154th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games 2019

Each Labor Day weekend, tartan and kilted-clad folks descend on the Alameda County Fairgrounds for the annual Scottish Highland Gathering and Games. Labor Day 2019 marked the 154th year of celebrating Scottish heritage in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Caledonian Club of San Francisco has continuously run the annual games since its founding on November 24, 1866. From their humble beginnings as a picnic with a few athletic events, the games have marched through the years with never a break. Two world wars and the 1906 earthquake could not stop the dedication of the club to celebrate their heritage. The Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton, California, has been the home of the games since 1994. It is one of the largest ethnic festivals in the United States.

My grandson Jackson and I began our visit soaring above the crowds on the sky ride to get our bearings and catch a glimpse of the festival from a birds-eye view.

The Sky Ride

Colorful canopies and chairs lined the area where the pipe bands gathered for practice ahead of their competitions.

Band members set up for practice

The concentration of 30 or more bands created a cacophony of sound that was actually more soothing than expected. The addition of drums that accompanied the pipes sent vibrations through my chest, stirring memories of standing on the curb watching parade marching bands pass by.

Pipes practicing before their competition
Pipe band performing in the competition

Food vendors offered American and Scottish dishes as well as the typical festival fare like funnel cakes, kettle korn, beignets, and waffles. Fancy a bit of alcohol? Step right up to the World of Beer stand, grab a pint of Guinness, or enjoy a sampling of some of the finest scotches, bourbons and whiskeys.

Food vendors galore
From hamburgers to haggis, this festival has it all

I opted for a Shepherd’s Pie for my lunch. Jackson ordered Teriyaki chicken. After a few bites he said he couldn’t eat any more Asian-type food, so he fed his meal to the trash can instead of his tummy. Maybe he was still full from the french toast at breakfast.

It was overwhelming to look at the schedule and choose which activities to take in so I let Jackson lead the way. Our first stop was the Living History section. We sat in on a presentation by Mead and Meadow Crafters Guild where we learned about the plants and herbs that treat itching, migraines, and fever; how the lowly snail helps reduce scars while healing and that sphagnum moss is a natural antibiotic that can be used to pack wounds.

Mead and Meadow Crafters Guild

Other groups demonstrated different weapons used to either protect the queen and her entourage or guard against invading marauders.

Chainmaille and spears on display
Helmets and daggers
“Swords, here. Get your swords.”

This fellow demonstrated using a chain like a whip. I never knew a chain could mack a sound like a whip until the man swirled the chain around and around over his head and snapped it so hard it made a loud crack. Imagine the ripping of flesh as the chain slices through an arm, a leg, or a face. Yikes! Grab me some sphagnum moss to mop up the blood.

Whipping up a chain

One group gave lessons on sword fighting and another group offered archery lessons, for extra fees, of course. We found a shady spot to watch the sword-fighting lessons for a bit.

“Okay, you hold your sword straight out and I’ll try to hit it.”

Then we ventured over to the Sheep Dog Trials. We both found it fascinating to watch how the handler and the dog worked together to corral the sheep. Most of the time the three sheep stuck together like Velcro, but occasionally one of them would go rogue and rush back to the safety of her pen, her 60 other friends, and food.

“Good little lambs, follow me.”

Jackson takes a break under the misting canopy.

“Om, om, om.”

Mary Queen of Scots was in attendance with her entourage, brought to you by St. Andrew’s Noble Order of Royal Scots along with a group of nobles, the Royal Scots, stating their allegiance to the Queen. They also take strolls through the grounds throughout the day.

Mary Queen of Scot’s chalices and other artifacts
The Royal Scots

When the sun and heat reached a level that was too hot for comfort, visitors moseyed on over to one of the 6 stages where live bands played traditional and Celtic music, inviting guests to dance.

The band Tempest

Highland dancing was another favorite of visitors. Oh, my. Such energy they had as they stomped their feet in complicated steps and swung their partners around in a circle, all while belting out the words of a song.

Energetic dancers

The Gathering of the Clans was another place for visitors to keep cool and learn about their Scottish heritage at one of the 100 booths. The shady walnut trees provided plenty of respite from the sun.

Gathering of the Clans booths

While walking to the Gathering of the Clans booths, one must stop and gawk at the British automobiles.

British cars on display

Although not a large collection of vehicles, I found the Morgan +4 and its baby of interest. The Morgan Motor Company began operations in 1909 and still makes the +4 today along with three other models.

Morgan +4 and baby Morgan

The three-wheeler in the following photo was also produced by the Morgan Motor Company from 1932 to 1952. A new model is also in production.

Morgan 3 wheeler

Another alternative to cooling off is to explore the commercial buildings where all manner of Scottish goods are available for sale.

The commercial buildings filled with gifts, clothing, jewelry, food, and so much more

Need an outfit to wear? The selection ranges from the fancy dresses for royals to everyday wear for the merchants and servants. Wool kilts, sweaters, scarves and all the paraphernalia that goes along with the costume. Or maybe pirate attire is more to your liking. Craving shortbread cookies for that taste of the old country? Vendors had plenty of choices to select from.

