Sunday, February 28, 2010

The McDonald's Museum

Location: San Bernadino, CA

The McDonald's story, succinctly and in a nutshell, is as follows:

Ray Kroc, at age 52, was a milkshake mixer salesman who found out that a restaurant in San Bernadino, CA. had just placed an order for 8 MultiMixers, each being capable of making 5 milkshakes at a time. "Who could possibly need this many milkshakes at one time?" he thinks. And he decides to find out.

When he gets to San Bernadino, he finds a small drive-in, where customers either walk up or are served by car hops. It is run by brothers Richard and Maurice "Mac" McDonald. Ray watches from the sidewalk as people greedily devour their hamburgers, fries and the shakes he has come to investigate. He realizes the McDonald boys have a good thing going. Eventually he offers to buy them out. They agree.

Kroc sets up his first franchise store in Des Plaines, but the original McDonald brother's location remains on historic Route 66 in San Bernadino. The store is now long gone, but rival Juan Pollo (a chicken fast food joint) bought the land for an office and converted more than half the building into a McDonald's museum. Route 66 items are included, as are -- surprise -- a wee tiny bit of Juan Pollo artifacts. To tell the truth, the only Juan Pollo artifact we found was one stuffed chicken. You'd have thought they'd have put more of their own stuff in there, but I've never been to a Juan Pollo eatery, so for all I know it might be all they have. Here's their "poultry in motion:"

McDonald's memorabilia was everywhere. Old french fry paper sleeves, small toys that were once give-aways, kiddie rides, fun mirrors, pictures of youthful employees smiling as they posed with Ray, employees smiling while serving customers, or, somewhat creepily, pictures of them pledging allegiance -- hopefully to the United States, but scarily we suspect to McDonalds.

So I asked John to go pose with the "purple thing:"

He was understandably confused. But when he found Ronald, he knew he deserved a break today! And I'm lovin' it!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Sierra Nevada Range

Location: Near Bishop, California

Our friends, Mark and Rebecca, were kind enough to take us on a wonderful trip through the winter Sierra Nevadas. Many of the roads into the mountains -- and those into Yosemite -- were closed for the winter, but those that were open gave us remarkable views of the mountains blanketed in snow:

In Bishop, I also got to see a gallery that has been on my "must do" list for many years -- that of Galen Rowell, the "Ansel Adams of Color." Mr. Rowell died in a plane crash in 2002, leaving the world of photography poorer for the loss. Many exceptional photos in his catalog of work remain on display in this gallery, and it was a treat for me to finally see them.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Death Valley

Death Valley is a geology wonderland -- there are volcanic mountains, wind-shaped rocks, metamorphic rocks, dunes, mud flows, and desert rocks that have turned to black patina from baking for hundreds of thousands of years in one of the hottest, driest regions on earth.

Wind is an almost constant in Death Valley. Here it has kicked up a dust storm that will eventually rise high enough to block the view of the mountains:

At 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley's Badwater Basin is the lowest spot in the western hemisphere. There is a small pond of water here, but mostly the area consists of dried salt deposits and occasional round "pots" that hold a small, muddy film of moisture. And Badwater Basin sits on 9,000 feet of fill -- material eroded from the mountains -- meaning the actual bottom is a whopping 9,282 feet below sea level!

With mountains on either side of the desert valley and a high wind usually blowing, in several places the conditions are right for the formation of sand dunes. Except for the top few inches, the dunes are quite solid and can easily be walked upon. Footprints disappear rapidly!

It is an extreme but lovely place. We were in one of several campgrounds but felt like we were roughing it -- no phone or internet!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hoover Dam

What did the fish say when he hit the wall?


Hoover Dam is big, impressive, and well-deserving of the moniker, one of the "Modern Wonder of the World."

Built in the 1930s to tame the Colorado River's frequent and devastating floods, this $175 million project was financed with a 50 year mortgage, now paid off thanks to the revenue generated from the hydro-electric power plants. No tax payer money was used in the construction, and no tolls have ever been collected. As our tour guide said, this is a major government project that totally paid for itself without the need for any tax payer money -- so, of course, the government has never done it again.

It was constructed by first diverting the Colorado River through four tunnels that were dug two-to-a-side along the banks. This alone would be a major project, but added to it were the creation of a city to house the workers and a railroad to move supplies! Once the water was flowing around the dam site, the silt deposits and gravel were removed to expose the bedrock, and then concrete -- lots and lots of concrete --- was deposited in blocks to create the dam. It is so massive that the concrete is still curing today.

We took the tour of the dam and the electric plant. Here are the turbines, which the flowing water spins to create electricity:

Before we set out, our guide pointed out the four louvered doors on the face of the dam. Here is a closer look at one of them:

Finally we reached the circular tunnel that led us to the louvered door. Here are photos of John in the tunnel, the view of the louvers from inside, and the view of the dam, pointing the camera UP from the louvers:

Cracks and leaks seeps (oops... don't use the "L" word when talking about a dam!) have been monitored since the dam was built. This small crack, marked in red, has an identification date in 1942. We also saw an earthquake monitor, which our guide pleaded with us "not to kick it." OK, I can see how that might lead to bad things!

