Heading North to Alaska

Leaving the truck and fifth wheel behind, we climbed aboard the Grand Princess in San Francisco on June 5, 2018, for a 10-day round-trip cruise to Alaska.

I was shocked at my first glimpse of the ship as we crossed the Bay Bridge. The San Francisco skyline impresses me every time it comes into view. But to see the ship tower over the embarcadero was something to behold. From the perspective of the ship’s sun deck, the city looks like a Lego set in comparison.

View of San Franciso skyline from Sun Deck

Sail Away

As soon as we entered our stateroom, I was giddy with excitement and wondered about our forthcoming sail on the high seas. Whoopee! A real vacation, I wanted to scream. I managed to contain myself, not wanting to alarm the neighbors.

Wait a minute. Didn’t we just spend almost three months traveling around the southwest in an RV? Isn’t that like a perpetual vacation? Well, sort of. When we’re on the road, we cook our own food (most of the time), wash up the dishes, launder our clothes, make the bed, clean toilets, dust and vacuum, and patronize grocery stores. All this plus Jon keeps busy with all the maintenance and we (mostly me) plan our route for our next stay, make reservations, and arrange sightseeing activities.

No, we’re not tired of our RV trips. We love traveling and driving the highways and byways of these beautiful United States. But ten whole days of doing none of those tasks listed above was going to be heaven.

We left our bags to unpack later and headed to the Horizon Court on the Lido deck for lunch. The pocket-sized map served as our GPS for getting around the ship. So many decks and keeping track of aft, forward, midship, starboard, and port was going to challenge these two novice sailors.

We found our way back to our cabin after lunch, unpacked our bags, and with an hour or so before our departure time, Jon relaxed on the balcony.

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Jon studies the itinerary

Unable to sit still, I spied on the delivery inspections and the U.S. Coast Guard and captured a ton of city skyline photos from the perspective of the ship.

Inspectors at work
Coast Guard checking things out
Fog City Diner and Trolley Car

When the captain announced that the ship would soon be on its way, we joined other passengers on the sun deck. As the ship prepared to sail through the San Francisco Bay, servers offered a specialty drink, for an extra fee, of course. Why not? We’re on vacation.

I spilled my drink after taking this photo. Boohoo!

Cruising the bay was nothing new to us, but from the height of the sun deck, it was magical. Especially the way the buildings shifted positions as we made our way toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Notice how Coit Tower (the fire hose looking building on top of a hill), the Transamerica Pyramid (the pointy building), and the new Salesforce building (the tallest of them all) shift positions in the triptych below.

I have driven on the Golden Gate Bridge and admired its beauty from the south, west, and north, but never have I sailed under the rust-colored steel structure. This would probably be my only chance to take a photo from underneath. With continuous shooting on and my eye to the viewfinder, I clicked away while fighting the wind and the movement of the ship.

Under the Golden Gate Bridge

And so our adventure began as we took one last look at the bridge and skyline and headed for open waters and north to Alaska.

Fort Point is under the bridge support on the right side of the photo. The national historic site, a popular place for photography, is open for self-guided tours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Two Days at Sea

Managing to keep busy for the two days at sea was not an issue on the Grand Princess. Exploring the ship was like a treasure hunt with a lot of climbing up and down stairs multiple times a day. The elevators worked fine, I just prefer not to cram myself in one if I can help it. Then there was the calendar of events that began at 9:00 a.m. and continued into the night for I don’t know how long. I had trouble lasting much past 10:00 p.m.

Sea days are good days to walk the Lido deck

One afternoon, Kelley White demonstrated totem pole carving. Kelley, a member of the Tlingit tribe, learned his craft from Nathan Jackson, a master carver and famous Alaskan artist. Kelley amazed us with his storytelling and carving skills. He had the audience in his hands as he told stories about the Tlingit tribe, history, and purpose of totems while he wandered around the log, examining his cuts, thinking how he was going to approach a certain section, and chipping away the wood to create the animals that will adorn the totem. I was in awe at the way he kept talking while straddling the tree and digging bits of wood out with a hatchet pointed in his direction. I was so afraid he was going to slip and hit a knee, or worse, his private parts.

This looks dangerous
First cuts made on the log

We learned the population of the ship included a number of Bay Area folks. On June 8, the ship broadcasted what turned out to be the last playoff game when the Warriors beat the Cavaliers. Passengers filled the room and hallways with their Warriors T-shirts and hats, and high-five slaps and hoots and hollers rang out at the end of the game. If there were any Cavaliers fans about, they must have kept quiet.

Fun Ship Facts

  • Built in Italy in 1998
  • 24 knots maximum speed
  • 2,600 passengers
  • 1,150 crew
  • 107,517 tonnage
  • 949 ft. length
  • 188 ft. height

Coming up next is the port of Juneau, our first stop on the cruise.

