Travels with Norm and Linda
(Winter in the Sonoran Desert)
(January 4, 2006 to March 1, 2006)

You can click on "photos" to get directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second page (if there is one).

If you have followed our travels you know that we had a truly marvelous summer in 2003 as we traveled with Norm and Linda Payne for ten weeks as we toured the Canadian Atlantic Provinces and some of northern Maine. It has been almost two and a half years since that  time and we once again traveled with Norm and Linda, this time for about nine weeks as we headed west to attend a couple of Newmar RV rallies and roam around southern California. This travelog picks us up after having spent the New Year's weekend at Rainbow's End in Livingston, Texas.

We left Rainbow's End on January 5th after celebrating the new year and watching the last couple of football bowl games. Our destination was Austin to visit John and Libby Veach. John had been working for FEMA for several months and was stationed in Austin to help handle housing situations for hurricane victims. Although he said he had been working very long hours and six days a week he said he loved the work and felt good about helping people. We were able to book into the same RV park the Veaches were staying in, Oak Forest.  It was a nice park with friendly people in the office. The site we had was a 50-amp, full hookup, pull-thru. The free WiFi was an added benefit.

Our next stop was the San Antonio area to visit a few RV friends. We stopped at the Camping World to see if we could boondock there for a couple of nights, which worked out fine. The last time we saw Gene and Ann Dwiggins was in 2001 as we made our way west.  They drove up to the Camping World and led us to a great seafood restaurant where we enjoyed a great meal and camaraderie.

It was also in 2001 that we last saw Willie Nunez and Betty Sue Basham at the last RVAmerica Y2K Party in Gold Canyon. They had since traded their Winnebago Vectra for a Dutch Star, but were now in the process of building a house in San Antonio. We met them at the construction site for a tour of the house. They are doing a lot of the work themselves and it is coming along nicely. It will be beautiful when it is finished and furnished. They led us to a fantastic Chinese buffet restaurant. It was one of the biggest and best we had ever been in.

Our travels took us into the Sonoran Desert where we would spend the rest of the winter and early spring. The desert covers 120,000 square miles in southeastern California (Palm Springs), southwestern Arizona (Tucson, Phoenix, Quartzsite), and most of Baja California and the state of Sonora, Mexico (Puerto Penasco). To give you an idea of how big the Sonoran is, it is bordered in the north by I-40 in Arizona and I-10 in California, on the east by US 191 in Arizona, in the south to the tip of Baja California, Mexico, and on the west by Borrego Springs and San Gorgonio Pass in southern California.

We weren't following any particular schedule other than we knew we had to be in Quarzsite, Arizona to attend the Newmar rally starting January 18. There was enough time to spend a few days in Gold Canyon to allow us to do the necessary shopping and other preparations for spending seven nights boondocking in the desert. We also wanted to visit with Ron and Barb Hofmeister who live not far from the Canyon Vistas RV Resort in Gold Canyon. It was a two day trip from San Antonio with overnight stops at the Wal-Mart in Fort Stockton and a rest area in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Rather than take the interstates, we headed up US 70 to Globe where we picked up US 60 west over the mountain. The views were fantastic as we climbed and then descended into the valley where the temperatures were much warmer. We pulled into Canyon Vistas, one of the many large RV parks in the Phoenix area mostly populated by snowbirds from the northern states.

Ron and Barb were some of the first folks we met as we were getting ready to join the ranks of fulltime RVers. We read both of the books they wrote about RVing and attended several of their seminars. They spent 14 years on the road before deciding to buy a house in Gold Canyon. Diane and I visited with them when we flew out to Phoenix in February 2005 and we always enjoy visiting with them. Barb was involved with the local theater in their community and was the director of this year's play. She invited Diane and Linda to watch a rehearsal session, which they did the morning after we arrived. Later in the day we all went to their house for a meal and fellowship.

