her Mexican husband. The Margaritas here are excellent!


Big Head

This is one of several blog entries that I set up to be posted while I am in Mexico.

Sometimes I get a big head (especially when someone tells me they like my blog). Sometimes I just see one on the street:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On To Baja

Location: San Diego, CA

On Monday, we will be leaving for a 24-day trip through the Baja Peninsula. It begins with the border crossing in Tijuana, and continues south to Cabo San Lucas. There are 9 rigs going, and Friday we all crossed the border together to obtain our tourist visas. Yesterday we did laundry, got groceries, and tried to find an easy way to remember how many pesos are in a dollar.

I expect that my internet access will be rather poor during the next few weeks, so I set up blog entries to be published every few days while I am gone. These entries are odds and ends from the last few months that didn't get posted but were not forgotten. I can't have y'all (see, I really am a Texan now) wandering off from boredom while I'm gone! And I will also post from Baja when and if I can.

Here in San Diego it is warm and plants are blooming everywhere you look. I wanted to share just a few of the flowers that grace our campground -- the first is a group of seed pods in various stages of opening, then a Bird of Paradise, and finally a succulent in bloom and a detailed image of the succulent's flowers.

Hasta la vista!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Yuma Territorial Prison

Location: Yuma, AZ

In 1876, 36 years before Arizona was to become a State, the Yuma Territorial Prison opened for business. Now a state park, the Territory's first prison once held, at various times, over 3000 men and women whose crimes ranged from grand larceny to polygamy to murder.

The cellblock can now be toured, and one cell has been equipped with the original furnishings -- two sets of triple bunk beds made of metal. A chain is attached to the middle bunk for the top-bunk prisoner to use as a hoist. The only other thing that would have been in the cells when they were in use was a large bucket that served as the toilet.

Predictably, the prison became overcrowded and closed in 1909 when a new prison took its place. From 1910 to 1914, the Yuma High School moved into the prison when their school building burned. They got a new mascot name while there and it stuck -- to this day the team is called the "Yuma Criminals." I'm guessing that's a unique team name!

An acting troop was performing a "wild west" skit while we were there. It was rather hokey, with a lot of shooting, stage dying, and a bad story line that seemed to involve men drinking rot-gut alcohol so strong that they immediately grew long hair, and women who then wanted to shoot them. Maybe the women just wanted their wigs back?


Friday, February 13, 2009

Two For The Road

Most RVers drive a vehicle that has always been an RV and change it very little from the way it looked on the day it rolled off the lot. Personal touches may be added, such as a new bedspread, rug, or lamp, but not much customization is done or even possible -- even rearranging the furniture is limited to perhaps facing a chair in a different direction as everything else is bolted to the floor.

So when an RV is lovingly created from something else, it becomes a thing of interest and amazement, and reflects a lot of work on the part of the owner. Most custom RVs are bus conversions, but occasionally a truck or other large vehicle is used.

There were two at the Western Gypsy Rally that their owners had graciously opened for tours:


Rig 1 is a truck conversion -- here are the before and after photos:


The rig now has a full bedroom, half bath, galley, paneled ceiling, beaded curtain, wood burning stove, and massaging murphy bed! Here are some more images:



Rig 2 began life as a rock group tour bus. It was not owned by any particular rock group, but was leased to many including Aerosmith and Willie Nelson. Built in a ship yard, it originally slept 12 (in 4 sets of triple bunks), had a rear lounge, and included a 32-speakers audio system!

Here are some images of Rig 2:


Creating your own RV takes imagination, creativity and resourcefulness. For example, these owners have found the perfect "anti-vibration device" and install it before each trip:

Some more pictures of interesting RVs can be found at these links:

Weird RVs (especially this one)

Weird Campers, Unusual RVs, and Other Bizarre Rolling Rooms

Strange RVs

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Cactus Queen

At Heathrow Airport in England. A 300-foot red carpet was stretched out to Air Force One and President Bush strode to a warm but dignified handshake from Queen Elizabeth II. They rode in a silver 1934 Bentley to the edge of central London where they boarded an open 17th century coach hitched to six magnificent white horses. As they rode toward Buckingham Palace, each looking to their side and waving to the thousands of cheering Britons lining the streets, all was going well.