Safe Travels

San Diego, California—the perfect place to escape a heat wave

The weather forecast predicted a week of heat-wave temperatures for California and Arizona on April 9, 2018. Since the best places to hang out when it’s scorching hot are a forest at high altitudes or along the coast, we headed for the San Diego Resort-Sunland in La Mesa, California. Although in the 80s, it was better than panting in temperatures that approached 100 degrees.

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Urban wildlife

The goal of our recent San Diego visits is to explore places we have never been before. We checked off Mt. Helix, Cabrillo National Park, and Lake Murray on this trip.

Mt. Helix

The children of Mary Carpenter Yawkey built the 12-acre Mt. Helix private, non-profit park as a tribute to their mother in 1925. Open year-round, the park attracts residents and visitors to explore the trail that circles the crown of the mountain; engage in a fitness work out by using the amphitheater steps, seats, and retaining walls; and to marvel at the 360° views. After tackling the steps five or six times, I surprised myself and managed the seats as well.

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Mt. Helix Amphitheatre
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Smile for the photo op
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Contemplating life
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Cross at the top of Mt. Helix
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One of the 360° views from Mt. Helix
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Not a clear day in San Diego

Cabrillo National Monument

We visited Cabrillo National Monument a few years back, but that was before I had my National Park Passport. So off to Point Loma to add another stamp in my book.

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Gettin’ a bit shaggy there JT

Lucky for us low tide coincided with our arrival. We wandered around the rocky intertidal zone for about an hour, peering into the pools to watch the sea anemones and snails going about their business. Witnessing sea life under the water takes a little patience A quick glance won’t do if the aim is to watch the animals move around. Other creatures clung to the cliffs for a bit of sunbathing while waiting for the onslaught of waves at high tide.

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Tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument
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Gooseneck barnacles
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Sea anemone and snails in a small pool
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Staghorn kelp, perhaps?
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Couples share a moment as the waves roll in
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Oh, how I adore your limpet eyes
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Pink barnacle clinging to a rock
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A ranger leads students and chaperones through the tide pools
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Pelican Air Force on duty

We stopped off at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, cooled off while watching the movie at the visitor center, and gazed out at the views of San Diego’s skyline and watercraft in the bay.

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Old Point Loma Lighthouse
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Exhibits inside depict life as a lighthouse keeper

The monument recognizes the arrival of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in September of 1542. Cabrillo was the first European to explore the west coast of the United States. He described the bay as “a closed and very good port,” and named it San Miguel. Another explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino, changed the name to San Diego 60 years later.

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Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo monument statue
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Black Phoebe flycatcher, perhaps?

Military uses of the point include a military reserve beginning in 1852, the installation of gun batteries in 1899, and a harbor defense system during World War I and II between 1918 and 1943. Visitors can see remnants of the batteries and an old radio station where an exhibit of “They Stood the Watch,” depicts the military history of Point Loma.

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Battlement near the lighthouse

From the ocean to the San Diego skyline, the views are spectacular from the monument.

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Ocean views
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San Diego skyline
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Rosecrans National Cemetery

Lake Murray Reservoir

Less than two miles from our base camp, Lake Murray Reservoir is a convenient park to visit, enjoy a lakeside walk and a bit of nature, or grab a picnic table and eat lunch. A 3.2-mile paved service road outlining the lake’s perimeter and ending at the dam is popular with walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. Fishing is also available. Or, rent a paddleboat or a kayak on a first-come-first-served basis from the concessionaire. We chose a 6-mile walk around the lake, turning around just short of the dam.

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Lake Murray Reservoir
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Here fishy, fishy, fish
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Paved trail around Lake Murray
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Rent a paddle boat or kayak
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Osprey nest

It’s a Wrap

That pretty much concludes our 2018 Winter Tour. We left San Diego on April 15, 2018, took a detour through Lake Havasu to take care of some business and arrived home on April 20.  This was our longest tour yet, a total of 81 days, almost 12 weeks.

More stats:

  • 8,200 miles on the truck
  • 5,153 miles on the 5th wheel
  • 23 RV parks
  • 6 5th wheel repairs (entry steps, sewer connection, room slider, front jacks bolt, spare tire carrier, propane door)
  • 3 presidential library and museums
  • 8 national parks, monuments, or trails
  • 1 amusement park
  • and a whole lot of other sites

As much as we love being on the road, we were both glad to make it home safe and sound. Time to dust ourselves off and catch up with family and friends.  Oh yeah, Jon has a long list of RV preventative maintenance projects to complete before our next tour.

Before we packed up the rig and hit the pavement again, we needed a little vacation. A roundtrip Alaskan cruise from San Francisco seemed the ideal adventure for these two road-weary travelers.

