Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom

Thursday, September 22, 2011

52 Days - 7999.9 Miles

The odometer, which read -0- when I pulled out of my drive early morning on August 1st read 7999.9 when I parked in my garage and turned off the engine of the Jeep 52 days later, at 2:30 p.m. on September 21st, to be precise.

I had just completed an ALMOST 8,000 round-trip drive from literally coast to coast in 52 days, stopping to visit many wonderful friends and family members along the way and got to see and enjoy so much of this fabulous place we who live in American call home.

So as this portion of my blog is drawing to a close, I am going to list, in no particular order, what I learned, what thought about, big decisions and what's going to be my 'next big adventure!'

Those who said 'I was so brave' to take this trip on my own didn't know what they were talking about.

Driving is driving - no matter what the distance. You watch out for the other guy, don't drive when you're tired, take numerous breaks, stop at every opportunity to see, taste and enjoy the different towns and states you are passing through. Be friendly and smile lots - you'll be amazed just how welcoming and friendly perfect strangers are when you greet them with a smile and show interest in their home town.

I never once felt I was in any danger (except driving down the Tioga Pass in Yosemite and that was my own personal fear of falling off the edge). No one ever approached me or tried to pick me up (darn) or acted inappropriately, whether in a restaurant dining alone or in any of the hotels and motels I stayed in on the road. I met complete strangers who shared great stories about their lives and even ones who welcomed me into their homes! I made memories that will last a lifetime.

• Learned that by being a right-handed person/driver that your left arm will be the one hanging out of the window most of the time and by the time you reach the West coast, your left arm with be much tanner than your right - which people will actually comment on.

• Learned that a shower curtain is a wonderful thing to carry in a semi-topless Jeep. It's the perfect size to tuck behind the seat backs and cover both seats when it rains.

• Realized it would have been smarter to pack the full-sized tarp I left in the garage at home. It would have covered the entire car and tied down with bungies - eliminating the how-to successfully get rid of the large pockets of water the bikini top collected each time it rained which usually ended up pouring down between the roll-bars and the doors, onto my legs, arms and flooding the floorboards. Oh well...

• I over-packed. But what woman doesn't? I was ready for any type of social outing and even though I did get to 'dress up' for several occasions, never got to put on my 'little black dress.'

• I gave myself a pat on the back for not shopping so much that I couldn't get the suitcases in the back.

• I am thrilled that my cousin Robbie insisted, and I really didn't want to take, a Tupperwear bowl along for the ride. It was where I stored the wonderful fresh-ground and very odiferous chilies I bought in New Mexico.

• An open-air car, be it a Jeep or whatever, does not lend itself to radio music or even iPod playing/blaring. The wind just overpowers the music. But it does give you long hours of thinking time - which really is a very good thing.

• GO WEST! If you haven't traveled through our Western states of WY, MT, UT, NV, NM, AZ and even CA, you PUT THESE ON YOUR BUCKET LIST OF 'MUST SEES.' The air is different, the sunsets are glorious, colors are muted but in some ways more vivid, the mountains rise up and the clouds come down to meet them. The food is even different. And the wide open spaces are breathtaking in their beauty and vastness. Do not miss seeing these before we cover them with cement and build another parking lot!

• Hug your grown children often and visit them even more often. Don't let being clear across the country keep you from driving your kids crazy at least a couple of times each year! Be amazed at what wonderful adults they turn into.

• Drive the back roads and stay at the 'mom & pop motels.' You'll get great service and meet some really fun people - and pay a whole heck of a lot less than at the big chain motels. Just remember to ask to see your room BEFORE you pay for it. And if you aren't pleased, there is always another just down the road a piece.

• Face your fears. As I've gotten older, I've come to dislike heights and drop-offs without guard rails giving me some semblance of safety. There were numerous times during this trip where I was driving over VERY high bridges and along large canyons that went down and down forever and my hands turned white on the steering wheel from gripping it so hard. I did it. Don't want to do it all the time, but when necessary, I Can Do IT!