And what would a gathering and games be without the games? Weight for distance consisted of 14, 28, 42, or 56-pound metal ball at the end of a ring and chain with the goal of flinging it the farthest.

Weight for distance

Putting the stone is similar to American shot put events. Men use a stone that weighs 26.6 pounds while women use a 16-pound stone.

Putting the stone

Eight teams competed this year in the five-a-side soccer event.

Five-a-side soccer

Other athletic events included weight for height, the Scottish hammer, and tossing the caber. Highland dancing competitions were also held.

The Scottish Gathering and Games truly has something for everyone from young to old no matter their passions or ancestry. For a fun time, visit a Scottish Gathering and Games near you.

Safe Travels

 

Lake Havasu and Beyond

A visit with family and friends in Lake Havasu City AZ was the perfect place to kick-off our winter 2017 travel. With San Antonio TX selected as our ultimate destination, we only had to figure out which route to take and what we wanted to see on the way.

We selected Prospectors RV Resort as our home for four nights in Havasu. Prospectors offers paved streets, large graveled sites with room enough for off-road vehicles alongside the RVs, spotless bathrooms and all the amenities expected by the long-term winter visitor.

London Bridge is an icon in Havasu. The original bridge built in the 1830’s in London was dismantled and rebuilt in Havasu by Robert P. McCulloch as a tourist attraction for the town he founded in the mid-sixties. Today the city boasts a population of approximately 53,000. Havasu is a popular destination for RVers who live in colder climates (affectionately referred to as snowbirds), college students on spring break, and people who are passionate about watersports.

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As happened during the start of our spring and summer 2016 trips, truck trouble slapped us in the face when the check engine light illuminated. Visions of our two weeks stuck in Elko NV last summer came into view. The dealer got us in on Monday morning, and in the time it took us to eat breakfast at Rusty’s they had replaced a bad sensor, which was covered under warranty. Good thing we were back on the road so soon because Prospectors was booked solid and we would have had to leave whether we had a truck or not.

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Rusty’s Great Place for Breakfast

On January 17, we headed south on I95 and made a quick stop at Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge. Behind me on the hill is the Hillcrest Bay Development, which has fantastic views of the refuge.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was our planned stop for a few nights, but when we neared Gila Bend, we opted to stay the night at the Gila Bend KOA. We didn’t want to arrive too late at the monument’s campground since the spots are first-come-first-served. We had stayed at the KOA last year and were pleased to see that they continued with their improvements by putting in a pool, a patio behind the activity building, tent sites, and soon to arrive a new building to house restrooms and showers.

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Abandoned Building Near Gila Bend KOA

The next morning the campsites that greeted us at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Alpine Campground included wide long spots with plenty of natural habitat between them giving us the feeling that we were camping in the wild. An added bonus was that we had no neighbors beside us or across the road.

We ate lunch after our quick set up (no water, electrical or sewer hookups to worry about), and took the 1.3-mile trail to the visitors center where border patrol folks gave a talk on their responsibilities. The monument’s property extends to the border with Mexico and the visitor’s center is about five miles from the nearest crossing.

Besides the checkpoints on major highways, the border agents grade roads and paths that illegal immigrants and drug runners cross to identify locations where recent activity has occurred. They also use technology such as night vision, infrared, dogs, aircraft, and drones. It was interesting to learn that this border patrol region was responsible for the seizure of about 50% of all drugs seized in the United States and exceeds the illegal immigrants crossing the border.

Ever since Trump promised to “build a wall,” I’ve been worried about the 1,254-mile border between Mexico and Texas, which is defined by the Rio Grande River. Learning that border patrol will work with other departments to find the best solution should a wall be mandated gave me hope that the natural habitat and view along the Rio Grande border between Mexico and Texas may escape disastrous consequences.

Sprinkles woke us Thursday morning along with a little wind, but by 11:30 a.m. the sun was shining bright. We opted for the Desert View hike through Saguaros, Ocotillo, Palo Verde and other plants and cactus and shrubs. A cabana covered table was a great place to eat our tuna sandwiches after the hike before heading to the visitor center.

We arrived in time for a ranger talk on the leaf-cutting ants, Atta mexicana. It’s amazing that new colonies of the ants have increased over the years since only five of the 500 queens that fly out of the nest to mate manage to establish a colony. These ants form fungus, which is their fuel. They discard the leftovers outside of their nests, which provides nutrients to the neighboring plants in a symbiotic relationship.

Afterward, we drove the north Puerto Blanco Road where numerous saguaros grow. Like snowflakes and fingerprints, each saguaro has its own personality and no two are alike. Some grow arms out their tops some grow them low to the ground. Many sport baby arms that look like little fluffy balls next to their brothers and sisters outstretched arms.

Back at our campsite, the sky was ablaze. Smoke from a fire beyond the left side of the photo’s frame made it look like the setting sun was the center of the conflagration.

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There were plenty more hikes and things to see at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument that we have to save for another trip. We didn’t bring our generator on this tour and our batteries required a fresh charge, so it was time to move on. Next stop? Benson AZ.

Safe travels.