Safe Travels

Kicking back in Borrego Springs, California

Onward we traveled to trade in the Orange County crowds for peace and quiet in Borrego Springs on April 4, 2018, the 68th day of our 2018 Winter Tour. We arrived at Palm Canyon Hotel and RV with time to check out the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center.

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We watched the introduction movie and picked up a few pamphlets and maps to plan our days.

Anza-Borrego is known for its fabulous display of spring wildflowers when winter rains provide ideal conditions for the show. The winter of 2017-18 did not bring enough rain.

Wait, stop! A lone ocotillo in bloom. We wondered if someone drove by each day and gave it a drink.

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The Hikes

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail is a popular hike that skirts a creek through a canyon. Doves cooed and bees buzzed, and sand-colored lizards dashed about as we walked by, and a few wayward cactus blooms poked out their heads

A white dot appeared on a ridge. Was it a bighorn sheep? I zoomed in to see and wished we were closer.

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The 2004 flood uprooted a bunch of palms in the canyon and scattered them along the trail and in the creek bed.

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After scrambling over creek boulders, we entered an oasis. The canyon must have been a beautiful site before the flood.

 

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JT navigates the creek crossing

We joined a group of people in the shade and enjoyed our snack before making our way back down.

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Resting in the shade
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California Fan Palms

 

The streaky clouds hardly subdued the heat.

 

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Fallen palms

 

The Slot

We woke early to hike The Slot, hoping to beat the heat. Although the sun had already risen over the horizon, the valley floor was still in shadow when we started out.

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It was a good thing we woke early to hike The Slot. The tight squeeze through the canyon would have been challenging if we encountered people coming toward us.

 

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How’d he fit through there?

Although the walls lacked the variated red of other canyons we’ve explored, the formations were still impressive.

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Only a few cliffs showed off iron oxide layers.

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Onward

These man-made formations enhanced the interest of the landscape.

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The rocks point the way, but which ones?

 

Yaqui Well

Yaqui Well is located near the Tamarisk campground. Parking along the road is available, some with shade. Sunscreen and plenty of water are recommended during hot weather. This trail is a desert botanical garden featuring several varieties of cactus.

 

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Hedgehog cactus in bloom
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California barrel cactus
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Ocotillo blooms but no leaves

 

 

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Backlit Teddy-Bear Cholla

 

We didn’t find a well, only a spring. The greenery was a clue water existed, but it was not visible.

 

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Where’s the water?

 

Narrow Earth Trail

We missed the turnoff for the Narrows Earth Trail and had to turn around. Although tire tracks were plentiful at our turn around spot, they disguised the deep sand. The back tires of the truck stuck hard. Our son, Kevin, and his girlfriend, Bailey, dug out sand from in front of the rear tires, then the three of us pushed the tailgate while Jon drove out, spewing sand all over us. We learned our lesson and now carry a shovel in the toolbox.

Bighorn sheep were our reward once we found the trailhead and started walking. We watched as a bighorn scrambled through the brush and climbed the hill. Then another one came and grazed while keeping an eye on us.

 

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“I’m keeping my eye on you.”

 

 

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“I see walking people.”
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“What you lookin’ at?”

They watched as we slowly made our way up the trail and whispered to each other, “Look, look, over there, kids and juveniles.”

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“Look, Ma, there’s people down there.”
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“Come on Joey, watch your step.”

Although it was a pain in the behind to get stuck, our timing was perfect to see the Bighorn sheep up close.

 

The Town and Surrounding Area

Christmas Circle Community Park

If something is happening in Borrego Springs, it is likely occurring at Christmas Circle Community Park. On Thursday, vendors set up shop at the farmers market. We chowed down on a couple of tamales from a woman who kept busy serving her patrons. The pico de gallo was the perfect complement for the chicken tamales.

 

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Christmas Circle Farmers Market
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“Hot tamales, come get your hot tamales.”
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Nice selection of vegetables

 

Borrego Springs is completely surrounded by the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and boasts a population of over 3,500 seasonal and year-round residents. It holds the distinction as California’s first International Dark Sky Community due to its distance of 55 miles from the highly populated California coastline.

With tourism as the primary industry, the town includes a variety of resorts and inns for all price ranges as well as restaurants. Borrego Outfitters offer clothing, footwear, outdoor gear, and gifts. Spas, fitness centers, medical services, a grocery store, and a library are other amenities available.

A chock-full calendar of events from October through May provides plenty of events for the tourists and residents.

 

Galleta Meadows Estate

Visitors to Borrego Springs have fun with the sky art throughout the area. Dennis Avery turned his private estate into an art museum when he commissioned Ricardo Breceda to create a series of sculptures inspired by the history and nature of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

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Permission is granted!

Dirt roads weave in and around the sculptures, which began arriving in April 2008, allowing visitors to get up close for photo opportunities.

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“Settle down now, Colt. I’m bigger than you are.”

The detail of the metal structures speaks to the craftsmanship that went into their creation.