• In reference to the above, I realized that I am 65 years old and am only getting older. I thought about my dream to buy another RV and just drive until I can't drive safely any further and realized that I probably would have had a heart attack if I had been driving the Tioga Pass in my 30' Winnie towing the Jeep along behind. I really don't think, no, I know I would not have seen this stunningly beautiful part of Yosemite if I had been driving an RV this trip. Which made me think...maybe it's time you give up that dream and find another. I've had my RVing days - a fabulous year and a half of them and I loved every single minute of that time. But looking at what I paid for gas on this trip, Yikes! and that was just for a car. So RVing is not an inexpensive way to live and staying overnight has risen in just the year and a half I've been away from it. The average now is $40 for a nice place. That adds up quickly.

• Speaking of gas! Thought you would like to know that the 'gas portion' of the trip was $1672.22. That's driving a 2001, 6 cylinder, Jeep Wranger with a 15-gallon tank getting approximately 15 miles per gallon. Yes, I know, I need a much more fuel-efficient vehicle the next time I decide to do this!

• So now that I put the RV dream to bed, I thought long and hard about returning to Wilmington and my beautiful little house by the sea and I realized I am not happy in Wilmington. I love my house but I don't love Wilmington. I've been here 5 years the first of October and I have made very few friends (you can count them all on one hand and not use all your fingers). Those that know me know that I'm an outgoing, friend-magnet type person so might find this weird. I do. But I realized that Wilmington is a retirement and vacation destination area. The retirees are for the most part 'couples' and let me tell you, they DO NOT welcome single/widowed/divorced women into their circles. If I were a single man, much different. But single women are seen as a threat! Can you believe that, at my age? And would I even consider one of their husbands in my house, let alone my bed 24/7? NOT!! I also miss things like good, live theater and musical performances, outstanding museums, big libraries, great shopping, movie art houses, and real ethnic diversity in the people on the streets and in the choice of restaurants. None of that is available here - and really not in any of the big cities here in North Carolina.

So I started thinking....where I have lived that I was the happiest? That everything I just listed was available? That I had a group of friends there for years and years? That I could afford? (Sorry San Francisco, no matter how much I love ya, your too rich for my pocketbook.) That had major public transportation and major airports with direct flights anywhere in the world, anytime? That my boys might come to visit? That had the best football team in the America? Well, that I'm sure gave my choice away....

Watch out Chi-town, I'm coming back home!

Today I put my house on the market, contacted a rental agent in Chicago, called my friend Cathi and told her I would be taking advantage of her open invitation to use her guest bedroom while I re-acclimate myself to the city. I learned that they have re-named several of the neighborhoods! Even re-named a couple of the expressway. Why?! Planning to spend my last, warm winter here, unless the house sells immediately, which I doubt in this very depressed market, and move when the crocus peak their heard through the snow and start blooming up North, which should be March or April. Thinking of selling the Jeep as you really don't need a car in Chicago. With iGo and ZipCar lots all over town, I'll use one of these when I need to go someplace specific that isn't accessible via the "L", the bus or the train system. And for distance driving, there is always Enterprise.

I can everyone of you saying 'THE WINTERS ARE AWFUL! WHY ARE YOU LEAVING THE SOUTH and returning to SNOW & ICE?' Well, I really have missed 4 seasons, even snow. And I am perfectly content letting the bus and "L" drivers drive me where I would need to go during those days or just staying curled up on the couch with the kitties reading a good book. Also, I have an awful lot of family and friends that live South and I will most certainly plan my annual visits to their homes during the cold winter months!

I'm excited and know deep down that this is the right decision. It's the right time and the right place for me. So on those words, I will end this daily (almost) writing of MyHomeOnTheRoam for a few months, but will resume it again, for those interested, when I get down to the nitty-gritty of moving. Hey, I might even write about my upcoming visit and the neighborhoods I like and don't like. You all take care and be good to each other....

Until the next time.....

Rain, Traffic Jams and more Rain!

Driving from St. Louis to Charlottesville, VA was not nice. I got of out St. Louis with no problems and even remarked to myself what a nice, fairly empty interstate I-64 was.

Now, I had seen signs in St. Louis saying that the I-64 bridge from IN to KY was closed. I even tried to find out why by Googling it, but really got no answers. Figured if it were that big and important, there would be large Detour signs directing me which was to go. There were - plus lots of rain most of the way.