While in the area we got our shopping done and Diane and I went to see a couple of movies (Glory Road; Tristan and Isolde). It would be several weeks before we would see another movie theater, which probably would mean that we would start to suffer from withdrawal symptoms from not seeing movies.  :-)

Norm and Linda did the Quartzsite/Puerto Penasco rallies in 2004 and raved about them, especially Puerto Penasco with it's great happy hours on the verandah and HUGE shrimp that go from the boat to the vendor to the dinner plate on the same day. They had asked us to make that trip with them back in 2004, but we had planned to stay east for that winter and only go as far west as the Dakotas in summer of 2004. I'm not a big fan of making long round trips as we typically point the nose of the Dutch Star in a direction and then follow it for months. The only round trip we make is to go from Florida to Georgia for Christmas. It was just too far to go all the way to Quartzsite and Puerto Penasco and then back to the east coast. When we planned to do Quarzsite and Puerto Penasco this year we were very happy that Norm and Linda said it was in their plans as well. And that's kind of why I decided to call this travelog "Travels With Norm and Linda". Diane and I enjoy traveling with them. It's especially great for Linda and Diane because they spend much more time together thanks to their common interests in playing "Boggle" and beading.

Quartzsite is a town in Arizona along I-10 about 20 miles east of the California border. We had heard about it from several folks who had been there, as well as read travelogs written by folks who spent time in the desert. The stories ranged from "never again" to "the greatest place to stay in the winter months". We were told that we had to experience Quartzsite at least once, so we decided this was the time to do that. Newmar holds an annual rally in Quarzsite every January, so we signed up to attend the rally along with Norm and Linda. It's not uncommon for Newmar folks who do the Quartzsite rally to also sign up for the Puerto Penasco caravan that starts the day after the Quartzsite rally ends. That's what we did.

Quartzsite is in the Sonoran Desert and started out in 1856 as a fort owned by Charles Tyson that he built to protect his family against the Indians. There was water in the area and it was known as Tyson Wells. Thanks to the water it became a stagecoach station on the road from Ehrenburg to Prescott. During World War II, General Patton used the area as a training area for troops about to be shipped to fight in the desert of North Africa.

Sometime in the mid 1980s folks interested in rocks and gems started have rallies in the area. Over time, it grew to include a large RV show along with lots of vendors. We had heard there could be up to 150,000 to 200,000 RVs in the area with up to a million people. However, these million people are most likely not all there at the same time, but rather spread out over the winter months. In any case, there were thousands of RVs parked in the desert over many miles in each direction of the center of town. Heading west on I-10 there is a mile marker indicating seven miles to Quartzsite. At that point, you can see thousands and thousands of white specks off in the distance. They are the roof tops of RVs scattered in the desert. The busiest time is from about mid January to mid February. People park their rigs just about anywhere there is an open space. Most of the land in the area is owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Some of it is free parking and some of it is fee. The fee areas are known as Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVAs) and are closer to town and all of the activities. The permit to park in these areas range from $20 for a week or $100 for an entire season. It's not unusual for RVers to spend the entire winter in the desert around Quarzsite. There are places where folks can fill up their water tanks and dump their holding tanks.

The Newmar rally has always been held at a location just off US 95 about six miles south of I-10. We signed up to arrive two days early which would give us a week boondocking in the desert. Norm frequents the Newmar Owners Group on Yahoo and wanted to park with some of the folks from that group who would be at the rally. It's a good way to put a face with a name. There were about 24 rigs parked with the Yahoo group. We and the Paynes arrived together and we were parked in an area not far from where the "town square" was set up, which was where we had all our meals and entertainment. The rally officially started on Wednesday, January 18, and we started it off the prior evening with a pot luck dinner with the other Yahoo folks.

One never knows what the weather would be like in the desert in January. Norm and Linda were in Quarzsite in January 2004 and said it was shorts and T-shirts every day with beautiful weather. Well, not this time. The evenings were down in the 30s and the daytime temperature didn't get much above 55 most days. And it was windy, although most days were not brutal winds blowing up the sand. If we were just boondocking and not attending a rally we might have a different opinion. Here's why. All of our meals were catered and eaten outside between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. which meant it was cool. Sometimes it was downright cold. A prime rib dinner isn't very enjoyable when eating it in 50 degree weather. If we were just there boondocking we would have been eating in the motorhome or out in a restaurant and not eating outside. So would we do it again? Yeah, probably, but not for a few years. Barring the cold, it's hard to beat being at a Newmar rally with old friends and enjoying the camaraderie.

