Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Texas kind of Christmas

As I write this I'm sitting on the porch watching the early morning fog drift between the live oak and the mesquite, listening to the birds sing. It was 80 degrees yesterday, and promises to be even warmer today. It's a little bit strange to adjust to this kind of "Christmas weather" after spending 30 years in the cold and rainy northwest - but we're managing!

We've noticed some interesting Christmas traditions around here. For one, I've never seen so many wreaths on the grills of pickup trucks. And reindeer antlers, attached to the car or truck widows. I've never seen them for sale but folks are finding them somewhere! Corny? A little - but fun.... and if there's one thing we have come to understand, Texans don't care what YOU think. If they enjoy it, or their kids enjoy it, it shall be.

There's still a small-town temperament around here too.

We were up in Kyle the other evening for dinner with the kids, and ran into Mr. and Mrs. Santa and their helpers, who strongly resembled the local fire department.

Kendra said this was their second or third evening to visit the neighborhood, singing and calling "Merry Christmas" over the loudspeaker. Yes, people say that here, with no apologies.

Folks in the neighborhood show a  lot of creativity with their decorations. There's one with the fancy computerized gizmo that twinkles in time with the music - you tune in with your car radio - I'm sure the neighbors appreciate that feature rather than loudspeakers.

There are a lot of cartoon characters reflecting the young families in the area, and there's one yard that clearly belongs to a football fan.Guess we'll have to forgive the uniform not being UofO green and yellow!


The decorations in this yard suggest Santa will be flying with only 7 reindeer this year.   We can't decide if the family is celebrating their favorite hobby or just trying to irritate the neighbors. Either way, you have to admit it's unique!

Steve's favorite is this longhorn bull. You just cannot beat anatomically correct Christmas decorations, and what's more "Texas" than a longhorn?



We'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! and... Go Ducks!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pining for piñons

Back in early November I mentioned harvesting a few piñon cones while we were visiting friends in Nevada. My intention was to get out the nuts and see what I could do with them. First came the challenge of picking the cones without getting covered with sap. I mostly enveloped them in a paper bag and tried to get them off without touching them, and then I did manage to remove the sap that got on my fingers with nail polish remover and salad oil. Not very efficient, but then my harebrained projects seldom are.

A few of the nuts fell out in the bag, as the cones were really ripe, but I didn't have time to finish up the project on the road, so saved it "for later". Today, while I was cooking up some spiced pecans for the holidays, I remembered the project and figured I'd better get'er done. I looked up some "advice" on the Internet.... sheesh. 'Sorry, but as a librarian (by profession as well as temperament) I just have to correct some of what I found. More about that later.

Following what seemed to be the most reasonable advice I could find on the web I first heated the cones to get the sap to melt into the wood so I could handle the cones and so the nuts would fall out. The one short-coming of this approach is that I almost killed my dear husband, who has plant allergies. Other than that it worked OK, and the house smelled really nice! The nuts all fell out of the cones, the cones were shiny from the melted sap, and as soon as Steve could breath again I closed up all the doors and windows and went on to the next step. [Next time I'll try the alternative method and freeze the cones. The frozen sap falls out in chunks.] There's more info here if you are interested in experimenting on your own.

Next I toasted the nuts on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, then put them in a baggie and crunched them slightly with a rolling pin to crack the shells so I could peel them.  I had eaten a few fresh off the tree and the shells were so tender I hadn't noticed them, but as the nut ripens and dries they get pretty hard. After the nuts cooled I peeled the shells off. The amount of nuts in the bowl yielded less than 1/4 c. of finished nuts. . . . which leads me to think about how hard the Native Americans and pioneers had to work to get their food. If Americans today had to work that hard I doubt we'd have a problem being overweight! We'd also waste less food if we had to put this much effort in to getting it to the edible state.

Now about those corrections: First, piñon trees are pines, but not all pines are piñons (some folks spell it pinyon. There are about 115 species of pine, only eight species of true piñon, and a few others that some experts include in the group, so when I read on one site that "pine nuts with the shell on are piñon nuts" I got a little crazy. Pine nuts are pine nuts whether they have the shell on or not. Piñon nuts are piñon nuts, whether they have the shell on or not. Piñon nuts only come from piñon trees. I also read a suggestion to use a nutcracker to get into the shells - hummmm, they must have been working with much larger pine nuts, as I never met a nut cracker that would deal with something less than a quarter of an inch across. And to get to the important point, it is one heck of a lot of work to get the little devils out so you can eat them!

Pine nuts in general, including piñon nuts, were one of the most important foods for Native Americans in the Great Basin region. They traditionally heated the nuts over coals and then winnowed them through a series of baskets (which they had to weave), and then after the nuts were removed from their shells they toasted them over the fire again before grinding them into a flour. Talk about a long process! Considering the time and effort it took for me to get a quarter of a cup of useful nuts I probably would have starved to death in "the old days".

