Saturday, December 31, 2011

AJ, AZ - Happy Birthday

For most people this is New Year’s Eve, for us it is Gary’s birthday. What better way to spend his birthday than by letting him crawl around under our RV and check all the maintenance items? Sounds like a plan to me and I let him do that.
From your hiking honey. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

AJ, AZ - Me, You and the Babbling Brook

Beautiful weather with temps in the 70’s, sunny and one of the last days we’ve got here in Apache Junction. Yep, you know what’s coming next - LET’S GO HIKING. Set the alarm for 6:00, have a quick breakfast and we’re off. We arrived at the trail (the donuts are eaten by now) and notice about 8 cars already there. What time do they get up? Actually, some cars are for people who are camping overnight.
After a short chat with the volunteer Ranger, we headed off .We’ve hiked the first and last parts of this loop but we’ve add a new trail in the middle. We’ve had some rain through December which was snow in the mountains and with the sun we’ve had recently there is a lot of green growth out here in the desert areas. We noticed lots of green meadows where we last saw brown withered grasses. The trail goes up first and then heads down to Boulder Creek where we wanted to take the Boulder Creek Trail.
We usually take the trail less traveled and find ourselves in the wilderness by ourselves. And, isn’t that the point? As we approached the creek bed we came through a riparian area with trees, large bushes and foot-long grasses. Certainly not what we expected in the desert of the Superstition Mountains. Ahead of us was - a couple sitting on a rock at the trail junction eating orange sections. Dressed in their hiking togs: leather boots, combo pants, nylon shirts, hats, camelback packs and poles resting on the rock. Just like us. We could have been twins.

And there was some guy wandering around the hill to the right, up and down then back up. Must be looking for the Dutchman’s mine. Right when you think you’re off the grid and away form civilization, there it is: 3 people at the trail junction. Ah, well. We had a nice chat with the couple who also backpack and do the Rim to Rim in Grand Canyon every year.
Then we were off down the creek. The last time we hiked in the Superstitions, November 30, it was bone dry and the creeks were just a jumble of rocks. We could only imagine the floods that can and have occurred in these areas. Today the creek was a clear bubbling brook tumbling over the rocks. To cross the stream, we had to choose our rocks carefully: big enough to stand on, dry and planted firmly enough to not wobble. We also had to spot the rock cairns amidst the river rocks. This was sometimes difficult. If you look closely, you can see a small cairn at the tip of Gary’s pole.
Now, we truly are away from it all, we saw no one for several hours as we walked along the creek, crossing it numerous times. It was marvelous. We sat on a ‘soft’ rock and ate while we listened to the birds signing and the brook bubbling over the rocks. Can it get any better than this? Here’s Gary sitting on a comfy rock - as if that is not a contradiction in terms
As we headed back into the more traveled area we began to see more people out enjoying the day as we were: young couples, old couples, couples with babies on their backs, families, all hiking and enjoying it. Our last hike in the Superstitions for this year and we made it a great one.
Back at our RV, we were reminded of the song on the birthday card Gary’s sister, Cathy, sent him.

        If you’re older and you know it,
        Crack your knees!
        (creak!) (creak!)

        If you’re older and you know it ,
        Creak your knees!
        (creak!) (creak!)

        If you’re older and you know it,
        And you really want to show it,
        If you’re older and you know it,
        Creak your knees!!!
        (creak!) (creak!)

That’s us all right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Aj, AZ - Music to Eat Pizza By

Last Wednesday, we were invited to eat out at the Organ Stop Pizza with some friends, Wendy and Barry. However, I was not feeling well and we asked for a raincheck - for this Wednesday. We met them at their resort at 2:00, toured it and were on our way. Now, I wondered why we were going so early but it soon became obvious as we hit the parking lot - it was almost full. This place is so popular that, if you want a table before your pizza comes, you’d better get there early. But this is just a pizza joint, why is the parking lot close to full at 4:30? Those of you who have been to Phoenix know - it’s the organ. Organ? Organ? Sure ‘nuf’, one of the largest Wurlitzer organs in the world.

OK, let’s go back a bit. What is a Wurlitzer Organ? During the early days of movies, before they had talkies, they used to have orchestras in the pits, accompanying movies. But this is pretty pricey so, during the Depression, the Wurlitzer Organ was developed to simulate all the instruments in an orchestra but with just one person playing it. Thus, just one salary to pay instead of those for a whole orchestra. This organ was not designed to sound like a church organ but to sound like a whole orchestra.
The Pizza Stop Wurlitzer Organ was built for the Denver Theater in 1927 and used regularly until the early 30’s when it fell into disuse with the advent of talking pictures. Organ Stop purchased the organ in the early 1970’s, began the mammoth project of restoring it to its original glory and installed it into their restaurant in 1975.

But they were not done there, they immediately began to add to it, with a new console, new pipes, and all sorts of other sounds - like the 18 10’ trumpets in the rear of the restaurant - which can be heard throughout the building. Now, the organ has 4 rows of keys and 4 rows of buttons circling the organist to accomplish the many sounds required. Their brochure says that the organ has ’78 ranks, 17 tuned percussions and innumerable traps and effects and is the largest Wurlitzer in the world.’ There are a total of 6,000 pipes and the ceilings are 43’ high to provide acoustics. 

