10/11-12/2014: Home Stretch

October 23, 2014

 

 

“There’s a long, long road before me… “

 

Somewhere/AZ: rest for the wiked

Somewhere/AZ: rest for the wiked

Leave Willcox/AZ along I-10: counting clouds and mountains… lots of both.

Somewhere Else/AZ: too numerous to count

Somewhere Else/AZ: too numerous to count

 

 

 

 

 

At Blythe/CA, after crossing inviting Colorado River, turn onto US-95, and pass uncultivated and cotton-cultivated fields along this flood plain, before ascending into glacial mountain hardpan on a winding, undulating, narrow-shouldered, near-empty road which, in fading dusk arrives in Needles. Get onto I-40, but, outside Ludlow must bow to reality: night-driving skills are not what they used to be.

 

McKittrick/CA: abandoned hotel

McKittrick/CA: abandoned hotel

Head along I-40 into Barstow, before switching onto CA-58, and, as dawn lights this desolate desert, continue through windy, windy Tehachapi Pass and into Bakersfield. Continue west, and pause in McKittrick… a town right out of “Bad Day at Black Rock”. (For those with a historical bent, this area has a special place in American history: it is this general area in which the infamous “Tea Pot Dome Scandal” materialized).

Santa Margarita/CA: Main Street

Santa Margarita/CA: Main Street

 

Stop in Santa Margarita, before slipping onto familiar US-101, detour briefly to checkout Atascadero’s gorgeous City Hall, and try really good pizza… but, with a name like “Fatte’s Pizza”, dare it be otherwise?

Atascadero/CA: City Hall & Plaza

Atascadero/CA: City Hall & Plaza

 

 

 

 

From there on, “the horse knows the way”.

 

(A special word of thanks to all those unheralded Chrysler employees who made this 1993 Dodge van capable of surviving my ridiculous demands, and friendly folks at Chris’s Smog Shop, whom, tho warning me it should be scrapped, nipped and tucked with spit and baling wire to get us from coast-to-coast!)

(And a special “Arigato” to those remarkable engineers at Pentax for creating a camera capable of deluding people into fantasizing about the quality of my photography skills.)

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10/10/2014 – The Pause That Refreshes

October 20, 2014

 

Balmorhea/TX: Balmorhea SP - campground at sunrise

Balmorhea/TX: Balmorhea SP – campground at sunrise

 

Early morning sunrise is lovely: incrementally, sunlight transforms yesterday afternoon’s pallid campground into a thing of beauty. Almost hate to leave.

Pause briefly in town (a village which makes Grandview seem a metropolis by comparison).

 

I-10/TX: Do I hear Judy Collins singing?

I-10/TX: Do I hear Judy Collins singing?

 

Then, back onto I-10. More clouds …

 

Pass El Paso/TX and Las Cruces/NM, but cannot (yep, CANNOT) bypass Mesilla again.

 

Would be hard-pressed to say just why this town seems so attractive.

Mesilla/NM: Plaza w/St Albino Church behind

Mesilla/NM: Plaza w/St Albino Church behind

 

Yes, there is a lovely, tourist-infested “Square”, a wonderful church, kitschy shops, homes of universally-chocolated exteriors… yet, somehow, Mesilla’s appeal does not fade.

 

Mesilla/NM: bookstore - interior (ceiling of cottonwood logs/branches)

Mesilla/NM: bookstore – interior (ceiling of cottonwood logs/branches)

 

Step into its bookstore, slowly wander… touching a book cover here; picking up & reading a book’s back cover there. (Am sure owner recognizes my “will not buy” emanations… yet she offers me a free bottle of water “to avoid dehydration”).

 

 

Wander some back streets, before once again heading toward a setting sun.


10/9/2014 – Long and Winding Road

October 20, 2014

 

Rhetorical question: is it dull to drive across western Texas?

Well, “Yes” and “No”.

First, on the plus side, there are endless exquisite cloud formations (is THAT where my e-mails are stored?). Second, for introspection, a substantial lack of “interesting” sights provides a positive environment.