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Detail of the horse

From prehistoric creatures to this miner and his mule, Breceda depicts life in the desert throughout the years.

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“Just one more pan full and we’ll go, Betsy.”

Not only does he depict a mule burdened with the miner’s supplies, he sets it in motion as if the jenny is spooked and pulling away from something that has frightened it.

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“What am I? A beast of burden?”

Breceda pays tribute to modern times with the jeep navigating boulders in the backcountry. In Anza-Borrego State Park and surrounding area offroaders have a dilemma figuring out which of the many primitive roads they want to explore.

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Whoa, Nelly!

Visitors crowd around the serpent that crosses the road, taking one photo, two photos, and more. We waited several minutes in order to take our selfies.  The tail of the serpent continues on the east side of the road.

 

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Serpent’s head on the west side of the road and tail on the east side

 

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Serpent detail

And here are a scorpion and a grasshopper poised for battle.

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“I’ll give you 5 to 1 the scorpion clobbers the grasshopper.”

I can’t wait to get back to Borrego Springs and Anza-Borrego State Park to explore all the places we weren’t able to visit. In the meantime, I’m praying for lots of rain during the 2018-19 winter. Come on, rain, bring on the wildflowers.

 

Safe Travels

 

More to do in Anaheim, California

Now that our Disney adventure had ended, Jon commenced repairing our cracked fifth wheel steps that failed to open and close properly. The rickety step stool we used as a temporary fix for the past couple of days had to go. Fortunately, Camping World was only a few miles away and they had the replacement steps in stock, one of the benefits of being in the big city.

While Jon uninstalled the old steps, trucked to the store, and installed the new ones, I scoped out a few places to visit around Anaheim. Since we had already ticked off Lyndon Johnson’s and both Bush’s presidential libraries, top on our list was the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum located in Yorba Linda.

 

 

Nixon Library and Museum

We arrived early on Sunday, April 1, 2018, walked around the building and grounds and peaked in the windows until the doors opened.

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Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum was dedicated on July 19, 1990
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Lobby Area of Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

The turbulent 60s, the Vietnam War, opening peaceful relations with China, and working with the Soviet Union to prevent a nuclear war are among the issues Richard M. Nixon dealt with during his tenure as president beginning in 1969 and ending with his resignation on August 8, 1974.

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One of the 60s exhibits

After reducing US troops from 536,000 in 1968 to 24,200 in 1972, Nixon ends the Vietnam War by signing the Paris Peace Accords on January 7, 1973. In February 1973, the POWs return home.

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Exhibit of newspaper clippings reporting on the signing of the Paris Peace Accords

On May 27, 1972, President Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and Interim Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty (SALT).

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Exhibit showing President Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev signing ABM and SALT agreements

Other exhibits at the museum include one of Nixon’s legal pads with notes displayed and Nixon in popular culture, which includes a Nixon Halloween mask with a Pinocchio nose. The 1910 quote by Theodore Roosevelt appears to sum up Nixon’s presidency.

Visitors can pretend to be the president for a minute while they sit for their photo opportunity behind the desk in the replica of the oval office. Or, gaze out the mock window at the replica of Nixon’s study at the Western White House La Casa Pacifica. What a view.

The museum tour continues outside in a courtyard where there are a reflection pool and rose garden.

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Nixon was born in the house at the end of the reflection pool
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Rose garden

On-site is the house where Nixon was born on January 9, 1913. His parents, Frank and Hannah Nixon, built the humble farmhouse in 1912 from a kit. Tours are included in the admission price.

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Nixon’s Birthplace

Tours are also given of the actual helicopter—a 1960 six-ton Sikorsky VH 3A “Sea King” model—used by Nixon during his presidency. As part of a major renovation to the library and museum, the helicopter also received a facelift at the Chino Airport and was returned on October 6, 2016, in time for the reopening of the museum on October 14, 2016.

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JT waiting for a tour of the helicopter

When I looked at the dates of birth and death engraved on Richard and Patricia Nixon’s headstones, I thought it interesting that she was born before him and died before him, so I had to dig further. It turns out that Richard was born 299 days after Patricia and he died 304 days after she did. He lived only 5 days more than she did. I wonder how often something like that happens.

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Richard and Patricia Nixon gravesites

It’s a shame that people within Nixon’s administration weren’t more confident in his ability to win the election. After all, he won reelection with more than 60% of the vote. Was the win the result of the clandestine illegal activities orchestrated by members of the administration, or was his victory due to Nixon’s leadership in ending the war and working with China and the Soviet Union to reduce the threat of annihilation? What would United States history look like today if there had been no Watergate?

We highly recommend visiting the Richard Nixon Library, Museum, and Birthplace when visiting Anaheim.