The I-64 bridge was built by the same company that built the bridge in MN that collapsed several years ago killing quite a few. This bridge was about to do the same thing, so they shut it down before anything really bad happened - a good thing. They then directed all traffic coming into Louisville to take the I-71 bridge over the river to hook back up with I-64. But this day a big, honkin' tractor trailer was going around the curve to the 'detour bridge' and ran off the ramp. He did that is mid-morning and at 3:30 p.m. he was still stuck. So no traffic going over that bridge - just big flashing signs saying 'use another route.' But I'm not from here? What other route?

I pulled off and as luck would have it a very nice State Patrol officer was coming out of the Kwick Stop as I was walking in with my Atlas in hand. He just gave me an ironic smile and too the time to show me the only other way to get out of town, across the river and back onto I-64 East. He said it would take some time and maneuvering once I got back on the interstate, but it was my only option. "Some time" was 2 1/2 hours at almost a dead stop, slowly inching my way down the longest on-ramp I have every seen and back onto the interstate - in the pouring rain and what was now rush hour in downtown Louisville!!!

When I finally got out of the mess and once more headed east, I was still 3 1/2 hours from my destination and hotel reservation for the night. About 1 hour into that drive, the skies literally opened - I couldn't see 2 feet in front of me, except when bolts of lightening almost hit the car. So I made the wise decision and just pulled into a Red Roof Inn which was directly off the next exit in Lexington, KY. I ordered pizza (tipped the poor delivery man well for having to come out on such a terrible night) finished the 1/2 bottle of wine Ellen had insisted I take with me, and watched the series premier of one of my favorite shows, Castle.

Was up and going at 5 a.m. the next morning to be able to get to Charlottesville, VA at a decent time. Rolled into Deb and Tom's late 1800's Virginia farmstead about 2 p.m. and asked if I could take a nap! Which I did before joining them for a delicious dinner hosted by Tom's mom, the artist Paula Chrispman, in her beautiful apartment with an expansive view of the Shenandoah Valley.

Since Tom and Deb and darling daughter Georgia start their days very early - work, school, volunteering - my day also started early and I was actually happy and a bit sad to realize that this was going to be my last day on-the-road. My cross-country trip which had started August 1st actually ended at 2:30 p.m. on September 21st when I pulled back into my drive in Wilmington.

In those 52 days I thought a lot, learned a lot about myself and made some really major decisions. But to find out what they are you'll have to wait....

Until the next time.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

St. Louis - Balloon Glow and so much more...

One of my best friends, Ellen, lives in St. Louis. She had asked me before I left home if it would be possible for me to be back in this area by the 16th of September. The Missouri Humane Society, with which she is very involved, uses the Balloon Glow evening portion of the Great Forest Park Balloon Race as a fund raiser. When I learned that the donation included not only dinner and drinks but also access to field where the balloons are actually lit-up, I said 'you bettcha!'

The evening was overcast and damp but the rain thankfully held off. The traffic was horrendous but our ticket also included 'preferred parking.' We even managed to squeeze into a 'free' valet parking space.

This event takes place in Forest Park, the location of the St. Louis World's Fair that was held in 1904. Thankfully, many of the wonderful building have been preserved and are still in use. This enormous park also gives the residents of St. Louis a huge, wonderful 'green space' to enjoy.

What a sight - over 70 colorful and massive hot air balloons all being 'fired' together, next to each other. It is a sight that I cannot describe - it's just too beautiful for words....

My, and the majority of attendee's favorite balloon is the Energizer Bunny.
Those big pink ears assure that he towers over all of the other balloons. He is also the 'lead balloon' for the race and takes off first with all of the others 'chasing the rabbit!'.

The day of the race dawned very windy and rainy and they couldn't keep the bunny up. The race took place, but without the big pink one, ear flopping in the air, leading the way.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner in a large tent, live music and very interesting and entertaining table-mates, all of us sharing stories about our pets, the majority of whom are 'rescues.'

Once the balloons were put the sleep, we enjoyed a large fireworks display and 'dancing balloon men' who I think looked like Dale Chihuley glass chandeliers.

As we were driving out of the Park, we stopped on Art Hill to stand and be deeply moved by the 9/11 memorial that had been set up to honor to those that passed on that day 10 years ago. A local man devised a way to precisely set 3000 flags, one for each person lost that day, each flag containing the name and location where that person was lost. To see those flags blowing in the wind and visualize a person replacing each flag...it brings our loss really home and to heart.