We did drive into town a few times and walked through the vendor tent to see if there was anything of interest. There wasn't so we didn't buy anything. We find that having been on the road for almost six years that there isn't much we need anymore.

Parked in one of the BLM LTVAs were a few folks from the RVAMERICA bulletin board. We got to visit with Mike Desch and Linda Oddo and had a meal together at a local restaurant. We hadn't seen them since the Life on Wheels Conference in Moscow, Idaho in July 2001. A few days later, Diane and I stopped by to see if Mike and Linda were there and if anyone else had arrived. Richard and Patsy King were there and we hadn't seen them for several years. We all sat and chatted for a while and had a great visit.

I would like to mention that the Newmar Quarzsite rally was coordinated for years by the Region 1 Directors, Jim and Pat Lambertus. They decided it was time for someone else to step up and coordinate the rally. Last summer at the Newmar International Rally in Salem, Oregon, this topic was discussed and it was decided that the Quartzsite Rally would become a Newmar Special Event. Stepping up to host the rally were George and Barbara Carlson (President of the Newmar Fulltimers Chapter). Volunteering to co-host the rally were Barry and Terry Klein. Naturally, they had no control over the weather, but they did a great job putting on the rally. The food was great, as was the final evening's entertainment, Keith Longbotham, who we had seen before. He and his buddies were very funny and entertaining as they told jokes and played great music that helped us get our minds off the fact that it was pretty cold that evening.

It seems like there are probably three categories into which Quarzsite visitors fall. The first are the folks who absolutely love boondocking in the desert and love Quarzsite. The second are the folks who have been there, hated it, and swore never to return. The third are the folks who have been there, think it's "okay" and MAY decide to return sometime. Diane and I fall into the third category. Other than the cold temperatures, we enjoyed our stay in Quarzsite. You get to see some interesting sites in the desert, from strange RVs to strange people.

The next phase of our journey was to hook up with the other Newmar folks who were signed up to caravan to Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point), Mexico. The meeting place was the Elks Lodge parking lot in Gila Bend, which is about 80 miles north of the Mexican border. The weather was much warmer in Gila Bend than it was in Quarzsite and we were happy about that for sure.  Although it was called a caravan, it was actually a rally without the seminars. Some of the Newmar rigs had already arrived by the time we and the Paynes arrived. We were lined up in rows of eight to nine rigs. Since Norm had already made the trip to Puerto Penasco, he was asked to lead one of the groups.

Our motorhome insurance extends our coverage into Mexico as infrequent travelers in that country, but it does not include liability. It is a law in Mexico that one must have liability coverage. If one were to have an accident in Mexico without such coverage, it could mean ending up in a Mexican jail. Norm had told me that there would be people in Gila Bend selling liability insurance and they were already there writing policies. It is not necessary to purchase liability coverage for the times when the vehicles are not on the road, so we bought a policy to cover us on the day we drove in and the day we drove out. Norm and I decided to split the coverage for the cars. He covered his car for the first week and I covered my car for the second week. The cost for that coverage was $95. Some folks did not have a rider on their US RV coverage to include Mexico, so they had to purchase additional coverage for their vehicles as well as liability. We learned that some folks paid as much as $500 for that coverage for one week.

By the time we got through the line to purchase Mexican liability insurance it was time for dinner. The meal was a catered barbecue that was delicious. Thank goodness the weather was pleasant as everyone set up chairs and tables near the buffet table. It sure beat eating meals in 50 degree weather as we did almost every evening in Quarzsite.

We meet many people who say they would never take their RV into Mexico under any circumstances due to the rampant stories about bandidos and bad roads and whatever. Diane and I have never held such an extreme position, but we have said we would not go into Mexico by ourselves nor do we have any desire to go deep into Mexico or drive in the Baja. Some folks who have driven the Baja said it was a 2000 mile white knuckle round trip with nothing between the road and a steep drop-off. That wouldn't be much fun for me as the driver or Diane as the passenger. Others have made the drive and said it wasn't so bad.

