April 1st finds us on the road from Peoria, AZ to Dolan Springs, AZ, where our friends, Buddy and Sally, have lived for years. Larry was stationed with Buddy in Germany. It had been over 20 years since we last saw them.
Dolan Springs is just south of Las Vegas and is a small town, today. When the bypass road around Hoover Dam opens in the future, some 33,000 homes are expected to be built in the Dolan Springs area. It is close enough to Vegas to almost be considered a suburb.
We enjoyed Buddy and Sally’s hospitality, having dinner at their home Saturday evening, at which time we met their daughter Kimberly and her husband Brandon (on leave from Iraq).
While in the area, we drove to Meadview, which overlooks the easternmost portion of Lake Mead. The western portion of the Grand Canyon butts up against Lake Mead so we saw some beautiful scenery, craggy rock faces and steep hills.
Our next stop was Lake Havasu City, home of the relocated London Bridge. The bridge was originally built in London over the Thames River in 1825. In 1962, it was discovered that the bridge was falling down, sinking into the Thames because it was not adequate for the increase in traffic. Robert McCulloch, an Arizona developer, learned that the British Government was putting the bridge up for sale. He submitted the winning bid for $2,460,000. Plans were made to move and reconstruct the bridge in Lake Havasu City. Each piece was marked with four numbers. The first indicated which span, the second noted which row of stones, and the last two numbers indicated which position in that row.
The bridge was shipped by boat 10,000 miles to Long Beach, California. From there it was trucked to Lake Havasu City, where it was stored in a seven-acre fenced storage compound. On September 23, 1963, the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Gilbert Inglefiend, laid the corner stone.
Reconstructing the bridge in Lake Havasu City was done in the same manner as the Egyptians built the pyramids. Sand mounds beneath each arch were carefully formed to the profile of the original bridge arches, serving the same function as molds. When work was completed, the sand was removed. A one-mile channel was dredged and water was diverted from the lake, under the bridge, then back into the lake.
London Bridge was completed and dedicated on October 10, 1971 and serves to connect Lake Havasu City with a small island on which vacation condos, shops and restaurants are located. The channel is now a popular place for recreational boats to cruise up and down the channel, stopping along its banks for an impromptu picnic. There is a paved path along the channel on the island side, from where you can walk under the bridge and get a good view of the arches.
Our next destination was the sleepy desert town of Quartzsite, located right off of Interstate 10, just a few miles east of the California border. Quartzsite’s claim to fame is the huge gem and mineral show and RV show that takes place in January and draws over a million visitors, most of them RVers. We can’t imagine how crowded Quartzsite becomes then, as the main road is only two lanes wide and less than a mile long. Quartzsite is surrounded by BLM lands (Bureau of Land Management) on which you can dry camp for two weeks at no charge. Friends Karen and Galen, with whom we’ll be working with as school grounds sitters in Alaska, met us there. Dry camping there was a good test for our new solar system, getting us comfortable with our power limits.
One afternoon the four of us piled into our truck in search of the Intaglios, or Giant Indian Figures, found in nearby Blythe, CA. These figures were made thousands of years ago by scraping the darkened rock on the desert floor to reveal the lighter colored soil beneath. We located three of these figures – two of men and one that appears to be a horse. The figures are now fenced in to protect them from the many four-wheelers that race up and down the nearby hills. Never ones to miss lunch and making do with whatever location we are in, we had an impromptu picnic, sitting in the bed of our truck.
After a few days surrounded by the peace of the desert, we reluctantly left Karen and Galen, heading for Anaheim, California. Our ride was mostly uneventful until we hit Indio, then we experienced typical California traffic that intensified the closer we got to our destination.
