On the Road With Doris & Ez

We're going on a road trip!!!! Could be three weeks could be three years, we'll see. Read below to see where we are now.....

Saturday, June 13, 2009

June, 2008 - A New Beginning

It’s been about a year since my last post and our lives have certainly undergone a dramatic change. Last summer we headed back to the Puget Sound area to visit family and enjoy the great weather and beautiful scenery. I was born here, but when I first introduced Ez to this part of the country over 20 years ago he fell in love with it. So it really wasn’t that big of a stretch when we decided that this might be the place where we wanted to plant our roots.

Gig Harbor, Washington is a short hop across the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma. It’s a charming little harbor town that we’ve always said reminds us of the small coastal villages of Maine. This side of Puget Sound is much more quiet and rural than the cities along the I-5 corridor to the east. Although we first discovered our new home in August, we decided to head back to Phoenix for the winter and postpone any major decisions. Smart move! When we returned in February the price had come down considerably!

We moved into our new house in April, and it’s a big switch from the house we planned to build in the Arizona desert. We have over an acre and a half of property in a thickly wooded area covered with huge cedar trees. (We’re letting our neighbor graze his horse on part of the property that’s not landscaped.) The previous owners (the house is five years old) carved out a beautiful yard with huge lawns and dozens of rhododendrons and azaleas. We’ve been enjoying the changing floral display throughout the spring. The house has all of the appropriate amenities of course plus big windows that look out on the garden and trees. We like to sip our coffee in the morning and watch the wildlife outside our window. We have a huge variety of birds that flock to the feeders we’ve put up, plus squirrels and rabbits. We’ve even seen eagles circling in the sky high above us.
And we’ve been busy! Before we hit the road over three years ago, we downsized so that everything we owned was in a 10 X 10 storage locker. Now we have to set up housekeeping again. It’s fun, but grueling too. . Since we will be furnishing a whole house, we joined DirectBuy to take advantage of their big discounts. It’s a different way to shop. We drive 20 miles to their showroom, do all of our browsing in their catalogs (nothing to touch or sit on or try out!), wait four to six weeks for it to be delivered, bring it home in a rented trailer, uncrate it and set it up. But we have saved a lot of $$$. And we’re not done yet. We still have only two chairs and a patio chair in the living room and the dining room is a sea of boxes.

Of course, there’s lots to do besides shopping. . I scrambled around and painted the laundry room and office before moving in new furniture. I’ve been looking forward to doing some gardening, so Ez built a couple of raised beds and we’re already harvesting radishes, basil and spinach. The tomato plants are coming on strong and we’ll have lettuce soon. I expect we’ll be overrun with zucchini by August. Wild blackberries are the scourge of the northwest, so we are constantly attacking them with pruners and noxious chemicals to keep them out of the gardens. (But we wouldn’t wipe them out even if we could - they protect our privacy and we’re hoping for some blackberry cobbler.) Keeping the weeds under control is a battle and there’s always something that needs to be clipped back. Ez is a happy man though - even if the lawn needs to be mowed every five days, at least the house came with a riding lawn mower, so he can accomplish this task in style.

It’s not all work and no play though. We joined the local golf club and have participated in several events from couples tournaments to luncheons and dinners. It’s a very informal crowd and everyone is friendly and outgoing.

Another big plus from our move - family is closer, so our guest room is getting a workout. Our two daughters are both in Portland, so they’ve come for the weekend. Son Todd made the pilgrimage north when he was in Portland on business, and Matt and Amy will be here for a longer visit at the end of the month. We hosted other visitors this weekend, so we’re honing our innkeeper skills. And we’re looking forward to welcoming other friends and family this summer so we can show off our new home and this beautiful part of the country.

All in all, it’s been a big change. We’re busy most of the time, our muscles are sore from moving and gardening, and we collapse into bed at the end of the day. But it’s a good change and we’re having fun. Can’t ask for more than that. .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Keeping Cool in the Great Northwest

Although gas prices are cramping our style a little, we’ve still logged a few miles since my last post. Our new game plan is to stay put in one place rather than pulling up stakes every five to seven days. That’s why we’re spending over a month just outside of Portland, enjoying the great scenery and weather and visiting with family. Our freshly-minted pharmacist has a new job and apartment here and our other daughter and her family have made Portland their home for several years.

