Wednesday, April 2, 2008

EPISODE NUMBER FORTY - ARIZONA/CALIFORNIA

EPISODE NUMBER FORTY – ARIZONA/CALIFORNIA
MARCH 24 - 30, 2008



PHOTOS NOW HERE

MONDAY, MARCH 24, 2008

FAREWELL TO INDIAN SKIES

I didn’t sleep well last night, probably because I knew that I would be leaving in the morning.


Indian Skies Garden
Since starting on my travels, there have been a few places where it has been difficult to leave, and Indian Skies is one of them. I have greatly enjoyed making new friends here, sharing the camaraderie and learning new skills, but it is time to move on. I walked around taking some last-minute photographs, including the nest of a cactus wren who has chosen one of the taller cacti in the garden of one of the residents.

Some of the residents were talking about an armed robbery that occurred on the main street of Coolidge at a Circle K on Easter Sunday morning. The robbers took the jewelry and money of everyone in the store and fled. The police are looking for them. That is very scary.

The ones I will remember most are Rosemary (Ontario); Anna (Rosemary’s sister) and Steve (Ontario); Penny and Doug (Ontario); Georgia and Hoppy (Montana); Karla and Michael(Ontario); Wanda, Ron and Dayeko (Wisconsin); Maureen (B.C.); Lorraine and Dick (Illinois); Karen and Dennis; Bob and Darlene and Sheri. Perhaps I’ll see some of them again next year!

After Rosemary read my electricity meter, and I paid my bill, Ripley and I pulled out, waving goodbye to Sheri, Georgia and Hoppy, and heading up I-10.

Gas prices are continuing to rise, and this has me greatly concerned. It will definitely determine my route home. Instead of detouring on side trips, for the most part I will be taking the shortest and straightest route up the coast. In fact, if I had not already arranged to visit various people, I would seriously consider heading back to Ontario directly.

Karla had mentioned that my right headlight was not operating, so I stopped at the Wal Mart to buy the bulb. The main light works, but the day light does not, so I’ll leave it until I stop later on.

Nonetheless, I headed west along Highway 10, while contemplating the difference in some language use between Americans and Canadians. I’ve made a small list of some that I’ve noted:

American Canadian

restroom bathroom/washroom
sofa chesterfield
dinner lunch
supper dinner
ORV (offroad vehicle) ATV (all terrain vehicle)

I’m sure there are many more, but these are the ones that readily spring to mind.

On my way westward, I passed a road called Sore Finger Road, which struck me as funny.

QUARTZSITE - FREE TO STAY

Back in New Mexico, I had kept hearing about the town of Quartzsite, so it seemed like a good idea to stop on my way through. The Bureau of Land Management owns a good deal of the desert around the town, and allows people to camp there for free for up to fourteen days. If you wish to stay longer, then there is a designated site for that, and the fee is $40/month or $50 a season, I believe. A honey wagon comes along to dump waste, but other than that, there are no facilities. However, in town there are spots to dump and to pick up water.

The host at his trailer, told me just to pick a spot, and since I was only staying overnight, he didn’t need to register me. He also mentioned my burned-out headlight. So, I found a nice flat area off the main road and pulled in, but I took at small ditch a little too quickly, causing my fairly new slow cooker to fall and break. This was upsetting, as it was a handy item to have.


The first order of business after stopping was to install the new headlight before I was stopped by a highway patrolman.

Ripley enjoyed running around freely, checking out all the holes while I wandered around collecting bits of quartz which is literally lying all over the desert. There were only a few insects to bother me, and the sunset was wonderful as it set over the mountains in the distance.


TUESDAY, MARCH 25, 2008

I had a great sleep under the stars, and decided that I wanted to stay another day and do some exploring.

I had a breakfast of bacon, eggs and coffee alfresco, sitting at my little table outside Philippa. Ripley wandered around and came back with a cholla spine in her paw. This is the first time that she has managed to get one of these sharp devils in her, and I expect it may be the last!

I drove into the town and stopped at a bakery that was mentioned in the local Chamber of Commerce booklet to buy homemade bread, a cinnamon bun and a donut. I looked for the Radio Shack, but was told it had burned down! The majority of the main street catered to the 1,000,000 plus RV visitors who come to this town annually. I recall that rallies are held here, and of course the rock hounds have a field day searching for gems on the adjacent mountains.

And wouldn’t you know it, I came across a shop advertising “old” beads. Of course, I couldn’t resist going in. The “old” beads turned out to be much more expensive than I could afford as a novice (some strings were as much as $1,500, but they did have a wide selection of other beads). Penai, (pronounced Pen-I) originally from B.C. and who married an American and settled in Quartzsite, was very helpful. She lives in a new senior’s apartment building, in a two-bedroom, for which she pays $270/month. The poor woman was scheduled for heart surgery in Phoenix in a few days, and I overheard the owner of the shop offer to drive her there. Penai is an independent woman who hates to ask for favours, and we talked about this trait that we share, but sometimes one must ask for help. I do hope that she will be fine. She was a lovely, kind person who gave me some beading websites and offered to ship anything to me if I found that the prices were more expensive in Ontario (which I expect they will be).

When I asked for a place to park in the shade for awhile, she guided me to the town park. I headed for a shaded picnic site where there was a cool breeze, while Ripley chased lizards. The cinnamon bun went down well, along with the coffee.

I picked up a local paper called “The White Sheet”, in which people advertise some rather strange things. For instance, here are three that stood out:

“’07 Rhino cage, stock, $140 obo”. Let’s hope that the person who bought this knew what he was doing ! (Actually, I learned later that Rhino is a brand of an All Terrain Vehicle.)

“Raccoon mailbox, standard size, never used $25”. No comment.

“2 Youth never used $65 each” Again, no comment.

BACK IN THE DESERT

After this little sojourn in town, I headed back to the desert to pick out a new location to stay overnight, and settled down to make some jewelry with some of my new finds. This could turn into a little business, if I keep this up! I would hope at least to be able to recoup my expenses.


Ripley and I wandered off into the desert, and this time I remembered my binoculars. Several western wood peewees were flitting around through the brush, and I saw a hawk but it flew away before I could identify it. The desert is just starting to bloom in earnest now, and I marveled at how these plants could defy the severe cold and intense heat to survive in this environment.


TUESDAY, MARCH 26, 2008

I took Ripley for one last walk in the desert before packing up.

CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME

My first impression of California was not too favourable. The highway number 10 had a good deal of garbage on the sides of the road (in Arizona, they utilize inmate labour to keep them clean), and the first rest area that I went to was also dirty (garbage strewn around and dirty washrooms). Ripley did find a lizard to chase. She never seems to understand that they are much faster than she is!

As we drove along through the Mojave Desert, I noticed different desert flowers in bloom, and found many of the radio stations were in Spanish. And as we drove along the Sonny Bono Memorial Highway near Coachella, just east of Palm Springs, I could smell the pollution. The winds were extremely gusty, providing the power to turn the hundreds of windmills, as I turned northwards on Highway 62 towards Joshua Tree National Park.

It had been my intention to stop at this park for the night, but the campgrounds were full, and then I learned that dogs were not allowed on the trails, so there was no point in paying for a daily admission fee either. Instead, I ordered a broccoli and cheese quiche from the Park Rock Café (as recommended by my friend Monika Harmathy).

Having checked my Passport America guide, I drove on about thirty miles to 29 Palms RV Resort, in the town of 29 Palms. For $19 I got full hook-up, free wifi, pool and a spa. There is little industry in the area, but there is a large US Marines base nearby.

The Mojave Desert was literally just across the road from the park, with sand dunes that reminded me of the movie Star Wars, parts of which I believe were filmed in similar sand dunes in California. Ripley had a ball racing up and down the dunes, and checking out all the holes.


Later, I checked out the pool and spa, but could not connect to my wi fi at my site. One of the residents suggested trying the laundry room.

THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 2008

LIFE IN 29 PALMS

It was very cool this morning, and I needed a jacket when I took Ripley across the road to the sand dunes again.

Since the laundry room was supposed to be a good place to hook on to wi fi, I took my laundry and sat in there, while I updated my blog. Unfortunately, the signal died after I had spent about an hour uploading photographs, and I lost them all. I went into the office area, and the manager offered to have me sit at the computer terminal there and plug in my laptop, which I’ll do later. I had asked her about a hair salon, and she suggested Studcuts just up the street. The name put me off, because they do Marine haircuts, but the manager assured me they did a good job on women’s hair too. Since my hair has got to the unruly stage again, I decided to take a chance, hopped on my bike and rode over there. The hair stylist assured me that she did women’s hair too, but was working on a close-shaven man when I entered. Apparently Marines are required to have their hair cut once a week!

I was next, and she did a reasonable job. It is now very short and spiky. She was an interesting person; she just married her second husband a year ago, and she told me that she met him online. Her requirements were someone who would accept her seven children (!) and who could “fix things”. She was tired of having her car break down, etc. and wanted a man around who was handy. I guess everyone is different!

When I got back, I did haul my laptop over to the office, and managed to get some updating done, but I am still way behind on my blog.

Ripley and I had another walk in the sand dunes before turning in for the night. Tomorrow is a special day for me.

FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2008

On my way out of town, I stopped to shoot photos of some of the murals on the walls of businesses in 29 Palms. There are 22 in total depicting scenes representing life in this part of the world, both past and present. The most recent mural depicts the First Marine Division during Operation Iraqui Freedom in 2003, and the most historic depicts Bill and Frances Keys who pioneered near here.

A SPECIAL VISIT

A year ago, I contacted Fellow Earthlings Wildlife Center and paid my fee to become an adoptive parent of a meerkat. The Center is the only accredited place outside of a zoo that is allowed to keep meerkats in the USA. They are extremely restricted because, if one were to get loose, it could survive and reproduce in the southern states.

As many of you know, I have a particular fondness for meerkats, having had the privilege of sharing my house with two for twelve years. I was devastated when I lost both of them in 2006. Timon died of liver cancer on February 11, 2006 and Timona died of insulinoma on August 1, 2006.

And so, this was an opportunity for me to get close to a meerkat once again. Because of the popularity of the TV show Meerkat Manor, the Center and the founder Pam Bennett-Wallberg, have found themselves to be the centre of much attention, and it was necessary for me to make this appointment in the spring of 2007. I have been looking forward to the visit for a long time. I left 29 Palms quite early, in order to be sure to arrive on time in Morongo Valley.

At exactly 9:30 a.m. Pam opened the gate and came to greet me at my RV parked just outside. We agreed that it would be best to leave it there in the shade, with Ripley inside, instead of bringing it through the gates. No outside dogs are permitted on the grounds, due to the Fish and Wildlife regulations. There are two golden labs who live at the Center.

I had brought along my laser printer/copier/scanner as a donation, and presented it to Pam, who was quite appreciative. It had been on the website’s Wish List, and I was pleased to help out.

Pam Bennett Wallberg
Despite being quite ill from her allergies and taking Benadryl, Pam was very gracious and spent the next three hours showing me the facilities and taking me in to each of the three groups of meerkats. These animals were either orphaned or aged, and came from zoos in California. Pam explained that, unlike zoo diets, these meerkats only received a variety of bugs as their diet, which is what they would eat in the Kalahari Desert in Africa. The property she purchased duplicates the climate conditions of the Kalahari almost exactly (very cold in winter, very hot in summer). She attributes the longevity of these animals to the fact that they get only bugs and nothing else. It made me wonder whether the diet that I had fed my own Timon and Timona had been too rich, as I admit that I spoiled them with meat and fruits and vegetables, as well as two kinds of mealworms.

SURI AND REMI

As requested, I wore long sleeves, long pants and socks, and Pam gave me gloves to wear, just in case. I had the thrill of sitting with male Suri (15 years old) and female Remi (11 years old) first. I was given mealworms and they both climbed up into my lap to take the worms from my gloved hands. Suri had a bit of trouble with my slippery jeans, as he climbed up again and again to grab more worms, but was remarkably agile for such an old animal. In zoos, meerkats generally only live to be ten to twelve years of age, so there must be something to it with regard to diet.

Pam and I sat in their enclosure for some time while Suri and Remi polished off their breakfast and then went about their business. They are not what you would call “tame”, but remain as wild meerkats who do not appreciate being picked up. But they certainly do enjoy the small stuffed child armchairs that were present in each of the cages. It was just perfect for the sentry stance that meerkats consistently do.

KENDI AND RAFIKI

After awhile of sitting and chatting, we moved on to the next group. Kendi is an eleven year old female, who came from the San Diego Zoo and Rafiki is a nine-year old male, who came from the San Diego Wild Animal Park. I sat on the ground, and enjoyed the company of these two endearing animals, as they raced around. Pam very kindly took photos of me with the meerkats, and did her best to be a gracious host. I felt badly for her because she looked quite unwell, and should probably have been in bed. But she said that she had wanted to meet me, and insisted on greeting me herself instead of having a volunteer do it, for which I was greatly appreciative, as I had wanted to meet her as well.

Kendi and Rafiki also enjoyed their “armchairs”, and seemed to enjoy some scratches from me.

Rafiki enjoying a tummy scratch
in his armchair
BARA, JENGO AND NALO

Jengo and Nalo are brothers, and Bara is a female who is the boss in this group.
Pam explained that Bara was a subspecies known as Suricata suricata majora and that Timon and Timona were most likely the same. After comparing coat markings, I would have to agree. I have to admit that I did not know there were subspecies in meerkats, as the ones at Toronto were always referred to as Suricata suricata suricata. Pam mentioned that there is possibly another subspecies in Africa too.

Bara, Jengo and Nalo enjoyed their share of the mealworm breakfast, and I enjoyed having them climbing on me, but as soon as the snack was over, they went about their own business. Nevertheless, it was a joy just to watch them racing around, digging in the dirt, playing and leaning in their “armchairs”, and to listen to their vocalizations which I have not heard now since 2006.

It was interesting listening to her experiences as the consultant for Meerkat Manor, and of her adventures in Africa. She has been to Africa many times over the past twenty years, and really knows her animals! For those of you who have followed the TV series, and know about Flower, Pam encountered her first when Flower was just a pup. Even then she stood out from her siblings, as a feisty independent animal. The tragic death of Flower brought such an outpouring of sympathy, and Fellow Earthlings Wildlife Center has been the beneficiary of memorial donations in Flower’s name. Two of the better-known donors were Elizabeth Taylor and Whoopi Goldberg.

However, as is often the case it seems, Pam has done all the work on behalf of Meerkat Manor, including appearing on the Today Show, 20/20 and others, for free! She has acted as a consultant frequently for this successful Animal Planet program and has received no compensation whatsoever. The winner of the sweepstakes contest came to visit as his prize, and Sean Astin and his family visited (he’s the narrator for Meerkat Manor), but Animal Planet did not contribute. I have encountered similar situations in the past with other people who have gone out of their way to assist the media, only to receive nothing in return, and it seems so unfair. The people involved in the program all get paid for their participation; they are not struggling to support a cause that they believe in, as is Pam.

Pam told me that the meerkat studbook keeper for zoos is now Katie Kimball at Toledo Zoo, and I will contact her to inform her of the deaths of my two meerkats, to complete the records.

It seemed as though the time flew by, and Pam was gracious enough to allow me more than the two hours that is generally allotted. However, there was another group scheduled in an hour, and she certainly needed to get some rest before they arrived. I could have stayed there all day, but took my leave, promising to return again next year. Reservations have already been taken up until April, 2009.

BIG MORONGO CANYON PRESERVE

The bark of trees can be fascinating – the different textures and colours. And in this particular region the Joshua tree is quite interesting in itself. I could have gone into Joshua Tree National Park after my visit to the meerkat center, but chose instead to go to a place where there would be less people.

Just outside of Morongo Valley is the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. I decided that I really needed to spend some time walking and contemplating my morning with the meerkats. The Preserve offers a variety of hiking trails, but does not allow dogs, so again poor Ripley had to stay in the RV while I walked. Because of this, I chose the shortest trail, the Marsh Trail, which is on a boardwalk. A trail guide pointed out places of interest, at numbered markers as I proceeded. I was lucky enough to encounter a lizard,
Desert Spiny Swift
but couldn’t find it in my ID book, so I have consulted with an expert via email. Tom has responded and says it is a Desert Spiny Swift.

Packrat Nest
It was a peaceful walk, and I encountered just one or two other people. I sat for awhile on a bench, listening to the calls of frogs and the birds, contemplating the very special opportunities that I have had over my life to be part of the natural world, both in North America and elsewhere. It is at these times that I feel most at peace. Although I grew up in a large city (Toronto), I hate the noise, the pollution, the dirt and the overcrowding. Give me the outdoors any time.