Alternately, if a desire to hear a human voice assails me, am limited to Russ Limbaugh – Sean Hanratty rants (amazingly, they do a GREAT job of identifying some of our nation’s problems: alas, rather than suggest rational solutions, they babble on about how to assign blame); mawkish (and, am being charitable here/hear) Country & Western music (do C&W singers imagine heartbreak does NOT take place in urban areas?); or “feel good” religious talk/music (sorry, folks, but sometimes, we agnostics have dissenting views). Having forgotten to pack my Patsy Cline, Nancy Gilliland, Wesla Whitfield CDs, am forced to practice my own grotesque singing (if Catholic theology is correct, not only is MY time in Purgatory cancelled, but suspect that of many others too).

 

By late afternoon, reach Balmorhea/TX. (May have mentioned that on my ferry ride from NJ to DE, a San Diego couple recommended “The Springs” here). So, chase down to Balmorhea SP, set up my campsite, and head off to their “pool”.

Balmorhea/TX: Balmoheas SP - bathhouse & pool

Balmorhea/TX: Balmoheas SP – bathhouse & pool

Now: there are “pools” and there are “POOLS”. This one is a gigantic “winged” pool, ranging from 3’ to 25’, with its own diving board). It also has signs suggesting stairs and bottom are “slippery” (an interesting euphemism for “slimy”… but that’s another story).

Dig thru van’s nether regions in search of my bathing suit, and am tempted to dive into tepid water and “return to the womb”. Instead, attach myself carefully to stair railings and step cautiously onto the first, water-covered algae-green stair… “Oh, MY GOD!”… it is COLD.

Balmorhea/TX: Balmorhea SP - pool

Balmorhea/TX: Balmorhea SP – pool

Now, for those of you without testicles, perhaps it is incomprehensible that there is no fear comparable to stepping slowly into cold water KNOWING that at some point, your groin is going to be immersed, and, whatever testicular phantasies you’ve entertained during your lifetime are about to be assaulted.

At any rate, embarrassed by 6-year-olds playing blissfully, imagine Robert Duvall as Evangelical preacher encouraging me to baptize myself, so push off. Body quickly adjusts and am instantly delighted. Lordy; Lordy: what a wuss.

 

A bit later, two young Canadian women, one campsite over, worried no doubt that there is neither tent nor cooking gear visible, offer to share their vegan dinner. Try to be polite, and suggest having eaten earlier in the day, and can only hope they don’t notice my dinner being cereal eaten within my van.

As sunlight falls, AM treated to a “starry night” which Van Gogh would have died for. At horizon’s edge, black mountains make magic silhouettes against post-sunset orange-pink glow, and, when black night invades, star spots offer atavistic joy.


10/8/2014 – The Last Outpost: Texas Style

October 20, 2014

 

After spending a couple relaxing days with friends in Bastrop (one of which included a “master class” in auto restoration at Charley’s Garage), check in with cousin Vince in Austin (we drank up Austin’s beer allotment on my trip east), and then head west… but, as it turns out, not too far.

 

Even in Texas, controversy accumulates when “LBJ” is spoken, but a combination of Natonal and State Park efforts have made LBJ Ranch a worthy tour.

A Visitor Center video and associated exhibits offer insights into this “larger-than-Life” “accidental” President. (In fairness, irrespective of opinions about his presidency, his control of America’s Senate deserves an A+ for illustrating how one man can shape a political environment).

Stonewall/TX: LBJ Ranch NM/SP - LBJ's childhood schoolroom

Stonewall/TX: LBJ Ranch NM/SP – LBJ’s childhood schoolroom

Starting with a small one-room schoolhouse where “Childe Lyndon” learned how to “cozy up” to his first-grade teacher, family homes, and tombstones of Johnson and family lead toward long, rolling fields and livestock outbuildings.

Stonewall/TX: LBJ Ranch NM/SP - replica of LBJ birthplace & grounds

Stonewall/TX: LBJ Ranch NM/SP – replica of LBJ birthplace & grounds

 

 

 

 

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A school class listens intently as a park ranger describes “ranching”, and watching teachers “herd” children into their “auto drive” offers a tinge of irony. A Presidential jet sits at ranch’s airstrip, and administrative buildings now serve as museum.