Anaheim is the home of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm – which translates to lots of tourists and resort RV parks. It was a challenge finding an affordable place because we just wanted a place to park and hook up the few days there. Long time friends Karen and Dana drew us to Anaheim. Back in our Fort Bliss military days, Larry and Karen worked together for the Army; Dana and Lucille worked together at a cardboard/paper recycling plant in El Paso. Karen is a free-lance convention photographer so her schedule was free while we were there. Dana works for Weyerhaeuser (more on that later), so we’d see him in the evenings.
Karen was our chauffeur and tour guide that first day. We visited Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in nearby Garden Grove. In 1955, Reverend Schuller and his wife conducted their first church worship service on the roof of the snack bar at a drive-in theater in Orange, CA. 100 people and 50 cars showed up that day. In 1961, the world’s first walk-in/drive-in church structure was completed with over 2,000 persons attending each of the two Sunday morning services. In 1970, based on Rev. Billy Graham’s recommendation, Rev. Schuller televised their church service weekly – the Hour of Power is born, which today is being broadcast worldwide.
The Cathedral, dedicated in 1980, is an impressive structure – white steel trusses form a lace-like frame, covered by over 10,000 windows – very open-looking. The Cathedral seats almost 3,000 people as well as a 1,000-person choir; the pipe organ is one of the five largest in the world (sure wish we could have heard it.) Located next to the Cathedral is a 52-bell carillon tower with a memorial chapel at its base. The newly opened hospitality center houses a museum documenting Rev. Schuller’s and the Cathedral’s growth. What is impressive is that when dedicated in 1980, and still today, it is debt free. The grounds also are breathtaking, with lush landscaping and many bronze sculptures throughout. Even the rest rooms were spectacular – we smuggled Larry into the ladies’ room to try to get a picture.
After lunch, we went to a nearby beach to fly some of the kites Karen had brought. Larry’s kite, an eagle, was particularly drawn to the rocks, again and again. We had so much fun doing this that we bought our own kites the next time we were at Sam’s Club.
On Day Two, Dana arranged to give us a tour of Weyerhaeuser, manufacturers of food service cardboard boxes. He is one of the electricians there and was very knowledgeable about all the machines and the manufacturing process, all very interesting, especially the machine the merged three sheets of cardboard into corrugated cardboard.
From Anaheim, we moved to Point Mugu, on the Pacific Coast Highway (US 1), 45 miles north of Santa Monica. The ride through Los Angeles was hairy, as were some parts of US 1 that were narrow due to mudslides. But once we saw our campsite (at the military campground at the Point Mugu Naval Air Station), the ride was worth every stressful minute. Our site overlooked the Pacific and had a beach that welcomed pets. Shelley must be part sandpiper – she loves to chase the waves, running back and forth to avoid getting wet – sometimes she won, sometimes the Pacific did.
Lucille’s Aunt Marie and cousin Carole and her husband Gregg, and boys Trent and Brett, live in the Santa Monica area. We drove in one day to have lunch with Marie; on Sunday we joined Carole and her family to watch Brett play in a little league baseball game – what an arm on that boy! We then went back to their house for a cookout. It is nice to be able to spend more time with our families now that we are retired and don’t have to rush back from our way-too-short vacations, as we have in the past.
Nearby, Port Hueneme is home to the U.S.Navy Seabee Museum. The Seabees, established in 1942, serve in a variety of roles to support our country’s military. Their “We Build. We Fight.” motto and their can do attitude are seen throughout in the museum’s collection of photographs, artifacts, equipment and memorabilia.
After several days in the Santa Monica/Point Mugu area, it was time to head north, again. We drove on scenic US 101, stopping for several days at Vandenberg AFB, in Lompoc. Upon arriving at the military campground there, we saw a sign warning about the coyotes in the area and to keep an eye on your small dogs and children. We were driving through looking for a place to park and spotted a coyote, in broad daylight, casually strolling through the grounds. The area is also home to hundreds of ground squirrels. You’d see their little heads popping in and out of holes scattered all around us.