We took a round-about way to get here though, and saw some great scenery. After traveling through the California Gold Country we headed over the Sierras to Reno. Mothers Day was spent driving all around Lake Tahoe and making a traditional “deposit” in one of the many gaming establishments Nevada is famous for. Next we were on to Boise, the newest addition to our list of “Places Where We Could Live.” Our friends Ron and Jennie did a great job of keeping us entertained and busy - we played lots of golf and went on great road trips, including an amazing day visiting the famous Hells River Canyon. The frosting on the cupcake? Jennie and I tied for third place in her ladies’ golf league tournament - Yay!

Our next stop was a change of pace for us. We headed to the plains of eastern Oregon to spend five days at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for some bird watching. (The cowboy photo at the top of the post was also taken near Malheur.) We picked up the birding bug (and a hand-me-down bird book) a few years ago from our daughter, a real birding enthusiast. We’ve been pretty casual about it until we arrived at Malheur, a renowned birding hotspot. After spending at least two days driving s-l-o-w-l-y down this road with our binoculars trained out the window at anything that moved we racked up almost 60 species, including the American Bittern and Sandhill Crane. And it was fun - just like a treasure hunt!

After spending a few days in central Oregon we headed for Dufur (just south of The Dalles) to spend a few days with our kids at their cabin. We hung out, had some great meals, explored the countryside, and took a hike to check out the seasonal creek that flows through their property.

And, as you can see, our amazing granddaughter Nola loves the swing that her papa put up near their cabin.

Now, after a few rainy days, we’re enjoying the beautiful weather in Portland, spending time with the kids, and playing with Nola. Before the weather improved we headed east to spend a couple of nights at Hood River where we played golf, went wine tasting, and checked out the beautiful Columbia River Gorge scenery. Last week we spent an afternoon visiting the wineries in the Willamette Valley and agreed that the wines were wonderful and the scenery was reminiscent of the Italian countryside. We’ve played a couple of rounds of golf at Edgefield, a nearby par 3 course. Since none of the holes is longer than about 80 yards, you can walk the course while carrying the two or three clubs you’ll need and a pint you can pick up at the clubhouse/pub. It’s a fun way to work on your short game. . . (And is it beginning to sound like all we do is play golf and drink wine??)

In any event, we’ll be in Portland for a couple of weeks before heading north to Washington. We also have an impromptu visit to Hawaii planned. Stay tuned for the details. . .

Monday, May 12, 2008

Time Flies - April, May 2008

When you’re having fun, it’s sometimes hard to find the time to write it all down. We’ve kept very busy since we left Yuma. Our first stop was at a great RV park right on Mission Bay in San Diego. We always enjoy coming to San Diego – not just for the weather and the beaches – but also to visit with son Matt, his lovely SO (significant other) Amy, and family. Of course, there’s always time to check out the sights.

Pompeii was one of the high spots of our trip to Italy last year, so we were looking forward to seeing the Pompeii exhibit at the SD Natural History Museum at Balboa Park. Of course, we paid more to get into the exhibit than we did to get in to the actual city of Pompeii (!!) but we did enjoy seeing the artifacts and the dramatic body casts of some of the volcano victims. They also featured a fascinating video program about what might happen to the nearby city of Naples if (actually when) Vesuvius blows again. Scary!

We also made our first visit to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. It’s cool to see giraffes, antelope and other animals roaming freely over the hillsides instead of being penned in cages. Of course, seeing these lions made us wonder what might have happened to the park employees who were driving this vehicle. Har Har!

Two years ago we traveled down the California coast, so this time we decided to explore the eastern half of the state. From San Diego we headed to the little town of Tehachapi at the southern end of the Sierras. This is pretty country – lots of rolling hills, oak trees and fruit orchards. Next we traveled up into the mountains to the town of Three Rivers which bills itself as the Gateway to Sequoia National Park. Both RV parks were located in spectacular settings where we enjoyed doing lots of bird watching and adding to our life lists.

We had a great day driving through Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks. We saw lots of the giant trees, including the 275-foot tall General Sherman, the largest living tree on earth. (That's us - the two little specks in front of the tree!) Other trees are taller, but sequoias can grow up to 40 feet in diameter. And you’ve gotta love a place where they give names to the trees! We were here early in the season so there was still snow on the ground and not many visitors.

The good weather fairy followed us as we drove north to Groveland. We’d always heard stories about the glories of Yosemite, but that didn’t prepare us for the reality. After our first visit, Yosemite National Park zoomed into our Top Ten Most Beautiful Spots on Earth. There are so many iconic scenes – Bridal Veil Fall, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome – all packed into a few short miles. We spent one day just exploring Yosemite Valley, ending with a light dinner and drinks on the patio at beautiful Ahwahnee Lodge in the shadow of Half Dome.