So what in the world are ranks, stops and traps? I sure didn’t know, I just knew that they had to do with organs. Actually, the ranks refer to the number of pipes which are lined up - like ranks of soldiers. The more ranks, the more pipes and the larger the number of sounds the organ can produce. The stops are what control the ranks. If a stop is ‘on’ air will be admitted to that rank of pipes and it will play (wouldn’t you think that is a ‘stop’ is ‘on’ then that rank would NOT play because it is ‘stopped?’ Shows you what I know. Nope, I repeat, when the stop is ‘on’ that rank WILL play.
In organs there can be a stop for: stringed instruments, trumpets, flutes, reed instruments like oboes, duck sounds, marimbas, horns, etc. Thus when the organist plays a key and the trumpet stop is on, the key will sound like a trumpet. Or, if the key is pressed and the marimba stop is on, the key will sound like a marimba. Those yellow, white and red keys above are the stops. Now, probably most of you might already know all this, but I did not and am writing it here so I can remember it. I’m hoping my high school friend, Carroll, who has worked with organs all his life, doesn’t read this, he’ll probably wonder where I’ve been all my life. He can disassemble and reassemble organs which he has done for some of the organs he is the curator for which need to be shipped back to the builder for repairs.
We arrived at 4:30, Barry ordered their pizza while Wendy went to look for a good seat. Gary and I then ordered, got 4 plates, 4 forks, 4 glasses of water, napkins and headed up to the table that Wendy had picked. We had a great seat and could look down on the action on the main floor. Since the organ is elevated above the main floor, sitting on the second floor has its advantages. Between 1/2-hr shows, you can’t see anything of the organ. But, when the show starts, it slowly rises out of the pit on an 8,000 lb rotating hydraulic elevator, the spotlights shine on it and the organist begins.

I’m sure you’ve guessed that there are not many who can play this organ and the Organ Stop has 3 of the world’s best. There is a small box on the stage for requests and he also plays Happy Birthday and announces all the birthdays in attendance. He plays popular songs, big band songs, musical soundtracks, classical - he even played Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody all the way through.
We were especially intrigued by the ceiling fans which were on a pulley system. There were 3 rows of 3 and each 3 in the row were attached to the same pulley. We knew the organ was old and a wonder, we hadn't expected the fans to be intriguing also.

Gary and I ate enough of our pizza to leave some room for a small dish of ice cream which they also serve there. We stayed for quite a while enjoying the music, the show and all the families who were there. As more and more piled into the restaurant, our four seats were getting scoped out. When we finally got up to leave, there was a mad rush for them. Luckily we didn't get mown down by the little old lady with the swinging handbag.

Outside we checked out the 4 turbine blowers operating the bellows pumping air through the organ. One of the turbines is behind Barry in red in the picture. They are small but they are powerful.
Trust me on this, please visit the Organ Stop Pizza when you are in Phoenix. But, arrive early and watch out for the lady with the swinging handbag.

AJ, AZ - And How Did You Spend Your Christmas Vacation?

I can see that I haven’t written a journal or blog entry since the 22nd. Well, what is going on? I can summarize our activities in 3 words:



        Let’s take the first one first. We have two pretty expensive vehicles here and both need maintenance from time to time. Gary has been compiling a schedule of maintenance for the last two weeks. His problem is compounded by the fact that we’ve got a Caterpillar motor, an Allison transmission, and a Roadmaster chassis. (I remember these by the mnemonic of CAR - and, as I get older, I need more of these mnemonics.) All of these have their own separate maintenance schedules and no one at the RV manufacturer which is Monaco has taken the time to compile a schedule for us. Secondly, and you all know this from your own maintenance worries, that the schedule is always stated in time and/or distance. Change your oil every 5000 miles or 4 months, whichever comes first.

        We’re thinking that Gary could spend part of every day in maintenance given that we’ve got at least 500 parts that need maintenance. Luckily, I get ‘stuck’ with the cooking and dishes - better that than maintenance.

        As I mentioned on the 20th, we took the RV in for some routine maintenance and they also checked two items which needed repair and ordered the parts. We went to the library to work on our computers while they had the RV and weren’t called back to the service center until 4:30. Now, we found out as we left the park in the morning that, the lights on the front of the guard booth are on a timer set for dusk and, if they are lit when we return to the park in the RV, they will not be able to park us that night and we’ll have to wait for the morning. They don’t want to park people in the dark since the utility poles are sometimes knocked over by people parking in the dark. Sure puts a bit of pressure on for us to return early enough to get parked.

Gary spoke with the tech and I drove on ahead to the park. As I rounded the corner, I saw that the lights were on. Shucks. I drove up to the booth, put on my best smile, batted my eyelids and said in my breathy feminine voice:

        ‘I guess this means that we won’t be able to park our RV tonight.’ Bat, bat, smile, smile.

        The guard looked around, seeing only me in the car and asked:

        ‘What RV?’

        ‘My husband is driving it and is only 4 or 5 minutes behind me.’ Bat, bat, smile smile.

        ‘OK, if he gets here in 4 or 5 minutes, I’ll be able to park him.’

        And, then I started wishing Gary in.

