Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter Solstice, Festivus & End of the World Party

Last year at this time I was sitting, by myself, in the heart of the Everglades celebrating the holidays with the alligators and mosquitoes.  This year I am in Tucson with the following wild party animals....


Don, read his 'burning book' that predicts the end of the world.

Various wild specimens--waiting for the end of the world...or perhaps feeding time.

How many parties have a robotic whale that sails around on the ceiling during Karaoke?

Floating over the Festivus Pole.

If you look closely at the lamp in the window you will note that it is a lady's leg lamp.  The shirt Don is wearing says, "Oh, Fudge" and his all-time favorite Christmas gift is the Red Ryder Air Rifle. I wonder what his favorite Christmas movie is.

We had a beautiful rendition of "Mack the Knife".

David made a great Santa

And Lars wore the best holiday shirt.
I drove the RV to the party and parked in front of Don's house.  When I felt sure the world was going to survive--at least for the foreseeable future--then I went to sleep in my RV.  What a great way to go to a party, why didn't I think of it years ago?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mt. Lemmon

Four ranges of mountains, at heights over 9000', surround and cradle the city of Tucson.  The mountains that can be seen from my friend's backyard, are called the Catalinas.   One morning last week the first snowfall of the winter arrived on the mountaintops in time to set the stage for Christmas.

The city itself seldom receives any snow and experiences only a few days per winter of temperatures below freezing.   But a mere 25 miles away at the very top of Mt Lemmon is the southernmost ski area in the country where 65" of snow fell last year.

Soon after I arrived in town--and before the first snowfall--I got together with my dear (and funny) friend, Suzanne, for a trip to the top of the mountain. Suzanne is a caregiver for a lovely 92 year old lady named Belle, who bravely came with us for the day. (Belle wouldn't get out of the car for the photo--I think she is afraid of the heights.)

Though only 25 miles to travel, the road is windy and spectacular with breathtaking views and changing vegetation the higher you climb.

Over the years a few vehicles did not make the curves.  This old VW bus has been here for decades as a reminder to slow down, enjoy the view and don't smoke pot if you're driving. (That's just a guess on my part--but if this accident occurred in the 60's or 70's there is a good probability.....)

The climb from Tucson to the tiny town of Summerhaven at the top covers 6500 feet in only 25 miles.  Two years ago in October the first Mt Lemmon Marathon was held and 800 people actually ran all the way up that mountain to finish the race.  Of course, at the end of the day, the road up was littered with heaving, panting, quivering bodies who failed to reach the top and sincerely regretted that New Year's resolution they'd made the previous winter.

I would hardly be able to run--or crawl--to the top.  But from the car window I could imagine the climb--while I worried that we wouldn't run out of gas.   Rock formations are like sentinels watching the city way below and it is easy to see why the Indians of the area gave this mountain spiritual significance.

We had started on a very warm day in the desert.....

But discovered a cool sweet-smelling pine forest at the top....

with a ski area waiting for the snow that would come in only a few more days.

We found a restaurant for lunch in the quaint little alpine village....

And Belle finally decided it was safe enough to get out of the car.  

Much of Summerhaven is brand new.  In 2003 a truly devastating fire raged across the top of the mountain and destroyed the downtown,  250 of the 700 homes, plus  great stands of the beautiful pines and aspens.

A fundraising program callled "Lemmon Aid" has helped to rebuild the town...

But remnants of the tragedy are everywhere.  I remember one night standing in my own backyard in Tucson and looking up at Mt. Lemmon, watching the fire.  The mountain looked like a raging volcano and for nights the flames reminded the people of the city that they were witnessing the demise of their beautiful summer haven retreat.
But it's coming back, better than ever.  And when Tucson temps in the summer reach 110 degrees it takes only 1/2 hour to be sitting on the mountaintop in the cool air sipping a lemonade.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tucson, Az

What is 'home'?  Tucson, Az is where my house is--though presently rented--and where I have lived for over 12 years.  I have many, many friends here and my very best friend, Suzy, has graciously agreed to let me park in her yard for the next 6 to 8 weeks.  But where is home?  More and more I think I am disconnecting from my house, the land, the things I have stored here and am starting to rethink what it takes for me to feel at home.

