Road Trip Retro, 2016: Half a Ro Tr is Better than None

I’m writing this on the anniversary of the cutting-short of last year’s Road Trip (X), when The Mate and I turned tail and fled home from NC in under a week, driven by our COVID fears.

Five years ago, RT6 also ended abruptly, but only for one of us. I flew back, leaving The Mate to follow in Red Rover at his own pace. No global pandemic fears that time, though. Just a bakery opening.

The old counter. Still my Happy Place, but it’s had a nice face lift since then!

Holly B’s Bakery has been trading in Love & Butter since 1976, and I’d been working as a baker there since 2011. But in 2016 Holly retired, selling the bakery to my brand-new boss, Stephanie. After receiving her promise that I could make pie (something Holly wasn’t into), I agreed to be there to help out on Opening Day–March 17. Which meant flying home from NC.

So with that in mind, I enjoyed the Half-Trip as wholly as possible. Let’s revisit, shall we?

Starting with our friends the redwoods again…

Not pictured: dear friends in Eugene, lil’ cousins in Oakland…but you can never have enough redwood shots.

After visiting with our Oakland cousins, we spent a couple nights camping in Pinnacles National Monument (now it’s officially a Park, I think).

Pinnacles? What pinnacles?
Oh you mean THOSE pinnacles!
On the high ridge trail. It gets pretty gnarly up there–carved-in steps & handrails.

That place is so cool. They have condors too, though we didn’t see any that trip.

Next up, SoCal. Again–I’m skipping over photos of some very dear folks we stayed with and saw down there, to include this photo from the San Bernardino Mts. Turns out Son One, on a rare stint not in the jungle, was working nearby, and met us for a day hike.

Pretty good Joshua Tree imitation, right?

Once again we had a date with Intrepid Travel Buddies Tom & Kate, this time in a park new to all of us: Anza-Borrego National Park.

The Pacific Crest Trail goes through not far from here.

The sun felt good enough to make us appreciate the shade of the palm oases.

Palm Springs it ain’t, however. Thank goodness.

We sojourned in Albuquerque again, but only briefly, and my photos were only of friends. A day later, we were meeting more friends, from Dallas–not in Dallas for once, but in Caprock Canyon State Park, which we’d stumbled on the previous year.

Remember the bison? They were kind of all around our campsite. Not nerve-wracking in the least…

Unfortunately our friends hit a deer on their way to join us, totaling their car and shredding their nerves. So we didn’t stay long. But it was a good reminder, once again, not to dump on North Texas for lack of scenery.

Cool rocks wherever you look. Even when all you’re looking for is a rest from hiking.

As usual we zipped across the lower South…not much in the photo record there. Except for one special place that we’d learned of from fellow road-trippers Eric & Laurel, aka Raven & Chickadee: Oak Mountain State Park outside of Birmingham, Alabama. We fell in love with this place.

Fifteen minutes from Birmingham! Way up on a mountain ridge! And cozy cabins down below.

When we got to Georgia, we treated ourselves to a special kind of camping trip: Cumberland Island, reachable only by ferry.

Not a car ferry. The park is federal, and provides convenient little carts to tote your camping gear from the dock to the campground.

Cumberland Island has one of those classically conflicting Southern histories, but today at least, it belongs to the people.

PERFECT for biking. Also flat as a pancake.
The cutest little armadillo woke us up at night, snuffling nearby.

Did I mention the feral horses?

Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the Cumberland Is. pics…
No wait–you gotta see the sunset one!

Back at my folks’ farm in Durham, NC for the ACC Tournament once more, we threw ourselves into basketball, of course…

Son Two met us there again. Hands up means someone’s shooting free throws.

…and also farm life. Not only was Son Two visiting then, but so was my niece, all the way from Texas (I know: something else great about Texas!).

And by farm life I mean dogs. Lots of dogs.

Knowing I was there for a shorter amount of time made me appreciate the visit all the more, I think.

The Amazing Parents

I focused less on the clutter of my childhood home, and more on its distinctness, like the many sculptures made by my very talented German grandmother.

