Friday, December 28, 2012

The 2nd Ammendment at it's Finest

It’s now 9:25pm on 12/28/12 in Guaymas, Mexico, and I am knocking out some serious blogging to catch up for the almost week of no posts.

Ahhh…the great state of Arizona and the freedom to carry guns wherever you please.  I’m not a gun owner myself but will not pass up a chance to fire off some rounds with an expert, like James.

James is a helicopter mechanic in the military and lives near Tucson in the little town of Red Rock, AZ.  Despite his fierce look holding an Ishipor 76.2 x 51 NATO (308) he is a hell of a nice guy.  He took me to a ghost town, Sasco, about 5 minutes from his house.  SASCO (Southern Arizona Smelting Company) was abandoned in the early 1900's with around 600 people at it's peak.  There are remains of a few structures:

The Rockland Hotel (they were somehow booked for the night):

The foundation of the smelter and the base of the smoke stack in the background:

To make your way into this ghost town, you need it to be very dry or need a big truck to get through this water:

I was surprised to see 2 other groups of very friendly, gun yielding Arizonians out for a little practice shooting.  Every single of them had a pistol strapped to their thigh.  I need to note here that James, during his time up in a helicopter, has seen a few smugglers from Mexico come peeling out of the desert onto this dirt road...thus the reason why everyone is armed.

We went to one of his favorite spots where there was another group of 3 knocking out some pistol rounds.  This may all seem a little unsafe and crazy to anyone not from here, but these folks are extremely careful and communicative with each other so as to not to have any problems.

James spends a fair amount of time restoring old guns and I got the chance to shoot 4 of about 30 he owns.

Here's the gun lineup:

1. 22 LR
2. Ishipor 76.2 x 51 NATO (308)
3. M1 Garand 30-06
4. Schmidt Rubin 7.5 x 55 K31

I honestly don't know what any of the above means as I've only shot guns about 2 times prior to this, but I do know that I felt like a bad-ass firing them.

James in action:

The other group trying out one of James' guns:

Don't take a knife to a gun fight around here:

You can see we are standing on a rocky bed of empty shells.

I started that day in shorts..then the rain and wind came in, making it feel like it dropped 30 degrees.  Off to lunch....see my Food & Wine section for the best Mexican hotdogs I have ever eaten at El Guero Canelo in Tuscon.

Flat Tire & Christmas with Friends in Phoenix, AZ

It’s 6:51pm and I am in the cheapest hotel, The Malibu (mall-ee-boo en espanol), I could find in Guaymas, Mexico.  I’m polishing off a liter of Tecate (litros de cerveza son uno de mi favorito cosas en Mexico!) and listening to some random Mexican drama on TV.

Upon leaving Joshua Tree Park I headed East on I-10, straight to Phoenix, AZ.  Though most people in California know me as a Tennessean, I was actually born in Phoenix and moved to TN when I was about 5.  I have not been back in 20 freaking years so was excited to see my godmother, Linda, and my friend, Joe, and his family that was close with my parents.  I was making fantastic time (everyone is flying on this road) when I hear a “BOOM” and I feel one of tires go out.  I pull off on the side and see my back driver’s side tire is toast. 

Given that I still have about 20,000 miles left on my trip, I’m thinking, “No big deal.  I can handle a little flat.”  I get out and am all business.  Everything’s cool and I jack up the back, when I notice the tire is not going up.  It appears the axle has fallen down or something along those lines – crap.

I call AAA, which only takes 2 ½ hours to finally get to me.  I was amazed at the fact AAA would not take my GPS coordinates…the most exact location I could possibly give them.  After 2 agents having no idea where I am (even though I’m telling them the cross road I just passed under AND my GPS coordinates) I get a woman who was actually competent and confirms my location and that a tow truck is coming.  During this time a highway patrolman pulls over a speeder (the car was clocked at 99) right behind me.  When he was finished with the ticket he takes a look at my truck and says, “It looks like your back suspension has come un-welded” and also calls AAA once again.  The tow truck dude finally shows up, gets out, and looks under my truck where I have it jacked up. He says, “You have the jack in the wrong place.”   

At that point I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry and my masculinity was completely lost.  I don’t know if anyone has ever looked at a manual for directions as to where to place the jack – it’s a very generic black & white drawn picture...drawn from space.  I will never, ever forget where to put that jack.  Needless to say, the new tire was put on in minutes and I continued on to be late for Christmas Eve dinner with my friends, the Carras's. 

That night I stayed at my childhood friend, Joe's, house.

Joe & Amanda's family (from left to right): Norm, Joe, Amanda holding little Leighton (3 months) & Leo (6)

Amanda's Mom, Sandie, who didn't want to be in the picture - tough luck:

Amanda's twin sister, Ashley, her husband, Nick (Dang it, I'm so sorry if this is wrong) & their little guy, Darwin. (I told you I would put you in the blog!)   

All of them were incredibly welcoming and as nice as can be – such a treat to spend Christmas with some friendly folks.  Thank you, everyone!

I also had the pleasure of visiting my godmother, Linda, who was so generous, and a pleasure to catch up with and share stories after 20 years.  

I ate like a king (beef roast, croissants, green beans, corn, turkey & gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, beans…bacon, eggs & hashbrowns for breakfast – yowsers!) and watched an episode of 24 with her.  Thank you so much, Linda!  (I finished off the rest of the turkey on the drive through Mexico & am eating the beans right now – yum!)

I was also able to get a short visit, with Linda’s sons, Rick & James.  I only spent a little time at Rick’s and wish I would have gotten a picture of him & his family.  I did meet back up with James at Linda’s house and he invited me to shoot some guns in a ghost town outside of Tucson…see next post!

Elephant Seals, Santa Barbara & Joshua Tree National Park

It’s Thursday 12/27 @ 8:11pm and I am writing this from my truck (it's cold out there!) in the Patagonia Lake Start Park in Patagonia, Arizona, just about 10 miles north of Nogales, AZ and within 12 miles of the Mexican border.

After leaving the Monterey area, I headed down the coast on Hwy 1.  I passed through Los Padres National Park, Morro Bay, saw signs for Cal Poly and drove through grape vines in Nipomo.  The entire day showed grey skies and constant mist/rain though still a pretty nice drive.

I made an unexpected stop when I saw a beach full of elephant seals drawing the views of many tourists.

Now these bad boys are monsters with the males weighing up to 5,000 lbs and the females up to 1,600 lbs.  According to the sign, December and November are the months in which males battle for dominance. Unfortunately, it appeared all of them, both male & female, were competing for laziness.  And everyone was tied for first!   They occasionally squirmed around and let out some sighs.  Look at the caballero below!

As darkness was coming on, I decided to stop in Santa Barbara for the night.  After grabbing dinner combined with Wifi (my food stops coincide with who has free Wifi) I drove along the main ocean strip until I came across a safe side street adjacent to a baseball field/park and near a number of hotels. This would be the first night sleeping on the shelf I installed in the back of my truck. I was happy to see a small camper about 20 yards ahead of me with 2 people also sleeping there for the night.

I walked down the main strip for about 1 ½ hours, listening to the waves crashing until I decided to call it a night.  I crawled up into the bag, worming my way into a sleeping bag and thought to myself, “A week and a half ago I was sleeping on a California King memory foam bed and now I am on the side of the road on a piece of carpeted plywood.  I guess I am a little nuts.”

I actually slept pretty well in my truck and awoke to see the beauty of Santa Barbara.  I was just about 2 blocks from the beach so grabbed an avocado, a turkey sandwich (my staple at that part of the trip, even for breakfast) and my camera.  I found a nice picnic table looking out over the ocean and watched a number of 4 person teams playing volleyball.  

Nearest to me was a woman teaching her son of about 6-7 years how to hit the ball.  What a cool environment to grow up in.  I finished my brunch and went for a nice, casual walk along the beach for about 2 ½ hours – pure relaxation.

At this point I had made a change of plans – I was going to pass over the Mexico border at Nogales in Arizona, not in Tijuana as originally planned.  The nice thing about traveling by yourself is that you can change plans whenever you want.  As such, I drove south until seeing signs for Los Angeles and passed along the northern part of LA on 101.  I have never been to LA before and was told about the horrendous traffic.  Low and behold – traffic!

I looked at my GPS and saw I would be passing by Joshua Tree National Park so decided that would be my target for the day.  It is amazing how much the landscape changed to full desert as I made my way east out of LA.  I passed hundreds of those huge, white propellers harnessing solar power with the mountains as their background. 

By the time I reached the southern entrance (off I-10) to Joshua Tree it was 5:30 so the rangers at the gate were gone so I just drove along the curvy 2 lane road into the deep of the park until I realized I had no idea how far this road went, so called it quits and turned around.  

Near the entrance I had passed a VW bus and a van that appeared to be parked for the night.  I went back to where I saw them, and with a quick Internet search, learned there were a few lots for free camping.  I pulled in to where I saw the VW bus and realized this was the spot, with about 4 other RVs nearby.  Looks good to me.  That 2nd night in the truck I slept like a rock, about 11 hours of deep dreaming.

Mornings are exciting when you have entered an area at night.  That desert sunrise on that Christmas Eve morning was pretty spectacular.  I ended up falling back asleep for a few more hours before packing up and driving to the ranger station.  I wanted to do a short hike before heading to Phoenix, AZ so decided on a 3 mile loop to Mastodon Peak with an old ore mine along the way.

Such a beautiful park

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Pebble Beach, Point Lobos, Miah-nnaise

I have spent the last 2 1/2 days visiting my buddy, Jeremiah.  I originally met “Miah” while working in the kitchen in Napa Valley.  He moved down to Pacific Grove (Monterey area) to cook at “The Bench” restaurant on Pebble Beach golf course, with the dining room overlooking the 18th hole and the spectacular Pacific coastline.  

Upon getting into town, we headed straight for the beach.  A few surfers were walking around and a small handful were in the water.  Miah seen below is one of the best chefs I have met and it is always a treat to catch up with him.

I'm always game for the beach, which is why I'm staying on the coast most of the drive down

The day time was the real highlight of my time in Pacific Grove (just north of Monterey).  This coastal area has some of the best mushroom foraging, hiking, surfing & golfing in the country.  On Thursday we walked the beach and took a drive along 17 mile rd., lined with mansions taking in amazing views of the ocean.  

If you are familiar with the Pebble Beach logo with The Lone Cyrpress, here it is:

Since Miah works at Pebble Beach, he showed me the restaurant and the golf course – pretty amazing history here…and lots of high-rollers.  I timed my visitation perfectly with Pebble Beach having their
company holiday party the 1st night I was there….and I got to be Miah’s plus one.  It was held on property in multiple massive conference rooms, with probably 1,000 people, and a full buffet.  The one bummer – it was a dry party.  Still a great time with carved turkey, prime rib, roasted tomatoes, mashed potatoes & more.

Friday morning started off with an espresso (if you don’t have an Aeropress, you should consider getting one), a couple of egg sandwiches and smoothies.  We then headed out to Point Lobos park, just south of Carmel, and hiked through the cypress trees.  Please take note of the giant golf visor Miah is sporting, and no he is not an 80 year old Asian woman on the golf course.

Miah has gotten very interested in mushrooms while living here so was telling me the details of all the fungi we spotted.  We saw tons of amanitas (shown directly below), which are psychedelic, but not the ones people refer to as “magic mushrooms".  No, we did not eat them. 

a huge porchini (shown below), a blewit, witch’s butter and a few others.     

The walk through the park was nothing short of awesome.  As you make your way in you see trees with rust-colored moss making them look like they were spray-painted.

The oldest tree in the park is a funky cypress, named Old Veteran, hanging onto the edge.

As we got out on the edge of the coast, a strong wind came whipping along.  The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.  (Is anyone here a marine biologist?!) 

 The waves, some upwards of 10-15 feet, were smashing against the rocks.  There is plenty of surfing along the coast and a notable area just north of here called Ghost Tree, where waves get up to 40+ ft.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Big Day Has Come - Departure

The big departure day, Dec. 13th, came up quick, a little too quick.  I was not finished building the shelf/bed frame in the 4runner and still had a load of stuff to get rid of.  Luckily, time is what I have plenty of, so I departed Friday, Dec. 14th instead and successfully made the first trek of my journey - 600 miles north to Portland to visit my bro, Martin.

For anyone that has not driven in northern California, it is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  The picture below is the view from my driveway in Napa Valley.  This was how the valley looked the day I was taking off...not so easy to leave this behind.

After my final drop of clothes & goods  at the homeless shelter & Goodwill, I drove east out of Napa on Hwy 128, passing along Lake Berryessa and out to Winters, CA (small agricultural town growing nuts & fruit, among other produce).  Along the way, I passed handmade signs of locals selling persimmons, oranges, walnuts & more; packs of sheep grazing; stacks of beehive boxes; and endless rows of barren apple, pear, peach and everything else trees.  How does anybody go hungry in this area??

Once I got on I-5, I passed Lake Shasta, Mount Shasta & Shasta River.  Shasta!!

I spotted snow for the first time as I came up on Mt. Shasta and was about 5 miles out from Weed, CA.  Yes, there is a town in California called Weed. I've heard that there used to be a sign at the T-intersection off the exit that had an arrow pointing left saying "Weed" and an arrow pointing right saying "College".  Needless to say, this sign was stolen over & over again.

So....with the darkness coming on once I hit the Oregon border, my scenery was taken away.  I made a stop for gas in the small town of Canyoneville, OR, where the high school gas attendant (in Oregon you can't pump your own gas) had just been given a small flyer talking about the end of the world with a picture of Mayan ruins on the front.  The attendant says to me, "There are some strange people around here.  If the world wanted to end, it would just do it itself".  His unexpected philosophical beliefs threw me for a loop so I just laughed and agreed with him.  I made it to Portland at 10pm, happy to have completed the first day of my trip.

Unfortunate event:  Cruise control stopped working about 1 1/2 hours into the trip.  My quick research tells me it is likely a blown fuse or faulty vaccuum tube...will check tomorrow.

Fortunate event: Gas is the lowest I have seen in years!  I filled up in Canyonville, OR for $3.15/gallon - say what??