        Sure enough, Gary rounded the corner about 5 minutes behind me and we got parked. Actually it was a bit of a struggle. The guy was dressed in black, it was dusk and he was standing in back of the passenger side of the RV as Gary was trying to turn into the spot on the driver’s side. Now, the correct way to park a motorhome is for the person directing (me) to be behind the driver’s (Gary) side as the driver is backing up towards the driver’s side. That way both people are on the same side of the motorhome - Gary can see me in his rear view mirror and I can see him in the same mirror. We’ve got eye contact. With this guy, Gary had to look into the passénger side rear view mirror while he’s turning to his left. And, the guy used little bitty finger motions. How did he expect Gary to see them? I use my whole arm while directing. Sometimes I look like a windmill - but Gary can see me directing.

        We’ve also taken the time here in Phoenix to get the Jeep in for some routine maintenance. As part of the routine maintenance in Des Moines, the tech noted some very tiny metal parts (like shavings) in the rear transmission. They replaced this transmission for us but we wanted the transmission checked here, after we’ve done some driving, to see if there are metal parts in this one: to answer the question - was it the transmission or is it the car? Guess what? Checking the transmission is not part of routine maintenance here in Phoenix. It is in Des Moines, it isn’t here. Hmm. Both are Chrysler dealerships.


        We’ve noticed as we have walked through the resort that 4:00 seems to be the party hour - everyone is off the golf course and many have migrated to the decks and patios of all the homes here. Makes you think that all old people do is party. And, we’ve also gotten involved ourselves, us, the original party people. Our neighbors invited us over along with another couple. Then the other couple invited us all over and finally my brilliant idea was to invite them all over for a birthday party for Big Gar which we had last night.

Did we have wine glasses? Nope, but we borrowed some. Did we know what wine to buy for them? Nope but we looked at what they bought for their parties. Did we have any party decorations? Nope but we taped our Christmas cards to the mirror and bought some paper to decorate the food table. Do we have all this stuff at home in Des Moines? Yep, and next year we might bring a bit. But, we just don’t need it much.

And, of course, in the middle of this all was the Christmas party where we sat with these two couples and another at a table for 8. For once, we were able to walk into the ballroom and know the people at our table. Something new. Again, the buffet table was full with lots of good things to eat. There was a 7-layer salad which is my favorite and a cherry trifle. Well, shiver me timbers and give me two bowls, I’m all set. Dessert and a salad - what more do I need? Well, I did try some other foods but had seconds of these two.
        Tonight we finally meet some other friends at the Organ Stop Pizza. But that story is for later. Suffice it to say that we have been busy visiting with others.


        Bills have to be paid and I’ve spent some time on year-end financing. Gary and I keep track of the money spent by my brother and us on a program called Quicken. We also keep track of our investments and his. And, with Medicare starting this year for both Gary and me, I had to make lots of new entries. Sometimes my head was spinning.

        And, then we found a new RV for us - well, actually, we got HIS and HERS - a matched set. But here is the male model. We’re thinking we’ll save a whole lot of money using this. Of course, we might not see as much of the country but, we’ll have strong legs.
         One evening we toured the campground to check out the Christmas decorations. Lots of color here and some even have lights that twinkle in time to the music playing. But one guy really tops the display list. His whole patio is taken up with his displays. When people come near, he uses his remote control to make the snow machine blow snow on them from the roof of his house. This is one small table that he has, he has two others along with various lights and displays around the front of his house. Hundreds of moving parts and many of these decorations are Department 56. I’m not sure I’d leave these out in the weather. But, he has a great time setting up the display and talking to people when they come around to see it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

AJ, AZ - Under the Weather

Today was a day inside. The weather here has been cooler and wetter than normal for Phoenix in the winter and we haven’t been doing as much hiking as we would like.

One of our neighbors stopped by to invite us to a wine cheese and cracker party tonight. We got to talking and she told me about her radical mastectomy in which she also had 21 lymph nodes cut out of her right arm. Now, I’m looking at her and thinking how good she looks, how healthy and how vibrant. I am always amazed at how resilient the human body and the human spirit are. That’s probably a pretty trite thing to say but isn’t it all true. We’re in a 55+ resort and there are all sort of illnesses here. People with walkers and with oxygen tanks. But, on the other hand, it is a very active community: everyone walks, ride bikes, golfs, hikes etc.

We've met some friends here (from Iowa, natch) and they invited us to a little wine gathering last week, along with the woman who had the mastectomy and her husband. Wine and cheese last week, wine and cheese this week. I'm thinking a birthday party with cake and ice cream next week for Gary's birthday. But it is interesting to have people invite us over. Usually, we don't spend enough time in any one place and are usually so busy doing our own things that we don't really meet people well enough to be invited over. I’m not saying that we don’t make friends and don’t talk with others much. We do all the time. Most RV parks and resorts are filled with very friendly people and it’s easy to get into a conversation.

I went out in the afternoon to buy a hostess gift for tonight and stood in line in back of this guy. Now, I’m just not used to seeing a guy carrying a gun in a grocery store. Does he expect to be attacked by a beet in the produce section? Does he think a little grey-haired lady will grab his English muffins in the bread aisle? I just don’t understand.
Yesterday we were supposed to meet another couple (the ones from British Columbia whom we met earlier in October) at a pizza place with a mammoth organ, one of the largest in the US. We were supposed to meet them at 2:00 to tour their resort and then head over to pizza at 3:30. (We both thought this a bit early but went along with the program. We'll skip lunch and have a bigger bed time treat in the evening.) But, in the morning I noticed that I wasn’t feeling too well. So we called and postponed til next week. As the afternoon progressed, I started getting dizzy, headachy, crampy and, after dinner, I lost every single cookie I had eaten all day. Not a pleasant experience but I certainly was glad that I had cancelled the day's entertainment. I went to bed at 9:00, woke up at 8:00 and still feel a bit dragged out. But - not so dragged out that I can't go out tonight to the wine and cheese party tonight. You know me - the party animal.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

AJ, AZ - Spending Money

It’s Tuesday but just one note about Monday and our breakfast out.