I guess we all have different levels of tolerance for such adventures. We have some friends who are soon to be fulltimers who are very anxious to drive deep into Mexico for the winter months. We don't share that desire and I'm sure they doesn't understand our concerns in the same way we don't understand the concerns of folks who wouldn't drive at least to Puerto Penasco with a group. At least Puerto Penasco is in the "free" zone and the road down is like a good US highway. Plus there is safety in numbers. The water was safe to drink at the campground and the major local restaurants. We didn't hear of even one person from our rally who got sick with the famed Montazuma's Revenge.

Puerto Penasco became a tourist destination thanks to the vision of Johnny Stone, a US businessman. He visited the small fishing village during the days of prohibition in the United States and saw the potential for tourism given that it was outside the prohibition laws in the US. He bought some property, drilled a well, and built a hotel. The rest, as they say, is history. People go there today to enjoy the mild winters or to escape the desert heat during the summer months. We learned that it is much more crowded during summer than it was when we were there in winter. We pretty much had the beach to ourselves when we went out for a walk. Today Puerto Penasco is a very successful resort town.

Diane and I were more excited about the trip to Puerto Penasco than we were for Quarzsite and the time had finally arrived for the drive into Mexico. We crossed the border at Lukeville, Arizona. The Mexican border guard stopped Norm's rig and asked him some questions, looked around inside the rig a few seconds, and then waved everyone through. The drive was uneventful as Norm did a good job of making sure everyone in our group stayed together. Puerto Penasco is about 65 miles from the border and the drive took us around one and a half hours. The final few blocks to the campground were on sandy roads, but not bad. We stayed at the Playa Bonita RV Park right along the beach. There was also a hotel attached to the restaurant and campground. The parking crew was already there and did a fantastic job of parking all the rigs, especially given that the campground sites were a bit tight.

After getting set up we walked to the office to sign up to have our motorhomes washed and waxed. We were told it was $1 a foot, but the price had gone up to $1.50 a foot for wash AND wax. Since we have a fiberglass roof, it was another $15 to do the roof. I was quite happy to pay someone $72 to wash and wax the motorhome. I try to do that twice a year in spring and fall. The washing is never a problem, but I have to admit that it does get tougher every time I wax the beast even though I wax it over about a week. It's just too big to wax in one day. And it doesn't get any easier the older I get.

At 4 p.m. we walked up for our first look at happy hour on the verandah. We ordered two pitchers of margaritas that were some of the best margaritas I've ever tasted. Diane doesn't drink, but had a couple of virgin margaritas and agreed that the mix was delicious. A never ending supply of chips and salsa was available. We were hooked. Happy Hour became an event before every meal at the rally and about every other day during the extra week we spent at Playa Bonita. There were four couples who hung out together during the week: us; Norm and Linda; Tom and Mary Williams; and Mary and Jim Harpold. We were a perfect mix.

Our hosts for the Puerto Penasco caravan were Jay and Donna Weewie who have hosted this event for several years. They have it down to a science and did a marvelous job. We learned that the rally is capped at 85 rigs because the restaurant comfortably holds 170 people. Everything was perfect. The meals were all delicious and the waiter for our table, Carlos, was a real character. We made sure to get the same table for each meal so that we would have Carlos wait on us. He helped make each meal extremely enjoyable. The entertainment was fun. And the weather was fantastic. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect week.

We were so busy during the rally week that we didn't walk along the beach or make too many trips into town except for one evening when the four couples went up on the hill overlooking the Old Port to eat dinner at the Lighthouse Restaurant. The food was good and the views were great. On days when there was no rally meal planned, the four couples got together and we cooked out. It had been a long time since we took out our raclette grill. Norm and Linda knew what it was, so I explained it to the Harpolds and Williams. We had some raclette cheese so we got that out and did the raclette and stone top cooking. It just doesn't get any better than getting a few folks together along with good food and wine and views of the water and beach and great weather. The photos tell the story.