The next day we continue with a 'pet theme' and headed out to Purina Farms wonderful new Exhibit Hall where they were holding a regional, all-breed dog show. What a treat! I loved the topiary that were on each side of the entrance..

Once inside, the fluffing and brushing and primping was in full swing...
But it was the wonderful faces of the non-humans that made me smile..

After petting and enjoying the dog show, we headed out to 'the bluffs' which is an area where many fine wineries are located. Ellen's sister has a large farm that is covered with vines, all heavily laden with fat, ripe grapes. (Harvest will be in the next week or two).

On our way to lunch we stopped by fabulous local glass artist Sam Stang's studio. Though Ellen has long been a fan, but I had never met Sam. Turned out that he had just returned from teaching at The Penland School of Craft - my old stompin' ground. We had a great time chatting about mutual friends.

Ellen and I then met her sister at the Montelle Winery for a bit of 'tasting' and a great lunch on the deck overlooking the beautiful valley as it falls away to the Missouri river.

After lunch it was off to St. Charles and a great little art fair along this little river town's historic downtown streets. A long but wonderful day.

Tomorrow it's back to driving the interstates, heading east and homeward. With one more stop and visit with friends in Charlotteville, VA, I will drive into Wilmington and home on Wednesday and this adventure will officially come to an end.

It doesn't seem possible that almost 2 months have passed since I started writing this blog. But I've had a great amount of time to think and re-think what I want to do with the rest of my life and I've come to some major decisions about the destination of my next adventure. But you'll just have to wait to learn what those are....

Until the next time....

Friday, September 16, 2011


The only good thing about these super-highways that criss-cross our country is that they get you where you are going fast! On the other hand, they are so mindlessly BORING. The exits all have the same things - a gas station and usually a McD's where you can grab a bite and hop right back on the road. Driving the posted speed limit, which you must if you don't want to get run over by huge trucks, costs much more in gas money than meandering down the side roads. I filled up the Jeep 4 times yesterday going 75 mph for 9 hours. I could hear my gas tank going 'gobble-gobble-$$$.

For the past 2 days I have driven over 9 hours each day and yesterday I drove over 600 miles to reach St. Louis and stay in my friend Ellen's beautiful home and comfy guest room so as to eliminate another night on the road.

I once again crossed the great, big, flat state of Kansas, only this time on the top side. I drove past Abilene and Independence and Topeka and Kansas City, never once stopping to take a picture - I would have gotten side-swipped by a trucker if I did.

I arrived safely with a very numb bum and slept like a dead person. Up this morning doing laundry, enjoying not going anywhere and being followed around and loved by Mimi and Henry, Ellen's 2 loveable King Charles Spaniels. Tonight is the annual fund-raiser for the Missouri Humane Society with drinks, dinner and a much-anticipated 'ballon glow.' Lots of pictures from that I am sure to take. The weather is gray and chilly, but the sun is forecasted to come out. I hope so as I didn't pack for colder weather....speaking of which....

If I could have had someone take a picture of me driving the past 2 days in the cold and the rain, I would have, as you would have giggled yourself silly. I jerry-rigged the shower curtain, that has done stellar duty keeping my seats dry throughout this trip, behind my seat, through the seat-belt mechinisim and tucked into the window, thus eliminating a lot of cold air that blows in because there is not top on the car to keep it out! I had on the following...
1 pair of jeans, 1 pair of heavy socks, hiking boots, 2 t-shirts, 2 sweater, 1 sweatshirt jacket, 1 heavy sweatshirt, 1 blight blue rubber rain slicker with hood, which I had covering my freezing ears! I looked like a big, blue Michelan Man! but I stayed fairly warm. Oh, also had a blanket coverning my legs and the heater going full blast. You realize quickly you just do what you can do and drive on.

Until next time.....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Open Road....

My travels along Hwy 50 continued for most of Tuesday. I left Ely early in the morning and headed out once again through wide open country but soon I was driving, up, up and up into another mountain pass. I met a biker at a gas stop who said that if you drive the entire length of Hwy 50 you will drive up, over and through 11 mountain passes. The last one I crossed was the Sacramento and snow was still very visible at the top.
Again, I rarely passed another car - just me alone in this beautiful country for as far as my eyes could see. What I really wanted to do when I finally drove into Delta, UT was to turn around and drive Hwy 50 all over again, all the way back to Lake Tahoe where it begins.