We like to patronize the local restaurants wherever we stay so had gone to the Sundance last week. Our first clue that it might not be great was that there were no windows in the place. I don’t understand why restaurants wouldn’t have any windows. Eating in a restaurant without windows is like eating in a cave. Our second clue was that the table was so uneven that we had to change tables. That should have been enough to send us skedaddling out of there but there were lots of cars in the parking lot and the reviews were good.

Well, I’m not sure what those cars were doing but our car will not ever be there again. So, today we hit Micky D’s where we had had a good breakfast several weeks ago. Micky has been in the restaurant business 56 years and still works every day.

Then I looked up and saw two people we knew. What a surprise. So we spent some time talking with them. Good restaurant choice.

Now, back to today.

Sometimes spending money can be so easy. Today was one of those days. We had a problem with our RV and we decided that if we are taking it in we might as well get some of the needed maintenance done, too. Because we had made an appointment for 8:00, we arose at 6:00 so we could do the final things to get the RV ready to roll. We had done lots of them last night but still had a few things to do.

Of course, we have a big diesel engine which can wake the dead so I went out side to check to see which of our neighbors were up. The streets were dark at 6:58 and slowly but surely I saw lights come on in the various homes around us. 7:00 must be the hour. Neighbors awake, we rumbled off.

About breakfast we had a choice: get up early and have breakfast at home or get up later and eat breakfast out after we had taken the RV in. Get up earlier than 6:00? Yeah, right. Nope, we decided to break all rules and traditions and eat breakfast out twice this week. Wow, life on the edge with Nancy and Gary. And, here’s where the edge gets really sharp: we ate at Micky D’s, just like yesterday. We ordered the same thing and almost were seated the same table. Life just can’t get any more exciting than that.

Afterwards we headed over to the library to work. No wi-fi today - they’re fixing it but we’ve got other things to do. About 4:00 we thought we’d better rattle the cage of the service center since they hadn’t called us. Yep, it was ready and so was the bill. Ouch. Who would have thought that maintenance work could cost so much. A filter for $120? Wouldn’t it have been easier and cheaper to wrap two coffee filters together with duct tape?

We also discussed two other problems: the leveler and the microwave turntable.

We have 3 levelers on our RV, one in front and 2 in back. One of the back ones began leaking and didn’t work so we pulled them all up and are now just resting on our tires. Now, who would think that a 30,000 lb. RV on 6 tires would rock and roll when it wasn’t on levelers. Well, sure enough, every now and then, when either Gary or I move through the RV, we can feel its gentle sway. There’s a saying: ‘Don’t come a-knockin’ when the RV’s a rocking’. And, I sure don’t want our neighbors to think any thing askance when they see our RV rocking - it’s only us walking about.

Our microwave has a turntable which does not turn, it only clicks as it hemorrhages trying to turn. No big deal, I just open the oven at intervals and manually turn it. Well, we might as well get it looked at. Guess where the service center is going to get us a new one? Amazon. Yep, Amazon. And, yes, we are going to get a new one. Seems that’s easier than repairing the old one.

The best part about all this is that we have extended care coverage which will pay for it all except for our deductible.

We drove home, set the RV up again and ate dinner.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

AJ, AZ - The Old Grey Mare

And, what’s your soundtrack for the day? Somehow, I seem to be caught on:

        The Old Grey Mare, she ain’t what she used to be
        Ain’t what she used to be
        Ain’t what she used to be
        The Old Grey Mare, she ain’t what she used to be
        Many long years ago.

Well, of, course, sometimes I will have to admit that I feel like the Old Grey Mare. And, guess what, we hiked today which gives me lots of chances for that feeling. Actually, it’s the only nice day in the surrounding five which have featured rain, cool temperatures and dampness and we have either stayed inside to work or have found other things to do, like museums. But today it is sunny and looks like a hiking day.

We arrived at the trailhead and noticed that there was no bathroom. Here’s the dichotomy: when you hike in Arizona you must drink lots of water. All hiking manuals say that, signs at the trailhead say that and every one carries water when they hike. BUT - they don’t put bathrooms at the trailhead so, when you return from your hike and you’ve drunk yourself silly on the hike as the signs tell you to do - don’t you think they might provide a bathroom? Sometimes there is but in this case, nope, nada, nil, zilch.

We started out and immediately noticed that we were walking into the wind. Not only that but we looked ahead, had to crane our necks to look up to find the pass that we had to climb over and saw people on the trail above us - hiking straight up. Oh, oh, there’s that Old Grey Mare feeling.
However, on we hiked, knowing that when we got to the top, the worst might be over. Wow, was the wind ever strong through the pass. This is not the place to stand to relax and congratulate yourself for reaching it. We quickly hiked down to the next trail intersection, where we found 4 people contemplating the trail marker. One was a biker who told us all that he was just waiting for everyone to get out of his way on the trail so he could continue. Well, so much for camaraderie and consideration on the trail. Where is Emily Post when you need her?