The rally ended on Sunday and pretty much everyone left on Monday. There were a few who stayed longer. We weren't able to keep the two sites that we were in during the rally because two other rallies were arriving. However, we were able to get two sites together and move a bit closer to the clubhouse, which was good because it provided a better WiFi signal. It was during this week that we ate lots of shrimp. We drove into the Old Port to shop and to pick up some shrimp. There were lots of open store fronts in which people were selling seafood. We chose to buy ours from The Cowboy. The prices were all the same, but he was willing to clean the shrimp for us. So we went back to him each time we wanted fresh shrimp, which was almost every day. When Norm and Linda told us about the huge shrimp, they weren't kidding. Some of the shrimp were HUGE. To give you an idea I'll tell you that there were only nine or ten shrimp in a pound for the biggest ones. There were three sizes of shrimp and the prices were $6, $8, $9 a pound. When we left Puerto Penasco we had about 10 pounds of shrimp, scallops, and fish in our freezer. The Paynes left with about 14 pounds.

During our second week we did take a few walks along the beach. There were condos down from the RV park and new ones under construction. It was kind of sad to see the condos encroaching towards Playa Bonita. We heard that eventually, maybe within two years, the Playa Bonita RV park land will be sold so more condos can be constructed. The park would be moved to an area off the beach. It will still be a nice place to go, but it won't be the same as being parked along the beach. It's always about the money. The land is too valuable to have RVs parked on it.
That was evident by the large number of condos along the beach with many more under construction. We saw signs for condos priced from around $400,000 to $1.4 million.

We saw some fantastic sunsets while we were in Mexico. I put four photos of Puerto Penasco sunsets on the first photo page. The photos have not been touched or altered in any way. The sunsets were awesome and, as they say, the photos don't do them justice.

I received a note from George Carlson telling me that they would be down in Puerto Penasco the second week.
The Carlsons, Paynes and Diane and I went to happy hour and a final meal on our last evening on the verandah. Diane and I chose a shrimp meal, Shrimp Tequila, that was cooked at our table by Ernesto who was one of our waiters during the rally. The beach and water and Puerto Penasco were always within site as we sat on the verandah most evenings. This was definitely one of the best two week periods of time we have had since we hit the road in 2000. We will definitely go back to Puerto Penasco again and maybe stay even longer than two weeks.

The drive out of Mexico was uneventful and we passed through the border into the USA without anything but a few questions from the border agents. We decided to have our mail forwarded to the post office in Gila Bend and spend a night at the Elks Lodge. Organ Pipe National Monument was on the way so we stopped there for a few hours to tour the area and view the various cacti. We went into the visitor center to get some information about driving through the monument. I guess I am now a full fledged senior citizen because I was able to purchase my Golden Age Pass from the National Park Service. For $10 I have a lifetime pass to the National Parks and 50% off fee services. I figure there are probably three or four milestone ages in one's life. First, there was 16 when I could get a license. The second was 18 (now 21) when I could legally get a drink in a bar and go clubbing. Third was reaching 21 which I guess meant I was an adult. Then there was this big gap until reaching 62 when I was able to get those Social Security checks and my Golden Age Pass. Now if I could only find a way to stop aging at this point.

We unhooked Norm's car and drove on the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Drive that wound its way around the Diablo Mountains. Due to its low latitude and altitude, the Sonoran Desert tends to be warmer than the other three deserts in the southwest, the Chihuahuan, the Great Basin, and the Mojave. It doesn't freeze often  and has a rainy season, both of which lend to a greater diversity of plants and animals. As we drove through the area we saw many wonderfully shaped cacti. The organ pipe cactus grows mainly within the Organ Pipe National Monument, but is also found in Sonora, Mexico. It's called organ pipe because the branches all rise from the ground and form what appears to be the pipes of an organ. The saguaro cactus is one of my favorites because of the many shapes it can take. It can grow as high as 50 feet. Other interesting cacti we saw included the chain-fruit cholla, prickly pear, ocotillo, and teddybear cholla. All were interesting and I have included photos of some of them on the photo pages.

After spending the night in Gila Bend and picking up our mail on the way out the next morning, we drove to Yuma for a few days. We had a coupon to spend three free nights at the Yuma Lakes RV Resort in return for listening to a 90 minute sales pitch. We listened to the pitch and didn't buy anything. Norm and Linda followed us into the sales office and benefited by our going first as the guy knew we were traveling together. He asked them if they were interested in buying and, when they said no, he ended the pitch. Yuma Lakes is a nice enough park, but it's not one we would buy into or frequent. It only provides 30-amp hookups and they have a rule that prohibits using a washer/dryer in the RV. They want you to use their laundromat.

We visited with Mike Desch and Linda Oddo in Quarzsite and were able to also visit with them again as they were in the park.

Norm was in touch with Ray Baker from the RVAMERICA bulletin board and found out that Ray was in the Yuma area. We were all invited to attend a New England Maine Boil at the park Ray and his wife, Lora, were staying at for the winter. There must have been about 30, or more, people at the cookout. Our hosts were Arnold and Diane Pelletier and we couldn't thank them enough for having us over and for the wonderful meal they put out. Not only was there the boil, but there was stuffed cabbage and other goodies, as well as plenty to drink. We had a wonderful afternoon and met lots of folks from different parts of the country and Canada who were wintering in Yuma.

In 2002, we met Robert and Dawn Totten in the Schenectady, New York area. From just that one meeting we have stayed in touch through the years via email and occasional phone conversation. They had wintered in Yuma and decided a few years ago to buy a house and become part time travelers rather than fulltimers. Robert had planned to spend a day with us and show us around, including a drive down into Mexico. However, he had recently broken his leg and was not mobile. So we drove to their house and had lunch with them and a great visit as we caught up since we first met almost four years ago. That's one of the great benefits of this fulltimer lifestyle. You meet lots of folks along the way and some relationships stick for a lifetime. It was great to see Robert and Dawn again. We liked what we saw in Yuma so I'm sure our paths will cross with them again in the future.

Our three nights at Yuma Lakes was coming to an end and they would not entertain the idea of us paying for a couple of extra nights, so we had to move on. We wanted to stay in the Yuma area a few more days because we wanted to go to Algodones, Mexico to shop for meds. We moved over to the Paradise Casino just over the border in California and boondocked there through the weekend. Diane and I hadn't been to a movie theater since we left Gold Canyon four weeks earlier, so we took a day to go see a couple of movies (The Matador; The Pink Panther). We had heard about people who go to Mexico to buy their medicines because they are significantly cheaper than in the US. We drove to Algodones where we were able to get most of the medicines that Diane takes and saved somewhere close to $1,000 over what it would cost us in the US.

Algodones is like a one stop shopping town. Not only were there pharmacies on every street, there were dentist and eye doctors just about everywhere you looked. Lots of folks go there for dentures and crowns and eyeglasses and swear by it. We weren't in need of any of those services, but I guess I'm a bit more skeptical when it comes to things like that.

I had been to San Diego once back in the early 80s. It was one of those conferences where you are picked up at the airport, shuttled to the hotel, attend meetings, shuttle back to the airport and fly out. So I always wanted to return to spend more time in the city. We got the two motorhomes ready to roll and drove to San Diego. We chose to stay at the Mission Bay RV Park at a Passport America rate of $15 per night. It was a city park right along DeAnza Cove in Mission Bay. We learned that the park had fallen into serious disrepair and was redone in 2005. Now it is all asphalt with decent sized sites and 50-amp full hookups. It was a great price for the area. We were able to extend three extra days at the Passport America price of $15 per night. Ten days for $150. Great deal for a popular area such as San Diego. We were surprised to learn that winter is not their peak season. Summer time is the peak season.

The first thing we did was go to dinner with a high school buddy that lives in San Diego. I hadn't seen Rich Gorin since our 40th high school reunion on Long Island in 2001. He took us to a nice Thai restaurant where we had a delicious meal. Rich also came over to the park on our last day in the area to share in a cookout. It was nice to see him again and we would also cross paths when we got to Mesa, Arizona.

There is a lot to do in San Diego, so much so that we know we would like to go back there and spend more time, like a month or two, or an entire winter. One of the top tourist things to do is the San Diego Zoo and we spent an entire day there. The place is huge. We also drove over to Coronado to see the Hotel del Coronado where the movie "Some Like It Hot" with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe was filmed. It's a beautiful hotel. We walked around the lobby and the shops and out to the beach behind the hotel. We had asked Rich for some suggestions for places to eat lunch and he mentioned a few, including JSix in downtown San Diego. We stopped there for lunch where Diane and I split a marvelous sandwich. They also put out a basket of delicious breads.

Some friends of ours from Longmont, Colorado, Bill and Sue Brackett, were spending the winter in a condo along the beach in Carlsbad. We all took a drive up to visit with them. Bill and I used to work together in the late 60s and early 70s in New York. We had a nice lunch and visit and hope to visit again sometime down the road.

Rich told us that the third Tuesday of every month was "free museum day" which meant no entrance fees to any of the museums in Balboa Park, and there are several museums in the park. The Museum of Art had a new exhibit, The Roman Frescoes, so we opted to go see that one. Stabiae was a small community overlooking the Bay of Naples where the Roman elite had summer villas. Stabiae, along with Herculaneum and the more famous Pompeii, was destroyed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79.
Many artifacts buried under the ashes were uncovered and were on display, including some beautiful frescoes. There was no doubt that the Roman elite lived large and luxurious. We spent several hours looking at the exhibit and then walked through some of the other exhibits in the museum. The museums were very crowded as I guess "free Tuesdays" brings out the masses. What a great thing for the city to do for its people. After touring the museum we wanted to get a late lunch and decided to go back to JSix where we had another great meal.

One day we drove over to Point Loma to get a view of the city from high on a hill. There was a visitor center that was showing a movie that introduced us to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the west coast of what is now the United States. He set out on his voyage 50 years after Columbus landed in America. Most of his life remains a mystery, including where he was born or where he is buried. However, they do know that he died on January 3, 1543. The view from Point Loma is across San Diego Bay and the Naval Air Station to the city. The weather was clear and sunny, albeit a bit cool up there, which made for great photos.

Norm and I wanted to visit the USS Midway, a well known aircraft carrier now retired and sitting in San Diego Bay. Diane and Linda were content with shopping and beading. The Midway is more than three football fields (1001 feet) in length and displaces more than 70,000 tons. The flight deck is 4.2 acres. There are 18 decks which is the equivalent of a 20 story building. Fuel economy, if you can call it economical, is 260 gallons to the mile. It took a crew of 4,300 sailors to support 200 aviators, including 200 cooks who prepared 13,500 meals each day.

The last stop for us before heading to Mesa for the rest of the winter was the Palm Springs area. We drove to Indio and checked out the Fantasy Springs Casino which was listed as having free overnight RV parking. However, when we got there, we saw signs indicating no overnight parking. Not very RV friendly. So we went over to the Spotlight 29 Casino where we saw dozens of RVs. The sign said 24 hour parking, but we realized that was not being enforced, so we ended up spending three nights there before moving over to the Catalina Spa & RV Resort, a Coast to Coast park. It's a nice park depending on the site you get. Some sites were not very level and we saw several motorhomes with their wheels off the ground. We were lucky enough to find two fairly level sites, although my right front wheel was a hair off the ground. But you can't beat the price of $8 per night.

Diane and I had been to the area many years ago when we used Marriott points to spend a long weekend at the Marriott Resort & Spa in Palm Desert. We didn't do much other than I golfed and Diane enjoyed the spa. So it was like being in the area for the first time. We again took the opportunity to see a couple of movies (Transamerica; Mrs Henderson Presents).

The area is known as the Coachella (pronounced co-a-chella) Valley. The weather was great and there are lots of things to do in the area. We took a tour of a windmill farm. We thought it was a bit pricey at $20 per person, but it was informational and the tour guy who drove the van knew his stuff. One of the biggest tourist things to do is to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The tram cars are large round units with a rotating floor that makes two full revolutions on the way up and the way down. The trip is 10 minutes long as you climb up to the top of Mt. San Jacinto over two and a half miles of cable. The trip climbs from 2,643 feet at the Valley Station to 8,516 feet at the Mountain Station. On top is Mt. San Jacinto State Park with 54 miles of hiking trails for those so inclined. We opted for the ride and dine which was available after 3 p.m. It offered the round trip ride and a meal at the Top of the Tram Restaurant, a cafeteria style restaurant. Also in the Mountain Station was the Elevations Restaurant for those wanting linens and high priced entrees.