One of the most amazing things I saw coming into the UT portion of the road was this huge, shimmering lake with high mountains behind it.

The color reflecting off the water was almost white....and as I got closer, it got even whiter. When I was close enough to the 'water' I realized it wasn't moving so I grabbed my map and realized what I was seeing was the bottom end of the famous Bonneville Salt Flats
where the racing of very fast cars and the testing of secret weapons take place. It's also the place that one of my favorite movies, The Last Indian, staring Anthony Hopkins, was filmed. What a treat to just 'stumble upon,' but that's what has been great about this entire trip - the unexpected.

Hwy 50 gigs a bit at Delta and you need to drive Interstate 15 north for one exit before it heads back southeast and connects to Interstate 70.

Traveling Interstate 70 is another treat thanks to a very smart road-designer, you have wonderful 'vista points' to pull over and enjoy. It makes it even more enjoyable as you travel through the huge, rocky and very red landscape of this part of Utah.
I drove 30 miles south off Interstate 70 to visit friends Sue & Jim, owners of the Moab Rim RV & Campground. I had first met them when RV-ing 2 years ago, then stayed and worked for them for 3 weeks and we had stayed in touch while I've been off the road. They put me up overnight in one of their cute, very well-furnished housekeeping cabins and we enjoyed catching up at The Blue Pig, Moab's newest and tasty Bar-B-Que joint. They made me promise that if my plans to return to RV-ing comes to fruition, that I would come back and help them out next season.

I woke up really early (4:30 a.m.!) yesterday morning and thought why not get started? I was driving by 5 a.m. - the sun wasn't even peaking over the horizon yet. I drove from Moab to Colby, KS (The Oasis on the Plains), 585 miles, through Glenwood Canyon, the huge Eisenhower Tunnel, right through the middle of downtown Denver and back down to the flat-lands. It was cold, wet and not a fun drive. I had on jeans, a t-shirt, 2 sweatshirts, my blue, rubber, hooded raincoat (which thanks goodness I had thrown in the Jeep at the very last minute) and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders (where the most air comes pouring into the car. This is the only day I was upset I hadn't did this trip with the top on the car!

I am now 628 miles from St. Louis, my destination for the weekend. I probably won't make it today as it's already 8 a.m. here in KS (I lost 2 hours yesterday just driving into different time zones) and I splurged and stayed at a brand new Sleep Inn. Really comfy bed and a hot breakfast is waiting in the lobby once I get showered, so.....

Until next time....

Monday, September 12, 2011

Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Ely, NV

Early morning on the 10th I drove into the south entrance of Yosemite and made the 4-hour drive up and over Tioga Pass, which brought me out at Lee Vinning and the Whoa Nelly Deli. But let me back up a bit....

After a farewell breakfast with new best friends Joyce and Lynne, I headed into the park. Since Lake Tahoe was my destination for the evening, I needed to get over to the other side and the most scenic route is the Tioga Pass, the only road to go from East to West (or visa versa) through the Park. This drive, like all the others in the Park is 'knock-your-socks-off beatuiful.'

The scenery, the views, those silly rock climbers on sheer-faced granite rocks, the crystal clear lakes which reflect the surrounding mountain peaks and fluffy white clouds - it was a wonderful 3 1/2 hour drive - until the last 30 minutes.

That's when you have to go down....and down...and down, without a single guard rail and drop-offs in the 1000's of feet! I took one look and swallowed my tongue! I was so very thankful that school had started, the majority of travelers had gone home and left the road fairly uninhabited. Except for a stray and crazy RV driving the Pass, I managed to keep my driver-side wheels over the yellow line, as far to the left without actually driving in the opposite lane. If I could have closed my eyes the entire way down, I would have! Dear sweet Nina had seen my reaction to drop-off's without guard rails the first day she took me in the park and had laughingly told me how much I would enjoy coming down the Tioga Pass. Witch! And no, I DID NOT stop and take any pictures. If you want to see just how far down it is, I am sure you can find lots of pictures on Google.

Almost as soon as you reach the bottom you arrive a big Mobil Gas Station and the famous Whoa Nelly Deli - the most unusual and delicious deli inside a gas station you will ever find. I timed my trip over the pass so I would arrive at lunch time. I had been told to try their fish tacos and boy, was I in for a taste treat. Fresh mango salsa and chopped cabbage salsa covered 2 huge pieces of fish in crisp taco shells, with a side a black beans. Pure Yum!