The other two were more interesting. The woman asked where we were going and we told her. She looked horrified and said:

        That’s a long way. You have to go down there a ways and take the next trail back.

        Yes, we know, it’s the Windmill Trail.

        I don’t know how much water yo have, but, it’s a long way back. We’ve hiked that.

        Yes, we know, about 10 miles.

        But, it’s steep at the end.

Well, we nod and tell her that we’ll be ok and head off down the trail.
She followed us about 3 feet down the trail, leaned towards us and said:

        But, you don’t understand, the ending trail is awfully steep. Just when you get really tired, you then have to go up to the top of the pass.

While we did appreciate her concern, we did know that the trail went up. We were ready for that.

Do I really look that old? Was my Old Grey Mare showing so much?

Her last words were:

        But that last bit is a real bugger.

Ah, that’s what we haven’t done: develop a bugger scale for the hikes we take.
We hiked on, really enjoying it now that the wind had died down and we were actually going down. Most people hiked just to the pass and turned around. Again, past the pass, we were relatively alone out in the wilderness and loving it. We did meet one biker but that was it until we got to the next trail intersection and turned back towards the trailhead. Here, as we headed back to the trailhead, we began to meet more people.

Wonderful territory to hike through and getting greener because we’ve had so much rain in December. We enjoyed one part of the trail called Inspiration Point and I took a picture of the ‘inspiration.’
Them we actually hit the ‘bugger’ part, which headed up and over the final pass. And, - not so bad. I wasn’t even huffing and puffing. And, from then on, it was all downhill. On our new ‘bugger’ scale, it was about a 2 out of 10.

Then we saw this - a special saguaro which they had replanted near the trail. This is a ‘crested’ saguaro and it occurs in only 1 in 200,000 saguaros.
In the evening we had a special unexpected treat. While we eat dinner, we watch the news on TV and sometimes we have more dinner that there is news. So we watch what ever is on next. Tonight, I was exercising the remote and wasn’t interested in the old TV version of ‘Batman’ nor in watching Bob Vila rehab a house so kept punching that button. Then - we found something interesting: a musical opera with a huge orchestra, chorus and 5 main characters with absolutely marvelous voices singing. We were intrigued and kept watching, enjoying it. Then one of the characters said that his name was Jean Valjean and I realized that this must be Les Miserables. Now, I’ve never seen this and Gary has seen it once maybe at his parent’s home.

We actually watched the whole thing. It was marvelous and we really enjoyed it. Lucky punch of the remote.

Then the Old Grey Mare had to hit the hay.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

AJ, AZ - Apache Trail

Long trip today. Well, not so much long in miles, only 130 or so but we’ll be on a dirt road, winding around mountains and it will be slow. In fact, we started at 9:00 and didn’t get back home until 6:00. But, we had a great time. We chose today to venture out since it’s been raining for the last two days and rain is forecast for the next 3 days. 
Today, however, is perfect weather for our trip: sunny, clear and, though cold enough to wear my down jacket, not so cold that we will be uncomfortable. Above Gary is scraping the ice off our car windshield. ICE?! Sure enough, we can’t escape the ice. It’s been raining for 2 days and the temps got down to the high 20’s. What did we expect?

We began our circle by heading up towards Tortilla Flats on what is called the Apache Trail which is paved to and 8 miles beyond Tortilla Flats.


At the end of the ‘town’ is a low section of the road where the Salt River flows over the road. The river is what brought people to the area but also caused the flooding in 1942 which drove people out. Today, it was not so deep that we could not see the yellow lines of the highway through the crystal clear mountain run-off so we knew we could drive through it. And, on we went. 8 miles past the town is where the pavement ends and the dirt road begins. This is the original ‘Apache Trail’ and it is the roadway that the mainly Apache crew dug out of the mountains so that supplies and people could get between Phoenix and Roosevelt, where the dam was being built. (Now, the whole roadway from Apache Junction to Roosevelt is called the Apache Trail.)

Here’s a view of one part of the road from a scenic viewpoint across the canyon. What a marvel of engineering and workmanship. But look at that rugged county and the rock from which the road was carved.
Designated a ‘Scenic Byway’ in 1998, it winds through, around, and past some to the most scenic country in Arizona. The information we had says it is ‘safe for all but the reckless driver.’
The most exciting part of the trail is the Fish Creek Canyon section. Here it took 150 men, mostly Apaches, to build this road up the steep sheer cliff face. At times it is so steep that fills 75’ high were needed to build a usable road bed. In other places, rock had to be cut down 70’ to get to a flat surface for the road bed. Is it any wonder that the road bed is wide enough for only one car? But, wait a minute, this is a two-way road, both to and from Roosevelt to Tortilla Flats. How does that work? Well, Gary and I are about to find out. Luckily we’ve started out early so that we don’t expect much traffic.
The trick is to drive the Apache Trail in a clockwise direction - so that you are on the INSIDE of the road. Especially on the Fish Creek part of the road where the road drops 800’ in 1 mile along a sheer cliff and where the road narrows almost to a one-way road with a sheer cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Be sure to check ahead of you to see if anyone is coming. Oops, the road winds so much that you can see ahead only to the next curve 20’ away. But, truth to tell, at one point I was able to look down at the bottom of the cliff and see another car turning to come up the hill. We were able to pull off to the right a bit and he barreled on by - he must drive this every day. I’ve heard that wide pick-ups sometimes have to pull in their mirrors to get down the road. By the way, are we thinking that the 2’ tall guard rail is going to hold us? Nope, that’s why we’re on the inside.