I saw an ad in the local paper for the St. George Greek Fest with a coupon that offered two for one tickets. That sounded like something interesting to do, so we went there to enjoy some Greek food and music. We walked around to see what was being sold in the booths, watched two performances of a Greek dance group from San Diego, and listened to some great Greek music featuring Levendia, a local Greek Bousouki band. The bousouki is a favorite interment of mine and I love its sound. We also had a great Greek lunch. We didn't get to try any ouzo though. We were sitting at a table with some folks who we were chatting with when one of them brought over a good looking dessert. She offered a piece to sample and it was delicious. I asked what it was and learned it was loukoumathes, so off I went to find the booth where I could buy some. Loukoumathes are feather light puffs of pastry drenched with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon and walnuts. YUMMY!

A tour of the church was offered at various times, so we all went in to listen to one of the priests talk about the Greek Orthodox religion and describe the Greek iconography in the church. The iconography was made up of Byzantine style Mosaics. We were allowed to take photos and you can see some of the iconography on the photo pages.

On the way to the Greek festival we stopped at a date farm where we could sample various types of dates. Some were okay, but neither of us was very fond of the taste of the dates. We saw signs for "date shakes" and figured we had to try one, so we shared a date shake. It was okay, but would not rank up there as a favorite flavored shake.

I had received a note from Ernest Fuller telling me that he had found our website and followed our travels and were in the Palm Springs area. He and his wife, Virginia, were staying at a park not far from us, so we made contact and they came over to visit with us for a short time on the day we arrived. We got to have a longer visit when we all went out to dinner to the Capri Italian Restaurant in Desert Hot Springs.
I know I have documented some campground warnings in travelogs, but never a restaurant warning. However, the following is a restaurant warning.

RESTAURANT WARNING: CAPRI ITALIAN RESTAURANT in Desert Hot Springs. It would take a lot for me to post a restaurant warning as I'm not all that fussy about food. I find most of it to be good, rarely bad. This warning has nothing to do with the food at the Capri, although Diane found her pasta to be on the doughy side. My pasta and meatballs was good. This warning has to do with a policy the restaurant has that I find to be objectionable. As we get older, we find that we don't need the very large portions served in restaurants, so we often split a meal. I find it annoying when a restaurant charges patrons who wish to split a meal. We do not see this often, but do see it occasionally. A dollar charge is annoying, two dollars is very annoying. The Capri had it clearly on their menu that they charge an outrageous $7.50 to split a meal. I couldn't believe it. I asked our waiter if that really meant that it if we split an $18 entree that it would actually cost us $25.50. He said that was correct. We did not split a large entree, but opted to each get a pasta meal. When one considers that we ate twice at the Elephant Bar Restaurant and split a meal each time with no extra charge,
it really is outrageous for a restaurant to charge $7.50 to split a meal. Not only did the Elephant Bar not charge us to split a meal, they split the meal for us and brought each of us a plate. Needless to say, we would opt to never return to the Capri. Norm and Linda also stated they would not return to that restaurant nor recommend it to anyone again.

Some Canadian fulltimers came into the RV park a couple of days before we were scheduled to leave and parked across from us. I went over to meet them and found out they were Coke and Moya Hartwell. I told them we were going out to eat at the Elephant Bar Restaurant in Palm Desert and asked if they would like to join us. We had a nice time getting to know each other.

Where did the time go? We hooked up with Norm and Linda on December 28 in Summerdale, Alabama and spent the next nine weeks traveling together. Now it was time to part as we were heading to Mesa for a two month stay and they were going to roam around southern California, Nevada, and Arizona. We knew we would see them again for a few days in early April when they returned from a flight out of Phoenix to Louisville. After that, it would be a long time before our paths would cross again. Over the nine weeks we were together, we visited with several old friends, made new friends, spent a cold week in the desert in Quarzsite, had a fantastic two weeks in Puerto Penasco, saw some new sites in San Diego and Palm Springs, and ate some great meals. Diane learned a new hobby and is now into beading and making some nice jewelry. We were due into Mesa on March 1, but slipped that a day so Diane and Linda could attend a jewelry making class offered in the campground. We said our good-byes and headed off to Mesa where we would sit until May 2 as we planned to catch up on movies, visit with Diane's sister, Carol, and her family, and get ready for our journey to Alaska.

Until next time, safe travels.....

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