Taking a break from the heat in Flagstaff

Spoiler alert...it's hot in Arizona. Even with humidity levels around 10%, the heat is always here and baby...it's hot! Yesterday hit 109. The locals say it takes about a year to get used to it. I think it's a local myth...just like everyone in Florida tells you that you get used to the humidity. Nope, it's a lie. You don't. You just learn to live with it. Just as we did in Florida, you don't go out a lot between 11:00 and 5:00...and here you really don't go out for a walk until after sunset. For those of you reading this who've never been to Arizona, the sun is much hotter here than in other areas. Not only are you up higher (elevations in Sedona, for instance, are around 5000' and Flagstaff is around 7,000'), but the atmosphere is crystal clear with no haze, smog, etc. which filters the sun in most areas of the country. The UV factor is 30% to 50% higher here. I think the old cowboys must have died from skin cancer long before whiskey and gun fights took them.

So...we decided to take a break from the heat and headed up to Flagstaff, or "Flag" as everyone here calls it. The temps dropped about 20 degrees there and it felt great. The evening was even better, with temperatures dropping into the 60's. In the valley where we live, we won't see temps that low until October or November. We loved it.

Flagstaff is a very cool college town. Lots of micro breweries and coffee shops. When I say lots of breweries, I mean like one brewery on every block in the historic downtown area. Ditto for the coffee shops. They all roast their hops and their beans...no store bought stuff served here. As a student...this place would be heaven. Study a while, walk into town, great some great local beer...then head to a coffee shop for a quick expresso...and back to the dorm to study some more. Or...forget the study part and just head into town and drink beer. Life is so good when you're 18. 

Flag is also a famous town because Route 66 runs right through the center of town and all the old historic hotels and the old train station (still being used by the way) are still there. The best part is...they kept their old fluorescent signs from the 20's, 30's and 40's.....as in "Rooms for $5" and "steam heated indoor garages" (it gets really cold in Flag in the winter). The next time we go, I'll take some pictures of these great old signs. Kudos to the town and the merchants for not replacing them.

Flagstaff is also one of the gateways to the Grand Canyon and there are visitors there from all over the world. Over 5 million people a year visit the canyon and the numbers go up every year. We've been there and we plan on going back...but it will be in the winter after schools start back up and some of the tourists go home (I'm not sure that happens any longer, as international visitors don't plan their trips around our seasons or holidays). But that's our plan anyway.

Heading home, we stopped off in Sedona. What a beautiful area...but what a frustrating place to visit. The phrase "loved to death" fits Sedona perfectly. There are people everywhere and this is a very small town. Roads are packed, restaurants are packed, trails are packed, etc. The only way to get free of the madness is to hike away from town. Since my back won't tolerate hiking and the temperature was around 100 that day, we decided to pass. Maybe in December? Stay tuned.

Cheers!

Wayne, Claudia and Tuck

Is it green in Arizona you ask?

Well, after many requests from my hundreds of readers (actually, I think the number is about 6), asking "what does it look like in Arizona", "what does your neighborhood look like", "does anything grow in the desert", "are there snakes, coyotes, mountain lions and other evil creatures in your yard", "are there mountains near you"....and a few others I've forgotten...I decided to load up a few pictures. This morning, we had a very rare rain shower (for this time of year) move through and I took advantage of the beautiful clouds and muted light to run out and shoot a few pictures of the neighborhood, the golf course, the local Verde mountains, our yard, etc. I promise to add more when I can remember to take along my camera. I have to tell you this...the morning and afternoon light here is amazing. It has a yellow cast, unlike any I've ever seen. I now really understand why Georgia O'Keeffe moved to New Mexico to paint and why so many photographers love to do landscape work in Arizona (I'm planning on doing lots of it).

To answer a few of the above questions: Yes, it's green here. The John Wayne cowboy movies never showed it, but the desert is very much alive and beautiful plants live everywhere. Some bloom in the morning, some only at night. We even have orange groves (the orange blossom honey is great) nearby and a pecan orchard down the road. Both of those are on the local Indian reservation (yes folks, it's actually OK to use the term "Indian"). When I was in high school, my English teacher was a Native American and he was adamant that we not use the term "Indian". Times have changed. Now, the older generation like to be called American Indians and the younger generation often use the term "indigenous" or even "aboriginal". The Indians were here roughly ten thousand years before "America" was even a gleam in the eye of the Spaniards or the English....and they want and rightly deserve to be referred to in a way that references that history.

Now, on to the critters. Yes, there are critters out here in the desert. So far, we've had a small bobcat walk right up on our patio. He was looking for one of our quail, who live in the tree by the patio. You probably won't believe this, but the quail hop up into the tree! Yep, I didn't believe it either, but they do. Anyway, as soon as Tuck saw him and let out a howl that raised the dead..he took off and we haven't seen him since. That's a good thing...Tuck wouldn't stand a chance in a face to face battle with a desert-hardened animal who has to kill to survive, even though Tuck outweighs him by at least 40 pounds. Labs are lovers, not fighters. So far, I've seen one snake...and he was crossing the main road into Fountain Hills. I've seen only one coyote running across a neighbors yard, but we can hear them howl at night. Hey, we had coyotes in Punta Gorda....what's the big deal? Anyway, they sound cool. We've seen a couple javelinas (for those of you who don't know about them, they look sort of like a Vietnamese pot belly pig...but meaner). So far, that's about it. Stay tuned....that could change any day. This is, after all, the desert.

That's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Wayne, Claudia & Tuck (the bobcat ninja)

 

The Wagon Train reaches Arizona!

Yippee...we've arrived...let the adventure begin.! We're now in cowboy country...time to shop for snake skin boots, a whole new set of clothes, Southwestern furniture and most importantly, a new blender to make margarita's (the state drink). We both grew up in Kentucky, where the mint julep is the state drink. Sorry to all my Kentucky buddies...I never really liked them, too sweet and a waste of good bourbon. I'll take a margarita anytime. Frozen or on the rocks....who cares baby, it's got tequila.