Looking out from the deli is another treat, this time for the eyes, for directly below is Mono Lake. Large, beautiful, and today hazy.

But as you see, I managed to get a picture before hopping onto Hwy 395 (which is the same road I took through the Mojave Desert - just further south) and headed north to South Tahoe, CA.

Along the way I had to stop for dozens of fire trucks and police as they were pouring into fight the Topaz Lake fire.

Lake Tahoe is where my friends John and Suzanne call home. We met in a grassy field someone called an RV park in central IL two years ago. I had just pulled in and gotten Winnie hooked up when they arrived in their shinny Airstream (the RV I actually lust for!). I wandered over and soon, as all RVer's, we were swapping stories of life on the road. They were driving the entire Route 66 to celebrate Suzanne's birthday. After being invited for dinner and getting to know each other better, we agreed to meet up a few weeks later in the Black Hills of South Dakota and 'do' Mt. Rushmore together. A life-long friendship was cemented with the Presidents looking down.

They had extended an invite to Lake Tahoe when they heard about my road trip and that I 'could' be in their area. I arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday and we talked and ate and talked some more, catching up after 2 years apart. On Sunday morning, after John made homemade waffles for us, we hopped in his BIG truck and drove completely around Lake Tahoe (72 miles) with them stopping wherever they knew I would love to take pictures.

We had a wonderful day, finished with a great dinner and a really good Sunday Night Football game.

This morning, 9/12, I was up early and hit the road at 9 a.m. I headed over the pass and into Carson City, Nevada where I got on Hwy 50. Now, no one, including my friend John who knew where I was going, thought to tell me that Hwy 50, which is 2-lane, 70 mph, crosses the entire state of Nevada, west to east, is known as The Loneliest Road in America! Highway 50 roughly parallels the Pony Express Trail, which goes from Silver Springs through Fallon and along the towns across Highway 50. Remnants of the Pony Express Route are visible for much of the way. Stretching the width of Nevada, Highway 50 is a fascinating scenic and historic corridor through a land seemingly untouched by man. The road travels through snow-mantled mountains that reach summits of more than 11,000 feet.

From desert to climbs up 11,000 foot peaks, to sagebrush to rain squalls, this drive was not only barren and beautiful but exhausting. The clouds actually came out of the sky and touched the road.

Wouldn't have missed it for anything!

I am now settled at the Nevada Hotel & Casino in Ely, NV for the night, almost ready to go downstairs and enjoy my complimentary Margarita, see if I have any quarters in my wallet (that's my limit for gambling money) have a quiet dinner in their cafe before collapsing.

Tomorrow, a bit more of Hwy 50 before I get into Utah and onto Interstate 70. Tomorrow night Moab - the home of Arches and Canyonlands, two of my very favorite National Parks.

Until next time....

Friday, September 9, 2011


I promise, the view behind me is real, not a painted backdrop. But it is so beautiful that it almost seems fake. This is what is known as the 'tunnel view' as you come into Yosemite via the southern entrance. You drive through a tunnel cut through the mountain and then......WOW....this is the view you see in front of you.

Welcome to Yosemite!

It is easily understandable to see why this is one of the most-visited of our National Parks. Everywhere you look, your mouth drops and you realize that no matter how many pictures you take, you can never capture the beauty or the grandeur of this place. But of course, I tried and I'll share just a few of the over 200 photos I took yesterday!

But before I do that, I have to tell you about the 3 fabulous women I met that have made my time here in Oakhurst, CA (the Gateway to Yosemite) one of the most memorable of my trip.

First was Nina. We met on the AARP Travel Board. When I mentioned that I was planning to drive to the West coast and on the return tour Yosemite for the first time, she not only volunteered to be my personal guide, but also invited me to stay at her home.

I arrived in Oakhurst yesterday morning about 10 a.m. Planning to drive directly to Nina's and go into the park immediately, I saw a sign that said Gallery Row - 5 Fantastic Galleries All in One Place! I had to stop. The first gallery I went in was Timberline, a local artist's co-op and the woman manning the gallery was Joyce. Little did I know that within minutes I would have made a new friend....but let me get back to Nina for a minute.

