San Diego: Made it!

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Well, I’m home.*

The drive from Phoenix was uneventful, excepting the very real inflation of gas prices—filled up in Yuma at $1.99 a gallon.

The price of gas throughout southern California, however, is over three dollars now—with San Diego approaching $3.50 a gallon!

In the words (word) of a Presidential Tweet, BAD!

The family is fine.

My family is doing well—and that’s comforting to know. In reality, they were more concerned about me (I don’t think they totally “get it” with me exploring the west and living in a minivan)!

I took the opportunity to review my accouterments with them (yes, that is the preferred English spelling), including a real twin bed in the back of the Sienna. And armed with a propane heater and a butane stove, I really have all of the comforts of home—and then some.

No progress on the back door!

My mechanic, Antonio, was stumped by the back door being frozen shut (first time I’ve ever seen that). It looks like I’m stuck with it being out of service!

I suppose that’s okay, as I’ve rearranged the storage space under the bed frame to access everything I need from the sliding side door. I’m due for a free oil change and a tune-up and he’s told me he can get those done in the next few days.

Breaker breaker!

Before I left Phoenix, I went online and ordered a new CB antenna to replace the one shredded by that car wash when I forgot to remove it. Picked it up today (Home Depot) and it’s now magnetically affixed to the roof—where the old one used to sit.

A short recharge.

The plan now: finish up the minivan maintenance and head out, once again, into the great unknown. I see myself back on the road mid-month.

Thank you.

If I haven’t thanked you lately for reading my blog, let me reiterate my appreciation for your kindness. The web stats show over two hundred thousand page views since I started this site in late October.

Amazing!

I hope you will continue to follow my travels as I begin Exploration: Phase Two. I’ve got Crater Lake in my thoughts—and I wouldn’t mind going back to Yellowstone, provided the snow is gone and the park is open around Old Faithful. We’ll have to check out the weather prognostications for the next couple of weeks!

*Home is where the heart is!

Happy trails my friends!

Phoenix: Headed home

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Time to touch base.

Yup, the time has come for me to head back to San Diego—about five hours away—to take care of some maintenance (including getting the back door open!) on the Sienna and my own body (the doctor, for a checkup).

I leave for SoCal on Tuesday.

Svelte!

Did you know that I have lost almost fifty pounds while on the road? Eating less and having a lot of soup has been good for me! And it proves what I learned from the Chief Surgeon at NASA: “If you eat less, you will lose weight!”

Rest stop.

I’ve been chilling out in Phoenix with an old friend—who went with me to Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and places in between. I’ve been invited back so, I will see this place again in a few months.

That’s good, for winter is still present in the northwest and I’m good with warm!

The next leg.

I won’t be in San Diego for long; I’m anxious to get back on the road and see more stuff. I’ve already checked the weather for Crater Lake (still in the freezing range). I really wanted to see it and couldn’t—because of heavy snow—when I was there a couple months ago.

Of course, I will be keeping my readers (that’s you!) informed of my “new” travels. If I haven’t said it enough, thank you for sticking with me on this first excursion.

By the numbers!

The actual statistics for this website—directly from the hosting service—show over 200,000 page views since going online in late October! Visitors arrive from all over the world every day. And I can’t thank you enough.

Happy trails my friends!

Phoenix: An app for that!

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I promised a post on apps!

So, here it is (sorry it took me so long!). There are a few apps I regularly use on the road that, even if you’re not seeing the western United States in a minivan, you might find them useful in your everyday life.

Gas Buddy!

This is a no-brainer: everyone wants to save money on gas! “Gas Buddy” uses your location to find every gas station near you—and some a little farther away, listed by distance—displaying the per-gallon-price and when that price was last checked.

I figure that, by now, I’ve saved almost thirty dollars by actively seeking the lowest price—sometimes as much as fifty cents per gallon!

Truck stop apps.

I have the apps for the three major truck stop chains: Love’s, Pilot/Flying J and TA/Petro. Like Gas Buddy (which will also list the prices on these truck stops!), you will see gas prices and locations nearby.

The difference in having these individual truck stop apps is that each has a scheme to save more money on gallon prices when you use their app and to rack up added value points that may be used for discounts on other products and services. Each will give you a card—or send one to you in the mail—that will scan at the pump to lower your price by at least a few cents per gallon.

It all adds up, especially if you’re on a long trip and buying gas regularly.

Rest stops.

Driving can drain you and sometimes, you might need to pull over—if only to stretch your legs or catch a little nap.

“Rest Stops” lists every place you can pull off the road—by state and highway—along with the services available and even has user reviews! “Trucker Path” is another app, specializing in truck stops, also displayed on a map.

“Free Campsites” is an app that shows, well, anyplace along your route where you can stay overnight for free. Again, the results are displayed on a map, based on your current location (also with services and reviews).