Anyway, after a grueling week of packing up and loading the Penske truck, we headed out of California early Saturday morning for Scottsdale (actually Rio Verde, which is outside of Scottsdale, up in the high desert). For anyone who has followed the blog over the past year, you'll no doubt recognize our RAM truck (Old Red) pulling the trailer (which usually carries the BMW Isetta). Since we had already taken the Isetta to Arizona (in January), we filled up the trailer with my tools, my photography equipment, our Weber grill and lots of odds and ends that you always end up with at the last moment when moving. Where did we get all this stuff?. And...you'll also recognize the 27' Penske truck, the same length we used when we moved out here from Florida. The biggest difference this time was that we added a 20' car carrier behind the Penske truck to haul our vintage 1958 Volvo. This additional length caused lots of problems when we had to get off the interstate to look for diesel fuel. Here's a tip for anyone attempting a move like this....only fill up at big truck stops! Don't even think about exiting the interstate onto a random road into a random town. Read on.

So here we are on the outskirts of Pasadena, CA and we're trying to figure out where the next truck stop is so I can get some diesel fuel (it takes $250 to fill it up by the way....yikes). I forgot to add how stupid I was passing up a huge truck stop about 100 miles back down the road. Cardinal rule #1...never, ever pass up a big truck stop. Getting into Pasadena, we quickly realize that there are no truck stops anywhere, as the exit we choose lead us right into downtown Pasadena. On Easter Sunday. Great. So, with me watching the fuel light blinking "empty", we find a station. Whoops, the truck is too tall to get under their gas pump canopy. We drive on. We find another station. Whoops, the turn getting into the station is too sharp for me to maneuver the nearly 60' length of truck and carrier. Damn. We drive on. We find another station, but the diesel pump is located too close to the building and I can't get in without having to back out. That's not going to end well.  We find another station with great entry and exit areas. BUT....they don't sell diesel. If you heard some really loud cussing Sunday afternoon, that would have been me. Finally, with me running on fumes, we find a solitary station with a single diesel pump on the outside of the lot. VICTORY! We fill up and after an hour of wandering through downtown Pasadena (a really pretty town, by the way), we get back on the interstate and begin the final leg into Mesa, where we spent the night. Did I mention we were exhausted?

I'll make the last part of this post brief. We got up early Monday morning, drove to our self-storage area where we stored the Isetta, unloaded the Volvo, dropped off the car carrier, drove to Rio Verde, met the moving crew at 11:00, unloaded the truck and the trailer and collapsed around 5:00 that afternoon. We did it. Hell yes.

Cheers,

Wayne, Claudia & Tuck

 

 

 

Heading to Arizona...the Snider's are on the move again!

A big shout out to anyone still reading the blog! You truly have a lot of patience and find joy in reading boring exploits from a family exploring the country with their faithful yellow lab sleeping in the back seat. Tuck, we love you buddy.

Seriously, I haven't written much lately, as we've been pretty damn busy getting ready for the move to Scottsdale (actually Rio Verde, which is outside Scottsdale). Between boxing up stuff, weeding out even more clothes (in Arizona, you basically only need shorts, tees and sandals...yippee) for the local missions and selling even more of our furniture, we haven't had any time for traveling. But, never fear....as soon as we're settled, we're hitting the road to explore more of Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Mexico (probably where we're going to live in the Summers). Mexico is super affordable, has amazing food, a great climate and best of all...they hate Trump. What's not to like? So stay tuned. We're also thinking of starting a YouTube channel when we head down to Mexico to document all the stuff that everyone keeps asking us about....how are the roads, what do the houses look like, are people still getting murdered in the streets (no, that only happens here now), what is the healthcare like, should I live in the mountains or near the ocean, does anyone speak English, etc., etc. If you're just now getting serious about living somewhere other than Hometown, USA...check out International Living. It's a great magazine that profiles lots of areas around the world that are quickly becoming go-to retirement locations. 

That's about it for now. I'll add a new post and some pictures the first week in April....and I'll be sitting outside on the lanai wearing shorts and sandals....which I'm definitely not doing now.

Cheers!

Wayne, Claudia & Tuck

SEASON'S GREETINGS FROM ALL OF US!

It's been an amazing year for us...almost too much to remember. For those of you who have followed the blog and the pictures, you already know about our journey. Since leaving Florida, we've driven almost 40,000 miles exploring the Wild Wild West (what a great show that was) and we have so many places left to go it will take us many years to see them all. So much to see....so little time. So true. Life is brief...go out there and live it.

2018 will be another travel year for us. We've decided that Northern California isn't going to be our permanent home after all....and the more we travel, the more cool places we find that might just be "our next home". We're heading to the Scottsdale area in late February or early March to try out that area for a year. The Phoenix/Scottsdale area is the fastest growing metro area in the country right now and after visiting it several times this year, we can easily see why. With one of the sunniest climates in the world, great neighborhoods, tons of culture, world-class restaurants, state of the art medical facilities and geographically located near lots of national parks and to Mexico (also, on our list of places to check out), it fits a lot of our requirements.

I promise to do a better job of sitting down and writing now that the holidays are almost over. In the meantime, we hope that you and your family have a wonderful and safe holiday season and a very happy 2018! Hope to see you out on the road....

Cheers,

Wayne, Claudia, Katie and Tucker

Another car auction in Vegas, visiting Phoenix and Sedona (again)

The latest car auction took us back to Las Vegas...and with a major creep factor...to Mandalay Bay, the site of the recent shootings. As my Uber driver pulled up to the convention area near the hotel, the median in the street was lined with the crosses of each person shot. Lots of media there, as well as relatives and others who were just curious. From where I entered the building, I could look up at the 32nd floor where it all started. It was surreal...and another reminder just how fragile life can be. Get out there and live it every day, as tomorrow is promised to no one. 

