Saturday, November 29, 2008

Home for Thanksgiving

We both thought that the Carlsbad Caverns were one of the biggest highlights of the trip. It's hard to believe when you're already 750 feet underground that there's a whole other cavern underneath you! Definitely want to go back someday and spend a weekend taking all the guided tours of the side rooms - crawling through spider caves, rickety wooden ladders down into the lower cave. If you ever want to do those ones though, just keep in mind that they have to be booked about 6 months in advance. Oh yeah, and don't leave your camera in your car... :-)

After doing that for the morning on Tuesday, we put in a long day of driving and made it almost to the East end of Texas. We had the kind of good sleep you get when you're tired. The next day, since we were already farther along than we'd planned to be, we decided to bypass our next stop too and just get there. So we drove all the way across Louisiana (added to Lisa's list of "States I've Been To" - #30!) and Mississippi and pulled up to Ben's brother Will and Laura's place in Birmingham about 5 pm. The guys went to the fish market for some salmon filets and grilled and smoked them for dinner. Yeeeaaahhhh. We were tired from the longer days of driving but it was all worth it to wake up on Thanksgiving morning surrounded by family.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Close Encounters of the Museum Kind

Well, we said goodbye to California on Saturday. Wait, make that Sunday. We left Tom's on Saturday and headed down the Pacific Coast Highway #1 to a camp spot right between Santa Barbara and Malibu. We just weren't ready to be done with the ocean just yet. Needed just one more day to spend along the coast.

We've stayed at a bunch of different kinds of places, still finding our groove, so to speak. After staying in a bunch of RV parks last month, mostly overrun by retirees in enormous modern houses on wheels (one couple even got up from their picnic table and went inside when we pulled up in our little old tin can in Little Rock on our way out here - can you believe it?!), we were happy for the more welcoming "vibe" of the campground.

Sure, there were RVs at the campground too, some using noisy generators, and around us rambunctious kids were playing, practically rocking their tents off their pegs (one even sneaked up behind Ben and scared the daylights out of him, then ran away giggling in delight). But everyone quieted down around 9 and things got really cozy. We boiled up some water over a campfire (which was a thrill for us because apparently people at RV parks don't need those - you have to trade in your campfire rights for electricity - what if you want both?) and had some soup and genmaicha (Japanese green tea...which reminds me, we're going to have to post some pics of the Japanese garden and koi pond we found in San Jose. For now, check the pics Ben posted on his Facebook page). Then we listened to the waves crash on the nearby shore as we drifted off to sleep. Nice.

On Sunday we made the long haul through the Mojave Desert that is Eastern California, and tried something different - we just pulled up to a rest stop outside Tucson, climbed into the Airstream and camped out in one of the pull-through RV spaces. The weather was nice and warm and we actually slept really well that night, despite trucks coming and going. In the morning I washed my hair in the rest stop bathroom in a tiny sink barely big enough to get my head into, under one of those faucets that you have to hold down a button the whole time to keep the water flowing. When you're on the road it just feels great to get fresh and clean, however you can!

Now it's Monday. We drove from Tucson to Las Cruces this morning, then up through the White Sands Missile Range to Roswell, home of conspiracies about UFO and alien landings. We hit the UFO museum just so we could say we did. There was stuff about close encounters of the first, second and third kinds (now we know the difference), crop circles, the 1947 "incident," even the Bermuda Triangle. I (Lisa) wanted to see some stuff that they actually found out there, some parts of ships, you know, stuff like that, but it was more of an exhibit of newspaper and magazine clippings, everything everyone said and reported and wrote about the subject - the kind of stuff you could be there reading for hours and still not come to any conclusions on your own about. I guess I was hoping for some kind of conclusive evidence to be revealed once and for all, the real story straight from the horse's mouth. But who's the horse here? Hmm.

Ben, on the other hand...well, let's just say his curiosity has been piqued. After Roswell we headed down to Carlsbad for the night, and for much of the 70-mile drive, I watched the sunset and the stars coming out, while Ben watched blinking lights and unidentified objects moving across the sky. And since we arrived, he's been conducting some online research of his own, right here in the Airstream in the RV park!

Yes, another RV park, near the Carlsbad Caverns park entrance. It's okay, this place may just have redeemed RV parks for us. The owners are really nice, really organized (she handed us a big packet of information explaining their park, the nearby town and attractions, codes we'd need to use the internet and other facilities, and more. I commended her on it. And...they have an indoor heated pool that was open until 10! Since it's November and low tourist season, we had the 8-foot-deep pool to ourselves and it was like a big warm bathtub, with steam rising off the surface into the cooler night air (the pool building's windows were open). It's supposed to get down to 29 degrees tonight (that's about -2 for all you Canadians), which is colder than we expected this close to Mexico, but since we're plugged into electricity tonight, we've got a great little school bus heater to keep us warm. I guess that's a fair trade for the campfire (or lack thereof) tonight...

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Wildlife

We went down to a campsite on a river on the corner of the property and cooked some lunch over a campfire. We rock-hopped our way down about a half-mile of the river and back. On the way back up to the ranch we ran into a herd of the wild pigs and finally got to see them for ourselves. They are really funny!