Nowadays we can trot down to the grocery store and buy a bag of pine nuts already prepared, but like baking your own bread or growing your own vegetables, harvesting and preparing wild foods is a life lesson like no other to teach us appreciation for the abundance we have.

Driving Ms. Daphne

We are at our home in Central Texas and have pretty much unloaded the truck and trailer. I thought I would give my take on the overall adventure and mention the pluses and minuses of our six months on the road.


We left June 6 and returned on December 2, 2010. We traveled 11,537 miles, burned 1017 gallons of diesel and averaged 11.3 mpg on the trip. We camped in primarily state and county parks in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Oregon. We spent a few nights in federal parks, private parks and Elks Clubs in our travels. We were fortunate to be able to spend some nights with friends parking on their property. We averaged $490 per month for camping or $17.00 a night. We spent an estimated $3500 for fuel.


Camping fee's were varied and seemed to get more expensive as we went west. The lowest state park fee was $14.00 a night and the highest was $28.00 which was charged in both Idaho and Washington. These were full hook up sites. We paid a low of $8.00 in a BLM campgroud in Oregon. Overall, most state parks were nice but Oregon had the best parks on the trip. We did not stay in a California state park on the trip so can't comment on that system. One of our favorite parks was Armitage Park in Eugene, OR. We stayed there several times this while attending National-Championship-Bound Oregon Duck football games early in the season.


We had no problems with the truck ( a 2003 Chev. Silverado Duramax Diesel.) It pulled our 2003 Arctic Fox 30 U well. I had to replace the toilet in the trailer as the flush cables broke. The front jack shear pin broke and I repaired that. Everything else worked with no problem.


In accessing the equipment used on this trip we found that having AC was nice while in the South West, the Olympia Wave gas heater coupled with an electric oil heater worked well for those chilly nights without and with hookups. The Vu Qube 1000 Sat. antenna performed flawlessly and the Dometic 3 way cooler worked well after we got used to it (I figure we saved about $600.00 for ice purchases since we acquired the unit in July.) The unit was around $400.00. The Dometic/Sea Land residential type bathroom throne is a nice upgrade. I used a Delorme Topo navigation system with a small Dell laptop and maintained communications with a Verizon Cell phones and Broadband Card with Cradlepoint 1000 router and Cyfre amplifier. One of the biggest problems was a switch from Dish Sat. to Direct TV. It is a very long story but has turned out OK in the end. When I compare the two services there isn't much different.


My power system consists of a Progressive Dynamics converter w/ charge wizard when hooked up. I have a 100 watt solar panel and a 2400watt Yamaha Generator for off-grid camping. We currently have 4 Group 27 12v batteries monitored by a TriMetric 2020 and have a 1500 watt inverter. We are definitely going to upgrade the solar system this winter and access our battery condition. I will build a 180 watt portable panel system and replace the batteries with 6 volt batteries.


It was a great trip where we maintained connections with family and friends and reconnected with other friends we haven't seen since junior high school.

"Driving Ms. Daphne, the 2010 Edition" was great start to "living the dream".

Thursday, December 2, 2010

South Llano River State Park, Texas

South Llano River State Park, right outside the little town of Junction, is our last stop before arriving “back at the ranch”, and what a treat this has been! When we stayed here back in early March the only wildlife we saw was birds, but this visit was different. As we rolled slowly through the campground looking for our assigned site an ambitious little armadillo welcomed us. He was mining for his dinner, and completely oblivious to my cautious approach to take his photo.

All afternoon and again in the early morning light we were surrounded by grazing deer. These Texas deer aren’t very meaty compared to those we were used to in Oregon – and we can’t figure out why all the pickup trucks here have such enormous grill guards. You probably wouldn’t even get much of a dent hitting one of these little guys. They’re so dainty they look like lawn ornaments! And they are a soft gray-brown, making them almost invisible in the brush.There's a small arrow over the one looking at the camera in this photo. You can click on any of these photos for a larger version, making it easier to see the critters.

We’re quite a ways from city lights, so last night when we stepped out to check out the stars we had an amazing view of the sky that included the milkiest Milky Way I’ve ever seen. Too bad it wasn’t just a bit warmer, we would have stayed out a little longer. When we checked in the office staff mentioned the temperature had dipped down to 15 the night before, so before we went to bed we took the precaution of putting the water hose in the shower. ‘A good move, as it did go down to 28 during the night and froze the faucet.

This morning over coffee we watched a flock of wild turkey’s work their way around our site. This is a wild turkey nesting area. From October through March a large section of the park is closed off to people so the turkeys aren’t disturbed while they raise their families. There are other areas to hike, and a really cozy bird blind set up for those who want to photograph or just observe. The blind is a little wooden building with nice big windows and several theater style seats – very comfy! There are feeding stations right outside the windows, so there’s a good chance of getting close-up views of the visiting birds.