This one, The Three Martyrs, depicts the three young civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964. And that’s my mother’s weaving in the background. (Wish I’d inherited some of that visual artistry!)

Going home so soon, while spring reins in the upper South?

The sycamore and the creek where I spent a week camping for my Thoreau-inspired Senior project back in 1979
My parents’ death-defying driveway
Happy sunny turtles

Wait, why am I leaving again?

Oh yeah, that’s right!

So, back in 2021…here’s to health, security, maybe even travel before too long–and don’t forget the love & butter.

Teaching an Old Human New Tricks: DogBlog

Hey. HEY.

Talkin’ to YOOOOO.

The name’s Maya. Got any treats? Oops, I mean…pleased to meetcha. My new human, Gretchen, has been spending way too much time on this tappity-tappity black thing, so I thought I’d take over for a while. My house, my rules.

I just got here, less than a week ago, and I’m satisfied that I am now Queen of the Household. I just need to vent a little about the humans who brought me to my new realm.

Our first meeting. I allowed them to rub my belly.

They SAY they are dog people. Malamute people, in fact–I’ve heard them bragging to other humans that I am actually their third Malamute. They speak often of a certain “Mickey,” “Molly,” and…whatshername…”Juniper.” Mickey apparently died young, whatever that means. Molly lived as long as she wanted to, apparently a long-ass time.

She was, it seems, also a Queen. Survey your realm, Queen Molly!

This “Juni” seems to have acted more like a cat, if you can believe that. Seems she was very, very, VERY fluffy. Didn’t like getting dirty or wet. (Ughh. Can’t believe I’m talking about cats.)

Like I said: fluffy.

She did like strong wind, they say–probably the only time the air could ever penetrate to her skin!

Hahaha, silly Juni. Should’ve shed harder.

Anyway, it’s just hard to believe these new humans of mine are so “experienced.” They seem awfully untrained to me.

First of all, they brought me here to my new realm not just in a car, but on a boat.

Something about a “fairy”? Didn’t get that part.

I was not a fan of this. I drooled a LOT.

That’ll teach ’em.

Once established in my new dwelling, they keep trying to take me places on a leash. Oh, humans. What’s the good of a leash when there are so many deer and bunnies to chase? I can just smell ’em!

You may drop the leash. Really. I’m good.

And when we do go places? We WALK. No running! I hear both of my humans bragging about how they used to be “distance runners,” but apparently now they’re too old and washed-up to do more than trot with me. No chase! No catch-me-if-you-can!

They even have to enlist their son, a grownup Human Puppy, to play Tug o’ War with me.

They also complain that I want too much attention. Well, what do they expect? Molly and Juni had each other to play with. I have only…sigh…them.

Maybe they’ll procure me my own puppy to play with.

The house is full of Molly & Juni’s puppy pictures. Well, how nice for them. Nobody wanted me when I was a puppy. That’s why I came to live here…and that’s why I’m for sure Queen of this place!

Never going anywhere again, furever and ever.

Oh please, don’t mind me. Walk around.

Anyhow, just wanted to say, to any of you other Kings and Queens out there: feel free to share your stories about how you whipped your humans into shape! Might be good for a howl.

What’s Your Position on Positions?

Note: this post is NOT intended to elicit sympathy toward the author. If you notice any indications to the contrary, please feel free to slap her, remotely (there must be an emoji for that)–or just close the page.

These past couple of weeks I’ve been forced to think quite a bit about positions. Not political ones; I mean physical: lying down, sitting, and standing. Injuries acquired in the service of democracy* have me no longer taking these simple options for granted.

*turns out when you spend hours and hours and hours writing letters and making phone calls to voters, sitting at a table which is just SLIGHTLY the wrong height, your back takes its revenge.

Still worth it. I think.

Before my back started hurting, I was all about sitting. Like many jobs, working as a baker is about 98% bipedal, but I took every 2% chance I got to set my butt down, between rounds of butterhorns. (That doesn’t sound quite right, but you know what I mean.)