Also, Ben took a closer look at one of the pictures in the last post, the one with the wave crashing into the rock. Here's an expanded view of that pic:

See what's out there just a little past the wave? We think it's one of the! Didn't realize we'd managed to capture any of them on camera!

Friday, November 14, 2008


We've migrated north a couple of hours to an 800-acre ranch with sheep, horses and wild boar. We've done some exploring on and off the property. Two miles west and 2,000 feet down is the ocean, where we spent a lovely 80-degree day today climbing and picnicking on sea cliffs, misted by the salt spray of massive frothy waves exploding on the moonlike rocks.

As if that wasn't enough, we looked out a few hundred yards, past the swath of reddish seaweed, and whales were playing in the water, flipping their tails and dorsal fins and blowing spumes of water in the air. They had black backs and white bellies, which led us to believe they were killer whales, but then we don't really know a whole lot about whales except that we want to get out closer to them and see more! What a treat!

We spent the whole day at the oceanside (though the whales only stuck around for about an hour) and downed some fish 'n' chips and a cold drink while listening to an animated conversation about land rights from some leftover hippies at a nearby table at a little roadhouse. We were seated on the patio overlooking an inlet where a small seal was swimming around, and the staff said he had been entertaining them all day. We watched him and some pelicans doing a funny water-bathing dance while the sun set in the most unusual palette of violet water, sea-green sky, and blood-red clouds. We stopped on the way back to take pictures that we knew would never do it justice...see?!

Pulling back into the yard after dark at the ranch, we had to brake as two deer ran across the driveway and bounded off toward the barn. It was a nature-filled day, the kind that we used to wish for when we got tired of the pace of city life. We noticed how the crash and echo of the waves against the rock walls reminded us of the percussion of fireworks echoing off of downtown buildings on the fourth of July, and thought it strange that it would be the natural sounds reminding us of the manmade ones, instead of the other way around.

San Francisco

Above the clouds...

Elephant Seals and Bull Horns

Tuesday afternoon we went down to Santa Cruz. Tom, Jay and their friend Peterson rode a four-hour mountain bike trail down to the coast, and we met them at the beach with a support vehicle and a change of clothes. While we waited for them to get there, we took a hike in the Ano Nuevo state park to see the young elephant seals congregating there.

"We've got about 200 animals right now!" said a very excited park ranger who obviously LOVED his job, and come January when all the big dogs come in from sea, he said they'll have about 6,000 elephant seals, some almost as big as the conversion van we were driving, crowding the beach for a long way down the coast. Apparently this is one of only two spots in North America where the elephant seals come ashore, so it's a pretty cool thing that we got to see them. We had to hike in a couple of miles to the north point to get to them, at the furthest end of the trail, but the guide made up for it by taking us in really close.

They were soft and fuzzy-looking, with cute little whiskered faces like our pup-dog Greta (r.i.p.). Some were playing in the water, and the rest were making really funny snoring/sneezing sounds as they snoozed on the beach.

Then we toured a bamboo bike workshop, where they're building bikes out of materials readily available elsewhere in the world. (This bull horn cruiser, though mostly made of bamboo, is not typical of the ones they're making in Africa - it was just a fun side project that turned out pretty cool and we all had to take it for a spin.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wild Boar Curry

Well, we're finally getting a chance to do the thing we hoped to do: rest. The airstream project is on a bit of a hold for now, while we take some time to enjoy being in California, spending time with friends we haven't seen in a long time and making new ones, building bikes, exploring the Bay area, watching wildlife, playing with the two sturdy farm cats that think they're dogs, spider-stomping (there are some big ones out here), and lots of good old home cooking. Tom's got a Kitchen-Aid mixer, a food processor, a dishwasher and a well-stocked spice rack, which combined with the spices Lisa brought along in test tubes, has her quite happily baking her heart out, keeping us in fresh whole wheat bread, carrot-banana bread, and cookies.

The other night it was rainy outside and we got a hankering for some curry. We had lots of yogurt and sour cream on hand so thought we'd make an indian-style yellow curry. As we debated which vegetables to put in it, Tom opened the freezer door and waved his hand from top to bottom, like a magician with a trick up his sleeve. "Pig meat!" he said excitedly. "A wild one I got up at the ranch." Before the onions were even sizzling, he'd chopped up two frozen-solid roasts into bite-sized pieces with what must have been a very sharp knife, and we were off and running. On closer inspection there were still a few bristles attached, so we picked those out as it cooked.

Everyone hung out in the kitchen over a curry cooking class and some made-up, state-fair-style games, like trying to get a ringer throwing round rubber gaskets at bottles, chandelier lights, and cabinet door and other assorted handles (you had to call your shot before throwing it). We'd never tried that particular type of curry with pork before, but it all came together. Spicy enough to make your nose run a little - just right for a rainy night. Served it up on some brown rice with whole coriander and cumin seeds sprinkled in for flavor. It was a fun night.

Our next house HAS to have an open kitchen-dining area. That's definitely on the short list of non-negotiables.