Unfortunately, I found nothing to buy. Actually, I'll rephrase that...I couldn't find anything I could afford to buy, or should buy. The last couple auctions had "project" cars and motorcycles. Not this one...only the very high end cars showed up. But I made some good contacts for the next show coming up in January 2018.

After Vegas, we headed to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area to check out the real estate market. There's A LOT going on in Phoenix. As a matter of fact, we found out it's the fastest-growing city in the country. Lots of culture, great food, beautiful homes, more shops than you'll ever need and a wonderful climate (at least for 9 months of the year)...what's not to like? And we did. We explored the whole area, checked out a Farmer's Market, went in a few "Open Houses" for sale near Scottsdale and joined our VRBO host at a car show near his home. This particular car show is the longest-running weekly car show in the country and the McDonald's that hosts it is the #1 McDonald's in the country. Claudia and I enjoyed it, but Tuck...bless his heart...was majorly freaked out by the noise of the street rods and the motorcycles cruising the lanes. And here's an odd fact that we learned while visiting: Much of the areas around the town are on the Indian Reservation...aka "the Rez". At the car show, there were no Phoenix police present...only the reservation police. When we first started watching the Netflix series "Longmire", we had no idea about the relationship between the local, state and federal police and the reservation officers. Guess what...the reservation officers answer to no one on Indian property. They are in complete control. And you know what...they've earned it.

We took a day trip from Phoenix out to Sedona, just to see if we could actually avoid some crowds. We failed. It's a shame that the same federal officials who did such a marvelous job establishing our national parks didn't have the foresight to do the same to Sedona. Had they made it a national park back in the 30's, it would be a jewel today. Don't get me wrong, it's still drop-dead gorgeous, but you have to put up with a lot to enjoy it. We did figure out that there are some 4-wheel drive only roads in the area...and we plan to visit those on our next visit (yes, there will definitely be another).

That's it for now. Cheers!

Wayne, Claudia and Tuck

We visit Death Valley...and the Fall colors in Yosemite

I grew up watching Western movies, both on the big screen and weekly television shows. The list of shows is a long one, but I sure remember Bonanza, Wagon Train, Batt Masterson, The Rifleman, Yancy Derringer, Rawhide, Gunsmoke and The Wild Wild West, just to name a few. And...most, if not all, were filmed at one point or another in and around Death Valley. Even as a 10-year old, I remember thinking how awful the place looked and wondering how anyone could survive it. As it turns out, the TV producers only told part of the story. Figures.

We visited Death Valley last week on a relatively cool day...the high was only 98...a little warm for October. It is truly a desolate, remote, dry, vast expanse of sand, salt, borax, rocks and scrub brush, but it also has colored rock layers, beautiful sand dunes, over a 1,000 kinds of plants, 51 species of native mammals, 307 species of birds, 36 species of reptiles, three species of amphibians, and five species of native fish. Who knew? The Shoshone Indians, that's who. They have lived in the area for over a thousand years and have figured out a way to exist in the lowest and hottest place in the country. Since dogs aren't allowed on any trails, we had to stick to the paved or graveled roads and thus we only saw a tiny portion of the park. The true beauty lies in the canyons and sand dunes only accessible via the many hiking paths that run through the park. Visitors from all over the world (over a million a year) come to visit and the day we were there, we heard German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Slavic and I believe Swedish. That's a lot of rented minivans!

Last, but not least, I found out from the park website that Death Valley is considered a "Gold Tier Sky Park"...meaning it's one of the best places in the world to view stars. I think the gold prospectors figured this out when they passed out from the heat and cheap whiskey and woke up later in the night lying on their backs looking up at the stars. Just a theory.

Will we ever go back? Never is a long time, but I doubt it. We'd rather view the stars from The Great Basin. They have water there.

Cheers!

Wayne, Claudia and Tuck

A visit to Mendicino, the giant redwoods, searching for Sasquatch and Crater Lake

We hit the road again last week....can you believe it, it's been almost a month since our last trip. This time we weren't exploring places to live, but simply enjoying the beautiful coastlines of California and Oregon and then over to visit Crater Lake. The Oregon coast is rugged, hilly, remote and beautiful. It's also the home of the Sasquatch monster.  Although we saw lots of signs advertising Sasquatch sightings, alas, we never saw the big hairy guy. I can't say whether he exists or not, but after visiting the area, I can definitely understand how anyone or anything could disappear up there. Elvis sightings anyone?

I'll write more later, but for now I've added a few pictures of the trip.

Cheers,

Wayne, Claudia and Tuck

The BMW Isetta wins an award

Finally...some news to report on the blog! Yippee!

One of the local car clubs here held their annual car show at the Nevada County Fairgrounds last weekend. This is a big show and the site is great for showing off vintage cars and trailers. Lots of trees and grass, plenty of food vendors and cars from all over California. In a brief moment of insanity, I decided to enter the old Volvo and the Isetta. Little did I know that this show is basically for American-made-only cars and trucks. We found that out pretty quickly after walking around the show on Friday. The only other import there was a Mini Cooper woodie wagon, which is owned by the sponsor of the show. Now to the good news.

On Saturday morning, a group of judges walked up to me and Claudia and told us that our little Isetta had won an award for "Most Unusual". Really? This was no small feat, considering there were probably 250 cars there from all over the state, many worth over $100,000. I'll post pictures of the cars in the Images section. A little later, one of the show officials showed up and gave us our plaque and some instructions on entering the Winner's Circle ceremony on Sunday (which turned out to be a fiasco and lasted nearly two hours).

Anyway, the Isetta drew lots of attention during the three-day show and was a huge hit with the kids. We let them get in and have their pictures taken. Many people told us the Isetta was their favorite car at the show. We appreciated that a lot, as virtually none of the "street rod" guys even bothered to acknowledge our presence or speak to us. We could almost hear the comments...."the nerve of that guy bringing that little German car in here". HA! We won an award and they didn't. So there.

We're off on our next trip in a week...visiting the giant redwoods, parts of Southern Oregon, Crater Lake and the beautiful Pacific coastline.

Cheers!

Wayne, Claudia and Tuck

 

 

The BMW R-26 gets profiled in a national magazine.

During the Summer of 2016, as were preparing to move to California, I contacted the publisher of an international BMW magazine and asked him if the magazine might be interested in any pictures of an old BMW I was restoring. It turns out, they would be....and could I also write a short story about the restoration? After 18 months of work, there was a lot to write about and more than 1,000 pictures. I finally condensed the story and submitted it, along with some pictures. Fast forward to this Summer. I went to get our mail last week and ....Whoa...there's a magazine in the pile with a cover shot of the front wheel of a vintage BMW.  I knew immediately that it was my bike. Opening the magazine, I discovered that my bike was the featured story. Pretty cool....a nice payoff for a lot of work.

If you're interested in seeing the article, please click on the "Images" tab and you'll find the scanned pictures.

 

A visit to Palm Springs....and we head back to Yosemite on the Tioga Pass.

This will be a short post...I mainly wanted to post some pictures. We decided to make a quick visit to Palm Springs last week...having heard most of our lives about the desert town where Bob Hope and many other movie starts had/have homes. Since we're getting really good at packing and we have no schedules to meet....we hit the road early last Tuesday and arrived in Palm Springs around 7:00 that night. It was around 100 degrees, but didn't really feel that hot due to the humidity levels around 10%. In terms of Florida heat, it felt about 90.

After checking in to our room and taking Tuck for a quick walk, we headed into the historic district to check it out....about a five minute walk from our hotel. Who knows...maybe Bob Hope's ghost was wandering around holding his famous golf club? Well....it was different than we had imagined....smaller, more "touristy", not as fancy....but lots of new buildings going up. It was obvious that for much of the past 50 years, not much had changed in downtown Palm Springs....and perhaps that's the way the residents want it? On the outskirts of town, however, things were entirely different. The town is ringed with very upscale golf resorts and gated communities. We spent a day looking around at houses, just to see what the area had to offer. Our conclusion....if you have a million dollars (or more) to spend and you want a very cool mid-century modern home...Palm Springs is the place to be. There are literally hundreds of these classic homes in the downtown area. The surrounding golf communities, while very upscale, all looked pretty much alike.

The next day we headed home and instead of retracing our steps, we decided to take a detour and head home via Bishop, CA....one of our new favorite towns. Bishop sits in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the beautiful Owens Valley. After taking Tuck to the local city park for a swim in the creek which runs through town, we grabbed some barbecue and a beer and started charting out the next day's trip. Our drive from Bishop went right by Yosemite, so why not revisit one of the most beautiful parks in the country? Claudia realized as we got closer, that the park rangers had just reopened the Tioga Pass road into Yosemite....so off we went. Since this road had just reopened to the public, the tourists hadn't figured it out yet and we were able to drive all the way into the park and explore some new areas. Very few cars on the road and not a tour bus in sight (note....a lot of these roads are too steep and too narrow for buses anyway). We had a great afternoon and Tuck got in another swim in beautiful Tanaya Lake, which had just thawed.

I've mentioned in a post a while back that everyone who visits our national parks should make it a point to watch the Ken Burns documentary about them. Just do it...you'll be glad you did. Anyway, I was re-watching one of the episodes tonight (part 4) and this episode dealt with the increasing popularity of the parks going all the way back to the 1940's...and how this popularity led to many confrontations between the parks department and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. Confrontations about too many lodges, too many dams, too many visitor centers that looked like giant Dairy Queens and....too many new roads cutting through the wilderness. areas.  And guess what....one of the most historic struggles between the environmental groups and the parks department dealt with...The Tioga Pass road that we had just driven last week. Who knew? It was a monumental battle in court and out in the park itself, with demonstrators blocking bulldozers attempting to carve the very road that we drove. Eventually, after a decade-long struggle, the road did get built. I have to tell you, it's one beautiful road...but I also have to admit that it does cut right through one of the most beautiful valleys in Yosemite. Knowing the full story of this road, I'll never take it for granted again. 

Cheers,

Wayne, Claudia & Tuck

I'm a lucky guy!

This post has absolutely nothing to do with our travels, but everything to do with the two people who travel with me. It's Father's Day and a good time to reflect on life.

Claudia and Katie are the two most wonderful gifts I've ever received. They are always there for me, always cheerful, always encouraging, always supportive, always leading me on to the next "adventure" and always sharing their love. Life without them would be very empty indeed and I'm blessed to have them in my life.

Love you girls!

Dad

We meet a Native American walking the Pacific Crest Trail

I forgot to mention this in my last post, so I thought I'd add it now.

One morning in Bishop, we were walking Tuck across the street from our motel in a really nice city park. There were hikers resting nearby, going through their packs...making last minute checks before heading out to the trail entrance near Bishop. Most of the hikers are in their 20's and 30's...this is a very strenuous hike folks (Google the PCT and you can see the route), so you need to be young and FIT. But wait....here's an older hiker adjusting his pack at a nearby picnic table. Curious, we walked up to him and said hello. We are so glad we did. It turned out that he was indeed walking the PCT. Whoa....we had to learn more, particularly since he looked to be our age. 

He explained that he was retracing the hike he had made 26 years earlier on the trail. He said he was moving a lot slower than the "young kids", but he was doing OK. Blisters covered both his feet, but he was forging on. He had come into town the day before to escape some of the snow melt conditions high up on the mountain. We also realized from his accent and complexion that he was Native American. He was a gentle soul for sure and we liked him immediately. He knew everything about the trail, the wildflowers, the wildlife and the weather. He explained that he was worried about rejoining the trail that day because of some bad weather moving in. We thought that was an odd comment, as it was a crystal clear, beautiful, windless day. All I can say is....was he ever right. Somehow, he knew what was coming....and me, the old white guy....didn't. Later that afternoon, the wind picked up to 50-60mph gusts and dark clouds moved in over the mountains. Anyone stuck high up on the trail would have been in serious trouble.

After he left, it struck both of us how "in tune" to the environment he was. He had skills that you didn't learn....you were born with them. I wish I had gotten his name and phone number, as he was a special person...and you don't meet many of them these days. Perhaps we will meet again? I sure hope so.

Cheers,

Wayne, Claudia & Tuck

 

Part II - Prescott, Bishop, the beautiful Owens Valley and a ghost town visit.

Okay...continuing where I left off yesterday. After we left Tucson, we headed to Prescott, AZ....a very popular retirement town. Pulling into town, the first thing we noticed was the greenery. Unlike Tucson, there were trees (not cactus) and grass. It wasn't Oregon, but it was a big improvement over the lower Sonoran desert. Again, I'll give you a synopsis here....we didn't care for the town. Sure they had lots of chain stores and restaurants, but the housing was ugly and overpriced and the downtown left a lot to be desired. Lots of "characters" walking around the town square. We found out later that Prescott is a big "rehab" town, with clinics everywhere and a huge VA facility. Not much culture, no upscale restaurants that we could find and here's an unusual thing we noticed.....no one was friendly. We're used to everyone speaking when you pass. Not here. We walked around the town square two nights and not a person spoke, except for one couple with a dog. So much for a very highly rated town. And one more thing....we bought gas at an Arco station the night before we left. My debit card got rejected (remember the commercial..."You've been declined"), so I used my American Express card. Later back in the room, I called my bank to find out why my card had been rejected and I found out that someone had tried to put in a charge for $100 on my card. Their system caught it and it wasn't paid. How do they know? I immediately cancelled the card. Then I wondered if this person/recovering addict at the station had also tried to use my Amex card. Yep...it turns out they had tried, but the software program again caught it. That card was also cancelled on the spot. So much for Prescott. We packed up and blew out of that town in a hurry.

The drive to Bishop was a long one....we sort of back-tracked through Area 51 part of the way still looking for spy planes or aliens, then cut up into the beautiful Owens Valley and arrived at the quaint little town of Bishop, CA. Bishop is a hub for back packers hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, rock climbers, ski bums, photographers, fly fishermen (some of the best trout lakes in the country are there) and people who just generally love the outdoors. I've know about Bishop for over 40 years, since I attended a photography workshop led by the late Galen Rowell. Galen put Bishop on the map....and his studio is still there and doing a big business. The town is surrounded by some of the tallest peaks in the Sierra's...including the tallest peak in the states...Mt. Whitney at 14,500'. To say the area is beautiful is a huge understatement. I posted some pictures, which I know don't do it justice. I had to take quick snapshots as we drove along....something I really hate to do. As Arnold would say...."I'll be back" (think an Austrian dialect).

From Bishop, we headed home and drove through the most beautiful mountain range we've seen since Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France. Huge snow-capped peaks, beautiful mountain lakes, valleys full of wild flowers, rock formations that look fake and so much more. One of our stops was at Convict Lake. On the trail around the lake, Tuck decided he would run down the rocky slope and dive in...with me following and dropping the "F-bomb" at full volume.  He was lucky. The water was freezing, the wind was gusting to 65mph and the rocks on the shore were huge. He found a log and somehow pulled himself back up on the shore. If the log hadn't been there, yours truly was going in after him. That would have been interesting.

Anyway, I digress. If you can't make it to the Alps....this drive will do just fine folks. For more than six hours, we drove through scenic valleys and high up on the mountain passes on one lane roads. Absolutely stunning. Oh yeah....we'll be back.

As a side trip on the way through the valley, we decided to take a slight detour (actually a 15 mile drive over a one-lane dirt road) and visit the most well-preserved ghost town in the country....Bodie. It's an old mining town that was deserted in the 30's, but most of the buildings date back to the 1850's. The US Parks department fortunately took it over in the 50's and prevented it from being looted and ruined. Rangers are posted there every day, rain or shine. If you can get there through 10' of snow in January...you'll find a ranger there to lead a tour. It's very cool and I hope anyone reading this will make the trek. You not only get to see the buildings up close and personal, but everything inside the houses is exactly as the residents left them. Plates still on the tables, school books still on the desks, etc. The residents just up and left. Boom....done. The rangers don't know exactly why everyone left at about the same time, but they did. I did some research and the best scenario is that the gold mine closed suddenly and that was it. I posted some pictures to give you an idea of how this amazing little town looks today. Enjoy.

That's about it for now. We headed home after leaving Bodie and got home late after driving around beautiful Lake Tahoe on the way. Man...what a day for scenery!

Cheers!

Wayne, Claudia and Tuck

 

Holy Guacamole it's hot in Tucson....a Las Vegas motorcycle auction and more.

There's a lot to tell in this post, so I'm going to post this in a couple parts....it's less boring this way.

Part 1 Las Vegas and the trip to Tucson:

Wow...June has been an exciting month for us so far. On our ever-expanding quest to find the perfect place to live...we decided to rent a home in Tucson up in the high desert, to check out the climate, the architecture and the town in general.  On the way there, we stopped in Las Vegas so I could attend the "Mecum Las Vegas Vintage Motorcycle" auction and shop for my next project (I didn't see Elvis...although he was rumored to be in the building).