Look at the second picture here where you can see the hood of our car. That’s a narrow road.

Here’s the view on our GPS in our iPhone. We are where the blue arrow is, making a sharp turn on the road. We are going to wind our way up to the final curve, curve right 180 degrees and then plummet down the cliff face to the bottom where we will make another 180 degree curve to the left, cross over a bridge and head out. The picture above shows the bridge and the gorge it spans and you can see our car on the right at one of the widest spots on the road. Remember, go clockwise.
Did I say precipitous? Did I say thrilling? Did I say a marvelous feat of construction? It is all of those and beautiful at that. Well, maybe I didn’t notice the beauty - I was too busy holding onto my seat and staring straight ahead. No, actually, it was a thrilling ride and we could only appreciate the sheer audacity of it. Interestingly enough, motor trips to Roosevelt Lake along this road became most popular in the early part of the 20th century. There were also races along the Fish Creek section to see who could go the fastest ascending or descending. However, the US Forest Service quickly banned these when one driver died.

The rest of the trail is not so thrilling but the views of the snow-capped mountains, the azure blues of the reservoirs along the trail and the Sonoran Desert are truly amazing. I’d recommend this road for anyone to enjoy. We turned off the road to take the short paved road down (and down is the operative word here) to the Apache Lake marina and resort. Today, there were very few people around but the other 3 seasons are wild since every one is trying to escape the heat in Phoenix. We spoke with one employee who seemed to be holding the fort herself and she told us that she wanted to live no where else. And, look at these views? Wouldn’t you want to wake up to these sights every day?

We then returned to the Apache Trail and wound our way along it to the Roosevelt Dam which is the end of the actual dirt road Apache Trail and the intersection of rte 88 to the east and 188 to the northwest.


That’s the world famous Roosevelt Dam above. When it was built between 1903 - 1911, it was the world’s largest masonry dam at a height of 280’ and a length of 723’. Roosevelt Lake behind it is 23 miles long. It was constructed by Italian stone masons using stone quarried from the cliffs surrounding it. The first block was laid in 1903 and, when the last block was laid in 2011, 350,000 cubic feet of block had been cut and lifted into place by block and tackle.
Given the 10-ton weight of these huge stones, it was not uncommon for the hoists to buckle and break and the stone dropped into the construction site below or slammed into the canyon wall. Twice during construction, the area was flooded and construction had to begin anew.
Those hired as common laborers earned $2.50 while the more skilled workers like the stone masons, powdermen and blacksmiths earned $4.00 - $5.00 per hour. They lived in a town named Roosevelt which at its height had over 2000 residents. Their homes were often tents and/or tent houses and many had their families with them. These tent homes must have been very cold in the winter and warm in the hot desert sun in the summer. The original homes lacked running water and electricity, but when the town was rebuilt these were available. There was a school, ice cream parlor, theater, dance halls, restaurants, a baseball team, bowling alley and other types of recreation.

Between 1989 and 1996, the dam underwent extensive renovation, was raised 77’ to allow for more water storage and the original masonry structure was encased in concrete. Because of these renovations, the dam lost its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It just wasn’t the same dam and today you can’t see the original 10-ton blocks now.


After we toured the dam Visitor Center, we headed on down the road to the Tonto National Memorial. We don’t miss a National Memorial. Because the Salt River ran through this area, a people called the Salado began building their homes in caves around 1250 A.D. Protected from the elements, these homes survived until today - except for the vandals and relic hunters . They stole things like pottery and tools and even stones from the walls.
To say that they are up a steep cliff is an understatement. The cliff below this home is covered with small, slippery rocks. Climbing would be tricky. And, then, they used a ladder to get to a V in the wall which they used as their original entrance. Gary is standing on rock which is even with the floor of the first story in the home and pointing to the original entrance.
What I found incredible is that you can actually see fingerprints and hand prints in the mortar they used to make their walls. Here, if you look carefully, is a hand print of someone patting the mortar around and between the rocks to make their home solid.
We had a great day. The weather was wonderful and our timing was superb. We saw everything we wanted to see, and, as we were leaving to come home, the sun was setting on the hills beyond. The snow capping the mountains in the distance was frosting on the cake.

As we crested a hill, we came upon an RV at the side of the road with a flat tire. It was about 5:00, close to dusk, the RV had one kid we could see, a dog we could hear, two women and one man. He had taken off the hub cap and the lug nuts and one of the women was calling a tire company to see if they had the right size. We asked if we could do anything but they said they had it well in hand. But it was close to dusk, they hadn't found a tire nor a mechanic and they had to be in El Paso by 7:30 in the morning.

Gary and I, who have found ourselves at the side of an interstate with a broken brake line, again remembered why we have a service which will do all this for us.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

AJ, AZ - Rainbow

We’ve had rain for two days now and, not just a light sprinkle, but a steady rain, not like what Arizona usually has. In the Phoenix area, it averages 7+” of rain a year. This year they’ve had 4+” (and it’s almost the end of the year) now, including the 1-2” that came over the last two days. 10 days to the end of the year, and it’s still 3” low.