Oak Canyon Nature Center

Finding a slice of nature to explore in an otherwise concrete jungle is not always easy, but we managed. As airplanes flew overhead, ducks nearly mowed us down as they traced their flight along the creek. The 58-acre Oak Canyon Nature Center consists of three adjoining canyons and four miles of hiking trails that wind through an oak woodland and coastal sage scrub. The John J. Collier Interpretive Center was closed during our visit but contains a small museum and live animal and exhibits. Restrooms and shaded picnic tables are also available.

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John J. Collier Interpretive Center

We started our easy 1.5-mile loop hike with an elevation gain of approximately 200 feet along the Roadrunner Ridge portion of the trail that skirts along a cliff and was mostly sunny. We ended up shedding our outerwear as we looked down on the shady Stream Trail and anticipated the cooler temps once we made the hairpin turn.

There were quite a few century plants in bloom. They must have been planted around the same time.

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Century plant stalk

An abundance of purple orange and yellow wildflowers entertained us along the trail.

Lizards skittered across the trail in front of our steps and squirrels rustled through the undergrowth sounding more like a bear ready to jump out at us.

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Get outta my way!
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JT poses next to the Big Tree
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A bridge crosses the creek
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Old farm equipment on display

Ancient mining equipment on display gives visitors a feel for life as a miner. No mining activities occurred in the canyon, however.

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Oak Canyon Mine Exhibit
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Antique Scale
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Rail Car Wheel

Anaheim, with a population of approximately 350,000 people, has managed to set aside a place where residents and visitors can experience and explore nature. Oak Canyon provides a stream fed diverse environment for the continued growth of the cactus, oaks, and sycamores, and for the ducks, acorn woodpeckers, and other creatures that have made the canyon their home. We enjoyed the little respite from the city noise while at the park.

Where shall we head to next? We had enough of overpopulated Orange County, on to Borrego Springs, California, and the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a week.

Safe Travels

From Tucson, Arizona, to Anaheim, California

On Wednesday, March 21, 2018, we left New Mexico behind and began our trek back to California to meet up with family at Disneyland. First, the fifth wheel and truck needed a good bath after 52 days on the road, so we stopped in at Rincon West RV Resort in Tucson for four nights. Mid to late March seems to be a great time to travel in southern Arizona. The weather was great and the resort had plenty of sites available, unlike what we found in February the previous year.

Tucson, Arizona

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Tucson always feels like home. We need to spend more time there.
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Can’t beat the Tucson sunsets.

After our cleaning day, we rewarded ourselves with a trip to an RV show at the convention center and an early dinner downtown. At the RV show, we took a good look at motorhomes to compare to our rig. We didn’t see anything that would make us switch at this time. The thought of having to deal with maintenance on a motorhome plus a vehicle towed behind put the kibosh on a new rig. On the other hand, the walk around town and an early dinner was a hit.

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The chili pepper design is appropriate for a bus stop in Tucson.
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The Rialto Theater, named after Ponte de Rialto in Venice. I grew up in Rialto, California, where the town’s logo includes an image of the bridge.

Obon Sushi Bar Ramen served up a Salmon Poke and Tonkotsu Ramen that matched our taste and left us wanting more even though we were full. In between lunch and dinner is our favorite time to grab a meal at a restaurant because they usually are not too busy. With only a few customers, our server checked on us frequently to make sure our food tasted good and we had everything we needed. We topped off our meal with a scoop of the most flavorful green tea ice cream I ever tasted.

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Obon Sushi Bar Ramen

The next day’s forecast called for 80-degree weather and high winds in the afternoon, so we got up early for a hike on the Douglas Spring Trail that leads into the Saguaro Wilderness Area. Parking is limited so it’s a good idea to arrive early.

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As we walked up to the trailhead, we heard a coyote howl behind us. Then another coyote responded. I love it when nature comes out and lets us experience their lives. Several hikes ranging from .2 to 12.4 miles are accessible from the trailhead.

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Carillo Trail

We opted for the 1.5-mile Carrillo Trail cut-off and then returned thinking the strong winds would begin roaring through the canyons by early afternoon. We found a well maintained, easy to moderate trail with no signs of litter, which was remarkable given the number of hikers we met along the way.

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The trail starts out as a botanical garden of sorts with several specimens of the cactus such as this blooming ocotillo and saguaro.

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Blooming Ocotillo and Saguaro Against the Sky.
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Teddy-Bear Cholla
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View from Carrillo Trail
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Barrel Cactus
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The damaged saguaro lives on.

The trailhead is at the end of a road near the entrance to the Tanque Verde Ranch. Our curiosity about the ranch led us down the road to see what there was to see. Turns out Tanque Verde is a dude ranch/spa type place that goes for an all-inclusive $409 per night. At this price three meals per day and access to all of the activities are included. Only want to stay the night and eat breakfast in the morning? The price is $149.