On the way to Vegas, we drove by the world's largest ammunition depot and right next to it, the top-secret Air Force base, called Area 51, located in the dried up Groom Lake bed (To this day the government will not disclose what goes on there). I'm not kidding...Google Area 51. I can tell you this....the place is freakin' HUGE and has a very high creepy factor. Since we saw very little activity on the surface, I definitely believe the stories that most of the facility is underground. We saw no aliens, but several of the locals in the Area 51 Alien diner (a picture will be added soon) definitely showed signs of having parents who were from "somewhere else". From there, we headed to Prescott, AZ to get a feel for a smaller mountain desert town and last, but definitely not least, we ended up in the climbing and hiking mecca of Bishop, CA to begin our drive home through the beautiful Owens Valley and the Sierra Nevada mountains surrounding us all the way home. And oh yes, we walked through the most well-preserved ghost town in America....Bodie, CA. All total, we drove about 2,700 miles, almost as much as our trip out here from Florida. Whoa....it's vast out here!

The Las Vegas Vintage Bike Auction and a trip to Tucson: I recently sold my BMW R-26 to a collector in Reno, NV, so I thought this auction might be a good place to shop for a new project. And boy was I right. Since Las Vegas was on the way to our rental home in Tucson, it was a great way to combine a personal trip with business. We loaded up the truck, put our buddy Tuck in his back seat condo and headed out from Grass Valley. The drive to Las Vegas went through some of the most desolate country we've ever driven...and we've driven in a lot of places. I've mentioned the "pioneers" before (those unbelievable souls who settled this country) and this drive just underscored my admiration of them. We drove for six hours with nothing but desert on either side...at 75mph. It was 100 degrees. Then up to 105 and climbing. Imagine doing this in a horse-drawn wagon...with your family? And then suddenly, you see a massive ammunition depot.....the Hawthorne Army Depot. Big?....uh, that would be correct. It's the largest in the world...147,000 acres and contains 2,500 underground bunkers. Need some WWI mortar shells? They've got 'em. And right after you pass that strange place, you arrive at....Area 51. Look it up...it's a fascinating place and very real. And very secret. One quick fact...you can't fly over Area 51. No one can. The airspace above it is classified...all the way into deep space. Hmmm.....I'm betting Agents Mulder and Scully are still trying to find a way in there. I sure miss that show.

The motorcycle auction was a hoot. The Mecum Company stages these auctions around the country and one just happened to be going on June 1-3 in Vegas.  I took an Uber ride to the casino, bought my ticket to the auction and walked through a giant room with maybe 1,000 slot machines, roulette tables, craps tables, blackjack tables and maybe 100 bar girls dressed in....not much. Nudity is cool in Vegas. No one seems to care. I didn't. There were about 750 motorcycles being auctioned. Amazingly, some very rare bikes were auctioned with a "no reserve" clause, meaning the bike had to sell, no matter what the winning bid ended up. And some ended up selling way lower than what they were worth. I will be buying my next bike at one of these auctions.

From Vegas, we headed to Tucson, where we rented a cool house on the outskirts of town in the high desert. We'd heard a lot about Tucson....great adobe-style architecture, an active food scene with brew pubs and food trucks, views of the mountains from every direction, over 300 clear sun days a year, lots of affordable housing, low utilities, an international airport, lots of gated communities with low HOA fees and lots more. Definitely a place we needed to check out. I won't go into a lot of detail of the trip, as there's too much to tell and most of it isn't anything anyone other than Claudia and I would want to read, so here's a summary: Most of the good things we'd heard about the area were true. What we didn't like was the town itself....or should I say the "sprawl" of the town. It's spread out over a huge area and the roads into and out of the town are too few and too crowded. Traffic might have been fine on these roads back in the 60's...but now, forget about it. It's 30-40 minutes to get anywhere. The last comment I have on Tucson is that it's located in a very, very dry area of the Sonoran Desert. It's dry folks...arid. Nothing green but the cactus. And...it was not for us. We stayed three days, visited the local restaurants and the surrounding Sonoran mountains (which are beautiful) and headed out to Prescott, AZ...a very popular retirement town.

Part II - Prescott, Sedona, Bishop and the Owens Valley.  Coming soon.....

 

 

 

 

We head to Yosemite National Park....and so did everyone else.

Before I write about Yosemite Park, I have to mention a PBS series we just watched about our national parks...and it's a must-see. It was produced in 2009 by Ken Burns (arguably one of the best documentary producer/directors living today). It's called The National Parks: America's Best Idea. We've only been able to find three of the six episodes, but we're searching for the rest and if we have to buy the series, we will. It's that good. Little did I know, but we owe our entire national park system to the dedication, foresight and talents of a handful of men....John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Stephen Mather, Horace Albright, Franklin Roosevelt and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Were it not for these guys and a handful of others, every one of our amazing national parks would have been sold off to the mining companies, logging companies, railroads, real estate developers and others who just don't give a damn about our natural resources. After you watch a few of these shows, you'll understand just close we came to losing it all. You'll also learn about an amazing couple who explored the parks out West in their old Buick's (think 1920's)...and camped beside their car in the wilderness. The first RV-ers? Probably...and they're our hero's (you'll understand why after you watch the series).

Now, on to the story about our recent trip to Yosemite. Sitting around the campfire one night (actually our dining room table), Claudia and I realized that we needed to visit Yosemite before the schools let out for the Summer. Plus, this was a record year of snow (now melting) and the reports coming out of Yosemite said that the waterfalls were as good as they've ever been. We were hoping that our arrival on Sunday would coincide with the weekend visitors leaving. Whoops....were we ever wrong. It turns out there really is no "down time" for Yosemite.

Since Yosemite is only a three hour drive from our home in Grass Valley, we loaded up a few clothes, a bunch of my cameras, some of Claudia's great pimento cheese spread, some King's Hawaiian rolls (one of the great food products ever produced) and of course, our buddy Tuck. And off we went. When we arrived at the outskirts of the park (the ranger's station is about 20 miles from Yosemite Village), we noticed that cars were piling into the park. No one was leaving. Lots and lots of cars. And buses. And RV's. We got in a long line of cars and drove about 20MPH the rest of the way into the park. Once we arrived at Bridal Veil Falls, one of the first amazing waterfalls,  we discovered that there were no parking places and everyone was driving around jockeying for the next spot to open up when someone pulled out. It was nuts. What's up with this? It's May for crying out loud. Schools aren't out yet and it's a week before Memorial Day. Who were all these people and didn't they know it was our week to visit? The nerve.