“RV Parky,” my personal favorite, is the gorilla, with rest stops, gas stations, truck stops, campgrounds (both fee and free) and Walmarts—all with user reviews—displayed on a map, based on your location. I don’t think I could live without using this app in my travels.

And of course, the weather!

Yes, the weather is important to know—especially when bad weather is on the way to where you are or to the place you are heading to in the near future! I prefer the Accuweather app, for it breaks down the conditions and the forecast nicely.

You can store locations—in addition to your current GPS position—to look down the road a bit. Accuweather also shows sunrise and sunset and hourly weather over the next 24 hours!

And although the Accuweather app does have a RADAR page, I have found the best RADAR display to be on “RadarNow!” and I use it when storms are going to affect my roadways.

Even before I started this adventure, I used both of these weather apps everyday so, I highly recommend them.

WiFi and Cellular networks.

I won’t even get out of the car anymore at a place that should have a decent WiFi signal and connection to the internet without using “WiFi Analyzer” (I’ve been fooled too many times by McDonald’s and Burger King claiming they have “free WiFi”—when they don’t).

In one Burger King, they had a WiFi signal but, it wasn’t connected to the internet! And at several McDonald’s, I’ve been able to connect but, their host wouldn’t let me do anything (“zero data return”). Damn you, wayport!

Save your hair!

Ever wonder why your phone is having trouble getting a signal? Maybe there’s no signal to get! That’s why I have “Network Cell Info Lite,” which shows me the signal strength of any cellular network in range—and the signal of the next closest tower, along with the operator and type of signal from those towers!

You gotta have this app so you don’t pull out your hair when there’s no connection!

Texting while driving?

Don’t want to lose life or limb while driving? Get “SMS Reader.” This app will read texts you receive outloud so, you can get your messages without risking your life—or stopping your car to read them! I have mine set to English (Britain) so, everyone sounds like the Queen of England when they text me. Great fun!

Of course, to send a text, saying “Okay Google, send a text to…” will open your messaging app and create a text to anyone in your contacts. I rarely use it but, it’s there if I need it (“I’m getting off the highway now and will be there in about five minutes”).

And finally…

I don’t want to fill my phone’s storage or memory with garbage so, I use “Avast Cleanup” to remove junk files and to kill apps that are using memory—even when they’re not being used (why are they still active!?).

I highly recommend this app for anyone concerned about how much space they have left on their smartphone!

Free is good!

Yes, every single app I have mentioned above is free. And free is definitely good! All of the apps here are for Android (I have no idea if they have a iOS version of them for iphones). Try them out and see if they help you!

Happy trails my friends!

Phoenix: Museums

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Down Time.

After a whirlwind of exploring the Grand Canyon, painted desert, Monument Valley and ancient Indian ruins, I am taking a little down time in Phoenix—before turning west and heading back to San Diego to refresh (and to get my back door repaired!)—in anticipation of beginning another tour.

warmer tour!

Scottsdale’s Museum of the West is full of paintings and sculpture by Thomas Moran, Alfred Jacob Miller, Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell and historic Native American art works.

This is the museum to see if you have any attraction to the old—and sometimes, wild—west.

Stickers!

The rear window sticker collection is looking pretty good! From left to right, the (circular) Navajo Nation seal, Texas flag, Oregon “O”, Montana love, “I love Beaver” (Utah), wiper, Grand Canyon, Montezuma Castle, Yellowstone, Washington state, Yosemite and the original Star Trek logo I started with.

It looks like my website graphic (top) is a little worse for wear: it’s missing part of the “v” in Minivan, the extension of the first “r”  in Explorer and a piece of an “e” in Explorer, all of this as a result of the rear window wiper.

Oh well!

Happy trails my friends!

Kayenta, AZ: Monument Valley

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Somebody painted this desert!

Funny thing: We—my co-pilot Jan and I—were looking at just abut everything, from dirt to rocks to mesas, being deep red when we realized we had been transiting the Painted Desert!

Monumental.

Monument Valley is loaded with rock formations reminiscent of Devil’s tower, albeit most of them not as big.

You’ve seen this place many times in photos but, being there is a horse of a different color!

Highly recommended, if you have the inclination to explore this part of the country.

I found it!

I even located the monument I used on my business card:

Created by erosion from ancient waters and winds, these worn rocks are the only thing left of what were once great mountains—or even mountain ranges.

Mexican Hat, UT

Yup, there’s a town called Mexican Hat—as it is common practice to name places after what is nearby. Not exactly your big city bustling with people and industry, there are some pretty landscapes nearby—and a small hotel—should you be drawn to El Sombrero Mexicano!

Indians!

The Navajo Nation has had a history of pain—inflicted by us—but, they have managed to keep their culture and language (Diné bizaad) alive and thriving despite all attempts to destroy them.