Another day we hiked into a grove of giant sequoias where we enjoyed a picnic lunch and walked through a tunnel built through the huge stump of one of the trees. (That's it at the top of the post.) A few days later we drove back to Yosemite Valley with our folding chairs, a bottle of wine, and some lunch. We spent the afternoon reading and gazing at Bridal Veil Fall on one side and Horse Tail Fall on the other. With our binoculars we could see rock climbers scrambling across the face of El Capitan like so many ants. What a life. .

But it gets better! A few days later we were in San Francisco watching proudly as our daughter Jennifer collected her doctorate in Pharmacy from San Francisco State. Woo hoo! We’d rented a house close to the university and most of the family showed up for a three-day party. Great fun, great food, surrounded by our nearest and dearest! Who could ask for more? We’re headed for Gold Country next, but even if we find the next mother lode, life couldn’t be better!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Yuma Stopover - April 2008

Our first stop after leaving Scottsdale was Wellton, Arizona, about 30 miles east of Yuma, to visit two of our favorite people. Joe and MJ spend winters at their casita in Wellton and travel in their motorhome for the summer. Not only are they generous hosts, they have a great group of friends who also made us feel at home. Social gatherings are kicked off when the host brings out a gallon jug filled with golden raisins soaking in gin. Plastic spoons are handed out and then the jug is passed around so everyone can have a heaping bite of raisins and “juice.” This may or may not be good for what ails you, but it’s a great way to start a party.

Joe and MJ lured us to Wellton with the promise of an ATV trip onto the Barry Goldwater Military Reservation to see the famous fence being built between Mexico and the U.S. We couldn’t have picked a better day for our trip. The weather was perfect. Not a lot grows in this part of the Sonoran Desert – mostly lots of ocotillo cactus – and they were all in bloom. (That's Ez above next to an ocotillo.) The orange of the ocotillo blossoms stretched for miles across the desert floor. What an amazing sight!

It’s a forty-mile trip from Wellton to the border fence (pretty ambitious, huh?) through lots of rugged country. We saw military camps with soldiers out on maneuvers, but not many other civilians. After miles traveling along dusty tracks and down sandy washes we reached the fence. It’s hard to see how it can keep out any determined terrorists or illegal immigrants (like the pair in the picture!), but we’re told that there are lots of cameras and other technology that have reduced the traffic through this area to a trickle.

After relaxing and enjoying lunch, we headed for home. When we made a brief stop to check out the scenery, we noticed a disturbing development – a big old spike stuck in the tire of the ATV Ez and I were driving – ACK! Stranded in the desert over 30 miles from civilization! After a brief discussion, Joe and MJ decided to head into Wellton while we waited with the vehicle. (I did have a moment of concern when they yelled “We’ll miss you at happy hour!” as they rode off on their mission of rescue. . .) Happily, they were back a little more than two hours later with a truck and trailer. And we had another “brush with death” adventure story to tell for years to come.

Another highlight of our visit was a trip to the Yuma County Fair. This is a typical small town fair featuring lots of arts and crafts, entertainment such as the “bird lady” and the Budweiser Clydesdales, and competitions like the Tortilla Toss and Belching Contest. (Sadly, we missed them.) For the local 4-Hers and FFA members, this is the opportunity to show the livestock they’ve raised. We wandered through the livestock barn and then watched the proud owners trot their animals around the auction ring. The most interesting for me was the cooler with windows where the dressed carcasses were displayed next to photos of the 4-Hers and their stock – each accompanied by a handwritten description of how they had cared for them. Made me recognize how farm kids are raised differently than us city kids. . .

After our brief stopover in Wellton, we’re off to San Diego for a week. More to follow. .

Monday, April 07, 2008

Things to Do in Phoenix in the Winter - February-March, 2008

This is the second winter we’ve spent in Phoenix in the motorhome. Because we lived here for many years before selling our house and retiring, we find it hard to think of ourselves as visitors here. It’s easy to fall into a routine and forget about all of the great things the area has to offer, so we found ourselves making an effort to get out and discover (or rediscover) this part of the southwest.

Puerto Penasco (or Rocky Point as it’s known to the gringos) is the closest Mexican beach resort to Phoenix. It had been several years since we made the four-hour drive to this south-of-the-border destination, so we decided to check it out again. There are lots of new high rise resorts along the beach, but many of the roads are still dusty and bumpy. It was a treat to relax on our balcony overlooking the pool and beach with the port twinkling in the distance. We made our first visit to the legendary JJ’s Cantina in nearby Cholla Bay and checked out the residential areas where Americans are building Scottsdale-style McMansions on the beach. My favorite memory – flaming Spanish coffees prepared tableside while we watched the sun set over downtown Rocky Point.