We quickly discovered first hand what the PBS series had been trying to tell us....our national parks are being loved to death. Walking around the park grounds, we heard Chinese, Japanese, French, German, Italian, British, Slavic, Canadian ('eh) and probably Russian. Everyone was there....young, old, people on bikes, lots of strollers, backpackers, campers, tour buses, old VW Westfalia campers, Harley's, BMW riders with serious-looking leather outfits (geez guys, aren't those things hot?), climbers with lots of rope in tow and bless their hearts, dozens of park rangers directing traffic. The next time you see a park ranger, stop and give them a big hug. (after they remove their hat). To stand in the hot sun and direct traffic all day, while at the same time answering the same questions..."is there anywhere to park"..."where are the bathrooms", etc. requires a dedication not many people possess.  It's a thankless job and my hats off to them for doing it. However, having said that, if you want to be a park ranger, you can't get a much better gig than Yosemite! I mean, everywhere you turn there's another amazing vista to look at or another waterfall to admire. Beats the hell out of being a banker, I can tell you that.

After all was said and done,  we loved it and we're already planning our next visit in October. And next time, by golly, we're going to beat the crowds. I hope. We loved the views, the falls, the unbelievable granite mountains (you have to see Half Dome and El Capitan to believe it) and just the unbelievable majesty of the place. I can certainly understand now why John Muir and all the other pioneers fought so hard to save it. Well done guys, you're giants among men.

I'll be posting some pictures of the park later tonight and tomorrow. They don't begin to do it justice, but there's only so much you can show in a small photograph. My best advice in closing is...just go.

Cheers,

Wayne, Claudia & Tuck

Never judge a book by its cover...and the Isetta goes to a car show.

This might be a long post....so you might want to go grab a beer or a glass of wine.  We've been busy doing almost nothing. That's not totally true...we are looking at houses and land, talking to realtors, researching Nevada County's building codes (they're awful) and trying to figure out if this is where we really want to live....or is there another area lurking "out there" that might be even better?  This is a huge decision, even for nomads like us. Oregon? Washington? Arizona? Baja? Panama? France? So much to see....so little time. Stay tuned.

A long time ago....maybe 40 years, give or take a few....my Dad was training me to work in the furniture business, and more specifically how to work with his existing clients. Some of these folks were in big cities (and I was comfortable in that setting), but more than a few were located deep in the small towns of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. And these were the ones that required special attention, particularly since I was a new college graduate and thought I knew pretty much everything about everything. I was about to learn how much I didn't know.

We've all grown up hearing the phrase "Don't judge a book by its cover"...but until I worked in the mountains, I never really understood the true meaning. On one of my first trips down into the Appalachian mountain towns, we pulled into an old general store to meet Curtis Mills, the owner. We were in Arjay, Kentucky. Yep, you read it right. Arjay was a town with about 10 buildings, one stop light, a suspension bridge over the creek to the school (I wrote about that in a previous post) and the police station was located in the back of the Western Auto store. You can't make this stuff up. Mr. Mills was dressed in overalls and looked every inch a "mountain man". His office was an old desk next to an ancient wood-burning stove with a couple rickety chairs nearby. We sat and my Dad talked to Curtis for maybe 30 minutes about nothing in particular, during which time I was looking around and thinking "what the hell am I doing here"? After what seemed like an eternity, my Dad got around to discussing some of the furniture Mr. Mills needed, a large order was placed and we got back in the car and drove away. Dad asked me what I thought about Mr. Mills, his old store, etc. I think I mumbled some dumb comment about him being a nice guy. It turns out that Curtis Mills was the richest man in the county...several counties in fact. He owned coal mines, an excavating business, a mobile home business, an appliance business, a tractor business,  a loan business, a well-drilling business and he owned hundreds if not thousands of acres of prime timber...oak, cherry, walnut, poplar and maple.  He was a multi-millionaire, back when a million was a lot of money. I learned a valuable lesson that day, one I've never forgotten. Well...almost never. Read on.

All of this leads me to my latest lesson in not judging a person by their looks. A couple weeks ago, Claudia and I took the old Volvo to the local DMV to see about getting the registration changed over to California. She followed me in case I had car trouble ( I didn't....the old Volvo runs like a champ). While I was sitting in the Ram truck filling out some paperwork, we noticed an old guy wandering in the parking lot. Really long gray/white hair, wearing a backpack, and the strangest mix of clothes I'd seen in a while....camo pants with Army issue desert boots, a paisley shirt, a black silk vest and a sort of LL Bean khaki jacket. He just looked "odd", but at the DMV you see a lot of really strange people (been to a DMV lately?). Well, the next thing you know, he pulls a camera out of his camo pants and starts taking pictures of the Volvo. Claudia and I watched while he took maybe five or six photos, calmly put away his camera and started to walk off. Since he seemed harmless enough, I asked Claudia to go ask him if he had any questions about the car while I completed the paperwork. Soon...they were talking and laughing. Wazzup? I walked over and they were speaking French. Of course they were. Every old guy with shoulder length hair and an outfit from Goodwill speaks French. Claudia introduces me to "Jean Pierre". Oh how wrong we had been. In very good English, he explains to us that he's from Switzerland and that he's a free lance photographer who works for a lot of magazines. He travels all over the world and had only arrived in our area the week before from Sonoma County, where he had been staying with friends in Guerneville. Before that he was in South America and he then spends ten minutes explaining which South American countries we should visit and which ones are too rough, have too many drugs, etc. He had traveled literally everywhere and only occasionally went back to Switzerland to see his relatives. He had one son, who lives in Australia (yes, he knew all about Adelaide where Katie had studied). He also knew all the areas in France we loved and way more about our national parks than we did (we have a long list to visit). After twenty minutes or so, we wished him well and off he walked. As he disappeared from sight, I thought about how very wrong we had been about this man and how we had judged him strictly on his appearance. All my old lessons from my Dad came flooding back. I promise to do better Dad....it seems I still have a lot to learn.