OK, these are not actually butterhorns…but gooey enough to be close. (photo courtesy Holly B’s Bakery)

Now? Sitting is the enemy. Even perching makes me pay a price. So what the heck. Let’s celebrate some of the gifts of the other positions, shall we?

LYING DOWN. Good for:

Sleeping–duh. And sex. And reading–like my latest recommendation, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. If you’re looking for short, lyrical pieces that fill you with the desire to go sit (or lie) in your favorite woods, and bring those woods to you if you’re stuck somewhere un-woodsy–this is your book. Get two copies, one for yourself and one for someone you care about.

Bad for:

Zoom. I really, really dislike seeing my future, double-chinned self staring back at me when I Zoom horizontally.

Not my favorite look.

STANDING. Good for:

When someone hands you a puppy.

Though in fairness, I would also have accepted this gift sitting down.

Appreciating sunsets.

Ditto.

Locomoting–which brings you to places where people might hand you a puppy, or to places of extra beauty. (It’s not impossible to locomote from a horizontal or sitting position–just harder.)

Pictured: place of extra beauty.

Bad for:

Knees. Also dizziness induced by drugs taken for back pain.

Which brings us back to…

SITTING. Good for:

Knees. (At least mine.)

All social situations where lying down isn’t quite appropriate (even if you wish it were).

Just sayin’–burgers while reclining could end…badly.

Bad for:

Me, right now. Which is why I’ve written this all on my back (not literally; now THAT would take some dexterity).

But–that fact, above? It’s actually a “good for,” because…well, look. What better time than a global pandemic to start appreciating things as basic as Sitting, Standing, and Lying Down?

Which is YOUR favorite? Tell me why.

One Month Till the Election? Mountains Please!

Full disclosure: this post has nothing pithy nor deep to add to your thoughts today. This is full-on escape. I was able to take last Sunday with my overworked Ironwoman Goddaughter to drive, then hike up to nearly 7,000 feet on the Cascades’ Pacific Crest Trail to breathe some clear air and see some fall color.

Keep trekking long enough and, with luck and faith, just mayyyybe some beauty will reward you.
Yes! Not all uphill walks are this glorious, so I’ll take ’em where I can.
Pretty much muted by joy and gratitude at this point.
This kind of scene actually hurts to behold.
Not forgetting the trees for the forest…
****celestial music****
Time to head back down…still keeping thoughts at bay.
In a month this color should be blanketed by snow. But it’ll stay with me when I need it most, in the coming dark months.
Thanks, Ironwoman Goddaughter. We needed this. God knows we all need something LIKE this.

May you all be well and find some inspirational beauty where you can. Till next time…

May…We Be Evergreen!

Around here–and probably around anywhere in the Northern hemisphere not covered with asphalt–May means wildflowers. Yes, like that childhood riddle, except that here May’s bringing more showers than April. My walks lately have been interrupted by…

Sea pinks

and

Larkspur (with Death Camas)

not to mention

Spotted Coralroot orchid, in its own ray of sunshine

Oh–and the salmonberries!

Not as delicious as you’d hope–but who cares?

But this month I also love to notice and give praise to a subtler kind of new growth…the kind that puts BOTH the “ever” and the “green” into “Evergreen State.” I’m talking about the fresh, new tips of our conifers. Now, pine trees make you suffer all sorts of pollen-clouds to get up close and personal with their newborn bits, but firs? Fir tips you can fondle.

Softer than you can imagine! (Also edible to more than just deer, though some might dispute the idea)

And hemlocks…well, their tips are just an adorable mini version of the firs.

Awwww…!

Not to forget our non-coniferous evergreens: the noble salal. You might focus on their honey-sweet, bell-shaped blossoms…but I’m looking at the bright, baby-soft new leaves.

Aren’t they sweet? Stop looking at the flowers.

Of course no forest looks truly LOTR-fantastical without ferns of some kind, or all kinds. The type we have around here don’t start as fiddleheads (thereby saving themselves from human over-consumption), but they do stand out–if not UP–as cutely floppy, gawky adolescents:

“Let’s be fronds.”