We went into Lompoc, known as the “City of Murals in the Valley of Flowers.” Usually late May, early June, surrounding fields are bursting with blooms of all types of locally grown flowers. The floral theme can be seen throughout the city. The murals were fascinating, though, and were introduced to Lompoc as a way to use art to attract visitors. There are over 50 murals throughout downtown Lompoc – we saw about half of them. The largest of those we saw was the Veterans Tribute, painted in 2000 – paying tribute to all men and women who have served, fought and died in the wars and conflicts of the 20th Century.
Next on our day tour of the area was La Purisima Mission State Historic Park. The Spanish and Mexican soldiers built the mission originally. The nearby Chumash Indians moved into the mission to live and work. Due to disease, malnutrition, lack of supplies and support – the mission closed around 1834. For a hundred years, it lay in decline until Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps came to rebuild on the original foundations. They learned the skills needed to build the adobe mission by hand, copying the carpentry, blacksmithing and plastering skills from the early mission days. La Purisima was dedicated as a state park in 1941 and today hosts thousands of visitors. Costumed living history events, guided tours, demonstrations and outreach programs help bring the history of the mission to life.
The hills surrounding Lompoc are ivory colored and contain the world’s largest known diatomite deposit. Millions of years ago, single cell plants called diatoms flourished in the oceans. The fossilized remains are used today in so many aspects of our life. Diatomaceous earth absorbs many times its weight – a useful absorbent for liquids. Some of its uses: filtering beverages; thickening and flattening agent in paint; a non-poisonous insecticide; an ingredient in cement, insulation and plastics; a mild abrasive. The Celite Corporation mines and mills this deposit (don’t call it dirt!) We would have loved a tour of this plant but we were only allowed as far as the gate guard who did give us some informative brochures.
After a short two-day stop in the Lompoc area, we hit the road north again – destination – the Santa Rosa area where Lucille’s cousin Gene and his family live. Enroute, we opted to stay overnight in the Camping World parking lot in San Martin, just south of San Francisco, rather than face rush hour traffic. We hit the road the next morning and breezed on through Oakland and San Jose, using the route that Gene had recommended, instead of going through San Francisco. Our campground this time was at the Coast Guard Training Center outside of Petaluma. When we researched this campground, we saw it only had six sites, so we were expecting a small, not very developed campground. What a pleasant surprise to find what we think is the military’s best kept secret. Yes, there were only six sites, but they were located next to a pond teeming with wading birds, geese and ducks. All the sites were paved and situated in a circle. The scenery was very bucolic – rolling hills, cows, and barns surrounded us. It was so peaceful and quiet at night. Surprisingly, this particular Coast Guard facility is not located on the water. It is known for its training school for Coast Guard chefs. That explained why we saw soldiers marching in formation dressed in white, wearing chefs’ hats.
Saturday was spent visiting Gene, wife Susan, daughter Jennifer and her boyfriend Dan, son Michael and girlfriend Jenna, and son Daniel. We can’t be this close to wine country and not visit any wineries, so Gene acted as chauffeur and guide as we visited two wineries that afternoon, enjoying the tastings and benefiting from his wine knowledge. The Hanna Winery was small and more personal than Kendall Jackson. But Kendall Jackson’s landscaping was spectacular.
After a wonderful cookout at their house that evening, we made plans to meet again on Sunday and visit some nearby redwood trees and drive along the coast a little. But first, a word about their golden retriever mix, Riley. Riley is a huge lovable, two-year old dog that isn’t bashful about being a lapdog when he lets you share one of his couches. He also played the piano during our meal, hoping to get a handout. The more he is ignored, the more notes he plays. He was actually ‘playing’ chords at the end of our meal. He was just too funny to watch!
The next day, our first stop was the Armstrong Redwoods State Forest Reserve. There are several trails throughout the park – we chose a loop that was a little over one mile but several significant landmarks were located on this trail. We saw the oldest tree – Colonel Armstrong, estimated to be over 1,400 years old; the tallest-- Parson Jones at 310 feet; and the Icicle Tree on which huge redwood burls hang from the trunk resembling icicles. Our trail took us to an outdoor forest theater with estimated seating for over 1,000 people. It appeared to have a stage and an orchestra pit – we’ve heard that plays are sometimes put on there. Jennifer thought that might be a great place to have a wedding.
