Thursday, February 28, 2008


FEBRUARY 15 - 22, 2008


If you would like to write to me, my address until March 20 is Marilyn Cole, c/o D&J Ziolkoski, Apt. 2, Trail Riders Holiday Park, 2460 E. Main Street, Mesa, Arizona 85213,U.S.A.

My Rental car with Ripley in Driver's Seat

Friday is Donuts and Coffee hour in the morning. Although I haven’t yet participated in many of the events, I decided to go to this one and meet more people.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but it is customary for everyone to bring their own cutlery and dinnerware to the various eating events. Today I only needed to bring my coffee mug, but if I had known that there would be only powdered creamer, I would have brought my own milk too.

Residents in the park contribute door prizes, but I was not lucky enough to win anything. However, I did pick up one of the red plastic piggy banks so that I can put in my change. The money collected goes to help the local schools and students who cannot afford basics like shoes.


After Donut hour, I headed north about 60 miles to Mesa (a suburb of Phoenix), to meet up with Jerry and Diane Ziolkoski. Jerry is one of my many cousins living in Winnipeg, and whom I met for the first time just a couple of years ago, when I decided to seek them out and flew out to Winnipeg. Jerry’s father and my father were brothers. Since then, we have kept in touch and I was pleased to learn that Jerry and Diane were renting an apartment in Mesa for three months, and we arranged for me to visit them. They are allowing me to use their address for my mail. I was sad to learn that Jerry suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, but he doesn’t allow it to stop him from doing the things he wants to do. He does tire easily because of his medication.


Because the RV park they are staying in does not allow dogs, I left Ripley behind. This day is one of the very few rainy days in Arizona, but we decided to go to nearby Westworld where the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show was on. We found a parking spot not too far away from the entrance and hurried inside, out of the drizzle.

We wandered around the many exhibits displaying gorgeous horse sculptures and artwork, western clothing, saddles, jewelry, etc. etc. We stopped at the booth of Casino Arizona to enter our names in a draw, and returned for the scheduled draw at 5:00 p.m. Jerry won one of the five prizes!! It consists of a dinner for two and show at Casino Arizona, plus a limo to and from the casino. We were able to get a few extra tickets for the show so that I could go too, and perhaps Diane’s sister and her boyfriend (who are arriving next week), and we also got some tickets for complementary drinks.

Marilyn, Casino staff, Jerry, Diane
We went on further to the big indoor arena, only to find that there were no classes going on at that time, and that the events scheduled later in the evening were all children’s classes. We chose to leave then, and return next Friday to watch some events.

We were all hungry by then, and stopped at a Chinese buffet in Mesa to fill our faces. The trouble with buffets is that you always eat more than you should!


On my way up to Mesa, I had relied upon my GPS to find the best route, but it had taken me off into the city of Gilbert with many traffic lights, making the trip longer than it needed to be. On my return to Coolidge, I took the freeways that loop through Phoenix, allowing me to get home much more quickly. However, when I arrived back at Indian Skies around 10:00 p.m., I had totally forgotten that the gate is locked after 7:00 p.m. and I did not have the pass code with me. I was contemplating a long night outside the gate, only a couple of hundred yards away from the comfort of my bed, not to mention poor Ripley who was probably crossing her legs by then! But I was in luck. Since it was Saturday night, I had to wait only about twenty minutes before another car came by and I was able to enter.


I had noticed that there was a walled subdivision across the road from the alfalfa field where I had previously taken Ripley. I decided to investigate and discovered that, although the streets were paved and named, the utilities were all installed, there were no houses! There is even a landscaped waterway and children’s playground. I guess it was a housing development that fell prey to the declining market. In any event, it was a great place to let Ripley loose with her soccer ball. She shows such delight in retrieving the ball when I throw it, bringing it back in her teeth and barking with joy, all the while wiggling her stump of a tail. She will repeat this endlessly until I tire of it.


The local newspaper advertised an afternoon matinee of several movies at the Harkin Theater in Casa Grande, including one that I had wanted to see, not because of the title of the movie, but because of the leading actor. This time I took the shorter route on the side roads and was dismayed when a flock of sparrow flew up across the road in front of me, and I couldn’t avoid killing one of them.