But for right now all it takes to feel at home is family, friends and a warm day in the sun.

It's a bit hard though to find a Christmas tree amongst the cactus....

The view from Suzy's house is of Pusch Ridge in the Catalina Mountains and the full moon rising over the Ridge was a pretty spectacular welcome for me.

Nights in Tucson are special.  The city has a light ordinance that keeps all outdoor lights covered so that the rays do not escape into the sky causing light pollution.  As a result just about everyone here is into star-gazing.  There are now 11 observatories in the mountains around the city.  Even the Vatican has an observatory.   

There is also something magical about the colors here.  I keep wanting to take out the paint set and try my hand at creating something.  

Sunglasses are a requirement for everyone in this bright desert sun and unusually crystal clear air. Pollution comes in the way of blowing dust instead of auto exhaust.

Tucson will be my stopping place for the next 6 or 8 weeks while I catch up on dentist and doctor visits, car registration, renewing driver's license, Sigh Me's shots, and enjoying the holidays with family and friends. And while I am here I plan to see Tucson from the eyes of a tourist--something I never had enough time for when I lived here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

West Texas

I have crossed west Texas so many times in my life and each time I promise myself it will be the last.  On each crossing I have looked for an alternative route through this vast wasteland in hopes of seeing something interesting or new.  No matter which highway I choose, there will be mile upon mile of stark landscape, high winds that make steering difficult, blowing dust, searing sun and dusty near-dead towns.  Roadkill and spinning tumbleweeds provide some interest while the radio crackles with raging hell-fire sermons, mexican music or pontificating talking heads. And everywhere are road signs selling acres and acres of land at 'bargain prices.'  

I have been asked often, "Aren't you afraid to be traveling alone?"  In 16 months on the road I must say I have felt little fear but I do take a lot of precautions to stay as safe as is possible.

Traveling these long stretches I made sure my gas tank stayed full.  It was a no-brainer,  as soon as the gauge registered the 1/2 way mark I started looking and was willing to pay any price at the next pump I found along this lonely road.

I discovered quickly that signs saying "Gas station 5 miles ahead..." were often outdated.   But the scariest of all, cell phone coverage was non-existant for almost the entire 2 1/2 days!

I knew there would be few options along the way for overnight parking. No Cracker Barrels or Walmarts showed up on my GPS for hundreds of miles. So I sat with the map and my guide books and studied them until I found a state park on a small river and lake about 150 miles west of Ft. Worth.  Perfect!

Except that the river and the lake were completely dried up.  Boat launches and fishing docks were high--and dry.

Vacation homes and businesses were deserted and I was all alone in the campground.  Yes, I was scared.


  On the second day I pulled into a very remote rest stop for lunch and decided to open all the windows to get a little fresh air. Within minutes there were dozens of angry bees circling around Sigh Me's food bowl--to Sigh Me's delight.  She was getting bored with all that traveling and suddenly she had something fun to chase.  It took me only seconds to close the windows and go to work with the fly swatter.  Thankfully we weren't stung but I realized how dangerous that was--especially if the bees were Africanized.

But there were some spectacular views.  I saw coyotes, rabbits and roadrunners and a few amazing sunsets.

From a historical marker,  "Guadalupe Peak, Texas' highest mountain at 8749 feet above sea level, dominates one of the most scenic and least-known areas of the state.....Legends of hidden gold in the mountains go back to Spanish rule."

As I came close to El Paso I saw great expanses of salt beds.

From another marker...."Over one million years ago a large, shallow lake occupied this area. Salt deposits left behind as the lake dried up became an extremely important resource to the people of El Paso valley. "

 Finally, with relief, I crossed the border into New Mexico.  I know this sounds like it was not a pleasant experience for me but that is not altogether true.  I think my feelings would be the same if I had been walking on the moon.  'Barren and lonely--but challenging and starkly beautiful as well.' And, like it or not, I will have to cross this part of Texas again someday.

Note:  To add to the drama of this trip I was reading "Empire of he Summer Moon" by S.C. Gwynne...  the story of Quanah Parker of the Comanches, the most powerful Chief and Indian tribe in American History.  It is an amazing story and I highly recommend reading it if you are at all interested in the history of the early Texas settlers in the same remote area I have just traveled.  Quanah Parker was the 'half-breed' son of an Indian chief and his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman who was captured by the Comanches in 1837.  An old movie called 'The Searchers' was made about this incident..

Friday, December 14, 2012

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Significant, often traumatic, events mark our place in the historical timeline of life in this country.  We love to play the memory game, "I remember exactly where I was the day--Lennon or Elvis died, the spaceship Challenger exploded,  9/11(all day),  Bobby Kennedy/Martin Luther King was shot, and especially the assassination of JFK." 
JFK's death was a seismic event in the lives in this country.  My husband and I were high up in the Rockies in Vail, Colorado at a time when Vail had no radio or TV reception.  A car, passing by on the highway, stopped at the Inn where we were living and told us,  "President Kennedy has been shot!"  Nothing else was known at that moment but speculation and dread raced through the small town with unbelievable speed. 

Who? Why? How serious was this?  At that time it was the middle of the Cold War and very soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis so a huge amount of fear centered on the Russians and a possible attack.  It took only a few minutes for us to pack and drive the 100 miles necessary to get TV reception enough to follow the horrifying events of that weekend.

Last month, before I left the Ft. Worth and Dallas area,  I wanted to make one stop that I had missed all these many years--Dealey Plaza and the School Book Depository.

JFK and Jackie's first stop in Texas was Ft. Worth where the reception was huge.  
There was a time before bullet-proof windows were on the presidential limo, before all the barricades, before bullet-proof glass shields were part of the podiums,  before the secret service stood between the president and his admirers--but all innocence ended that day.

Ft. Worth recently dedicated this small plaza to the memory of that remarkable visit to their city.  JFK stayed his last night in the hotel to the left across the street from this little memorial.

 The plaza memorializes a warm and welcoming city embracing a young, energetic president and his lovely wife.

Yet, just a few short hours after this photo was taken there would be bloodstains on Jackie's suit and the president would be gone.  

Next stop was downtown Dallas.....

And the Schoolbook Depository.  There is a museum on the top floor with photos and videos that take one through the weekend--a step at a time.

Once again, no photos were allowed inside the museum but there wasn't much to see.  The spot that Lee Harvey Oswald stood was roped off and staged just as it had been that day.  Boxes were stacked high behind where Oswald  stood at those two windows on the far end of the top floor. If someone had walked into the room at that moment they would not have seen Oswald standing there with a rifle in his hand. The boxes would have shielded him.  I stood at the next window over and tried to imagine firing a rifle at rapid speed at a motor vehicle passing by six floors below.

Trees would have been in the way until the car reached the spot where those three people are standing.

There are two X's in the street--where two bullets found their mark.  And the Grassy Knoll is in the photo above showing the vantage point from the opposite direction.

"X" marks the spot where the first bullet struck.  Look directly below the lamppost in the center of the photo.
Was Oswald the only assassin?  I am amazed at his marksmanship if he was.  
And if so, what was his motive?  Surely he could surmise that he would be hunted down if not killed on the spot.  And If it was a political killing then why didn't he leave behind some statement or even hint of his extreme viewpoint?  Was he a radical Communist? Not that I can tell.  If he was crazy then why wasn't that obvious at a much earlier time?  And if he was a paid assassin then where, and from whom, was the money?
"On November 22, 1963, the building gained national notoriety when Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot and killed President John F. Kennedy from a sixth floor window as the presidential motorcade passed the site."--Even the Historical Marker people are skeptical.

Am I a 'Conspiracy Theorist'?  I wasn't until I walked through the Depository and saw all the displays purporting to show Oswald as the only gunman.  Now I have questions without answers. I don't intend to start reading any of the hundreds of books on the subject because I don't think there will ever be a definitive answer to 'Who killed JFK?"
But I will never forget where I was on the day I heard the report, "The President's been shot!"