This was indeed a glorious display of pageantry and dignity.

Suddenly the scene was shattered when the right rear horse let rip the most horrendous, earth-shattering, eye-smarting blast of flatulence, and the coach immediately filled with noxious fumes.

Uncomfortable, but maintaining control, the two dignitaries did their best to ignore the whole incident, but then the Queen decided that was a ridiculous manner with which to handle a most embarrassing situation.

She turned to Mr. Bush and explained, "Mr. President, please accept my regrets. I'm sure you understand that there are some things even a Queen cannot control."

George W., ever the Texas intellectual and gentleman, replied, "Your Majesty, please don't give the matter another thought. You know, if you hadn't said something I would have assumed it was one of the horses."

What queens might do and what guys seem to do all came together in one amazing heap last night at the Western Gypsy Gathering. Amid sparkly body glitter, red nail polish, garter belts and mesh stockings, pink balloon bosoms, fans and feather boas, and a whole lot of, if you excuse the expression, balls, the six contestants for the title of Cactus Queen strutted on stage.

They were brash; they were brazen; they put the hustle in the hussie and the flirt in the tramp. The emcee, Nick Russell from the Gypsy Journal, had his hands full -- literally -- trying to keep their hands where they belonged, their knees demurely together, and the audience from laughing so hard they'd fall to the floor.

Enjoy the slide show below -- it not only covers the pageant, but takes you backstage for an intimate look at the preparation and pampering that went on. The images can also be viewed on my Picasa album.

And, yes, that is John, who was very cute, I thought, although I am admittedly biased. In getting him ready, we only made one tactical error -- this morning I realized that I have no nail polish remover. Fortunately, pink seems to be his color!

If you can't see the slideshow below, use the link above to view them on my Picasa album.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gypsy Journal Rally

Location: Casa Grande, AZ

We are attending the Western Gypsy Gathering, an RV rally sponsored by the Gypsy Journal. There are all sorts of rigs here -- motor homes, travel trailers and fifth wheels are parked up and down the dirt field of the Pinal County Fairgrounds. But the one that stands out above the others - despite its diminutive size -- is this Burro being pulled by a very cool Morris Minor. The owner is a vendor who sells a portable CD/MP3 system called an MT-1 Music Tote. Does he keep all his stock in the Burro/Morris Minor? Yes. Does he sleep and eat there? Yes. Is he cramped beyond belief? I didn't ask, but he isn't creased down the middle, and he seems happy!

Night before last, a passing cold front brought us winds that got up to 40 mile per hour and an incredible amount of rain for the desert -- the record rainfall here for February is .5 inches, and between this rainfall and one that happened the day before we arrived the month's total is already 1.5 inches. Here are some images of the roads in the fairgrounds -- our rig is luckily parked in a high and dry spot:

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Algodones in Baja, Mexico

Location: Yuma, AZ

Today John and I took a day trip to Algodones, Mexico. I got a new pair of glasses (progressives, plus fetching Celine frames for $120), John got a couple cartons of cigs, and we both got lunch, two Coronas, and a couple of Margaritas.

Algodones is the nicest of the border towns I have been in -- but admittedly I have only been in Paloma, Progresso, and Juarez. Here there are the same street vendors, a gazillion dentists, and the obligatory "pharmacias" where anti-depressants, penicillin, and Viagra morph into over-the-counter medications and a consultation with a medical professional is only a slight suggestion, if it is anything at all. But the area within walking distance of the border is refreshingly free of carbine-toting militia, the gauntlet of street vendors hawking jewelry, DVDs, and dime store bracelets is small and contained, and the children begging for spare change are, for the most part, confined to working the enormous queue of people returning to the U.S.