It’s a beautiful park, with the amazing Hill Country mix of red oak, mesquite, cedar and patches of prickly pear you can’t beat the contrast. The river is not only beautiful it’s a great fishing spot, so there’s something for everyone here. I know we’ll be back, probably some time in the spring when we can check out wildflowers and the spring birds. The only down-side to this area is that we have no cell/Internet access, so blog updates and phone calls have to wait until we’re back in range.
For more photos check the album.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Balmorhea State Park, Texas

Yeah! We're back in the Republic!
We spent the very chilly night (25 degrees) at Balmorhea State Park. At least it was calm and sunny when we arrived so we could enjoy a bit of sunshine before sundown, when the temperature started to fall.

We stopped here last trip through, as it's location seems just about right for a day's drive. It's a rather small park, as state parks go, Balmorhea State Park is located on 45.9 acres in the foothills of the Davis Mountains southwest of the town of Balmorhea, for which the park is named. Though the name sounds somewhat Scottish, it has entirely different origins. The town dates from 1906 when someone decided the presence of water warranted a settlement. The unusual name is an amalgam of letters from the names of the land developers Balcome, Moore and Rhea. It's pronounced "Ball-more-A"


The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early 1930s, when the land was deeded in 1934 by private owners and Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 1. The park was opened in 1968, and though it has camping and a few little motel type rooms for rent, it is largely a day use type of park.

With pristine waters supplied by San Solomon spring the beautiful swimming facility and multiple canals that attract wildlife are the primary draw. The spring produces a million gallons per hour (less during drought years) so the canal waters move fairly quickly, keeping the water clear. There's a nice viewing and information area at the Solomon Cienega (spring) viewing area, which also makes for great wildlife photo opportunities.

 The swimming area has sandy beach areas, picnic tables and a concession area. Though we've only been here in cool weather when swimming isn't so appealing, I can imagine that in the summer the place is a favorite with families.
The nearby Davis mountains are worth exploring too, as well as the University's McDonald Observatory which is locate up in the mountains. It's on the list to visit next time we pass through. This time we're just gettin' on down the road.

visit the album  Balmorhea

Monday, November 29, 2010

A quick trip through AZ and NM

Colder than a well-digger's. . . . . (you supply the noun), that's what the Wagon Master said every time we had to get out of the truck. While the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts are lovely with their lush saguaro cactus and other native plants, the charm wears off quickly when it's cold and very windy. We fought wind all day yesterday, pulling off for the night at Rovers' Roost, and Escapees park in Casa Grande.

We fought wind again all day today, including a rather dramatic dust devil in AZ that included flying tumbleweeds, and finally settled in around 3 in the afternoon at Rockhound State Park, near Deming, New Mexico.

We can't wait to come back here in decent weather as it looks like a great place to explore, and offers great scenery.

This is the only state park I know of that actually invites visitors to collect mineral samples. They even have a nice sample display on a stone pillar in the campground, so you can identify what you are collecting if you are a newbie rockhound.

Unfortunately, creatons (undoubtedly disguised as humans) found the need to trash the labels and try to dig out the samples. 'Sorry, but I have no use for vandals. It's just a shame they are so hard to catch.

Even though we arrived fairly early in the afternoon most of the sites were taken. Maybe this is "peak season" here, as people think it's warm in the southwest in the winter, I don't know how to explain it, but we decided we'd better make reservations next time. The park brochure includes a campground map, and the circled "reservable" sites are the nicest so consulting the map would be helpful when making those reservations.

The campground has sites with and without utilities, and is snuggled up against the Little Florida Mountains, with a nice view of the valley below. There are several trails, leading to collecting sites..... all to be explored in a much more temperate climate!

Tomorrow we take off again, and will probably stay in  Balmorhea State Park, where we stayed on the way home in the spring.  

[As always, you can click on any of the photos for a larger version]

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Southern California Thanksgiving

Ah, the land of palm and banana trees. . . and traffic! It's a good thing we already know our way around, as these folks drive like crazy! We've spent several days in the Long Beach area, celebrating the holiday with friends and family. It's nice to pause and take stock of all the things we have to be thankful for - good health, and the resources and freedom to travel the way we do are high on the list. It's hard to complain when your biggest problem is that the refrigerator is too full to store all the leftovers!

We spent the week at the Garden Grove Elks Lodge*. The parking spaces have water and power, and though the spaces are small, the lodge facility has a really nice park so there's plenty of space to get out and enjoy the sun. Fortunately we had quite a bit of that sun this week - a good rain one day cleared out the air, so the rest of the time we enjoyed a nice view of the snow capped San Bernardino Mountains.

It's time now for us to head back to The Republic for Christmas. We'll make a quick stop in Palm Desert to visit my sister, then waltz quickly across Texas so as to be back at the Ranch for the next Duck game. We'll probably take a bit of a hiatus from travel posts during December as we'll be occupied with holiday preparations, then get back in the swing of things with the new year.


*You must be a current member of an Elks Lodge to stay in any Elks RV facility.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Trabuco Oaks, Orange Co. Calif.