I have long been an admirer of the work of Daniel Day Lewis and consider him to be a very fine actor (My Left Foot; Age of Innocence; The Unbearable Lightness of Being; Last of the Mohicans), so of course I wanted to see his latest film “There Will Be Blood”, despite the title which I think is appalling. The movie is definitely violent, but is a character study of two individuals, an oilman (Daniel Day Lewis) and a preacher (Paul Bano). The latter is someone I have never heard of, but I felt that he was just as good in his supporting role as Day Lewis was in the lead role. (As it turns out, he did win the Oscar for his role as a man who started out with nothing, discovering his first oilwell and developing his business into a huge enterprise and losing his humanity along the way).

On the way home, I bought a new bike tire and left the bike with Steve, who said he would put it on.

Later, I took Ripley for another round of soccer ball in the vacant subdivision, and as we walked around afterwards, she startled a burrowing owl sitting in an excavation hole!


There is a strange man who has made it his business to go around to all the dumpsters in the park and root through it for the recyclables that weren’t put into the proper containers. While I’m sure it is very laudable of him to do so, it does look very odd!


While visiting the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, I had read about an interesting project that purportedly was first conceived as a prototype for a future habitat on Mars, known as Biosphere 2, located in the Santa Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson. Built at a cost of $150,000,000, in 1986 by Space Biospheres Ventures, the idea was to develop a fully self-contained facility entirely sealed from the earth below by a 500-ton welded stainless steel liner. According to the brochure, the facility is 3.14 acres, 91 feet at its highest point and contains 6,500 windows and 7,200,000 cubic feet of sealed glass and contains 300,000 square feet of administrative offices, classrooms, labs, conference center and residential housing. The plan was to have four men and four women live in it for a total of two years in the first phase, and then more people for a further four months, starting in 1991. After that, it seems to have been more or less abandoned (probably due to the fact that the experiment was less than successful, I surmise).

Columbia University took over the facility from 1996-2003, but due to lack of sufficient funding, it fell into disrepair. It was opened to the public in 2002 and was purchased by a consortium who leased it to the University of Arizona in July, 2007. It is slowly undergoing a renovation, and I have to guess that the admission fees are partially funding this because I was surprised to have to pay $18 for the seniors rate. That is one of the problems in visiting various sites in Arizona. The admission fees really eat up the budget in a hurry.

Since I had driven approximately 80 miles to get to Biosphere 2, I decided to pay the fee, leaving Ripley in the car in the shade. I walked past typical southwestern style buildings which is where I assume staff and students live while there. I didn’t see a single person in this area and wondered if most of the buildings were vacant.

The guided tour begins in the human habitat where the Biospherans lived, where they grew their crops and the kitchen where they cooked their meals. They were completely sealed off from the outside world (except for internet and phone) and had to depend entirely upon what they could grow in order to sustain themselves.

The guide (who was a retired school principal) was very knowledgeable and was able to answer everyone’s questions, volunteering information about why the experiment was not entirely successful.
For one thing, it seems that the architect called for a manufactured glass-like durable substance that was very durable but which did not allow the ultraviolet rays of the sun to penetrate, thus inhibiting photosynthesis. The insects and birds that were put into the vegetation soon died because the plants did not reproduce properly, starting a chain reaction in the rest of the species. The insects had no food and died, and the birds had no insects on which to feed and died as well. There were no insects left to pollinate the plants, and the humans had to go around with Q-tips and hand-pollinate the plants. When we entered the sealed chamber containing the various plants, we could see how badly off the vegetation was. The million gallon saltwater tank was far from healthy; the coral was almost dead; the water was green with algae growth, and the level was very low. The waterfall was not operational. The mangrove had disappeared.

The guide had mentioned that galagos had been put into the rainforest in order to give the humans some company. However, I had to question the choice of species. Galagos (also known as bushbabies) are nocturnal, notoriously shy and African. The rainforest consisted of all Peruvian plants. It would have made far more sense to have used a monkey like a capuchin or wooly monkey neither of whom are not adverse to being companions to humans and who are native to South America.

It seemed to me that whoever was in charge of choosing what animal species to use really knew little of animal husbandry. I don’t know what species of birds or insects were chosen, but besides the wrong choice of primate, the domestic animals chosen were pygmy goats, pigs and chickens. The goats got loose and ate all the food in the vegetable garden and produced very little milk, so they were slaughtered. Anyone who knows anything about goats knows that they are adept at escaping from any pen. There wasn’t much mention of pigs in the guide’s talk, but he did say that the chickens laid very few eggs because they were not receiving proper nutrition from grain.

As we descended from the rainforest down to the savannah past the dead mangrove, through the tropical thorn scrub and into the coastal fog desert, we encountered graduate students busily working on various projects, continuing the long, arduous task of repairing the damage done by neglect. The University of Arizona has received a very substantial grant to operate the Biosphere 2, and it would appear that they are beginning to turn things around. It certainly is a wonderful field study for the students, who are carrying out studies on the effects of global warming and other very relevant topics.