An amazing project, its sense of greatness is not in the least dimmed by years. And now, a new bridge is under constructions that will give the best ever view of the dam. Maybe in another few years it will be done...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Boondocking in the Desert

Location: Lake Havasu City, AZ

We are in Lake Havasu City, AZ, so close to California that our cell phones often pick up CA towers and change our phone's time to match the Pacific Time Zone. We are here for the yearly pyrotechnics show, Winter Blast. Winter Blast is only open to those in the trade, but they shoot off fireworks for several nights as they test new displays, and it is said to be one of the best fireworks shows ever.

There are a lot of folks boondocking (parking free without hookups) on Bureau of Land Management land all around Lake Havasu City in anticipation of the show. The hilly desert here is criss-crossed with narrow roads and ATV trails, which makes for some adventurous parking.

This guy apparently thought the view of the fireworks from a high, albeit narrow hill would be worth the hassle of creative leveling when the ground just wouldn't cooperate:

"Just put boards under the jacks. If we put some going one way, and the others going the other way, it should be super-safe!"

"Honey, it's not too high -- just take a flying leap!"

No thanks, I'll stick with the state park!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Most Famous Guitarist You've Never Heard Of

Location: Benson, Arizona

Most RV parks that cater to Snow Birds have, in addition to shuffleboard, pool, bingo, cards, and horseshoes (or variations of the same), several group meals during the week, and periodic entertainment such as dances or local bands. Tonight's entertainment combined a dinner and music (for $15): steak or salmon, plus a performer named Ralph Grasso.


A quick Google search found the Ralph has done it all. Remember the guitarist on "I Dream of Genie"? Ralph. "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly"? Ralph. "The Pink Panther"? Ralph. "Peter Gunn Theme"? Ralph. And those are just the tip of the iceberg.

He had stories to tell, from Frank Sinatra to Nelson Riddle to Barbra Streisand. He knew -- well -- Les Paul, and his playing showed the influence the father of the electric guitar had on him. His guitar was a custom made Fender, and sounded as elegant as it looked.

I expected a night of relatively good music -- at best. Instead I got so much more -- a look into the inside of the movie/music industry from one who had lived it. You have heard him all your life, and never knew who he was. Ralph Grasso, thanks for a really fun evening!

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Fort Bowie

Location: Fort Bowie, AZ

Today our friends Don and Sharon joined us on a trip to Fort Bowie, the 1880s site of the military operations that caused the surrender of Geronimo.

We drove eastward for a while, had lunch in a restored-train-BBQ-joint, and then started off for the final 30 miles to the turn-off for the park. When we got there, we discovered that the road was dirt, but seemed to be in good condition. We only had to go about 10 miles. What could possibly go wrong?

We found out what could go wrong when the mud got deeper, and the car started to slide. Having lived in the snow belt, John used his snow driving skills and quickly got us out the skid. But before long we came upon an RV, hopelessly stuck in the mud. We stopped to see if we could help -- there had been no other cars on this road, going in either direction.

The RVers were on their very first RV adventure and they didn't have a toad (towed vehicle). The husband really wanted to see Fort Bowie, so off they went in the RV. They tried to avoid the mud and ruts in the middle of the road, but found the shoulder was also too soft and got stuck. They had called the park's visitor center, and a tow truck was on the way. It arrived soon after we got there.

The truck was able to get them out, and the driver told us the road got even worse for a while, but eventually dried out. The RV had no where to turn around, so they were forced to continue on, and we decided to follow them. The RV went first, then our car, and the tow truck took the rear.

The road soon deteriorated into deep, muddy, slippery ruts. The motorhome in front of us was slipping and sliding, and we knew we were in danger of sliding off the road or worse -- we could have ended up hitting the rear of the RV if we all started sliding at the same time. But we made it through. As promised, the road dried out and became passable. After a few miles we stopped at a wide parking area for the Fort Bowie Trail Head, where we found out that the visitor center and fort were at the end of a 1.5 mile (one-way) hike! As we debated what we would do (we weren't really dressed for the hike), the tow driver caught up with us and told us a back way to get to the visitor center, which we gratefully took so we could get our National Park Passport Stamp. Most of the stamps are no where near this complicated to get!
19th Century Fort

Fort Today

The mountain ranges here were beautiful, and the recent rain that caused all that mud also threw some snow up on the higher elevations. We made stops on the way home for wine tasting and a hot apple pie -- made us forget about all that mud!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Military Intelligence

Location: Fort Huachuca, AZ

Along with our friends, Don and Sharon, we visited the museum at Fort Huachuca, a National Landmark. It is famed for being one of the duty stations of the Buffalo Soldiers, the black regiments formed during the Civil War, and for General Pershing's failed attempt to capture Pancho Villa in 1917.

We toured the museum, a interesting collection of 19th century to WWII military artifacts. Then we moved next door to see the Museum Annex:

Guess we go through the left door marked "Entrance," as the other door has a bench in front of it. Clear enough! But for all those who would miss the "Entrance" sign and decide that they needed to drag that bench away from the right-side doors to get in, they will soon realize that the Army thinkers are way ahead of them:

As long as they were painting letters on the door, why didn't they just paint "Please Use Other Door" with a left-facing arrow? And what would happen if someone DID move the bench? Would they need to call for an emergency paint job -- one that would say, "DOORS NOT BLOCKED"?

Guess this is just one of those Army Things!

One of the exhibits centered on the Buffalo Soldiers, a group that should have received much more historical attention than they have. A group well worth remembering. But here is how they worded this display (see upper right corner):

"Remembering Our Forgotten Heroes"? If they were really forgotten, how can we now remember them?

And finally, John practices his pointing skills in front of the Museum Annex: