My Two Worst Days Ever

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The Trunk

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The Back Seat

There are two days I abhor and hate to the point of murder. They are the day I pack to leave on a trip, and the day I pack to return from the same trip.

I think one of us has to focus on taking less stuff and buying less stuff.

 

Light Speed to Reality

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This morning we left a chilly rainy 65 degree day in the Valley of the Sun. Two hours later we reached the top of a 7500 feet high peak and moved through a snowy white out. The car thermometer dropped to 28 degrees. The weather followed us to our first destination city with two additions, wind, and hail. The wind-chill drove the last spike through my Phoenix warmed heart, ugh. We will follow a major weather pattern across the United States and we might even meet some severe rain storms with possible tornadoes. I don’t need an adventure like this anymore, packing the car was adventure enough.

I often tell friends “in May when I return the weather is colder than the weather I experienced in Phoenix in January.” Another big difference is that in May, Illinois doesn’t have many flowers in bloom, while in January, the valley is abundant in flowers.

Our last week in the Valley had us basking on the patio enjoying 90 degree days. I don’t think I will see another ninety degree day for another three months.

How deprived am I?

My Heart Is Down

Sad to say I’m on my way,

Won’t be back for many a day.

My heart is down, my head is turning around

I had to leave a little house in Wrinkle Town.

 

A Cherry Pie From the Middle Of Nowhere

Our latest adventure was a train ride through the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, Arizona. We drove the hill climbing 3000 feet in altitude from the valley to Chambers, Arizona. During our scoot from the I-17 toward Cottonwood on AZ-269 I related to Peg the last time I was in this part of the country. It was 1987, and I attended The League of American Wheelmen’s national rally in Flagstaff. It was my second week-long bicycle tour.

My goal at the time was to maximize the adventure by using the train to get to the rally. I arrived at the train depot in Joliet, IL at 4:00 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. departure. The station was empty and dead. The train I awaited began it’s run in Chicago a mere forty miles away, but didn’t arrive until 8:00 p.m. Gee this will be interesting, the train is already three hours behind schedule before I start, and that is the way it ended too.

Once at the rally city I bussed to the Grand Canyon and joined the tour group which rode back to Flagstaff on bicycles. It took us three days to make that trip. At the rally there were daily bike trips offered in each direction. These trips averaged from 30 to 100 miles each. All were scenic and went to destinations of interest. I chose the one which followed scenic Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona (all down hill) and then across the valley to Cottonwood and finally to the Tuzigoot National Monument. A bus awaited there to haul us back up the hill to Flagstaff.

As Peggy and I approached Cottonwood, the amount of traffic picked up considerably, and the number of shopping malls exploded. I couldn’t get over the amount of development that had occurred since my last visit. My first visit to Cottonwood was a joy as we pedaled through 105 degrees through a sleepy little village. The town which chartered in 1960 consisted of a typical Main street with quaint shops along either side of a three block stretch. On this day, Peg and I  passed through several stop lights passing a Home Depot, Walmart, Papa Joe’s and more before we even came close to Historic Cottonwood. I put all my trust in the slave lady who resides in the box on my dash and gives me instructions about where and when to turn. Eventually, we reached a street that looked like the Cottonwood I remembered. A short distance from the old town we passed the entrance to Tuzigoot.

For the umpteenth time the amount of development that occurred in the USA in the past 30-40 years has amazed me. Where did all the people come from to make every town in America grow so large? The time we visited Santa Fé, New Mexico is the first instance when I suffered population growth shock similar to that which I experienced this week in Cottonwood. Each time, I have gone back to these cities expecting to see the same quaint cute little burgs they were when I first saw them. As Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can never go back home again,” and then re-quoted by John Steinbeck in “Travels with Charlie,” I begin to understand what it means.

Peg and I boarded the Verde Valley Railroad car named Tucson at 12:45 and sat watching the amazing topography of the Verde River Canyon pass us by at a snoozy twelve miles per hour. I dreamed about doing this same tour on my bicycle at the same speed. The problem is that the railroad is the only road that travels this section of paradise. Very few people inhabit the scenic volcanic landscape.

The run down the hill was more fun than climbing in the morning. We chased a sunset all the way at 80 miles per hour. I achieved another goal along the way, I the exited the I-17 correctly to find the Rock Springs Pie Company. There, in the sparsely populated Arizona mountains, is a business consisting of a gas station, bed and breakfast, flea market, café, saloon, and the best home-made pies in the world. We bought a cherry pie to bring home.

Amazing Glass

In 2001 my Garden Club introduced me to a show at the Garfield Park Observatory in Chicago.  Artist Dale Chihuly made special pieces to place strategically throughout the tropical room of the hundred year old observatory. As president of the club I suggested we visit as a group and see what this was all about. It would be a two-fer. One, we would visit the worlds largest indoor garden, and two, we would see some amazing glass works.

Four carloads of anxious gardeners drove into Chicago’s war zone to make the visit, none of us were sorry. In January, as Peggy and I approached Phoenix from the south on the I-10, I spotted a billboard titled Chihuly in the Garden. This image settled in a working bit of brain matter within my cranium and stuck. In the last six weeks I learned that the garden referred to is the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Our field trip this week took us there to see what the amazing Dale Chihuly produced. We were not sorry, but thirteen years has passed since my last viewing of his work and the amount of energy required to see all of this exhibit took its toll on us. We came home and crashed.

The Desert Botanical Garden is not new to Peg and I. In years past we toured there to see how desert plant materials look when arranged artistically. Looking at cactus and the myriad of water starved plants that thrive au-naturel in heat gives a scuzzy appearance. The same plants in a garden environment are absolutely beautiful. I will not say much more and let my photos tell the story.

We visited on a dreary late winter day with a thick grey cloud cover. It held the heat down but threw off my pictures. After seeing them, I decided I should have used a setting for a snowy day instead of the standard landscape setting. The photos are acceptable, not great.

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I Wore Out My Welcome

We visited the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park in Scottsdale Arizona this week and found it a joy. I must admit that I went there to see toy trains in action. Peg went with me because she likes a day out no matter what. My secret plan was to take her through the parts of the park she would enjoy first, then I would finish with a visit to the Model Railroad Building.

The history of this park begins with an evil “one-per-center” who bequeathed his personal estate including  his backyard railroad on one hundred acres to Scottsdale. I’m talking about a Walt Disney style railroad that one rides on and drives like an engineer. Scottsdale made it into a public park.

We arrived there and headed for the restrooms. A playground opposite crawled with young moms and their toddlers climbing all over the playground. A line of yellow school buses queued at the entrance and lines of kids ushered by teachers boarded. We proceeded to the train station and bought tickets for two of the attractions that required them. The museum consists of a historic train depot from Peoria, Arizona. A gentleman wearing a Railroad Conductor’s uniform and cap took our tickets and greeted us warmly.

Immediately, the first display case caught my attention. Inside were three HO-scale model railroad cars depicting the train that carried President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s casket to his home in Hyde Park from Warm Springs, Georgia where he died. Since the cabinet stood next to the Conductor who took our tickets, I asked him if the real Pullman cars represented by these models are still in existence. He pointed out the window at two cars standing next to the building, and said, “there are two of them.”  The Conductor’s name tag read “Bob.” Peg and I spent thirty minutes in front of that display case asking Bob questions about the history of FDR’s death and his use of private Pullman Rail cars as his personal transportation while he served his presidency. We learned that in the beginning of his term, the government leased a car for his travel needs. After WWII began, the Secret Service purchased a car and had it made bullet proof. This car became U.S. One.

We finally broke from Bob and moved into the first car on display. Peg and I were reading and looking at historic photos when Bob appeared from nowhere to continue his personal tour. His knowledge of this era of trains is significant. If you visit the Park, I recommend you ask for Conductor Bob. FYI, tour guides are not part of the package. Bob took a shine to us because we are good listeners.

Bob took us through his effort to have the President’s Pullman on the Register of Historical Places. It took several years and loads of documentation to finally get approval, and they never told him that he got it. Bob is not one to let these things slide so he followed up. He learned from the Feds that they send official notification to the State official in charge of historical places. His boss finally pressured Arizona to send a letter of notification. I read the letter posted on the wall and learned his name is Robert Adler.

We finally moved into the  second car. Bob led us and explained each compartment. His attention to detail was amazing. We learned too many things about the sleeping habits of FDR. At the end of this long car is a parlor room where the president held meetings. In it is a couch, and several easy chairs. Pictures of FDR taken from inside this room filled the wall above the windows. Several more people entered and Peggy moved to leave, but Bob grabbed her by the arm and held on. Strange I thought, what is that all about? With all the people coming through the room we shuffled aside. Bob continued to hold on to Peg’s arm. He looked like he wanted to dance with her. Ultimately we learned why he did that. He asked her to sit in a chair in the corner of the room. She finally did sit down with his gentlemanly help. Bob then posed her in the chair placing one arm on the rest. He then pointed to a photo near the chair.”You are now sitting in the same place where FDR sat while traveling in this car.” Bob had posed her in the exact sitting position that FDR had in the photo above. It was a Kodak moment.

By this time, my blood sugar was screaming for nourishment. We lunched on the worst hamburgers ever cooked on the patio under an umbrella and watched the birds.

The miniature train was next to the lunch wagon so we headed there for our ride. It takes all of ten minutes to traverse a very nice figure eight through the park.

Finally, we found the Model Railroad Building. Three separate clubs operate the three layouts, O-gauge, HO-gauge,  and teensy-weeny N-gauge. All of them are works in progress with club members working on separate projects to complete building mountains, bridges, tunnels, towns, roads, to make realistic dioramas of life with trains.

My camera began to slow down, and I had to change batteries after taking just a few photos. We completed the O-gauge layout when a nice young woman came up to me and politely said, “I’m sorry sir, but it is after four o’clock and the building closed at four.” She guided us to the exit, and unlocked the door to let us out. As we left I said to her, “this is the most respectable place I’ve been thrown out of.”

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The Original Version of FED EX

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Conductor Bob poses with Peg

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The Clock is from Scottsdale’s sister town in Switzerland

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Roald Amundsen, first explorer to reach the South Pole.

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Bob posed Peg like FDR

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FDR sits in same chair in same place on the Roald Amundsen Pullman car

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All Aboard!

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The Dark Side of the Moon

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When the space program was in its infancy a new term came into existence “the dark side of the moon.” The term applied to the time the astronauts in orbit around the moon for the very first time lost all contact with planet Earth. The time was scary. No one knew what had happened. The loss of communication had not been expected. Yet, when analyzed, it became obvious that radio signals from the capsule when it was behind the moon, i.e. the moon was between the capsule and Earth, could not wrap around the moon toward earth. The tension at Mission Control could be felt around the world. The loss lasted several minutes, and a cheer went out after the capsule again came around into the signal area.

I am currently traveling and I feel like I have been on the dark side of the moon with my posts. At other times, I blogged daily from different parts of the USA. This time I have not had the opportunity to do so.

Today, I drove four hundred and eighty miles from one city to another.  The first half, or two hundred and forty miles, took five and a half hours for a grand spanking 43.6 mph average. The gas consumption measured 27.8 mpg. The ride was scenic and through rural areas. We experienced one incident which tested my mettle. I stopped to gas up, and stopped in front of a gas pump. I pushed the button to pop open the lid for the gas fill tube. It did not open. I kept pushing the button on the dash, nothing happened. I stepped out and used the key fob to pry at the edge of the door, nothing happened. I asked Peg to sit in the driver’s seat to push the button while I banged and pried at the door, nothing happened. Finally, I told myself to use some force to get the darn thing open. I figured the worst would be a broken or  bent door. Peg held the button down and I levered the door with the key fob enough to get my fingers into the opening and yanked for all I was worth. The door opened. I gassed up and left the door open for the rest of the trip.

The second two hundred and forty miles were more scenic  and covered wide open spaces with very large skies, it took three hours for an 80 mph average, and a gas usage of 25.1 mpg.  In both halves I never exceeded the speed limit. If you knew where I was you would understand completely why there is such a difference. I enjoyed both halves of the course, but must admit the second half was a white knuckle ride. A lapse of a single second from the road found me correcting the wheel. At high speeds it is easy to wander from side to side very quickly. I also experienced the sensation of relative speed. When approaching a vehicle from far behind my speed seemed normal, however, when coming up behind the same vehicle from within thirty-car lengths the distance between us closed at the speed of light. In one instance I came upon a semi-truck and signaled to change lanes for a pass. The truck pulled into the passing lane at the same instant. I found myself standing on the brakes to avoid running into him.

Tomorrow morning we will cover three hundred miles at the same speed limit, I look forward to the thrill.

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