With all the rain this winter, we’ve had a bumper crop of wild flowers in the desert so we headed out several times to take advantage of this unique opportunity. One day we headed east to Apache Junction, the Superstition Mountains and on to the historic Apache Trail. This is rugged country and the rocky hillsides were covered with a thick blanket of yellow and orange blossoms. It was a perfect spring day so lots of other folks had the same idea. Here’s the crowd at Tortilla Flat, an historic stage coach stop on the Apache Trail that’s now the top choice for lunch with all the nature lovers out enjoying the landscape. After our stop at Tortilla Flat the road turns into a twisted, narrow dirt track where we were briefly delayed by a truck and trailer struggling to navigate a sharp turn from the other direction. After that we continued on past Apache, Canyon and Sahuaro Lakes on our way to Roosevelt Lake. The desert hillsides were so green it reminded us of Ireland! No more close calls, but lots of drop dead gorgeous scenery.

One of our favorite day trips has always been the back road from Wickenburg through Yarnell and on to Prescott. It’s always a pretty drive and we like to stop and check on our niece and her husband who have spent the last nine years building their dream house in the rugged hills above Kirkland Junction. This time we decided to spend the night at the historic St. Michaels Hotel on Prescott’s famous Whiskey Row. The elevator was a genuine antique and our room hadn’t been updated since the Hoover administration, but it overlooked the courthouse square across the street. (The downside – the noisy bikers who emptied out of the saloons below in the early morning hours.) We enjoyed a couple of good meals and took the long way back through Skull Valley – a little community with more charm than its name would suggest.

We made several trips to our building site in Tonto Verde this winter. (We always claim we’re checking on the status of the sahuaro cactus that sits in the center of the lot.) While we’re there we always stop by the nearby ranch owned by the development that sits on the banks of the Verde River. Across the river is a bald eagle nest that is monitored by volunteers or Fish and Wildlife employees and we always bring along our binoculars to check out the activity at the nest. This spring there are three young chicks that are active and thriving. Yea! We’ll think of them often as we explore the northwest again this summer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kicking Back at the Scottsdale Trailer Corral - January 2008

Our home for the last couple of months has been the Scottsdale Trailer Corral located in the heart of downtown Scottsdale. We discovered it by accident when we still lived in the valley and it’s a little gem – probably no more than thirty spaces. It’s kind of tight quarters, but we have a little spot of grass, citrus trees, and hummingbirds that make regular stops at the feeders. Plus we’re within striking distance of all the Scottsdale amenities – overpriced shopping, swanky and not-so-swanky restaurants, golf courses, and so on. . . We even had a front row seat to watch some of the 7,000+ runners in the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon go past our park.

In addition to the winter visitors here, there are a few long term residents, including our eccentric next door neighbor who lives in an ancient mobile home. We hear his TV set going full blast whenever he’s home, punctuated by long strings of invective directed at his poor cat. We’ve spoken to him a few times but never get more than a surly nod in return. Late one night, Ez couldn’t sleep and went outside to finish his cigar. He was startled by a tirade of blue language – “Get the #?#! out of that garbage you #&!$ cat!” – and turned to see our portly neighbor standing buck naked in his living room! Never a dull moment at the Scottsdale Trailer Corral!

We’re both getting in more golf while were back in the “land of a 1000 golf courses.” Ez has hooked back up with his weekly men’s league and I’ve joined a nine-hole ladies group that plays on Thursday mornings. We also try to get to the driving range periodically or play a round together. I’d like to say that my game has improved dramatically, but that would be a lie. It’s fun to get out and enjoy the sunshine and the good company though.

Our holidays this year were marked by a change from tradition. Instead of celebrating in sunny Phoenix as we have for over 20 years, we flew to Portland, Oregon to spend two weeks with our daughter, her husband, and their new adopted daughter Nola. Our other daughter and her boyfriend also joined us there for a busy, fun-filled Christmas. We all complained about the rainy, gloomy weather - until the day it turned to snow and for the first time in ages we enjoyed a white Christmas! (See the photo below.) Of course, the best part was getting acquainted with Nola, an active, confident 21-month-old who kept all of us running in circles. Anyone with kids will remember the joy of watching them the first Christmas they learn to open gifts – sheer pandemonium! Nola is a delight and she enjoyed all the attention she got from her adoring family, but my sympathies are with her parents who were left to undo the after effects of all of our doting. We arrived back in Phoenix on New Years Eve, just in time to unload our bags, mix up a toddy, and crawl into bed to watch Dick Clark ring in the New Year.