I found her little house in the trees and got settled in and met her 2 large Huskies and 2 kitties. We got to know each other as we hit the road almost immediately, stopping for lunch in Mariposa before entering the Park through El Portal.
From that point on it was just one amazing site after another, from El Captain to Bridalveil Falls to the Anawanha Hotel.

Nina drove me to every spot where she knew I would get the best picture and patiently waited while I took numerous shots and just stood still and looked. She shared a lot of the history of the Park, as well, and when we made our final stop at the very top at Glacier Peak, we were there just as the sun started to set and turn Half Dome into beautiful shades of pink. What a fabulous end to a perfect day.

When we got back to Nina's house (about 9 p.m.) there was an email message from Joyce asking if I was or could stay in town longer as she would love to get to know me better and would show me some of the other beautiful, if not part of Yosemite, sites that are in this area. So Nina and I met Joyce for breakfast and we started talking...and talking. She said I was welcome to spend the night with her and her roommate, Lynne and we'd stop by there first and I could get settled before we headed out. We took just a minute to sit down outside and starting talking...and it's now 7:43 p.m. and we haven't stopped! Nor did we leave the house expect to pick up a gourmet pizza and beer for dinner. We three have so enjoyed each others company and sharing our life stories. Its amazing how they connect and intertwine and it's as if we have been friends for years instead of just a few hours.

Joyce is a fabulous digital artist who's work hangs not only here in Oakhurst at the Timberline Gallery, but she has just been accented into the very prestigious Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale.

Lynne is a extremely well-known and well-respected corporate trainer and life coach. These two have been best friends for 20 years and to think they just invited me into their circle to spend the day has been one of the most wonderful and enjoyable experiences I have ever had.

Tomorrow I head back into the park to drive up and over Tioga Pass and onto the Eastern side of the park. From there it's onto Tahoe and a visit with Suzanne and John, friends from my RV-ing days.

Until next time....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

San Diego to Sequoia National Forest

I left San Diego where it was cool and raining and crossed over the mountains where the sun was shinning and it was really hot! It stayed that way, and even got hotter, as I turned north on Hwy 395 to cross the Mojave Desert. I drove past Edwards and the China Lake Air Force Bases (good place for planes to fly - a desert!) before heading a bit back West. I had chosen a spec on the map named Kernville to overnight. Didn't know anything about it, just that it looked as far as I wanted to drive on Tuesday. Saw on the map that I had to circle Lake Isabella but was totally unprepared for the length and breath of Lake Isabella!
What I didn't realize that I was climbing up into what is know as the 'high desert' This is a man-made lake, similar to Lake Powell in northern AZ just goes on and on and on with mountains bordering all sides.

Kernville is located on the north-side of the lake, with the very fast-moving Kern River running directly through the middle of town. (Lots of rafting and hiking). I stayed at the Kern River B&B which sits right on the river.
Virginia, the owner, met me at the door and I spent the night in the nicest, cleanest and most well-furnished B&B I have ever overnighted. Everything I could need was in my room or just outside my door. Her breakfast the next morning was huge and delicious. She spent time with each of her guests and made us all feel welcome. What more could you want? How about a great Italian dinner at a little bistro within walking distance, a nice glass of Chianti and then a big, comfy bed? I really hated to leave the next morning.

Once I had several maps in hand, I headed up a road with no # and deep into the Sequoia National Forest. I was told that the fire that was burning about 17 miles north of town was sorta under control and they were letting cars through. So reassuring! The drive was fantastic - up, up on a 2-lane road, with the Kern River rushing along beside me. Waterfalls just popped up out of nowhere
right in the middle of the road. As there was almost no traffic, I just stopped the car wherever I wanted and took pictures.

Helicopters buzzed overhead ferrying large bags of water scooped from Lake Isabella to douse the fire, which I never saw - just lots of fire trucks and some exhausted firefighters along the side of the road.

I kept driving with the intention of finding the right sign that would lead me to The Trail of 1000 Giants. Eventually I found the parking lot and was guided across the road, map in hand ($5 parking fee) to follow the path (cement) which winds in, around and through this grove of trees. The trail takes about 45 minutes to an hour to walk. There are self-interpretive stations along the way and benches where you can just sit and listen to the quiet.