Our stop at O'Neill Park brings back memories from "back in the day". While working as an Orange Co. Sheriff in the "70's I often patrolled in the "Canyon Car" which included Trabuco Canyon. Things have changed a lot over the past 35+ years but I was surprised and pleased to find that one of our Code 7 (dinner) haunts was still open and operating.

Trabuco Oaks Steakhouse had the best steaks and hospitality in Orange Co. at the time, and they practiced a unique custom. If you were wearing a tie when you entered the restaurant they would reach out with large scissors and cut your tie off at the knot. It didn't matter what you were wearing . . . . . a suit or a Deputy's uniform. Your tie went, and was stapled to the ceiling or wall with your business card attached.


It was always great fun to take a new patrol deputy or academy trainee ride-along there for dinner. You would follow them in and pull your clip on tie off and stuff it in your pocket as they were loosing theirs by the hand of Noreen, the owner and her ever-ready scissors. They often stammered, stuttered and were flustered as we were not to be without a tie when in uniform.

I looked for my tie but due to the fact there were over 15,000 ties hanging I couldn't find it. I am sure it was there. Otherwise, the place looks pretty much as it did "back in the day". Dark, interesting items around every corner and tree trunk - yes, the building surrounds several tree trunks, just another of it's unique features.

Right next door is the General Store, an old-time style place to pick up a little of anything you might need, from beer to bunny food. All presided over by a jack-a-lope peering down from the wall.

Across the road, the granite cliff has been "engraved" so many times by visitors that it's beginning to resemble some of those desert petroglyhs.


The winter weather seems to be following us as we moved south and toward the coast, and it has poured pretty much all day. Time to go back to TX!
More pics in the album here.

O'Neil Park, Orange County, California

Entrance to O'Neill Park
Drive down any Southern California freeway you'd think that with all the housing tracts and shopping malls there wouldn't be a wild, or even natural, space left in all of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Thankfully, that's not so, and O'Neil Park is proof.

You follow a narrow, winding road in to the park, passing rolling hills dotted with patches of prickly pear, eucalyptus and graceful old live oak trees. The park itself is old, surrounded by a beautiful stone wall, with stone pillars and brass plaques at the entrances.
The land was donated by the O'Neil family in 1948, and then they donated additional acreage later, so the various group, individual and equestrian camping areas have evolved over time into a very comfortable retreat.

Our campsite
The campground lies parallel to the broad and deep Trabuco Creek* bed, with the base of the Santa Ana mountains providing a scenic backdrop. The hills are covered with cactus, brush and trees, and make a picturesque setting for the old sycamore, pine and oak trees in the campground.  There are walking trails everywhere.
*Named when a Spanish explorer lost his "trabuco" (musket) somewhere along the creek.

We've met up with friends here, and the guys spent a full morning problem analyzing and doctoring our hitch jack, which decided to go belly-up a couple of days ago. 'Guess after better than 9,000 miles and almost 6 months on the road it shouldn't be a surprise that something breaks. Steve checked into replacement parts, but they wouldn't arrive before we have to leave SoCal to return to TX, so they patched it up and we'll do a permanent repair when we get back to the ranch.

This is a really pleasant park for walking or just play enjoying the scenery. Large trees provide welcome shade in hot weather, but may cause some concern for big rigs. We watched a large motorcoach slowly navigate his way out of a site yesterday. He made it, but there wasn't much room to spare! The sites here don't have services, though there is water available at several spots around the campground. There's also an RV dump on site.

Trabuco Creek after the rain
This particular stop is mostly devoted to a reunionwith families we haven't seen for several years, so time to explore will be limited. It's a good place to keep in mind for future visits, as it's not crowded at all, and there's plenty to explore. It is a good thing we had activities planned for indoors, as by our second day here the rain started. The creek bed was completely dry when we arrive, but after the downpour it was looking more like a real creek

O'Neil Park maps and brochures here

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prado Regional Park, Chino, CA

We continued our trek south, on hwy. 15 through Cajon Pass. This is a very familiar route, as when we lived in SoCal we drove this frequently to get to our place out in the Mojave Desert. 'Good thing we weren't too concerned with taking photos. The relatively clear desert air suddenly looked like a fog bank, except it wasn't fog - it's the world famous Southern California smog. Now I remember...... that's one of the reasons we moved away from here 30 years ago!

We're stopping briefly at Prado Regional Park. It's a huge park, with everything from golf and hiking trails to a shooting range and banquet facilities, and it has a nice little lake right in the middle.
We had originally planned to arrive a day earlier but were preempted by a Boy Scout Jamboree. The park staff estimated there were over 9,000 attendees at the event - that gives you an idea as to how big the facility is.

The RV camp sites are really nice though at $30 they're a bit more than we usually like to pay. Pull-through style, full services with paved seating areas so even if it was rainy there wouldn't be a problem with mud, they are definitely a step above most parks of this type. There's a small laundry facility attached to the meeting room nearby, which is a bonus as most campgrounds don't offer that. The lake attracts a variety of birds and other wildlife, and there's a trail surrounding it, which makes for a nice leisurely walk. Just past our campsite is a ground squirrel village and Molly has had a great time sniffing every hole and attempting to ignore their shrill scolding every time we pass by their neighborhood.