The most amazing new bit of green May growth to my mind, though, is one of the least visible: the mosses. On today’s walk, I was noticing one of my favorites turning slightly more golden, thinking, “Yeah, almost midsummer, time for these beauties to be dying back,” when I looked closer, and–whoa. Check this out:

Rated “M” for Mature

Fruiting thimgamagigs! Right out there for all to see, shameless! Gorgeous! Fresh! New! Woohoo!

Gimme an “E”! “V”! another “E”! “R”! Gimme a “G”! another “R”…!

OK, you get it. MAY we be green. MAY we be evergreen. MAY we be happy. 

 

Road Trip X, Days 33-35, Boise to North Bend to Lopez Island: Aaaaaand, Scene!

So that’s it. Road Trip X is in the bag. As Wing road trips go, this one was DIFFERENT. Past sojourns have averaged around 45 days, but #10 weighed in at a runty 35 (and we still got home midday on that last day).

Difference #1 was, of course, the fact that our beloved Tarheel men’s basketball team played its last game a week ago. But Difference #2 was the fact that ALL BASKETBALL ended the very next day, thanks to the Coronavirus. So not only did we start heading home 3 days earlier, we spent those days eating up as many miles as possible each day, diverging rarely for scenery, and not at all for friendship.

Need proof? Here’s all I got from crossing the upper east corner of Utah:

Hiya. Now keep driving.

A bit further south, hoodoos like these turn into Zion National Park. But along I-80…

If you’re not going to stop, this is all you get.

We did stop for 90 minutes’ recreation in Twin Falls, Idaho. Twice before we’d been blanked when wishing to ride the Rim Trail of the Snake River’s canyon there, once due to weather and once due to lack of daylight. But third time’s a charm.

First you drive over the bridge. Then you bike under it.

Shoshone Falls was even more jaw-dropping than I’d expected.

Guess who just won Best Waterfall of the Trip?

Can we get a close-up?

Rainbow & all.

After spending the night in Boise (where we LOVE the river trail, but no-no-no, time for only one bike ride and you’ve already had it!), we followed the Oregon Trail route into the Pacific time zone, breathless with joy to be beating the big snowstorm we knew was on its way from the coast.

Frost: fine. Snow? No thank you.

That was a LONG day’s drive. But it could have been longer; we’d started early enough that we could actually have made it all the way to the Anacortes ferry terminal if we’d so chosen. But we didn’t.

It was our 41st anniversary (the falling-in-love one, not the wedding one. What’s better than two anniversaries?) and we wanted to spend it someplace special before diving back into our daily home routine. So I found us a BnB in North Bend, Washington, and we aimed ourselves there.

But before checking in, we decided to go for a hike. Snow levels being too high up on Snoqualmie Pass, we stopped at Rattlesnake Lake, outside North Bend, a place we know well. “We’ll get some exercise while practicing our Social Distancing,” we told ourselves. And here’s where irony took over.

The parking lot was overflowing. And the trail? Imagine a food court at the mall. Now take all those happy teenagers and arrange them along a hiking trail, laughing & talking loudly as kids do.

Ohhhhhhh. Oh yeah. Schools are closed in Washington. So are malls and movie theaters. So where do all these healthy young Seattleites go? Hiking! The thought made us happy. But it also made us turn around. Social distancing on that trail was just not possible. Not to mention it was kinda noisy.

Up on that crag was where we had intended to hike. Look closely; you can see a bunch of people up there.

Instead, we found a perfectly nice walk along the lake, with lots of room between people.

Not winning any waterfall prizes, but perfectly nice.

Then on to our trip’s final night. The place advertised itself as being near the Snoqualmie River. It was.

View from the deck of the main house.

What better homecoming to the Pacific Northwest than tall firs and rushing water?

ahhhh…

Our room wasn’t on the actual bluff above the river…

Up those stairs, it felt like a treehouse.

…but a kind of porch swing was, and I took full advantage.

Who needs a porch when you have a river bluff?

And up on that little outside deck, I used our Coleman stove to cook up the Mate’s and my traditional anniversary meal, Reuben sandwiches.

We’re a cheap date.

Next morning we picked up some groceries (as island friends had advised) and drove through eerily light Seattle traffic, back to the ferry terminal. At 150,000 miles, Red Rover mayyyyy have just completed her final cross-country road trip, so I gave her a grateful hug.

Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome. Now how ’bout a wash n wax?

And now? The Mate and I have been everywhere and touched a lot of surfaces in the last five weeks. But turns out road-tripping is the best practice for self-quarantining. We’ll be with each other now and almost no one else for the next two. Red Rover will get a bath. Nature will get our full attention. And Wing’s World will morph out of Travel Mode.

How ’bout y’all? Anyone else in self-isolation? How are you passing your time, or changing your work routine? Please share any wit & wisdom from the experience.

 

 

Road Trip X, Days 21-24, Tallahassee to (sorta-)Savannah: Swamped by Unexpected Beauty 

I thought of titling this post “Sea to Shining Sea,” after touching the Atlantic the other day. I even thought about posing the Traveling Avocados, Oranges and Grapefruit on the beach, to celebrate their epic journey. But only a few oranges are left; all the rest of our gifted produce is eaten. And anyway, having already waded in Gulf of Mexico, it’d be more like sea to shining sea to other shining sea, right?

Still: Hello, North Atlantic!

But today’s theme waved me down as soon as we holed up in Tallahassee. That town isn’t a long drive from our previous night in Alabama; we had no business there, knew no one, didn’t check out Florida State or even ride our bikes along the terrific trail we’ve ridden before. All we were doing was making sure we didn’t die in a tornado waiting out some nasty weather. Doing laundry. And (one of us) making some headway on the novel.

And even with such meager expectations, Tallahassee offered us a good reminder of northern Florida’s lovely topography (NOT flat!) and relatively undeveloped landscape (hardly any billboards, even on I-10). And a wonderful bakery, and a  gorgeous sunset (not pictured) and this giant live oak in the motel parking lot.

Ooh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Next day, the storm having blown through without tornadoes (thank you!) we headed to a brand-new destination: Little Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville.

In the middle of a swamp. Yes.

There we discovered not only a long, pristine beach–for people who love long, pristine beaches…

Augh! must…count…all the different…varieties! Make it stop!

…but also a boneyard of silvery drift-stumps…

Just as satiny as it looks!

…and the COOLEST trail through the dunes…

With tortoise holes! (Not pictured–sadly: tortoises)

…into a mixed forest of gigantic pines, palms, and live oaks, the latter dripping with ferns and Spanish moss.

Ooooh…

Question: WHY are epiphytes so ridiculously compelling? Is it a) the way they humanize the trees, calling to mind beards and long tresses? b) the way they soften the harsher, sharper lines of the forest? Or c) the fact that I was clearly a swamp rat in a previous life?

Ahhh…

The campground was one of the nicest ever, in terms of space and light and vegetation. Its only downside: the road was too close, so traffic noise was very present until late at night.

Would just one nighttime armadillo be too much to ask?

And we didn’t get any armadillos. But hey.

“That’s too much Spanish Moss!” said no one ever.

One more glorious bike ride in the refreshingly cool morning, on a LONG bike trail.

Way to go, northern Florida!

Along the way we took a sideline to the beach, to visit with some crumbly-clay tidepools…

Different! No wee fishies, unfortunately.

…and one more gorgeous silver drift-log installation.

World’s coolest jungle gym.

Heading north, we passed this irresistible sign:

How can I have never run into this pun before?!

And then on to Savannah (sorta). Our friends live on the outskirts, which should really be called the outswamps. Question: Is that why they named the town after a sea-of-grass ecosystem? Anyone know?

Since our purpose was reuniting with old friends, we skipped the downtown Savannah tour. Instead, we were gifted with one over-the-top, unexpected cool thing after another. We got to watch the Carolina-Duke game with true fans, drowning our sorrows in bacon-wrapped scallops and homemade pizza (not pictured). We got to cuddle with the sweetest, silkiest Labrador.

Forrest loved the Mate.

We thought our friends’ backyard view was just fine–hey, nice swamp ya got here!–but then next the morning, THIS happened.

Okay then.

Finally, our friends served us a lil’ ol’ Georgia breakfast: eggs, cheese grits, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit salad, and fresh sweet rolls. Still full from the night before, I made a superwoman effort and ate everything.

Woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

So…feeling a little swamped right now. Thinking that when we find beauty and goodness in unexpected places, it means even more. And feeling a bit grateful that Spanish Moss doesn’t grow in mountainous areas. Because if it did? I think my head would explode.

More, more!

 

Road Trip X, Days 18-20: Gettin’ Cushy in Louisiana & Alabama

No one should EVER feel sorry for me & the Mate when we complain about weather on our road trips. That’s what we get for road-tripping in February and March! So I’m not looking for pity when I whine about not being able to camp due to snow or lightning or dust storms or ice or…blah blah blah. It’s just fun to whine.

Which is why these last couple of days have really called our bluff. Monday we left Galveston on a cute (and completely free!) ferry

Our ferry’s double, passing the other way.

and drove the length the peninsula on the bay’s other side,

Anyone else think that ocean is awfully close to the road? No? Just me?

back to the interstate and into Louisiana. We hit a perfectly nice campground in the Louisiana bayous–Lake Fausse Pt. State Park–on a perfectly nice (if a little humid) day…and opted out.

Why? Because the ranger said it probably would rain overnight. And while there’s nothing wrong with rain outside a tent when you’re in it, stuffing a wet tent into a small Subaru with all the rest of your belongings is the opposite of fun. Still, we might have gone for it if we hadn’t learned about the cabins.

We could stay in there?!

Each one perched OVER the bayou, with perfect screened porches.

We’re staying in here!

We couldn’t wait to eat dinner out on the porch. But first it was time to go for a walk around the swamp.

Ahhhh…

Have I ever mentioned that I love swamps? Just show me a cypress and I go all weak in the knees. (sorry)

I have no idea what this is. Red iris? Anyone?

The forest offered plenty of variety all on its own…

Don’t mind if I do.

…so when I did see a gator, it was simply a bonus. And the baby gator in front of the mama? Bonus bonus.

See the baby? So stinkin’ CUTE!!!!

That evening, the Traveling Avocados teamed up with some Gulf shrimp and that amazing screened porch for what’s probably going to earn our Best Meal of the Trip Award.

With a rocking bench!

Next day we drove across Mississippi–just about 100 miles at its base–and into Alabama. We had a date with another state park (thanks to this excellent book on state parks), way down past Mobile in Alabama’s teensy lil’ slice of the big ol’ Gulf Coast pie. Appropriately enough, it’s called Gulf State Park. And it’s big. And lovely. With 28 miles of bike trails, are you kidding? Made for us!

Only problem? This park boasts over 400 RV sites, and eleven tent sites. The Mate and I took one look at the teensy tent sites crammed in between RVs and quickly backed away. All the way away, to a Motel 6. Then we drove the few miles back into the park and took a big, happy chomp of those delicious bike trails.

Come for the biking. Stay for the biking…but only if you have an RV!

No lie, this bike path instantly vaulted into our top 5 anywhere.

Only a half-mile further, a new forest.

The terrain keeps changing, oaks to pines to dunes to swamp to…wait–is that an…?

Why yes indeedy.

A nice heavy deluge that night made us feel even better about not camping. Even worse weather ahead of us in Florida encouraged us to slowwww down, so we spent another $70 to stay on at the Motel 6. Next morning, we tried some of those trails on foot.

Any gators down there?

I LOVE whizzing along on a bike, but you do miss stuff. Like these funny puffball-shaped clumps of reindeer lichen.

Cue the lichen puns.