Since finding a site in Tucson was easy peasy, we risked fast-forwarding the rest of our way to Anaheim without reservations. After a quick stop in Yuma at Carefree RV Resort, a night at Banning KOA, and a night in the Inland Empire on the street in front of Jon’s brother’s house, we arrived in Anaheim on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.

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Yuma also puts on a good sunset show.

Anaheim, California, and Disneyland

Anaheim RV Park was the perfect place to stay while exploring Disneyland. Not only are the sites spacious with concrete patios, the hibiscus, dwarf citrus, and cell towers disguised as palm trees were a pleasant change of pace from the desert scenery of City of Rocks, Tucson, and Yuma. Best of all a shuttle bus ran between Disneyland and the RV Park every 20 minutes for a small fee.

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Anaheim RV Park has wide sites and plenty of greenery.

When grandchildren have special moments in their lives, Papa and Nana must do what they can to be there. So it was when our granddaughter Maya’s middle school band and honor guard was invited to parade down Disney’s Main Street.

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My lovely family from the left: Jon, Laura, Jackson, and Chris. Maya was with her school group. We’ll get a glimpse of her later.

Jon thinks The Happiest Place on Earth is the most Frustrating Place on Earth because of the long lines and overcrowded conditions, so spending two days there wasn’t his idea of a good time.

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The Tiki Room is always fun.

During this trip, however, our daughter Laura served as our personal Disney guide, scheduling the rides to avoid the long lines and planning where to go for our meals.

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Disney is hard at work on the Star Wars: Galaxy Edge opening in 2019.

With the Disneyland App in hand, she had all the information she needed to make our visit as painless as possible.

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The Swiss Family Treehouse is now Tarzan’s home.
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Tarzan Treehouse
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Submarine ride and Matterhorn
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Tom Sawyer’s Island is still the best place for kids to get their wiggles out.
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This was the first time I saw this ship moving in the water.
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We paid extra for a spot on the concrete to see the Fantasmic Show. It was worth it.
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The Silvey’s waiting for the Peter Pan ride.

And here comes the band and color guard.

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Wells Middle School on Parade Route
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Maya in the middle.
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Wells Middle School parents and fans cheer the kids on.
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Jon’s favorite attraction at Disneyland is Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, no line and a quiet cool place to rest. The fire truck looks like a fun ride, too.
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Stop in at the Emporium for gifts.
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Jon attended the flag retreat, which honors current and veteran military personnel.

We all had a great two days at Disneyland. Even though Jon said he had a good time, I’m sure he’ll say no the next time the opportunity arises.

Four more days in Anaheim. Hmm, what will we do?

Safe Travels

Last Day in Silver City, New Mexico, then on to City of Rocks State Park

Whitewater Canyon Catwalk National Recreation Trail

A scenic drive to Whitewater Canyon Catwalk National Recreation seemed the perfect diversion on our last day in Silver City. An hour and a half on US 180 dropped us into a narrow canyon where Geronimo and his band of Apache warriors hid from Army soldiers in the 1800s. Butch Cassidy also found the canyon as a good hiding place from Pinkerton detectives and miners tried their luck digging for silver and gold. Today visitors come to the canyon to escape the heat, swim in the creek, and hike along the catwalk.

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Whitewater Canyon Catwalk National Recreation Trail Picnic Area

When John T. Graham constructed a mill at the mouth of the Whitewater Canyon in 1893 to serve the silver and gold mines further up the canyon, a town was born. Water in the creek did not always provide a constant supply for the mill and the town.

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Graham Mill Remnants

This need spurred the construction of a 4-inch water pipeline attached to the canyon walls above Whitewater Creek and stretching three miles into the canyon. Four years later an 18-inch pipeline was installed to provide more water, but required constant repair. The pipeline earned its name as the Catwalk due to repairmen, loaded down with tools, performing balancing acts atop the pipeline as they navigated their way to repair a breach.

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Start of Catwalk Trail

After the mill closed in 1913, the brick, wood, and metal used in constructing the buildings were removed and scrapped, and the residents left town, leaving only remnants of the mill’s foundation.

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Metal Walking Trail Attached to the Cliffs

The area returned to a natural state until 1930 when the Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the catwalk, which hikers used until 1961. At that time, the Forest Service constructed the steel walkways. Fires, floods, and landslides have caused damage through the years requiring extensive repairs.

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Look Below at Whitewater Creek

The structure currently runs a span of .5 miles where a bridge once stood allowing hikers to continue up the canyon. Always wanting to know what is beyond the next bend or over the next rise, we stood on one side of Whitewater Creek looking for a way across to the other side. It wasn’t happening without getting wet, so we gave it a pass.

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Not Quite the End of the Line if you Don’t Mind Wet Feet
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A Look Under the Metal Structure
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A Cleat From the Original Water Pipe

We admired the tall sycamores that lined the creek as we made our way back to the picnic area where we enjoyed our lunch in the shade. The creek gurgled a few feet away, squirrels scurried from bush to bush and climbed into the trees, and several types of birds called out to each other. Crowds can grow thick during the summer and on weekends, but we encountered little traffic while there. Rocks and leaves in Whitewater Creek produced a colorful scene to play with abstract photography.