For those of you reading this who don't know about our little BMW Isetta, read on. A couple years ago, while walking Tuck every morning in Gilchrist Park, I got to know a very sweet lady who walked there every day as well....except she got there at 6:00....way before me. Every morning we talked for a couple minutes. One morning, I tell her about the BMW motorcycle that I'm restoring and she smiles and says very proudly...."I've got a BMW too". Long story short...she owned a 1958 BMW Isetta 300, one of the first micro cars to ever be produced. I told her if she was ever interested in selling it, to please let me know (these cars are super rare). A year later, she tells me she's going to sell it to me..."because she wants it to have a good home and she knows I'll take good care of it". How can you not love this lady?  We've had the Isetta since and we hauled it 3,200 miles out here in a custom trailer.

This area is vintage car crazy and there are small car shows every Saturday morning and big ones about once a month. So on a whim, we decided to take our little Isetta to the big show in Grass Valley last weekend just for a laugh. Check out the pictures and you'll get it. Everyone who sees this car smiles and laughs. It's so small, it doesn't really seem like a car...it's more like a giant red and white toaster that you can ride in. A carnival ride comes to mind. Four strong guys can pick it up and move it. It has a single cylinder motorcycle engine, has 15 horsepower, weights 720 pounds and can only go 50 mph. Downhill. This little sucker is SMALL.

I decide that loading the Isetta into the trailer, driving into town and then unloading it was a huge hassle. Let's just drive it there I say. It's only about 5 miles. Piece of cake I reason. So off we go last Saturday morning. Me in the Isetta and Claudia following in the truck just in case (is there a pattern here?). Keep in mind this is only the second time I have driven it. Also keep in mind that the tiny stick shift is on the left side, the 4-speed pattern is reversed from the American version, the brakes barely work, the suspension is questionable and the steering wheel moves four or five inches before the wheels actually turn. Other than that, she's ready for the Indy 500. I quickly realize that our little baby will only get up to 30 mph going downhill with a tailwind. Going uphill was awful....one glance out the rear view mirror and I notice a very long line of cars behind me. My cell phone rings, I see it's Claudia but it's so loud I can't hear anything she's saying...but I did catch..."pull over". Nah. If I stopped it would take another 10 minutes to get back up to 30 mph. Pedal to the metal and into town we went. When I arrived at the check in area, two workers walk up....and start laughing. Neither had ever seen or heard of an Isetta. When I parked the car, opened up the front door (there's only one door) and stood up in the car (that's how you get out without falling) all eyes were on the little red toaster.  I was ushered to a spot nearby and parked beside a beautiful 1952 MG-TC and a 356 Porsche. Claudia and I spent the rest of the day walking around the town and enjoying looking at some of the finest street rods in California. There's a lot of money up here.

As were about to leave, a young couple walk up with their two kids, who wanted to look at the Isetta (I'm sure it reminded them of a Disney ride).  You'll have to check out the pictures, because they made our day. Their daughter was wearing a hot pink poodle skirt and their son was wearing.....one of her old poodle skirts. To say they were precious is an understatement. The parents explain that their son absolutely loves his big sister's poodle skirts and had been planning all week to wear one to the car show. I love it! Only in California will you see a little guy wearing a poodle skirt at a car show....and proud parents nearby beaming at their young son. There's a state of mind out here that's hard to explain, but that example sums it up pretty well.

Thanks for reading....Cheers!

 

The BMW goes to a new owner....and a snowy trip to Nevada!

So here we are on I-80, passing over the Donner Pass (one of the highest passes you can drive in California...about 7,000' elevation)....me, Claudia and our little buddy Tuck driving through thick fog with horrible visibility, snow banks on each side of the road (I'll post some pictures later today) as high as 15', heading to Nevada to deliver my motorcycle to its new owner. We sure know how to pick our adventures! But here's the rest of the story....before you think we're completely crazy (just halfway). When leaving Grass Valley our weather was about 50 degrees with light rain and the weather at our destination in Reno, just across the mountain, was 65 degrees and sunny. But there was that mountain between the two areas...and you have to cross it. While you're on "the pass" as the locals call it, if it starts snowing or the rain starts to freeze, the highway patrol stop you at check points and turn you around if you don't have tire chains. It's still hard to get used to the fact that it can be 60 degrees here in Grass Valley...and we can jump in the truck, drive 45 minutes to Truckee and experience world-class skiing. So different from Florida, where you had to drive at least 10 hours to get any climate change. Truly...we're not in Kansas anymore Toto.

My BMW R-26 has a new home in Nevada...and we delivered her yesterday. For a couple reasons, it seems funny to write that. First, delivering a motorcycle to Nevada? My entire life (up until the last month or so) that would have been a week-long trip. Now...it takes exactly an hour and a half. Second, for those of you who have followed the blog for a while, or checked out the pictures, you know about the 18-month restoration of my BMW. It was a long, often gratifying, often frustrating, often "I just threw a wrench at the wall" maddening experience. But ultimately, after I finished it and looked down at what I had accomplished, it was totally worth it. I've been told that it will be featured in a motorcycle magazine sometime this Spring. That should be interesting. Stay tuned.  The new owner is a great guy who lives near Reno and he owns more than a few great old bikes and VW's from the 60's. The bike will have a great new home. I took one look back, reflected on the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars I had invested, and....walked out of his shop. Time to move on. Now....if only I can find an old Mini Cooper, or maybe a 60's era 3-cylinder Saab with a 4-speed shift on the column....the hunt continues.

Cheers!

Wayne, Claudia & Tuck