“The hogan (hooghan, literally, “place home”) was the basic Navajo dwelling. Piñon or ponderosa pine logs serve as the larger timbers for the framework, with juniper often taking a minor role in the construction.”—navajopeople.org

Not a proud American moment.

In the mid-1800’s, the U.S. government decided to wipe them out—hiring Kit Carson to hunt them all down and kill them. Many were killed but, the Navajo survived because they were, in many ways, smarter than their oppressors!

The Long Walk

Those that were rounded up were forced to relocate—in a manner similar to the Trail of Tears some thirty years earlier, with a horrid journey of some 300 miles designed to relocate them. The “Long Walk” of the Navajo was, like the Trail of Tears, a disaster as the government failed to provide provisions necessary for the 9,000 victims.

Thousands died from starvation or by freezing to death—on the trip and once they arrived at Bosque Redondo.

Eventually, the U.S. government decided to stop this genocide and instead, started to provide the tribe with supplies, mostly flour, from trading posts like the oldest and longest continuously operated post, Hubbell’s, near Ganado, Arizona.

Canyon de Chelly

Near Chinle, Arizona, is the Canyon de Chelly. It’s no Grand Canyon but, it’s a sight to see and home to thousands of wall paintings (pictographs) and numerous ruins.

We also tried to see the Petrified Forest heading back to Phoenix but, it was closed (really? how can you close a forest!?).

Happy trails my friends!

Sedona, AZ: Red rocks

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Back on the road—with a co-pilot!

I’ve picked up my friend Jan and we’ve hit the highway north towards The Grand Canyon. On the way, we passed through Sedona to see the red rocks south of the Canyon. Absolutely gorgeous territory!

Truly, this is one of the most beautiful places on earth—with the layered sediments worn away by wind and weather, showing their history and clearly displaying the evidence of massive (and deep) ocean waters that once submerged this whole area of the country.

With only a cursory review, the majesty of the rock faces and the formations left behind by a massive inland ocean are obvious.

Frybread.

When the American Indian was exiled to the west, the government—no doubt in a move to allay their own guilt—handed out meager supplies to all of the tribes, according to our frybread chef, Mitchell, a Navajo and desert storm veteran (not exactly your typical Indian name, IMHO).

Never lacking in creativity, the tribes concocted a use for the flour handout—with each developing their own recipe for a flat, fried bread dusted with sugar, cinnamon or honey. When we came across a little stand by the roadside selling jewelry, other crafts and fresh, made-on-the-spot frybread, you gotta know we stopped and sampled this famous, as-seen-on-TV tribal staple!

In a word, delicious!

Montezuma wasn’t here!

A place called Camp Verde was home to several cliff dwelling tribes at different times, including Hopi, Puebo, Yavapi, Apache and others. These cliff dwellings often had five or six stories, accessed by ladders and ropes that could be pulled up, out of reach from strangers or anyone who threatened the security of the village.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen any of these ancient caves carved into the sides of the limestone, although I’ve seen just about every documentary ever made about these spiritual people.

Used for thousands of years, the inhabitants split up and settled elsewhere around the turn of the 16th century. No one really knows why—and it’s a bit of a mystery since this was a stable, secure home (with a river below) and a great view!

Tomorrow morning, it’s a hot breakfast and then, a sunrise experience at the Grand Canyon. Can’t wait!

Happy trails my friends!

Phoenix: Car Wash

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What a dumbass!

Well, I washed the Sienna (it was covered with leftover road salts from Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon)—and forgot to remove the magnetic CB antenna from the roof.

The only thing left outside was the snapped and frayed coaxial cable coming out of the passenger door!

I can’t believe I did that. It didn’t hurt the radio itself but, there will be another $30 out of pocket expense to replace it! 

Winter weather?

Really. “Winter” in Phoenix is 42º nights and mid-70’s days. And yes, I’m wearing a T-Shirt right now!

I found the world’s largest sun dial in Cave Creek, a small artists’ sanctuary just north of Phoenix.

Cave Creek’s main drag was loaded with local artists’ metal sculpture stores—and when I win the lottery, I’m coming back here to buy a whole herd of metal animals for my front yard.

I’m sure my neighbors will love them!

The Grand Canyon!

I’m leaving for the Grand Canyon tomorrow—with a travel companion! Most of the Canyon is closed, although I don’t know just how you can close a giant trench running for many miles (I will bet I can find a road somewhere that will take me into the National Park that is somewhat off the beaten path!).

Nevertheless, I don’t expect to stay very long before returning to Phoenix to drop off my assistant Explorer. If we make it a short visit to the Canyon, we’ll have some time to visit the U. S. Air Force airplane graveyard.

I’ve always wanted to see that in person.

Happy trails my friends!