Click for Larger image of RestaurantWhile we waited for my glasses to be finished we had lunch at Paraiso, a restaurant that started sedately indoors but immediately spread to an outdoor plaza, with umbrella'd tables, a one-man salsa band, a shapely lady selling Cuban cigars, and a t-shirt vendor, most of his wares too off-color to post. Because it was sprinkling -- an amazing thing here in the Sonoran desert -- we chose to sit in the smallish indoor room where previous patrons had stapled dollar bills on the ceiling, just next to the fake stuffed parrot on a swing. Even the restrooms were outside -- while there were individual stalls behind wooden doors, the unisex sinks were in the open, and staffed by a woman who pointed out the soap for you, turned on the water, and then handed you a paper towel to dry your hands -- and, of course, the tip jar was prominently displayed.

Click for Larger image of Football Skulls After lunch we still had time to kill before my glasses were ready, so we wandered through the tourist-trap shops of Algodones. Want a ceramic frog, turtle or duck for your garden? A fabric poncho, conveniently both rain proof and bullet proof (yes, that really was the claim, but we chalked it up to a language problem)? A lovely human skull in the football helmet of your favorite NFL team? They're all here! And what's this? A shop called "Curios Elvis" that has -- count 'em -- a total of ONE picture of Elvis and nothing else Elvian -- and it wasn't even on black velvet!

Click for Larger image of John N Junk Click for Larger image of John and Bullet Proof Poncho Click for Larger image of Curios Elvis Click for Larger image of Elvis Picture

Click for Larger image of Feather MissilesBut the most curious things of all were the purchases made by these folks we saw in the line to return to the US (a line that took an hour and twenty minutes to get through!). They had bought what looked like three huge palm-tree-chimney-things with enormous feathers sticking up at the top. What were they going to do with them? And why did they need three? Why not two or four?

Click for Larger image of Feather Missiles

They were several minutes ahead of us in line, and as we snaked forward, we saw that they were now carrying their odd cargo upright as they moved in the line (see upper part of photo on right, where the line goes under the canopy frame). Eventually, they reached the doors to Customs where only one person is allowed through at a time. That person had to lower his "feather missile," as we called them, and carry it awkwardly and horizontally through the door, and then declare their purchase to the Custom's Agent. What the Agent thought as they saw that first feather come through the door will have to remain a mystery. If only we had been directly behind them in line to see it all up close and personal!

While in line, we were exposed to the elements for several minutes, but the Rain Gods were kind to us and only drizzled when we were under a canopy. The Customs Gods were also kind, and moved us through expediently.

Here is a picture of me in my new glasses:

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The North Ranch Cactus Garden

Location: Congress, AZ

On the way to Prescott (see previous posts), Cookie and I passed through Congress, AZ, and decided to check out one of the Escapee's parks, North Ranch. The park is a nice one, with a large number of deeded lots in addition to the campground. But what makes this park extra special is their amazing cactus garden. Every kind of cactus imaginable is there, and signs mark each species. Here are some images of the garden:

The star of the garden is a huge Saguaro aptly named "Methuselah," and his sign indicates that he has been dated circa 1600! Since a saguaro doesn't start growing arms until they are 50-75 years old, his "armage" indicates that he has indeed lived a long, long life!


So what was happening in the world around the time that Methuselah was just a little bud on the desert floor?

  • Giordano Bruno, whose "crimes" included expounding that the sun was the center of the solar system and holding opinions contrary to the Catholic Church is burned at the stake for heresy in Rome
  • The Dutch East Indian Company is chartered
  • Elizabeth I of England dies and is succeeded by James VI of Scotland
  • The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe so accurately catalogs 1000 stars that Johannes Kepler, his assistant, uses these measurements when he constructs his laws of planetary motions (the laws can be found here, but with a warning -- they are only for the math-obsessed!)
  • A famine kills around a third of Russia's population
  • Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is performed for the first time
  • Rembrandt is a just a baby, Rubens is painting plus-sized ladies, and DaVinci's Mona Lisa is already a hundred years old
  • Galileo's daughter, Marie Celeste is born (her story is told in Dana Sobel's wonderful book, Galileo's Daughter)
  • The King James Bible is written
  • Jamestown, the Colony of Virginia, and New York (as New Amsterdam) are founded
  • St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, begun around the time the Mona Lisa was painted, is finally completed and
  • Sumo wrestling becomes a professional sport in Japan.