We spent most of the day on Wednesday shopping for groceries and other necessities and catching upon chores. This park is well situated, (with the help of Google maps) to shop for just about anything you need. We took stock of the neighborhoods we drove through, noting many of the dairy farms (those few that haven't already been built over by housing tracts) look rather "long in the tooth". When we lived in the area dairy farms were always tidy and really well maintained. Looking at the building going on, housing tracts as well as commercial centers (though with repos as extensive as they are we can't figure out why they are still building), we came to the conclusion most farm owners are just waiting for the right price to come along, and don't plan on the farm existing for much longer.

It's been an interesting stop. Though we used to live only a few miles away we never knew this park was here. And the changes to the area are interesting as well. For a few more shots of the campground check the album.

We'll be moving on to a more rustic location in Orange County to meet up with some friends. It remains to be seen what the changes have been in that area since we were last there, about 30 years ago.

Monday, November 15, 2010

movin' on down Hwy. 395

Coso rock art figure
We stopped for a quick one-night stop at the Elk's Lodge in Ridgecrest. This stop gave us an opportunity to check out the Maturango Museum. This organization was the original publisher of my aunt Roberta's book, Gold Gamble. They have the new edition on the shelf too, and we talked with the director about how the book came about, how long the family had lived in Garlock, and other details she was unaware of.

It's a nice little museum, and it is small, but they are well underway in doubling their space so we look forward to visiting again on our next trip through the area. We didn't have time for much touring, and there's a lot to look over. It's been over 30 years since we were here and saying it "has grown" would be a serious understatement.

We're on our way to visit a school chum from way back in middle school. We see her only seldom, so it's a real treat to be able to get together. We're staying at the Adelanto RV park, which is only a few miles from her house.
Coso rock art figure

Now, my memories of Adelanto, as a kid driving back and forth from our home in Long Beach to our place in Garlock, was that it was a dark intersection with a gas station and a place to buy blocks of ice for our cooler. There wasn't much else here. Again, saying it has grown doesn't quite capture it...... I wondered why the town was here in the first place, assuming mining as that was the purpose for most of these other little desert burgs.... but actually this was a different scenario.

From the city's website: Adelanto was founded in 1915 by E. H. Richardson, the inventor of what became the Hotpoint Electric Iron. He sold his patent and purchased land for $75,000. He had planned to develop one of the first master planned communities in Southern California. Richardson subdivided his land into one-acre plots, which he hoped to sell to veterans with respiratory ailments suffered during World War I. He also hoped to build a respiratory hospital. While Richardson never fully realized his dream, it was his planning that laid the foundation for what is currently the City of Adelanto.


Acre after acre of deciduous fruit trees once grew in the city. Famous throughout the state for fresh fruit and cider, the orchards thrived until the depression, when they were replaced by poultry ranches. As the wartime emergency developed early in 1941, the Victorville Army Air Field was established land within the Adelanto sphere of influence. In September 1950, It was named George Air Force Base in honor of the late Brigadier General Harold H. George. Adelanto continued as a "community services district" until 1970, when the city incorporated, and Adelanto became San Bernardino County's smallest city. The city became a charter city in November 1992.

Of interest in the area include nearby Lake Mirage, where several movies have been filmed, including one of the well known scenes in the Lethal Weapon episode where the good guys met the bad guys on a dry lake.

One of the most surprising features of the Adelanto area is the Thien Vien Chan Nguyen Buddhist Meditation Center.The  24-foot-tall, 60-ton white marble statue of Quan yin, an "Enlightened One," is quite startling as it's only a short distance off the highway. It is a part of a Buddhist meditation center in the Mojave Desert. The planned $15 million temple is the vision of a senior citizen monk, Thich Dang "Tom" Phap,[67] who lives next to the statue in a trailer. The Quan yin statue attracts many Buddhist visitors, who believe that it possesses healing powers and radiates a white light. The center's walkway features statues of 18 other Enlightened Ones. [RoadsideAmerica.com Team, 12/01/2008] Here's a slide show from the Press-Enterprise

Though most don't realize it, the Mojave Desert is where the business end of Southern California happens. The aqueduct, that brings the water, the solar plant at Cramer Junction, and other electric resources like the static inverter plant, that provide the electricity, correctional facilities, military bases, and other essential services too "uncomfortable" to have based in more densely occupied areas are routinely relegated to the desert where "nobody" lives. These mundane and sometimes threatening services seem a stark contrast to the beauty of a Joshua tree silhouetted against the sunset, or the sparkle of a few distant lights in the distance in the inky night. The people who do live here, though relatively few in number, are hardy, self reliant individuals, though there is a great deal of economic suffering here as in many other smaller communities. The few jobs there were are rapidly drying up. Sad to see.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action! Lone Pine, California

Tuesday - Our destination is Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, an area that has for many years been a favorite location for filming movies. On the way through town we stopped at the Museum of Lone Pine Film History.