Why this shape? Because, I realized, they’re not growing on the sand; there’s nothing for them to live off. They’re growing on individual sticks and leaves on the sand. Clever things!

We didn’t see tortoises, but we did see their holes.

Anybody home? Love the wild rosemary landscaping!

The only thing I wished for in this park was more dirt trails; they’re nearly all paved. But I understand the reasons for that. And it was clear, from the number of benches dedicated to folks passed away or to groups like “Michigan Snowbirds,” how beloved this park is to folks from colder places–mostly the midwest, it seemed. Maybe that explains the tongue-in-cheek speed limit signs:

NOT 27. That would be crazy.

The weather’s supposed to be so wacky tomorrow that I have no idea where we’ll be tomorrow night. NOT in a tent. But given the terrible destruction up in Nashville this week, I can only give thanks for the safety and security of being able to whine about a little rain.

And speaking of giving thanks: one more gator? Yes please!

We learned the locals named this one “Lefty.”

Road Trip X, Days 14-17, Fort Stockton to San Antonio to Galveston: Dear Ones in Texas

In this blog’s travel morph, I’ve never made a secret of my lack of love for Texas. I’m sure I’ve said some unkind things. That attitude, of course, comes back to bite me when I see a travelogue like this through the eyes of folks I love who happen to live there. So I’m going to avoid my negativity for once and just write about what’s been great about the past few days.

Hold up. Let me first get this out of my system: Fort Stockton contains no one I love, AND it doesn’t have a single bike path. So I’m not going to try & emphasize the positive about Fort Stockton, other than to say it offered us a comfy motel at the end of a long day’s drive from Arizona. If you’re reading this and you’re from Fort Stockton, please chime in with something cool about your town.

OK, on to San Antonio.

My older sister and her husband live on the outskirts, far enough away from the Riverwalk that we’re not tempted to go there. We’re family, not tourists. (And my sister’s dining room is the best restaurant in town anyway.) Along with catching up on family stuff and playing music with my bro-in-law, I’m always happy to cuddle their super-fluffy cats.

Starved for kitty love.

And THIS town has a bike path! Boy, does it ever.

Curvy and swoopy and green…A+.

Also, thanks to my sister’s tree, we are now the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados, Oranges AND Grapefruit! (not pictured ’cause I’ve been eating them in the car–sweeet) But here’s another cat picture instead.

Such…fluffy…feeeeet!

We only stayed one night in San Antonio because we’d timed our trip to Galveston to coincide with our friends’ weekend there.  We usually visit them in Dallas where they live (in Oak Cliff, Dallas’s cool side), but they’re just putting the finishing touches on a new condo in Galveston, the childhood Happy Place of one of them, and they invited us as inaugural guests.

Galveston? Where the heck is that anyhow? (asked Gretchen, about a month ago).

Oh! Okay. Thanks, Wikipedia.

According to our friends (also Wikipedia), it’s an island in the Gulf of Mexico, 27 miles long, no wider than 3 miles. It was practically wiped out in a hurricane in 1900 which killed over 6,000 people. More recently, Hurricane Ike did a ton of damage, but Galvestonians are a resilient bunch, and they love their town. One of my favorite parts of our stay there (other than walking on the endless beach) was biking through the old town, stopping to take pictures of pretty houses.

Ooooh.

The sunrise view from our friends’ condo:

Good morning!

The giant ships entering the harbor, bound for Houston, reminded me of the ones we used to live with during our 20 years in Tacoma. Here there are so many, they line up along the horizon waiting their turn to unload. At night the whole Gulf looks like it’s ringed with stars.

Big ship, and big pelican! I love those things.

Biking around, I kept thinking about seeing Ciudad Juarez across the Rio Grande as we’d passed through El Paso a couple of days earlier. Yes, the Mexican streets and houses look poor, in some places desperately so. But they are so colorful! Pink and green and blue and purple–as if to say, “C’mon, America–why you gotta be so DULL?” Well, Galvestonians are NOT dull.

Wish I had the nerve to paint my house that color.