Stonewall/TX: LBJ Ranch NM/SP - Presidential Jet

Stonewall/TX: LBJ Ranch NM/SP – Presidential Jet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fredericksburg/TX: Old St Mary Church

Fredericksburg/TX: Old St Mary Church

Later, wander around Fredericksburg: an old German-themed town dating back to a period when European immigrants entered not through Ellis Island, but ports such as Galveston/TX or New Orleans/LA. (A wonderful wine territory luxuriates along an Austin-to-San-Antonio I-35 corridor).

Early dinner at Fredericksburg Brewery provides an interesting inter-generational insights: older men speaking of excessive heat and depleted water; young couples sharing thoughts on their respective technology tools.

 

Fredericksburg/TX: Market/Pioneer Square - Mill Race

Fredericksburg/TX: Market/Pioneer Square – Mill Race

 

 

Wander through downtown and become captivated at waterwheel in Market/Pioneer Square.

 

As sun sets, search out South Llano River State Park, and am treated by hosts to “categorical imperative” of Texas sights/sites “which are not to be missed”. Make my soothing promises without mentioning having seen many on prior trips, and, more importantly, a yearning for home.


10/5/2014 – The Ayes of Texas…

October 20, 2014

 

Am not quite sure what prompted pausing in Grandview/TX – maybe nothing more than having once lived on SF’s Grand View Avenue. (Where a “grand view” WAS available: sun rising over Oakland’s East Bay hills turning blue-gray SF Bay to a lake of molten gold, and an hour later into glistening silver. [Friends in Newport Beach/CA and a small town of Caspar in northern CA have a karmically reciprocal view: late afternoon sun silvering sea and, later, sunset gilding ocean’s surface]).

 

Grandview simply isn’t any place “special”: but, perhaps, a residue of Oklahoma City’s carnage needed some balance… an ordinary American town of Norman Rockwell images to scrub “bad” images from mind.

 

A couple of cars are parked in shade of huge tree. No more than half-a-dozen cars pass thru this four-block long main street. No pedestrians brave early afternoon sun/heat, but, a couple middle-aged men sit on metal folding chairs in the shade of a huge, permanent Quonset hut which houses fire department equipment. (Tho, at the edge of hearing, splashing and children’s screams suggest a heat-defying pool in someone’s back yard.)

Grandview/TX: Local cafe w/rustic al fresco dining

Grandview/TX: Local cafe w/rustic al fresco dining

 

While lining up a shot, notice a young woman’s face in “Closed” café’s kitchen window: an owner using Sunday silence to “clean up”? A cook, doing prep work for “dinner hour”? Never know – like many faces in our lives, hers passes into that niche of memory we call “Unknown”.

 

Grandview/TX: Outdoor Music Pavilion (ya gotta imagine a crowd doin' Texas 2-Step)

Grandview/TX: Outdoor Music Pavilion (ya gotta imagine a crowd doin’ Texas 2-Step)

 

Wander Grandview’s “business district”, then head off into a nearby residential area of big “homes” (as opposed to “McMansions”) set on deep, wide lots. Periodically, hear a chainsaw’s buzz, and a couple cars still grace a church’s parking lot (deacons converting collection plate offerings into a bank deposit?).

Grandview/TX: Justa place called home

Grandview/TX: Justa place called home

 

Most homes well-tended… a few, run-down and abandoned, set imagination into overdrive.

Perhaps this tiny village’s attraction is no more than “last port” before launching off into a l-o-n-g drive home.

 

A late afternoon driving error causes me to pass thru Belton/TX downtown (or, as they are now known in the travel trade “Historic District”).

Belton/TX: County Court House

Belton/TX: County Court House

 

As county seat, a modestly-sized town’s County Courthouse glows in late afternoon sunlight, and near-empty streets transport me back to “spaghetti westerns” (tho architecture is NOT of that vintage).

Belton/TX: Converted Cotton Gin - creekside dining

Belton/TX: Converted Cotton Gin – creekside dining

 

Amble a bit, and find delight acknowledging a woman and small girl jointly pushing a baby carriage, and a sextet of “elders” speculating upon where to share Sunday evening dinner.

 

Funny day.