However, here’s the rainbow we saw tonight when the sun shone through the clouds for a few minutes. I’ve never seen a full arcing rainbow with a very defined beginning and end. It was still raining where we were and some raindrops got on my camera lens.
In the evening we went next door for a small get together. Our neighbors are from Cedar Rapids and the other couple was from Minnesota. There are lots of Iowans down here in Arizona. Just about everywhere we go, we meet another person from Iowa.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

AJ, AZ - A Six-Fer or 2 Three-Fers

Today, we bundled 6 things into a single day. We didn’t get home until late but had a great time in the process.

Our first goal was to get rid of our recycling. We recycle extensively in Des Moines but find it a bit difficult to do on the road. Since we have not been staying at campgrounds which recycle, we have been carrying around a few grocery bags full of papers, newspapers, clean cans, clean bottles and clean plastic containers. A few weeks ago we noticed several recycling containers near a park and today we are going right by that park. Let’s recycle. Since the neighborhood gets any money from the recycling, they can have ours.

In Phoenix is the Pueblo Grande Museum and the Hohokam village which instigated it. We had planned to visit this sometime while we were in the Phoenix area but for one weekend in December they hold an Indian Art fair and we decided to combine the two. The art fair is held in a dirt parking lot near the museum and there were venders throughout the lot along with food vendors on the side. There was also a stage where they had scheduled entertainment.
What beautiful art we saw here. There were jewelers, katsina makers, basket weavers, artists, potters, rug weavers, and a variety of other arts shown. Were these museum quality pieces - I’m thinking that many were. I know I sure liked them and appreciated the intricacies of them. One silver bracelet had inlays of stones with tiny holes drilled in them for silver points. Of course, the prices reflected the artistry and time needed to design and execute the piece. This bracelet was priced at $750.00. Well worth it in design but not what I was going to pay.
Here are some of the katsinas and here is a rug weaver plying her trade at the fair. She had no rugs for sale in her booth but had an album of her work and took orders.
We also enjoyed the music and the dancer who were both on the stage. The musician played the violin and an dilute to the accompaniment of a drum. He was quite a showman and his artistry is well known. He is going to play one of his own pieces with the Chandler Symphony in the spring.
But it was the Derrick Suwaima Davis, a hoop dancer that we enjoyed the most. He has won 5 World Hoop Dancing Championships. In the spring every year, the Heard Museum holds the hoop dancing championships. Now, I didn’t know what hoop dancing was but I’ve got a pretty clear idea now. What an unexpected treat to see this world champion hoop dancer at this smaller art show on a Sunday in December. Especially since we hadn’t expected this.
At one time he twirled two hoops on his arm, one above the elbow and one below. No big deal, you say. Well, the hoops were twirling in different directions: one going clockwise and the other going counterclockwise. Oh, yeah, did I tell you that he is dancing at the same time in and out of the other 3 hoops. Me? I always thought patting my head and rubbing my tummy was difficult.

At one point he has one hoop lying on the dirt, he steps into it and, quicker than my eye can follow, his feet have picked the hoop up and it is around his knees.

At another point, he has interlocked 4 hoops, placed them on the found and, as he is jumping over this ball of hoops, he jumps through the 5th hoop he has in his hand.

If you want to see his championship dance, log on to this site.

And, for more of hoop dancing and to see the 2011 winners, log on to this site. Check out the dance of Tony Duncan, the 2011 winner.

Meanwhile, if you’re ever in Phoenix in February, check out the championships.

When Davis was done with his hoop dance, we got to hear something from the other members of his ‘band’, one of whom was from Japan. He had come to America to become a rock star but is now playing instruments for Native American dancing. What a journey that has been. Of all the songs he chose to play from his native country, he chose - are you ready? - Sukiyaki, a hit from the 60’s.

Next we headed over to the Museum which was connected to the Hohokam ruins in the courtyard. The Hohokam numbering about 40,000 lived in the Valley from 1A.D. to 1450 and built some 60 - 130 miles of canals extending 1000 miles to irrigate their 100,000 acres of crops. This area used to be dotted with dozens of Hohokam villages and farmsteads, growing squash, corn, beans and cotton. All that is left now is a ball court where they competed, some adobe walls and some slight indentations in the ground where their canals used to be. What is amazing is that they built designed this massive canal system and built it using only the most rudimentary of tools: a digging stick, a stone hoe and a stone weight.

I found the usage of the stone weight the most interesting. Obviously canals need to be built on a slant so that the water moves around from the water source to the first field, to the next and around all the fields to the last one on the line.To get this slant correct and consistent so the water didn’t pool in one place took exact measurement and they did this with a stone hanging from a stick, a rudimentary transit which surveyors use.

There was a diagram of this area with what is the archeologists’ best guess of where some of their canals were. Note how extensive the canal system was. It is throught that the canals in Phoenix today are merely ‘re-digs’ of the original Hohokam canals.
There was also a mural on an opposite wall with a theorized Hohokam village and fields.
We left the museum and the grounds, walked through the lot where the Indian artists were packing up and headed out to our car. Our goal next was to see the Morman church in Mesa which has a huge lighting display each Christmas season. However, it was only 4:30, time for dinner and we hadn’t had anything since breakfast. We found the closest In-N-Out only about a mile away. Now, if you’ve followed this blog, you know that Gary and I like In-N-Out, the only fast food we will eat. It is fresh, it is good and it is inexpensive.