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My Attempt at Abstract Photography

On our drive to and from Whitewater, we passed through another town with the same name as one in the Bay Area. Pleasanton, New Mexico, with a current population of around 100, was founded in 1882 by Mormons.

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Pleasanton, New Mexico

Anglers might want to take a cutoff to Bill Evans Dam where they can try their luck. The Dodge Corporation constructed the dam in 1969 to capture water for use in their mining operation near Tyrone, New Mexico.

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Bill Evans Dam Reservoir

Be sure to make a stop at the Aldo Leopold Vista. It is a great place to take in the wide open expanse of the Gila National Forest. Leopold is considered by some as the father of wildlife conservation in the United States and a proponent for the American wilderness movement of the early 1900s.

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Gila National Forest

City of Rocks

We had one last stop to make before leaving New Mexico and entering Arizona. The short 45-minute drive from Silver City to City of Rocks afforded us an opportunity to grab a spot for the night in the State Park.

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Jon with the City Of Rocks Sign
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City of Rock Visitor Center, Restrooms, and Showers

Obviously, all of the full hookup sites were either occupied or reserved, but we managed to find a space for our rig nestled among the boulders.

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Campsite at City of Rocks

Volcanic eruption and erosion during the past 34.9 million years sculpted the rock columns that reach a height of 40 feet and the paths and lanes that resemble city streets. The unique formations of the “city” reminded me of the Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park.

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View from Hydra Trail

The park contains a total of 7.5 miles of hiking and biking trails. Besides camping and hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding, birding, and of course photography opportunities make this park a great place to spend a day or a few nights. Campers will find 64 campsites to choose from, some are reserve only while others are first to come gets to camp. Restrooms and showers are available at the visitor center for campers. Vault toilets are also located throughout the campground.

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Parking Area Near Visitor Center

The botanical garden includes information signs with the names of the different cactus plants. We took the Hydra Trail nearby then cut off on the vault 3 spur trail back to our campground.

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Nice Barrel Cactus Specimen

Like naming clouds in the sky we entertained ourselves by making up names for the rock formations as we scrambled over and through the boulders on the Planet Walk Trail.

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Bear Rock Formation
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Heart Rock
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Split Rock
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Balance Rock

We had seen signs for an observatory that is located in the group camping area. Unfortunately, they weren’t offering any night time sky programs during our stay.

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Gene and Elizabeth Simon Observatory at City of Rocks

I tried making some nighttime photos. Obviously, I didn’t get the settings right because none of the photos turned out. The next morning, though, dawned with a beautiful sunrise.

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Sunrise at City of Rocks

With my shoes on my feet, a jacket over my pajamas, beanie on my head, and camera in hand I was ready to greet the light.

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City of Rocks Visitor Center and Windmill at Sunrise
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City of Rocks on Planet Walk Trail

After a quick breakfast, we stretched our legs on the Hydra trail on the east side of the campground looping around Pegasus campground before hopping in the truck for our four-hour drive to Tucson, Arizona.

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Site 16 Spur Trail
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Hardpack under the Creekbed Gravel was Like Concrete
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On one of the Streets through the City
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Close Up of the Beautiful Colors in the Rock

It is always nice when a bird is kind enough to pose for a wildlife photo.

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One Little Birdy Sitting in a Tree

Even though the campground filled up for the night, it didn’t feel crowded or noisy. We’ll consider stopping at City of Rocks State Park the next time we are driving through New Mexico on Interstate 10. The half-hour drive north of Deming will be worth it to spend time among the boulders and away from the freeway noise.

We’ll be taking a digital holiday for a week or so, but we plan to be back with our next post on June 21, 2018.

Safe Travels

 

Silver City, New Mexico

We left the Texas Hill Country on March 14, 2018, the 45th day of our 2018 Winter Tour, headed west toward Silver City, New Mexico. With no reservations, our mantra for the day turned into, “Where oh where will we stop?”

Crossing West Texas

Windmills and oil derricks dotted the miles and miles of groomed cotton fields along Interstate 20. In the larger towns, like Midland and Odessa, energy-related businesses lined the highway with “Now Hiring” banners hung from their walls. Many of the roadside billboards also advertised for energy jobs, claiming their company was the best place for employees. Pickup trucks filled the parking lots we passed, not a Tesla, BMW, or Volkswagen in sight. We had never seen pop-up RV parks. Tucked in behind or beside commercial buildings trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes filled the spaces behind temporary fencing and lighting towers. Need a job? Head for West Texas and join the modern-day gold rush with your pickup truck and RV.