From there we drove to Bodega Bay, a quaint town on the rugged California coast. We stopped and had an early dinner at the Sandpiper Restaurant that serves, in our opinion, the best clam chowder, with just a hint of tarragon.
Gene had suggested a day trip through the Napa Valley. Our route took us through rolling hills and flat valleys where we saw miles and miles of vineyards. We never could find a pullout to take pictures of all the grape vines – it was amazing. We made a quick stop at the Niebaum-Coppola Winery, owned by movie director Francis Ford Coppola. This winery is a mini-museum showcasing the wines produced as well as memorabilia from his many movies. One of the Tucker automobiles from the movie Tucker was the centerpiece on the 2nd floor, a car ahead of its time but destined not to be produced. Some of the furniture and props from the Godfather movies were also on this floor.
Next stop on our itinerary was California’s Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga. We had lunch on the grounds while we watched the geyser erupt over 60 feet skywards. What is interesting about this particular geyser is that it may actually predict earthquakes before they happen. Old Faithful in Yellowstone has abnormal activity after an earthquake whereas this one in California does so beforehand. Scientists are still trying to determine how to pinpoint a location when California’s Old Faithful delays its normal performance of erupting every 40 minutes to a longer interval.
From there we went to visit California’s Petrified Forest, also in the Calistoga area. Over three million years ago, a volcano nearby erupted, the blast knocking down giant redwoods, oak and pine trees and covering them in volcanic ash. Water laden with silicates in the ash seeped into the downed trees, replacing wood cells with crystallized silica until trees became stone. We saw a two-foot diameter, 43 foot long petrified pine tree and redwood trees varying from six to eight feet in diameter up to 105 feet long.
Santa Rosa is the home of the late Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip. We spent an afternoon at the Schulz Museum, learning about how Charles (better known to his friends and family as Sparky) came to be the artist we all know; viewing the birth of the comic strip in 1950 to its last publication upon Sparky’s death in 2000. We ‘met’ characters that were introduced in the beginning but we weren’t aware of, in particular, Shermy, who was Charlie Brown’s practical friend. We watched Snoopy’s progress from as a passive four-legged dog to an upright thinking and very active ‘character’ (remember Snoopy and the Red Baron?) We arrived before the museum’s normal operating hours, so we occupied our time browsing through the gift shop across the street. We then stopped and had lunch at the Warm Puppy Café, which overlooks the Snoopy on Ice skating arena. We watched children and adults skating while we ate and learned later that Sparky would often spend his coffee breaks and lunch hours down there enjoying a cup of hot cocoa, watching the skaters.
April seems to have flown by and again, we hit the road--destination northbound. We have been driving on US 101 since we’ve left the Los Angeles area, enjoying the beautiful scenery and less traffic than the more direct I-5. A couple of people recommended that we jump off of 101 to take Hwy 254, also known as the Avenue of the Giants, as we headed north. This 33-mile loop takes you through towering redwoods. We finally found a pullout long enough to accommodate us to be able to take pictures but it is difficult to capture how very tall these trees are on camera. We couldn’t drive through any trees because of our size but what we did see was breathtaking and made you think of how insignificantly small we are compared to these very old and tall trees.
From there, we drove to just north of Brookings, Oregon, where we stopped for the night at a scenic pullout with a view of Arch Rock. Our ‘campsite’ was on a bluff, overlooking the Pacific Ocean – we were lulled to sleep by the waves crashing on the rocks below.
An early start the next day, still on scenic but hilly US 101, and we were on our way to Rockaway Beach, Oregon, where we plan to stay for a couple of days at a membership campground, Paradise Cove RV Resort and Marina. Another month rushes by!