The guide took us through an underground area where the mechanical systems control the temperatures so that, regardless of the cold winter nights or the hot Arizona summers, the temperature inside the habitat remains constant – quite a feat in itself. It is also responsible for recycling all the water so that there is no loss in volume. From here we went through a tunnel into a huge room where the water storage is. The roof is a remarkable construction made out of a very strong rubber-like substance which contracts and expands the roof as needed, so that there is no implosion or explosion as the temperature outside changes.

The website of Biosphere 2 cites as its mission “to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching and life-long learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe.”

Santa Catalina Mountains behind Biosphere 2
There were many remarkable things to see, and certainly there was a lot of thought put into building such a structure. There was no mention of the Mars experiment in the talk, but I can’t imagine that the US government would have funded the original concept at a cost of $150M unless the space program had been involved. As to its future, who knows? There are things that just couldn’t be fixed (like the wrong use of a substitute for glass), but it is certainly a very interesting place to visit. And the view across the Santa Catalina Mountains is magnificent.


On the way back, Ripley and I stopped at a picnic site that had a statue commemorating Tom Mix. I vaguely remember a comic strip about this American cowboy, and the plaque mentioned that he epitomized the Old West, and died in 1940, before I was born. The highway runs through the desert, and much of it was a national park with no fencing.

We passed many ranches on the way, and it was interesting to note that there are no barns in the traditional sense. There really is no need for an enclosed structure in the climate here in Arizona, and the buildings generally have a solid steel roof, with open sides.


I arrived back at Indian Skies in time for the Sunday Ice Cream Social, another of the activities planned by the residents. For $1.00 I was given a generous scoop of strawberry ice cream (there was a choice of vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and pistachio), plus a dollop of strawberry syrup as well as a ticket for a door prize.

Tonight was special because it was also the commemoration of 50th wedding anniversaries of four of the couples in the park. They were seated at a head table, introduced and we were told how they met, and each had their photo taken in a gazebo set up. Afterwards the announcer asked if there were other couples celebrating anniversaries, and several stood up. One couple was celebrating their 62nd anniversary this year!


Today is officially a holiday, and I slept in. Apart from taking Ripley for a drive to play with her soccer ball, I did very little.

As I was sitting outside my rig at my computer, I noticed a very charming scene. An elderly woman was taking a stroll around the park using her walker, and her husband was keeping pace beside her.

I’ve slowly been reading the little book that I had picked up in Pinos Altos, New Mexico entitled “In Pinos Altos Once Upon a Time”. The book reproduces newspaper articles from the 1800’s in that mining community and provides real vignettes into the life of the miners and their families. One that caught my eye was the story of the origin of the word “gringo” dated November 10, 1890:

Sundry English vessels, it is said, did a long time ago cast anchor off Matzatlan, and sailors as is a time honored custom, took an early opportunity of going ashore and getting drunk. Several of them were parading the streets and singing, and the song among others that particularly caught the Mexican ear was that old friend of Englishmen titled ‘Green Grow The Rushes, Oh!’ After that whenever an Englishman came in sight, it was customary to remark, ‘Aqui vienen los green-grows’, and ‘green-grows’ very soon got to be written and pronounced gringo, and has stuck to the foreigner ever since.”

I think that my microwave oven has given up the ghost. I have tried unplugging it, I’ve checked all the fuses, but it still doesn’t work. I use it a lot, so I guess I will have to buy a new one.


Hoppy, my next door neighbour, very kindly assisted me in putting my awning up, as I have done it so rarely (it was far too windy in New Mexico) that I had forgotten how to do it. One of the things that I like about this park is that people are always willing to help each other out.

I drove around Coolidge to do a few errands (post office, Wal Mart, groceries, etc.). On my way back I spied an ice cream store and had a wonderful old-fashioned milk shake, made with real milk and real ice cream. What a treat!


Originally my plan for today was to drive to Phoenix to see a hockey game with the Phoenix Coyotes (Wayne Gretzky’s team), but then I noticed an ad for an event at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I love watching dancing and had wanted to see the group “Forever Tango” when they were in Toronto last year, but the ticket prices were exorbitant. When I saw that they would be appearing at Centennial Hall one night only, I made the decision to order a ticket and drive down.