A Reassuring Sign!
I saw plenty of Joshua trees outside the park – an interesting plant that is a yucca, a giant member of the lily family. According to the information in the National Park brochure, the Joshua tree was used by the American Indians to make baskets and sandals, and the flower buds and seeds were eaten. The early settlers used its limbs and trunks for fencing and corrals, and the miners fueled their steam engines with the wood. The tallest Joshua tree in the park is forty feet high, and is estimated to be about 300 years old!

Rather than continuing down the road, I stopped for the night at the Yucca Valley RV, getting help to back into a very tight spot. There aren’t too many choices of places to camp in this area, but I did have cable TV but no wi fi, and behind was a field in which to take Ripley.

SATURDAY, MARCH 29, 2008

Yucca Valley is the largest settlement in this central valley, boasting an Albertson’s grocery store, Big Lots and several banks, so I was able to get some supplies and get more money out of my account from an ATV, as well as stopping at the Post Office to buy stamps for the postcards to send to friends and family. I was surprised to see a huge line-up at the Post Office, until I read the sign saying there was a Passport Fair, to expedite the passport application process. Many people were taking advantage of this fast-tracking process, from the looks of things.

Postcards to the US cost 26 cents; to Canada 69 cents. What a difference!

CROSSING THE MOJAVE DESERT

My route across Highway 247 took us across the high desert area of the Mojave Desert, where the winds were blowing like crazy. In fact, there was a sign advising truckers and RV’ers not to proceed. The alternative was to park on the side of the road and wait for better weather – not an appealing thought, so I persevered and used up a lot of gas as we passed boulders that had been tossed up millions of years ago into peculiar shapes and sizes, aswell as flowers – and the odd isolated house.

After turning on to Highway 58, the winds continued to push the RV all over the road as we climbed up to the Lucerne Valley at an elevation of 4,148 feet, and then down again to about 2,000 feet. We passed Boron, where the Twenty Mule Team Borax is made. I remember seeing that advertised on television when I was quite young. We passed the exit to Edwards Air Force Base, while the winds continue to blow, and I wondered how anyone could fly an airplane in those gusts.

We stopped at the town of Mojave at Sierra Trails RV, and after hooking up, I took Ripley down the road to where the desert began. We encountered biting flies, similar to the nasty black flies that we have in Ontario – tiny but relentless. They didn’t seem to bother Ripley because of her fur, I suppose, but I got bitten on my legs and arms, even though they were covered. Ripley did get a goathead in her paw, though.

SUNDAY, MARCH 30, 2008

I’m a bit nervous because this is the last day in which I am covered under my additional health insurance that I took out for this trip. The insurance company has refused to extend the date because of my claim to them. I will just cross my fingers that I will remain well until I get back to Canada.

EXOTIC FELINE BREEDING CENTER’ FELINE CONSERVATION CENTER

Today is a very chilly morning, and the wind has not died down. If anything, it was worse as I made my way down past Mojave to the small town of Rosamund, the site of the Exotic Feline Breeding Center’s Feline Conservation Center, a privately owned facility that is open to the public. I had picked up a brochure about this place back at the visitor center in Yucca Valley, and was curious to see it. Like so many others of these private wildlife facilities, it was started by an individual who had some wild cats and wanted a place to breed some of the more endangered species.
ServaL
Most of the work is done by volunteers, and I met Eric (a Timothy Hutton look-a-like) who comes up from LA, along with his wife, to work at the EFBC on weekends. He was very friendly and helpful, even volunteering to take some close-up photos of some of the cats through the wire for me, so that I wouldn’t have the wire in my shots.
Young Chinest Leopard
We chatted for awhile and, when he learned that I had been a zoo keeper, he became even more interested in talking about wild cats. Eric and I talked about enrichment and he went off to get some wheat grass to give to two of the young Chinese leopards, and a mountain lion. They don’t actually eat the grass, but they enjoy tearing it apart. The grass is a great idea, but doesn’t last very long. The cages also had things like tire on a rope for the young cats, boomer balls (very popular in the zoo community), and that was about it.