A major item on our list for 2008 is to begin serious planning for the new home we will build in nearby Tonto Verde, a golf community about 40 minutes north of Phoenix. We’ve talked and dreamed and fiddled with a floor plan for years now, but since arriving back in the valley we’ve spent lots of time visiting model homes and design centers, researching on the internet, and pouring over magazines. I’ve started to fill an accordion file with clippings and brochures and we spent seven hours (!!) at the local home and garden show. This week we took a big step – we turned that basic floor plan over to a designer who will convert it to actual blueprints! We’ll be working with the designer to make changes and finalize the plan before we leave on our next adventure. Right now we’re talking about leaving in early March for Yuma, San Diego and points north. Stay tuned. . Details to follow. . .

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Almost Home - Santa Fe and Northern Arizona - October 2007

After so many quick stops on our drive across the country, we were ready to kick back and enjoy our week in Santa Fe. We’ve been thinking more and more about building our next house and, since we love the architecture in Santa Fe, we spent lots of time driving through some of the quaint neighborhoods and visiting open houses. We were lucky to run into the contractor at one location and Ez spent over an hour quizzing him about building methods and materials. We made a day trip to Taos in search of the perfect green chile stew that we remembered from an earlier visit but, alas, there was a new chef at the Taos Inn restaurant. His (less than perfect) green chile stew was still pretty good.

We made the required visit to the downtown plaza in Santa Fe and checked out the wares of the Native American vendors under the portico. Then we strolled through shops full of beautiful artwork and handcrafts (and a lot of cheesy tourist souvenirs). And because it’s chile harvest season, we bought a cheery red chile ristra to decorate the entrance to the motorcoach.

Next we left Santa Fe and headed to Page, Arizona for Ez’s high school reunion. The planners put together lots of activities including a great dinner and dance. It was fun for Ez to reminisce with old friends and catch up with folks he hadn’t seen in over 40 years. Not so much fun was the reunion golf tournament that took place on a day when the wind gusts reached over 50 miles per hour! It’s hard to concentrate on your golf swing when you can barely stand up! (That's the Colorado River seen from the Navajo Bridge near Lee's Ferry.)

Our home for our two weeks in Page was the Wahweap Campground which overlooks Lake Powell and is one of the most scenic places we’ve ever stayed. Visiting Page is always a great opportunity to visit with relatives and old friends and explore the red rock country of northern Arizona. This time we really ventured off the beaten path. Our first adventure took us up into Cottonwood Canyon to see the changing colors of the cottonwoods and tamarisk along the Paria River. A few days later our group took off with quads and a 4-wheel drive truck to explore the top of the Vermillion Cliffs that look down on the Paria where it meets the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry. The scenery was breathtaking, but a truly amazing sight was a California condor being harassed by a feisty red-tailed hawk. With its nine-foot wingspan, the condor looked like a B-52 bomber being buzzed by a fighter jet!

Another day we took off with Ez’s brother and his wife to explore the top of southern Utah’s Kaparowitz Plateau. We made our way back and forth up the narrow switchbacks to the top of the mesa for a spectacular view. The “road” down wasn’t much more than a sandy wash scattered with wildflowers that wound its way between steep red cliffs laced with seams of coal. Needless to say, we didn’t run into much traffic on this trip!

There was more great scenery (and more people) on our trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. We hoped to catch the fall colors on the Kaibab Plateau, but only a few aspens still sported their yellow foliage. The view into the canyon was memorable though and we saw dozens of mule deer along the roadway as we headed back at dusk.

Now we’re spending a few days in the Verde Valley in central Arizona. This is a favorite spot, close to Sedona, Jerome and Cottonwood. Yesterday we drove to Clarksville to catch the Verde River Railroad for a scenic trip up the Verde River Canyon to the old town of Perkinsville. It was a brisk, sunny day and we agreed that this trip ranked up there with other train excursions from Durango to Silverton, Colorado and from Chama, New Mexico to Antonito, Colorado. We didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but we were rewarded with a couple of bald eagle sightings! Not bad, huh?

It’s been great to get back to Arizona and the West. We’ve really missed the long horizons and beautiful vistas. We’ll be spending about in week near Fountain Hills before settling into our winter home at the fabulous Scottsdale Trailer Corral. Check back for occasional posts about highlights like our upcoming trip to Portland to visit our daughter and son-in-law and our new adopted granddaughter Nola!!