This is just plain fun! If you've grown up with the old time cowboy movies, as we have, you'll feel right at home. We love this place, and we both agreed it's one of the most creatively designed museums we've visited. The Film History Museum houses an amazing collection of movie memorabilia - costumes, posters, props, personal items, and much more. Most of the items are related to western movies, but there are other, more recent movies that have been filmed here in the Alabama Hills as well as the surrounding area (such as Tremors, Star Trek V and VI) and and they are represented too. Here are a few shots of the collection.


The museum also has a nice gift shop, where you can pick up a self-guided tour brochure ($2) to assist in locating filming locations back in the hills. If you have a GPS they'll give you a list of the location coordinates. If you are interested in more of the history of the area and the films made here, also pick up a copy of On Location in Lone Pine. You can order it online or get it at the museum. It contains a wealth of history about the area as well as interesting details about the movies and has several maps. We found the maps rather confusing, but when combined with the small driving guide and our mapping program we finally got a good understanding of the various locations.

We set up camp around 2 PM on Tuesday, back in the Alabama Hills, between the town of Lone Pine and the Sierras.

What a picturesque location! We took the afternoon off and just lounged around and admired the view - the rounded forms of the Alabama's against a backdrop of jagged mountains that include Mt. Whitney (the tallest peak in the continental U.S.) on one side and the Inyo Mountains on the other. The changing light and variations of color in the rocks surrounding us and the distant mountain ranges make this a photographer and artist's dream. It's a good thing digital photos are free!

While relaxing late in the afternoon we noticed three "24" government type Chev. Tahoes parked on the road a short distance from our camping spot. They sat there for quite some time, no one moving in or out of the vehicles, so we started guessing what they were up to. Daph guessed they were scouting for a movie or fashion shoot. I went to investigate..... They had no licence plates. They had been there for about an hour at about 100 ft. away from our spot. They then moved across our road and I saw about 10-12 burly guys standing out in the middle of the valley. Wanting to get Jack Bauers autograph I walked out to the rigs. A big burly crew-cut guy got out and I asked if they were scouting a site for a movie (fashion shoot was definitely out). He said that they were training up "those guys" while pointing at the jet contrails over the valley.
He said the terrain was very similar to Afghanistan and they were doing air-to-ground coordinations. They were with the Navy out of China Lake Weapons Stations. We had been watching the fighters all day, some flew so low we could see the landing gear, so it was nice to have an explanation. They had evidently moved to another spot the next day as the jets were working other areas of the valley. Sorry to miss Jack.

Wednesday - We spent the morning touring with the tour brochure and locating the various filming locations. The area is riddled with dirt roads going to the various shooting locations, so the opportunities for exploration are extensive. The brochure highlights only a few of the many locations, and the directions get you pretty close, but you still have to do some walking to exactly match the photo provided from each movie to help you locate the exact site. The rock formations in the Alabama hills are amazing, so it's no wonder so many films have been made here over the years, and the scenery seems so familiar. As we walked among the boulders it really would have seemed quite normal to hear gunfire, running horses, and see Gene or Roy pop out from behind a rock. Turn one way and it looks like you're in the Himalayas (Gunga Din, Kim and others took advantage of that) view, turn the other and it looks like Death Valley, which actually isn't very far away. A few feet right or left changes the scenery and reveals additional fantastic shapes. Here's a pretty complete list of films made in the area over the years. Once you've been here you can't help recognizing the scenery in a bazillion commercials too. It's been a great business for the area over time, as there isn't much in the way of industry or employment in the area otherwise.

Many of the most outstanding have names: Hoppy Rocks, Gary Cooper Rock, etc. The album has photos of many of the sites we located as well as a few other interesting details. Be sure to read the captions as they include details on each location.

By early afternoon we could see clouds building up over the Sierras, and then the wind picked up. We had pretty good gusts all night, shaking the trailer and shrieking around the windows. It dropped to the mid 30's during the night. This is a place we'd love to spend more time in, but not in this weather! We left plenty to explore on the next visit, so we're moving on to a warmer location.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Baker Creek Campground, Big Pine, CA

View out our door
Nestled up against the base of the Sierras just east of Big Pine, at 4,000 ft., Baker Creek campground is rustic but easily accessed by any type of vehicle. We selected a spot on the eastern side, right on the creek, looking up at the mountains.


We're up there on the left, through the trees
Baker Creek flows down a tree lined course, slowed here and there with small flood gates that form a couple of nice pools. Very picturesque with the fall leaves reflecting off the clear water! Of course, the snowy vista added considerably to the charm, but it also added to the chill. It was 29 when we got up this morning. Three cheers for our Olympia Wave propane heater!!! This is a rustic campground so anything we can do to save power is a good move. That little heater warms the place up in no time, and no electricity required.