10/4/2014 – April Mourning

October 17, 2014

 

Spend a couple days on back roads moseying westward through Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma:  small towns of tree-shaded, child-filled neighborhoods/subdivisions; downtowns of single-story shops (no “boutiques” here); lovely, well-kept churches; and unimaginative, architecturally sterile schools. Plus, natural beauties: long stretches of forests, hues of green changing as early autumn sun shifts across a curulean sky; long/wide brown and green fields stretching toward horizon’s promise; and mirror-like rivers reflecting cloud armadas overhead.

 

In Oklahoma City, this Norman Rockwell euphoria is jarred.

On April 19, 1995, a truck, filled with explosives detonated outside downtown Oklahoma City’s Federal Building. Death came to 168 adults and children; more than 600 were injured.

An Oklahoma City Memorial bears witness to this madness: an outdoor area spans the street on which this building existed; a museum is housed in a bomb-damaged building a block away.

At either end of this outdoor space, rise twin, near-black monoliths. Each bears an analog display of hour and minute: one, “9:01”, one “9:03”… detonation occurred at 9:02 that morning. Between these two monoliths, covering what was once a paved street, a long, wide, shallow reflecting pool. On this pool’s north side, a series of stone-block-lined grass terraces lead up to an “Surviving Elm Tree”… scarred, but alive, and a viewing platform. On a long, narrow, inclined lawn along pool’s southern edge, 168 sculptured chairs (full-sized for adult victims; scaled-down for children) which represent each victim, are clustered where their bodies were recovered. Just outside memorial’s west edge, a chain-link fence has become a repository of individual mementoes.

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial - "enclosing" monoliths

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial – “enclosing” monoliths

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial - reflecting pool

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial – reflecting pool

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial - South Slope (memorial chairs)

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial – South Slope (memorial chairs)

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial - South Slope (memorial chairs)

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial – South Slope (memorial chairs)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial - North Slope (Surviving Elm)

Oklahoma City/OK: OK City Memorial – North Slope (Surviving Elm)

 

“Ranger Rick”, an Oklahoma State University student volunteers as guide. In conversation, he admits, that his responses to visitor questions often bring tears to his eyes, as well as theirs. (“When I no longer feel this sadness, it’ll be time for me to move on” he suggests). Visitors wander: some take guide pamphlets; some read every sign – but all speak softly, reverently… and an occasional intake of breath, or barely perceptible sob testify to their feelings: palpable pain.

Its museum is a bit overwhelming: and, its sense of clarity and organization impact feelings, but are, more truly, an intellectual exercise. “What”? “How”? “Why”? (So MUCH data: but how are we ever to understand a mind capable of killing innocent adults and children?)

Oklahoma City/OK: St Joseph Cathedral - "Jesus Wept" Memorial

Oklahoma City/OK: St Joseph Cathedral – “Jesus Wept” Memorial

 

Just beyond this memorial, St. Joseph Cathedral adds its own memorial respecting Catholic victims. Each is represented by a single, human-height, black shaft. Back turned on carnage, a white Christ weeps.

 

 

Oklahoma City/OK: Packard Kitchen - sign

Oklahoma City/OK: Packard Kitchen – sign

 

There was more to see: “Automobile Alley” – once a line of beautiful, old, auto dealership (now, apparently, all have fled to suburbs) buildings which now provide succor to OK City’s effort to attract a 20-something entrepreneurial crowd. Some huge old office buildings being restored; some attractive churches; a “gabble” of young women, who, emerging from Packard’s Kitchen brunch are curious about my recording its “emblem”.

Oklahoma City/OK: State Capitol

Oklahoma City/OK: State Capitol

 

 

A Capitol Complex which includes an old Phillips 66 oil derrick as an accoutrement.

Am disappointed that a Museum of Art has so narrow a permanent collection on display.

 

Then, it is time to move on…


9/28-30/2014 – A Little Wile in Little Rock

October 17, 2014

 

Find my Little Rock friends anxious about health of an aging mom. Realize anew, how, even when our minds are good, body’s frailties can create a situation where our condition creates a burden for our children.

 

Drive downtown and park at William J. Clinton Presidential Library. (Can’t help but wonder: if Hilary Clinton serves as our President, will they take a “rib” from this one to create HERS? Is this the genesis of our phrase “taking a ribbing”?).