Now, fed, we are off to Mesa to see the huge lighting display of the LDS, Mormon, church. And, huge it is. Here are some pictures of what we saw. But what we enjoyed the most was the crowd. We hadn’t expected so many families milling about. There were many extended families, many mom/pop/child families and lots of couples also. And all were chattering, oohing and aching, pointing out their favorite lights and taking pictures. A friendly crowd. There was also a choir which sang. Here are some of the lighting displays.
And finally, after such a fun filled day, we headed home with a 6-Fer under our belts: recycling done, Indian Art Fair, a world champion hoop dance artist, the Hohokam Museum and Pueblo, dinner at In-N-Out and the LDS lighting display. This will be difficult to top. Especially since we’ve got 2 days of rain in the forecast. We’re thinking laundry, Christmas cards and bill paying.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Aj, AZ - Tortilla Flats with Friends

In October when we were In Mexican Hat, UT, on our way through the 4 Corners region of the US, we met a couple, Wendy and Barry, from British Columbia, Canada. Since we were all going the same direction, staying in the same campgrounds and visiting the same sites, we saw each other every day for about 4 weeks. That was fun and something new for us since we usually travel alone. However, they went to California in November while we came to Apache Junction.

However, coincidently they are also now in the Apache Junction area and we met them and journeyed up to the Tortilla Flats area for lunch. It is a beautiful trip through some immensely rugged country but the payoff at the end is stupendous: a beautiful blue reservoir with a marina surrounded by mountains and a quirky town, Tortilla Flats, with a restaurant, gift shop, store with prickly pear ice cream and a very small museum.

We met them at the Superstition Mountain Museum which we had toured a few weeks ago. They toured it before we got there. Though it was sunny, It was a breezy, cool day but luckily we had all brought jackets - all except yours truly. I had on a short sleeve t-shirt and a sweater. I guess I was counting on the sun.

We enjoyed listening to their adventures since we last saw them and we told them about what we had seen in Phoenix. We also exchanged stories of things that had gone wrong with our RV’s. We told them about our water spot on the floor and they told us about the tow bar for their car which they are getting replaced at no expense. Stories of adventures and places to visit are fine but the stories of things that can go wrong with a rolling home are not so much fun.

But the views on our trip were stupendous. Of course it was a beautifully sunny day and the lake was deep blue and the hills on the opposite side were crisp and clear. The road twisted, curled and wound around the mountains as it climbed up towards the reservoir. Some of the turns were 10 mph as we made a complete 180 degree swing around a cliff face. But every turn brought another stupendous view.

How about a little history? Tortilla Flats is the smallest official US ‘community’ with a US Post Office and voter’s precinct. It has - get this - 6 residents. Just enough for a game of Monopoly. It began as a stop on the Apache raiding route. Later prospectors camped here on the Salt River while searching for the gold in the Superstition Mountains. But the town got its name from the cattle drives which went through here to get from Globe to Phoenix. On one drive, the cowboys were celebrating their successful drive and sale of cattle in Phoenix so much that they forgot to buy supplies for the trip back to Globe. Oops. All they had was some flour to make tortillas when they arrived in this spot.
When plans for the Roosevelt Dam were completed, they determined that the quickest and shortest route between Phoenix and Roosevelt was through Tortilla Flats. A road, called the Apache Trail (more about that later) was built between 1903 and 1905 and Tortilla Flats became an overnight stop for supply wagons and stages going to Roosevelt. It blossomed into a roaring camp with 125 residents and has a school, church, small zoo, saloon (of course), cafe and motel. When Roosevelt Dam was completed a few years later, it became a tourist attraction and thousands took stage coaches up the Apache Trail through Tortilla Flats to the dam site. A flood in 1942, fires in 1924 and 1987 hampered this growth and, though the town survived, it was reduced to the buildings which are there now.

Is it a scene out of a Western? Almost - except for all the cars parked in front.

Inside the small museum here is a listing of al the former owners of the property what they paid and what they did. At one time, the town was even for sale on Ebay. This museum, which used to be the schoolhouse, has many other pictures and relics from Tortilla Flat’s past.

The restaurant at Tortilla Flats is quirky to say the least. On the walls are stapled what amounts to $160,000 (owner’s estimate) in dollar bills. People have been putting bills on the walls and beams for so long that now they are being stapled to the ceiling. These days you can’t put your own dollar bill up but must ask a wait person to do it for you. The restaurant actually burned down some years ago and, when people heard about it, flooded the owners with dollar bills to put up when they built the new restaurant. While building, they placed the bills in a big pot which was stolen one night. Inside job, they think.
The bar has bar stools which have saddles on them and you’ve got to choose the right size saddle or you’ll be uncomfortable during your meal. On the other hand, we just posed on the saddles, we ate at one of the tables.
After lunch we popped into the small store where they had the prickly pear ice cream. Now, I know I never thought of ice cream when I was hiking and had to step around a prickly pear cactus. Does this look like an ice cream source? Who was the person who said I think I’ll take this cactus, pick off the spines, freeze it, and make it into ice cream?
But, some one did and it taste great. It is pink and tastes like a strawberry, raspberry mix and is very delicious. Oh, you say, all ice cream is delicious. That it is but who thought that prickly pear ice cream would be delicious?

We walked around, explored the museum, walked through the campground there, got back in the car and returned to Apache Junction.

Beautiful drive through the rugged territory of the Superstition Mountains, quirky town at the end, ice cream and fine company.