One of the pools on Baker Creek
Looking out the window toward town in the morning light I noticed a large area of rocky ground glittering like diamonds - worth investigating I thought. It turned out the dry wash just east of us had been used as a dump, over many years, and though the quantity of "stuff" isn't large it's spread over a fairly wide area. Browsing over the rusted and broken flotsam and jetsam of many years is a favorite desert pastime. How old is that can, that bottle, what was that oddly shaped piece of tin? The area has the usual bundles of old wire, an abandoned kitchen stove, auto bits, and who-knows-what under the surface of the ground. This is a really dog friendly area, and everyone from town brings their pooches out here in the evening for a run, so you can bet it's been pretty well picked over as far as anything collectible.
Remember when you opened a Coors this way?

This is definitely a campground we'll be returning too. There's a lot to do in the area, and it would serve well as a base camp for day trips. Next stop, the Lone Pine area.

Monday, November 8, 2010

California or Bust!

Monday morning the accumulation of snow on the eastern Sierras looked pretty solid from our vantage point at the house. Checking road conditions, Steve decided our hwy 395 route would be safe, so off we went, through pristine snow-covered hills and rocky ridges – what fabulous scenery! The light snowfall makes everything even more dramatic, but we’re glad there isn’t any more than there is. We really are tired of the cold (already!).

It's hard to resist the urge to stop at every curve and record the view. I made do with the Shingle Mill rest area (hwy. 395) Walker River, Walker Valley, and am making a note to myself to research the name - there must have been a mill near here that made shingles! We passed Mono Lake (6,000 feet and still climbing) and reflected on how blue the water looked, and how lovely the clouds looked in reflection.

We had intended to stop and Glacier View campground, right on the highway in Big Pine - it has water and power - or so they say. First, the park is right on the highway, so potential for noise is pretty high. Second, this is one of those parks that evidences someone's unexplainable urge to outline every space and path with huge logs or boulders. After driving through the place, ripping off the lower sewer valve, and determining that the water had been turned off in the few places that actually had water connections (all of which were too short for us) we quickly decided to fill the tank and head for the edge of town. We're camped for the night at Baker Creek - we have a view of the snow covered Sierras you wouldn't believe! and we're right next to the creek - $10 a night.

Go Ducks Go Pack!!

Sunrise over Fish Springs
Friday morning the window shade on the east side of our rig lit up with a blaze of color that made me think something was on fire outside  - I pulled it up to catch one of the most dramatic sunrises I've seen in a long time so rushed out to catch it. Fleeting but beautiful! The day was pretty much a catch-up-on-chores day and prep for the upcoming football games on Saturday.

Saturday morning the sun popped out in between scattered clouds which eventually cleared off. All the fall leaves brightened up the neighborhood and contrasted with the dramatic backdrop of the eastern Sierras. I could sit and look at that view all day! If the moniker "Big Sky Country" weren’t already taken it would certainly apply here, and these fall colors and winter clouds are a nice change to the clear summer skies and raging thunder and lightening storms we usually see when we are here in July.

Beginning with the Duck game at noon we cheered pretty much non-stop as first our Ducks and then the Nevada Wolf Pack claimed victory over their opponents.  The sunset was rather nice, but foretold an upcoming storm.

Sunday the storm we were expecting did materialize – cold, wet, and high winds. A planned trip up to Virginia City (over 6,00 feet in altitude) seemed like a bad idea, so we girls went shopping in Genoa and Carson City while the guys prepared dinner. By the time we returned home around 3 PM the Sierras were beginning to turn white – 'glad we left Genoa before it started falling! The view in this photo is of the peaks at the southern end of Lake Tahoe.
First snow on the eastern Sierras


Visit the album and enjoy a few shots of the big sky here in the Carson Valley.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Back in Nevada

Wednesday morning we climbed up over Donner pass, heading east to Nevada, where we'll be visiting with friends. Great scenery along the pass - brilliant yellow birch trees and a rushing river contrast beautifully with the huge granite boulders and steep hillsides. I never can travel this highway without thinking about the  Donner Party and other pioneers who traveled this route, and how it must have been to be stranded in this landscape, in snow and freezing weather, with no hope of assistance for months. A smooth freeway full of cars is a comforting site in contrast.

There was skiff of snow tucked in here and there between the boulders and in the shade of trees. It seems early, but we are up over 7,000 feet so I guess it's not surprising.

We're making a quick stop to visit a friend up in "The Highlands", a scenic area up in the mountains east of Reno, about five miles from Virginia City. We're usually here in July, but things don't look much different this time of year, as the vegetation is primarily piñon pine, juniper and various forms of desert sage.

We always enjoy the late afternoon visit of the wild horses. While romantic to watch roaming through the sage brush, these wild horses present a conundrum for both homeowners and wildlife managers. First, they are not the famous mustang of history, they are just wild horses of mixed breed parentage, some freed recently by ranchers and other horse owners who could no longer afford them, or the offspring of wild horses that have been around for years. They present traffic problems (10 were killed on the highway in just one county over the past year). They're hard on landscaping too (yummy lawns keep them hovering around some housing developments.)