It was much faster this time in a car, but the fact that all the downtown exits are closed for construction does make it harder. With the help of good old Maude, the GPS, I maneuvered through the streets, and as is usual with all campuses, had to park some blocks away. I had brought Ripley with me because she really enjoys car rides and I knew that she would be fine staying in the car while I was at the performance, after taking her for a walk first. I parked on a street that seemed to be part of the student residential area, and felt safe in leaving her there.


The performance was all that I had expected – and more. There were seven pairs of dancers, plus one singer and ten musicians. Four played the bandoneon (a Spanish accordion), plus others played violin, viola, cello, bass, piano and keyboard. Some of the acts were duets, others, groups. The dancers were simply amazing, especially the lead pair Jorge Torres and Marcela Duran. I can’t imagine how they were able to avoid tripping each other as they rapidly wove their legs around each other. The tango is a very sultry dance and they surely were the epitome of that form of expression. All in all, I totally enjoyed the evening – and it only cost $35 for the ticket!

I am getting to know my way around Tucson a bit, and it was fairly easy to get back on to I 10 and head up the highway to Indian Skies, arriving home around 11:00 p.m.


I’ve mentioned that there are many activities here at Indian Skies, all organized by a volunteer council of the residents. It is truly surprising to me to see how many people pitch in to organize the events.

Wednesday afternoon is “Country Jam” from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Today seven of the park residents got together with their various instruments to jam. The numbers vary, depending upon who is here at the time.
There were three guitars, one banjo, one harmonica, one accordion and one violin/guitar. Two of the men and the single woman sang country songs, and I was surprised at just how good they were. It seems that one fellow used to make his living singing at weddings, etc. and they all have been playing their instruments for many years as amateurs. I asked one of my neighbours of they practiced, and she said, no they just get together on Wednesdays. If that is the case, they were able to follow each other quite well.

I checked my weight in the card room. I now weigh 144 lbs. That’s 12 lbs. less than when I began this adventure, and I have Ripley to thank for that. Walking with her has been a great source of exercise. Speaking of that, I took her out once again with her soccer ball. She is so happy when she has that ball to chase around. She carries it in her teeth or pushes it with her nose and barks as she does it – one of the very few times that she does bark (the other being when she is warding off strangers). I only hope that she is not eating the bits that she manages to chew off the ball.

I have learned to give her a cooling off period after her chasing the ball so that she won’t vomit in the car, so we took a walk around the vacant subdivision and scared up the same burrowing owl, who seems to have taken up residence in one of the excavated holes. It’s actually a pretty good place for wildlife, as there are no people around to disturb them. Now that I know it’s there, I’ll take Ripley around it so that she doesn’t frighten it.

My Site at Indian Skies
On my return, I met my neighbour on the other side of me. Sherry is a full-time resident in her RV and works at Safeway in nearby Florence. She has a permanent roof and patio plus a storage shed, and like many people here in the USA, thinks nothing of living in a trailer. I have certainly adjusted my attitude towards “trailer people” since I’ve been on this trip. There are, of course, the areas where it is obvious that the name “trailer trash” can apply, but there are many others who care for their homes and hold jobs, or are retired.


Tonight a lunar eclipse was scheduled, but wouldn’t you know it? This is one of the very few nights where it is cloudy here, and unfortunately I missed the eclipse. My friend Jane Dewar in Georgia sent me a lovely photo that Steuart had taken with his fancy equipment.

Around midnight, the wind really started to pick up, and I hurriedly rushed outside to take my awning down. It took me some time to figure out how to do it properly, and the strong wind whipping the awning certainly didn’t help, but eventually I did manage to get it down in one piece. That’s the danger of putting the awning up. I have been told of horror stories where the wind has simply ripped the awning right off, or knocked it over the roof of the RV, causing damage to the roof.

After that, I decided to relax in the hot tub. I haven’t mentioned it, but I am in there just about every evening now.


After consulting with Rosemarry, the office manager, I headed off to Wal Mart to buy a new microwave. The prices certainly are reasonable here in the US, and I got a very nice one, complete with a browning element for only $70. Hoppy, my neighbour took out my old one from its cabinet, and is going to help me install the new one, once I am sure that I want to keep it. I will try it out for a day or two before we anchor it into the RV. That’s one thing that I always have to think about. You can’t just simply buy something and put it on a shelf. It has to be installed properly so that the next time I drive off, it doesn’t land on the floor.

I saw the burrowing owl again today, and unfortunately Ripley disturbed it because it had moved to a different hole.


Today, it is still cloudy and cool. It is unfortunate as I am heading to Mesa again today.