We continued on to Pecos, Texas, finding a spot at Tra-Park RV. Then we had another one-night stay at the Las Cruces KOA before arriving at the Silver City KOA in New Mexico for four nights. Visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was our goal during our stay.

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Silver City Gateway Bridge Crosses The Big Ditch

Silver City, New Mexico

First, a little bit about Silver City that occupies land once used as an Apache campsite. Spaniards also mined copper nearby and archeological evidence indicates the Membres Mogollon Indians lived in the area between 200 and 1140-50 AD.

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Near the Visitor Center is a 1870s Style Log Cabin Gifted to the City by Director Ron Howard. A Set Piece from the Movie “The Missing,” the Cabin is Placed at the Location Where Billy the Kid (AKA Henry McCarty and William H. Bonney) Lived from 1873 – 1875.

Founded in 1870 after prospectors discovered silver ore deposits at Chloride Flat, the city is now home to Western New Mexico University and two mining operations that generate approximately $73 million in wages.

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Downtown Silver City

One of the main features of the town is the Big Ditch. After twenty-five years of population growth, the loss of trees to construction and plant life to cattle grazing caused rainfall to rush through the downtown area destroying most of the businesses in its path during a major flood on July 21, 1895.

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Impressive Greek Inspired Architecture for the Town Offices

The solution was a ditch 55-feet lower than the original main street. Residents and visitors can enjoy the tree-lined walking paths at Big Ditch Park.

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Sidewalk Art
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A Space Studio Art Gallery

Silver City boasts a vibrant arts district in the downtown area with musicians and artists, newly renovated Silco Theater, and the Southwest Festival of the Written Word.

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Silco Theater Built in 1912. Renovated and re-opened on February 26, 2016, as Community Movie House
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Copper Quail Gallery Dressed in a Southwest Adobe Style

As usual, the historic buildings had me raising my camera to capture the colorful buildings, detail architecture, and murals.

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The Murray Hotel Chooses an Art Deco Theme
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Murray Hotel Lobby
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The Conway House
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Diane’s Restaurant, Parlor, Bakery, and Deli
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Intricate Detailed Painting
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One of the Murals in Town
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A Building in Need of Tender Care
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Grant County Courthouse

We enjoyed wandering around the town of Silver City and wouldn’t mind visiting there again. The March weather was comfortable, the people friendly, and best of all it wasn’t very crowded. Although I’m sure at times during the year visitors flock to the area.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is only 45 miles from Silver City, but it took us 2 hours. New Mexico Highway 15 (NM-15) twists and turns to the right and then to the left with hairpins that prevent driving more than 30 or 40 mph in many places. A long stretch of the road was narrow with no centerline and many blind curves making the way even slower. Be prepared for oncoming traffic. Some drivers cutting corners on those blind curves almost caused an accident. The road travels from desert to mountain pines increasing and decreasing in elevation until arriving at about 5,700 to 6,000 feet, the same elevation as where it began.

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View Across Gila National Forest

At the end of the road are a small visitor center, restrooms, and docents and rangers on hand to answer questions and direct visitors to the 1-mile loop trail to the dwellings. The well-maintained rustic trail skirted the Gila River and made me feel like I was walking in the footsteps of the people who built and lived in the dwellings.

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Visitor Center and Parking Lot with Bridge to the Trail

At the first view of the dwellings, I wondered what it was like seeing home after a long day working in the fields. Images of pottery filled with water, grain, berries, and other foodstuffs and baskets holding blankets and clothing popped up. Also, fresh baked bread or tortillas and the aroma of vegetables and meat stewing over smoldering coals. I could almost see two little boys running up and down the path in a game of chase.

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Approaching the Gila Cliff Dwellings
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Cave One Depicts Storage Areas, Hearth, Ash Pit, and Cooking Support

Through dendrochronology, (the study of tree ring growth patterns) archeologists dated the timbers used as headers in construction to the 1280s AD.

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About 80% of the Structure is Original. Others are Recreations.

I felt honored to have the opportunity to climb up and roam around the dwellings where the Mogollon Indians lived so many millenniums ago. The docents inside explained the different rooms and the prevailing or differing opinions of how they were used, creating an impression of life in the village.

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Evidence in Subterranean Rooms Suggest Their Use as Either Residences or Kivas
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View From Inside a Cave
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On to Another Cave
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The person in the middle of the photo gives a perspective of the cave’s size
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A Climb Down the Ladder is Included in Tour

On our way back to Silver City, we took NM-35, then US-180 back to our RV site. This made our excursion a loop around the Gila National Forest allowing us to see more of the terrain. This route adds 23 miles to the odometer, but the road is less windy and wider with a centerline the whole way. Perfect conditions that reduce the risk of a motion sickness flare up.

I’m so glad we were able to finally make it to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Now we are planning a trip to Colorado during the summer to see the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park.

Safe Travels