The other side of the issue is, they are historic, representing an aspect of these western mining communities that we all admire. Understandably, management of them is a challenge. This month the BLM is capturing and using a contraceptive to control the population growth of the herd in this area, but that won't impact those who are added to the herd through escaping or being turned loose by their owners. Many are captured by the BLM and then adopted out through various agencies. More about the wild horses, and burros, here.


There are also coyotes and squirrels wandering the hills, and providing entertainment for us as we watch from the porch.

This is the time of year the Native Americans harvest the piñon nuts.  This has been a good year for them, and the trees here are full of ripe nuts, the cones opening and dropping some of them on the ground - no wonder the ground squirrels are so fat! I couldn't resist collecting a few to play around with, as they are a prize delicacy in some recipes. It's a good thing we don't have to depend on my collecting skills for our winter food source however. Some fall out of the cones readily when smacked with a stick, but if you try to pry them out you get covered with pine sap. Smells nice, but yucky on the hands, so the amount I've collected wouldn't go far as a primary food source. I'm going to try my hand at roasting them. If we like the results we may be back next year to collect more!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Empire Mine State Historic Park, California

Nevada City is an old gold mining town. Beautiful Victorian homes and interesting shops line the streets, and their website lists many of the local activities and historic points of interest. We have limited time here, so we decided our one stop this time would be the Empire Mine State Historic Park, in nearby Grass Valley.

Wow! . .  I have to admit we are both a bit jaded when it comes to museums, as we've been through so many over the years. It takes a lot to impress us, and this park/museum definitely did!

Our experiences in the Rand mining area of southern California gave us the background to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of the displays and information available here, through the indoor and outdoor museum displays and the scale model of the mine as well as the well informed volunteers. The website for the Empire Mine park contains a lot of information so I won't replicate that here. Please follow that link and read about the mine. It's a very impressive history.

We were impressed by the completeness of the buildings, tool and machinery collections, and the furnishings of the restored offices. We really thought most of this was original, as sometimes happens when a factory is shut down with the idea of reopening it later. Not so in this case.


The docent (blacksmith) we spoke with explained that all the metal buildings, machinery, tools, etc. had been sold off. 

Once the decision to restore the mine was made the buildings were rebuilt and they began collecting the other items. They've done a wonderful job, and the park is definitely worth a visit.

If you do plan a visit check the tour schedule on the website. We just missed the opportunity to actually go into the Cottage and some of the other building. The Cottage is beautiful from the outside, as are the grounds, so I can only imagine what the inside is like.


This is a wonderful bit of California history. As well informed on the gold mining area as we are, we had never heard about this park. It's definitely worth a stop!

Check out our album, and the Empire Mine website, for more on the park.

Nevada City, California

We arrived here in Nevada City in early afternoon on Monday. We're staying at the Nevada City Elk's Lodge. This is a lovely facility built specifically for them in 1996. The lodge itself is 111 years old, and they had used a downtown building for years before they had this built.

The facility is nicely designed to serve a variety of purposes, and they clearly have an active membership judging by the number in attendance and the well maintained grounds. When they obtained the property there was an area that had been identified as a Native American ceremonial site, so they they have very effectively incorporated that into their landscaping.

The lounge and restaurant opened up at 4 o'clock so we joined the crew for a beverage, a tour of the facility, and dinner later in the evening. What a nice bunch of folks! That's the advantage of staying at a lodge, you get to meet a lot of local people and learn about the community.

We'll be here for only two nights, then move east to visit friends in Nevada.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Saturday was drizzly, but we went for a walk around the loop anyway, our every move watched by a very attentive great blue heron. He was standing in one of the campsites and looked a bit startled when we bounded out of the trailer. He implemented the usual ploy of imitating a stick, only the head turning so we stayed in view as we continued down the road. Those things are tall when standing on solid ground - nearly 4 feet! They're usually in a couple of feet of water so it's not so obvious.

We saw several different water birds in the park and I hope they have safe places to sleep because after dark we heard a fairly large pack of coyotes traveling through.

The boat ramp was quite over the weekend, as the construction workers all took the weekend off, so we had a nice view of the Feather River and it's resident wildlife.


 Sunday was beautiful - sunshine! and so as not to waste it we invited brother and his wife over to the campground for a BBQ.  Nothing like having an entire park to yourself.

In the evening we had a rather nice sunset, which set off the Buttes in the distance, seen here over the top of a young peach orchard.


Monday we headed east into the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, into gold country. passed the turnoff to   Timbuctoo , love that name, was a roaring mining town at one time.
There's only one remaining building there now, and this marker along the highway.

We also passed the town of Rough and Ready. If I had more energy we'd stop and explore. It's a charming little town, still with a strong old west flavor, and the narrow, steep streets typical of mining towns. As it is, the cold still has the upper hand so we continued on to our destination, Nevada City.