But first, there was Donut Hour – and I won a door prize! I don’t quite know what I will do with two fishing lures that have giant hooks on them. Maybe make some earrings?? Or donate them to the next door prize event!

As I planned to be away for most of the day and evening, Steve and Anna very kindly dogsat Ripley. Anna took her around to visit several of the residents, and apparently she was quite the hit.


Meanwhile, I got on my way to Jerry and Diane’s apartment and it rained quite heavily in spots along the road. They have a nice two-bedroom apartment, one of a few that are available at Trail Riders Holiday Park. It has a living room with a fireplace, a washer and dryer in the kitchen area, and a large patio, and they are quite comfortable there.


We headed off to the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show as planned (I drove my car this time), and arrived in a drizzle. For $7 admission fee, we headed to the bleachers to watch the events scheduled.

When I was a teenager, I loved Arabian horses, and was very involved with the Arabian Horse Association of Eastern Canada, even acting as Show Secretary for a couple of years. I dreamed of being able to attend the Scottsdale show, which is the biggest (there were exhibitors from eleven countries, with 2,600 entries this year). It took awhile, but I finally made it!!

We found good seats on the far side of the large arena, and I happily ran down to the rails by the reserved seating, to take photos of some of the classes. There were many dogs in the aisleways being taken around by their owners on leashes, and I know that Ripley would have had a great time if I had brought her.

The extent of classes offered has certainly expanded since I was involved. We weren’t in time for the Mounted Native Costume class, unfortunately – always fun to watch. But we did see two Western Pleasure Championship classes,
Country English Pleasure- Mares, Country English Pleasure-Geldings,
Half—Arabian Western Pleasure and last of all, the Arabian Freestyle Liberty class. This last class was new to me – and was it spectacular! The three entrants were each brought into the ring separately in a halter. The halter was then taken off and the horse was allowed to go free in the ring. The object was to show off the various gaits of the horse to music and for it to travel around all areas of the ring while the audience cheered. At the end of the exhibition, the two handlers have two minutes to halter the horse. The horses are trained to perform like this.

The first beautiful grey stallion moved around the ring well, but wanted no part of being caught. Instead, he was more interested in sniffing the urine of the horses who had been there earlier. It was quite obvious that the two handlers were afraid of him – and he knew it. After about ten minutes, it took the three judges, the show steward, plus other volunteers to corner him and send him into the exit chute, where one of the judges finally grabbed hold of his mane. The judge was whirled around in a circle a few times while clinging to the mane, and eventually the halter was put on the horse. Of course this horse’s score was quite low.

The second horse performed quite well, but it was the third magnificent grey stallion who put on a wonderful show. He appeared to enjoy performing for the audience, and tore around the edge of the arena, with his tail erect as only Arabians can do (they have one less bone in their tail than other horses); he would stop at various points, reverse his direction, strutting off again. At the end of his time, he stood perfectly still for his handlers to halter him. Of course, he won the class!

It was a great way to end the afternoon events. Our plan had been to go to the horse show in the afternoon, and then make our way over to the US Airways Arena to try to get tickets for the basketball game later. It started at 8:30 p.m., so we had plenty of time to wander around the exhibit area once again, and admire the gorgeous artwork and sculptures, as well as the wonderful jewelry, clothing, tack, etc.


It had stopped raining by the time we decided to leave and make our way across the city to the arena where the Phoenix Suns play. Good old Maude took us around via the various freeways, and we arrived around 7:00 p.m. I had suggested to Jerry and Diane that we not buy tickets in advance because the scalpers would be around, based on my experience in Toronto. However, I had really underestimated the appeal of basketball in Arizona. And it didn’t help that Shaquille O’Neal had just joined the team. The box office was sold out. Not even the scalpers had tickets! So, we were disappointed that we couldn’t get into the arena and agreed to head back to Mesa to watch the game on TV instead.


On the way home, we stopped at Long John Silver for a combination fish/shrimp platter, and as usual there was enough on my plate to take home a doggy bag.

The game against the Boston Celtics was exciting – but it would have been better if we could have seen it in person. We agreed that I would order tickets and that we would go another day, after Diane’s sister Jeanine had gone back home. She is arriving tomorrow for a week.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it seems that Ripley had a good time with Anna and Steve, and she had been returned to my RV when I got back at 1:00 a.m. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sleep, so headed for the hot tub, and then read until 4:00 a.m. I had found an early work of Randy Wayne White, when he was writing as Randy Striker – a typical James Bond type of book (hero kills the enemy, gets the girl).

It had not rained at all in Coolidge, whereas it poured heavily in Phoenix.

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