The Grove contains several giant sequoias over 10 feet in diameter and 143 sequoias under 10 feet in diameter. The largest tree in the grove has a diameter of 20 feet and is 220 feet in height! The grove encompasses many acres and it is estimated that the age of the trees in the grove are between 500 and 1500 years old.

This is the first time I have ever seen or been up close to a sequoia or as they are known in northern California, a redwood. They are so very large, majestic, soft-to-the touch, endangered and such a real, natural treasure.

After my walk in the trees, I found a secluded picnic table and just sat, listened to the forest, and had a delicious picnic lunch. To get down the mountain, I followed a road that turned out to have more corkscrews than any road I have ever been on - anywhere! It took me over 2 hours to drive about 30 miles, in 2nd gear at about 10-15 mph, on a 2-lane road with no guard rails that dropped-off thousands of feet straight down! Oh, but was it ever worth it!

Just look at the pictures I took, which doesnt begin to do the view justice. How I love this country. I love the idea that I can be driving in the flat, sandy, cactus-covered desert one day and the next be high in the Sierra Nevada mountains with the clean smell of pine filling the cool, crisp air. What a absolutely beautiful country we are privileged to call home.

Today and tomorrow - Yosemite! I am meeting Nina, a woman I met via AARP's online travel board, who lives near El Portal and volunteered to be my guide to the wonders of Yosemite. I'm so excited to finally get to visit one of the most spectacular of our National Parks.

Until next time.....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Labor Day on the Beach!

The Shores Hotel sits right on the beach in LaJolla.
Labor Day dawned cloudy with rain and a cold breeze blowing - but that didn't stop us! The hotel was nice enough to set up chairs, umbrella and towels for us on the perfect spot in the sand. We packed up the sunscreen (though I don't think any of us put any on, the sweatshirts and a cooler loaded with libations and nibbles and were ready to sit and watch the idiots who actually got in the freezing (64º) surf (my Atlantic water temp is 84º).

There is this huge kayak and bike shop down the street that does a really booming business.
Literally hundreds of people throughout the day marched down to the beach in their vests and helmets and lined up to take out a sea kayak, mostly for the first time. I don't think they counted on the extremely high surf and big waves caused by a storm all the way off in New Zealand. They piled the beach high with kayaks
and for hours we watched, and giggled, as these newbies headed out....and fell over and out of their kayaks trying to get over the incoming surf...while the kayak company photo person took their picture!

One of the 'oh so California' thing I saw was this father teaching his youngest son to surf.
The entire family was dressed in custom-made wet suits with their own boards. Too cool!

Tobin and Julie worked up their nerve and borrowed our sand-neighbor's kayak. They put on life jackets and headed out into the surf, with me biting my nails and fast and furiously clicking pictures. This, I must admit, is a fabulous shot of them shooting over the last big, incoming wave and making it out and into the calmer ocean waters.

They paddled all the way down to the caves and back before coming back in. I breathed a sigh of relief and we celebrated the end of a great day at the beach - T surrounded by the women who mean the most in his life!

We finished the day at a really great, Mexican family restaurant in Solana Beach where Julie has her condo. We had a great time laughing and reliving the past 4 days filled with fun, family and friends.

Way too early on Tuesday morning, I hugged Tobin and Julie and sent them off to the airport to return home and back to work. I loaded up the Jeep and headed north to spend a few days communing with nature and exploring Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.

Until next time...

San Diego Zoo and much more! (Sunday, 9/4)

The sun came out on Sunday and we were up early, had a great breakfast and headed to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. How much fun was it?

Well...we saw fabulous fauna..for which the Zoo is known for as much as their animals

The Pandas

The mama Hippo with her brand new baby (look close, the little one is kissing

The King of the Jungle - who paraded around for all to see his manly self!

An elephant name Devi who enjoyed jumping in the water for a swim and getting carrots from her trainer.

Two adorable giraffes.

And an cuddly koala bear.

We got an aerial view of Balboa Park from tramway and then drove through on our way out.

After a tour of downtown San Diego, we crossed the bridge onto Coronado Island had a late lunch with libations on the beach patio at the elegant and beautiful Del Coronado Hotel.

We were exhausted! Dinner was pizza delivered to the room where we all fell asleep watching 'No Country for Old Men.' We woke long after the movie was over, I sent the kids off to their room and I went back to sleep with a fresh sea breeze blowing in the window. Tomorrow is another day of fun!

To be continued....