Little Rock/AR: Clinton Presidential Library & "Harriet Tubman" sculpture

Little Rock/AR: Clinton Presidential Library & “Harriet Tubman” sculpture

 

Little Rock/AR: Clinton Presidential Library - reflecting pool and Pedestrian Bridge

Little Rock/AR: Clinton Presidential Library – reflecting pool and Pedestrian Bridge

Its setting, on a long grassy area along the Arkansas River, is downright gorgeous. Curiously, there is a Dale Chihuly glass art exhibit upon display which seems to be a center of attraction.

Little Rock/AR: Wm Clark Wetlands Park - along Arkansas River (near Clinton Library)

Little Rock/AR: Wm Clark Wetlands Park – along Arkansas River (near Clinton Library)

 

Close by, a recent addition: William Clark Wetlands Park offers a wonderful use of Arkansas River’s bank. A shaded “gazebo” at “boardwalk’s” end, a string of birdhouses, native foliage offer a quiet sanctuary from Library’s tourist “buzz”.

 

 

Little Rock/AR: Peabody Park - Splash Fountain

Little Rock/AR: Peabody Park – Splash Fountain

 

Brave heat/humidity with my friend, touring a restored Peabody Park (new spray fountains; faux rock-climbing walls; a portion of a miles long walking/biking riverside trail), a new Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden (large and modest; representative and abstract: all nestled among trees/bushes where shifting sunlight reshapes perception).

 

Dizzy’s, our first lunch choice, is closed, so we settle for al fresco dining at Dugan’s, just down the street from a bus station which introduces transients into Little Rock. (A seemingly unimportant point, until eating is interrupted by commotion: Dugan staff chase down a young, poorly dressed man who steals a tip left on a nearby table. Moments later, a substantively obese woman rolls in her wheelchair, and is soon joined by a young, pony-tailed man whose face is painted white. This is NOT downtown Little Rock of prior visits. In fairness, this additional foot traffic is NOT a freak show, and pedestrian activity enhances revitalization of this district.)

Little Rock/AR: Hillcrest District - old ice house converted to shops

Little Rock/AR: Hillcrest District – old ice house converted to shops

 

Next day, drive into lovely Hillcrest neighborhood: an amalgam of small shops, sloping streets, and upper-middle-class, tree-shaded homes.

Little Rock/AR: Hillcrest District - "typical: home (?)

Little Rock/AR: Hillcrest District – “typical” home (?)

An older set of buildings reflect an occasional glimpse of what might once have been a upward-yearning blue collar district newly converted to tony high-achievers.

 

Little Rock/AR: Big Dam Bridge - foot/bike path over Arkansas River

Little Rock/AR: Big Dam Bridge – foot/bike path over Arkansas River

 

Then on to Big Dam Bridge, which, near Murray Dam/Lock, provides a link between south and north banks of Arkansas River. In each direction, from mid-bridge viewing sites, forest and water act as reminders of challenges faced as, a couple hundred years ago, early settlers moved west.

 

We finish up wandering around and into Arkansas’ Capitol Building: long, wide grassy lawns outside; cool, gray-striated marble within, A Vietnam War Memorial: sculpture of a single, weary, weapons-carrying soldier (wearing flowers and flags, obviously provided by those who don’t forget sacrifices made) stands inside a wall listing names of those who gave their lives. We are surprised discovering a small granite memorial commemorating those who served?/died? in our War of 1812 (Arkansas, was not yet, at that time, a state: thus, who WERE these people?). We finally find a new Firemen’s Memorial (our original objective).

Little Rock/AR: State Capitol - Governor's Conference Room

Little Rock/AR: State Capitol – Governor’s Conference Room

Inside, gold-butter doors, Governor’s Conference Room, and an Old Supreme Court venue claim our attention, From several levels, we join visitors gaping at domed ceiling high above, A series of paintings and sculptures honor prior governors (a youthful, almost Hippie-esque Bill Clinton gazes at us while signing, we wonder, what legislation?). Otherwise, these halls are quite quiet: staff acknowledge visitors, but move quickly and intently about the business of governing.