Mardi Gras was last week. I kept running over beads with my bike wheels, and lots of decorations were still up.

The day was overcast. Imagine how this home would look in bright sunshine!

Must’ve been quite a party.

Take that, Nawleans.

Galveston also hosts a thriving fishing industry. My friend took this picture as I waited in line for gigantic shrimp. Moments later, when she stepped outside, they brought out the two-man-sized fish.

The day’s smaller catch.

If I were more of a beach person, I would have taken more pictures of the beach. Maybe. The best thing about THIS beach, for me? Walking and talking and sitting and talking and drinking wine and talking with my friend. (not pictured) So here’s another jaw-dropping house:

Daaaaang.

Our friends went to Mass on Sunday for the first time here (they’re still getting to know their new town) and came back jubilant at having discovered a vibrant, extremely multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation. Another warm fuzzy for Galveston. Maybe I just need to spend more time in all Texas’s towns? Well…all the ones with places to bike in, anyhow.

I don’t feel bad about the opinions I have about Texas which are related to its history and current dominant politics. I do feel bad if anyone I love who lives there feels like I love them less because they live there. And for those other loyal Texans whom I don’t know…please tell me more cool stuff about where you live. I’m trying not to have a Texas-sized ego about this. 🙂

Road Trip X, Days 11-13: The Chiricahuas. Period. 

What strange impulse leads us humans to share our special secrets?

Notice that this post has no cute subtitle beyond a geographic label. That’s because the Chiricahua Mountains are the special secret of the Mate and me and a very, VERY few other people—I can only think of four. That’s the main reason they’re special to us. And yet, here I am talking about them. Can’t help myself.

Waaayyyy down there at the bottom right. (image courtesy freeworldmaps)

The west side of the mountains is the better known half, because that’s the National Monument side. We’ve camped there a couple of times, including last year. It has very cool rocks.

See what I mean? But that was last year (snow & all).

This year we opted for the east side, which means driving into New Mexico, then heading south and west and ending up back in Arizona–just barely–in the miniature town of Portal. No National Monument here…”just” national forest, and wilderness.

Oh, is that all?

Oh, and lest you think those pink cliffs are just the sun…

Nope. Actually pink.

This side of the Chiricahuas is known best by birders. As I’ve probably mentioned before, these mountains (rising nearly 10,000 feet) act as both an oasis for higher-elevation plant & animal species, AND wildlife corridor for everything that walks, flies and slithers. You can see birds here that otherwise you’d have to go to Mexico to see. They have coatis (not seen this trip). And javelinas.

THIS. Hairy piggie!

(Gotta admit, this particular piggie disconcerted us a bit. In the past, we’ve only spotted them bolting and scuttling, but this one sashayed through our yard to rub its butt against a prickly pear, then came right up to our cabin like it wanted to order a sandwich. Guess some idiot’s been feeding them.)

In 2004, our little family of four spent a few months living in Santa Fe, and that’s when a friend first showed us this marvelous canyon. It was mid-March then, and the place was buzzing with birders (also hummingbirds of a dozen species). We were a little starved for moisture and what we northwesterners call “real trees” (i.e., something other than pinons and cottonwoods). Being so high, the Chiricahuas collect snow, and fill their canyons with creeks. And creeks mean one of my favorite trees of all.

Not all the sycamores are this mighty. But they’re all this lovely.

March was great. April might be even prettier, who knows? But now, in February? We and the locals have the place to ourselves!

And we even got a few flowers out of the deal.

The Traveling Avos & Oranges enjoyed the view as well.

Here, piggie, piggie! (Just kidding.)

If you ever make the trip down to the furthest corner of Arizona, do let me know. We Chiricahua Enthusiasts are a small but passionate tribe.

(Note: you CAN drive from one side of the mountains to the other, but not in February. And not in any kind of car you value, unless you drive a Jeep.)

Yes please.

So pick a side and go. Go to hike, ride a bike, camp, watch birds, or just sit there in awe with your feet in a sycamore-shaded stream and your eyes on glory.