The Center participates in some of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plans and trades animals with zoos for breeding purposes. I can’t say that I was impressed with the size of the cages, especially for the smaller breeds of cats, nor was the height of the cages adequate, in my opinion, to allow the cats to climb. Some of the original cages were better, providing hide areas and waterfalls, etc. but still too small, in my opinion. They have been successful, however in breeding such rare species as the Amur Leopard and North Chinese Leopard, and not all of the cats were on view to the public. It is not the worst place I’ve seen, by any means, but not the best either.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

After spending the morning at the Center, I took Ripley for a walk (of course she couldn’t come into the Center), and then we headed back north on Highway 14 to Highway 58 to turn west again into very gusty winds. In fact, the sign on Highway 14 stated that the road to Yosemite was closed. And there were more windmills twirling around like mad, generating electricity. The windmills are great in that they produce a clean energy, by in areas where they have been installed next to houses, the people have become ill. And the windmills kill many birds that fly into them. So they are not the answer to the energy crisis that some people think they may be.

As we drove along, I listened to a quirky radio station called Bob FM where “Bob plays what he wants” – and he did! Everything from country to hip hop.

As we approached Tehachapi, the terrain began to change from desert into a Riparian type of trees and grass. And turning on to Highway 99, as we got to Bakersfield, we were suddenly into farmland with grapevines and feedlots.

NIGHT AT THE FLYING J

By this time, it was late afternoon, and I chose to fill up and spend the night at the Flying J Truck Stop north of Bakersfield, where I found two sandpipers in the water treatment area behind the truck stop, when I took Ripley for her evening walk. We parked beside another RV, and I was just hoping that a diesel truck would not park on the other side of me, because the truckers tend to leave the engines going, and they are very loud. In fact, the noise disturbs Ripley a great deal.

MONDAY MARCH 31, 2008

I was disgusted to see that some truckers have abused the privilege of stopping at the truck stop and have discarded their garbage and old tires at the back of the property.

The Flying J Truck Stops are RV-friendly and besides allowing us to spend the night in their gigantic parking lots, they also provide a loyalty card. Whenever I buy gas at one of their stops, I get a credit which can then be used in their store and restaurant. It came in handy this morning, when I opted to have their breakfast buffet. Instead of paying $9.61, I paid $7.44 – and generally speaking they have the cheapest price for gas as well. This time I paid $3.59/gallon.

On my way out to the highway, I passed a man with a sign saying he was stranded and hungry. I usually don’t do this, but I stopped and gave him some money.

MUSINGS ALONG THE ROAD

Further up the road, an ad for a fruit and cheese stand caught my attention, and I pulled off and bought some local cheese. Highway 99 cuts through the Central Valley of California, a primarily agricultural area that boasts wineries, dates, pistachios, raisins, oranges and cattle. It reminded me a lot of the Niagara region in Ontario, except for the billboards advertising fertilizers, farm equipment, water treatments, and other things that you don’t usually see on billboards. Of course, there were also ads to come to various wineries for wine-tasting, and I considered it. But I have to be extra careful about any detours from now on. Gas is costing me about $100 to fill up, and my RV consumes it at a rate of about 10 miles to the gallon. So from now on, there will be no major detours unless there is something truly special. There will be a detour at Williams, further up the road, in order to see the redwoods, but that is it. No stopping at wineries, etc.

Although the day had started out as overcast, by 10:30 the sky was blue. I passed a town called Los Banos, and wondered why anyone would name a town that translates as “The Toilets”!

As we came to rest stops, I pulled in so that Ripley could relieve herself, and so that I could have a rest. But today, we traveled a total of 503 kms until we arrived at the small town of Williams and headed for the Almond Grove Mobile Park for the night. I had wanted to find another free place, but there are no Wal Marts or Flying J’s in this area.

Almond Grove is mostly a permanent park, with almost everyone living here of Hispanic origin. Their Spanish was much too fast for me to follow. The manager is an elderly lady, who kind of shuffled over to the door of the office to unlock it for me, and who had trouble speaking. I gather that she might have had a stroke, and was left impaired. Kudos to her, though, for continuing to work. The park itself was not exactly well maintained, and the showers had cobwebs – but it is the only game in town, as they say – and it does have cable TV and wi fi. So I was able to watch "Dancing With the Stars".

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