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UNCLE JACK'S WEBLOG
Saturday, October 29, 2005
More Texas
       We drove another 300 miles mostly through Texas hill country today from Carlsbad, New Mexico to Sonora, TX which is a small town about 180 miles from San Antonio which is our goal tomorrow.
       As always the drive was fascinating. We saw hundreds of oil wells, hundreds of deserted buildings along the roads, lots of cattle dispersed among thousands of acres of scrubby ranch land, and hundreds of wind machines generating electricity among the oil derricks. A bizarre juxtaposition.
       We didn't bother to stop in the one famous town we passed through, namely Pecos, because it no longer seems to have anything worth stopping for. Sad.
       We did stop for lunch in Fort Stockton which was once an oil boomtown but which has now almost faded away. It does have a wonderful museum in an old hotel which we visited and also a number of century-old buildings perfectly preserved like the courthouse and jail. The Annie Riggs Hotel/Museum is a gem and deserving of a visit should you ever find yourself in Ft. Stockton by mistake.


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Gas prices are coming down. Every station in Carlsbad was charging exactly this much for gas this morning. Tell me there is no collusion among the oil companies.

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This is where some of it comes from. This part of Texas has thousands of rigs like this pumping away 24/7.

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The roadsdes in the small towns are lined with pathetic sights like this abandoned cafe. Nobody bothers to tear anything down and haul it away here. It simply collapses in situ.

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Yet another.

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The delightful Annie Riggs museum in Fort Stockton. The building is 100 years old and solid as the adobe it is made from.

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This wagon is parked across the street from the museum.

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Mini sizes up the competition in Fort Stockton. The roadrunner statue is about 10 feet tall.

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Another unusual natural formation of which there seem to be many in this area.

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Only in Texas.

posted by Uncle Jack at 8:45 PM

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Friday, October 28, 2005
El Paso, TX to Carlsbad, N.M.
       This was our first real taste of the vastness and variety of Texas where every ten miles brings a change of scenery and another unusual roadside photo opportunity.
       Neither Mrs. U.J. nor I are cave fans but so many trustworthy people told us not to miss the Carlsbad Caverns that we went out of our way to visit them. As anyone who has ever seen them will attest it was a mind-boggling experience. They thought they would never see anything to match the Grand Canyon but they have to say these caverns do it in their own way.
       The combination of the Carlsbad Caverns and the Guadalupe Mountains only 20 miles away is a National Park Service double-dip that is worth anything it takes to get there.


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Signs like this appear frequently on Texas roads.

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As does this one, usually paired with the first.

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And this is where the dust comes from. Vast areas of flat, sandy ground that the slightest wind converts into blinding dustclouds. So far we have been lucky not to experience a dust storm.

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A typical Texas roadside cafe which probably draws its customers from 50 miles around.

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The motel next door is western but definitely not a Best Western. Note the organic free-range chicken who may wind up in an enchilada one of these days.

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The entrance to Carlsbad Caverns is on top of one of the Guadalupe Mountains from which the view is incredible, even on a hazy day. A large part of New Mexico is visible from this vantage point.

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The "Big Room" in Carlsbad is too incredible to describe in words and much more than the Elph could handle. Like the Grand Canyon it has to been seen whole to be fully appreciated.

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This one turned out pretty well, though.

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Tourist ogling one of the mind-bending sights in the "Big Room". The Park Service has done a magnificent job of making the caverns accessible even to the disabled.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:22 PM

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Friday, October 28, 2005
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
       Never heard of the Guadalupe Mountains? Well neither did we until yesterday when we started to plan our route out of crazy El Paso and up to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. In between those two places on the map stood something called the Guadalupe Mountains N.P. so we decided to check it out if we had time.
       We are now in a position to say that this is perhaps the most overlooked park in the National system. We wound up spending several hours walking several lovely nature trails and taking pictures that simply cannot convey the beauty of the place.
       Guadalupe is not as spectacular as many of the other parks we have visited this summer but it is a gem in its own right with a combination of elements that make it irresistible. Should you ever come out to New Mexico to visit the Carlsbad Caverns (which are only twenty miles away) be sure to schedule a side trip to Guadalupe N.P.


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This peak in the Guadalupes is called El Capitan. Believe it or not it is a coral reef left over from the time long ago when this entire area was under water.

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Uncle Jack couldn't believe it was coral until he came upon this big chunk of it along one of the trails.

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The plant in the foreground is an agave which served Native Americans as an all-purpose source of food, booze, soap and fuel. It's rather weird in that it blooms once and then dies.

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This marker goes with the next picture. The Butterfield stage coaches ran from St. Louis to San Francisco, 2700 miles in all. The trip took 25 arduous days. This was the highest station along the route.

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There's not much left but it must have been a very sturdy structure.

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This tree is called a mountain mahogany. The berries are eaten by many birds and animals and evidence of that fact is everywhere along the trails. The seeds appear to be indigestible.

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Mini enjoys the view from the parking lot at the Guadalupe N.P. visitors' center.

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An unusual formation in the Guadalupes.

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Uncle Jack followed this good-looking blonde all over the park and finally caught up with her in the parking lot.

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Frijole Ranch predates the park in which it now resides by over a century. The owners carried the produce they raised 60 miles to the nearest town to sell on market days. It is now a museum of frontier life.

posted by Uncle Jack at 9:17 PM

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Thursday, October 27, 2005
Mesilla, New Mexico
       Remember the Gadsden Purchase, students? It added the last little piece of what had been Mexico to the territorial United States back around 1859 if Uncle Jack remembers correctly. Much to his surprise he has been driving around in the Gadsden Purchase for the past couple of days and he has to say it was a good buy.
       He and Mrs. U.J. spent Wednesday night in a nondescript town called Lordsburg, New Mexico which reminded him a lot of Breezewood, the Town of Motels in Pennsylvania. On Thursday morning they drove a little over a hundred miles to a delightful little town called Mesilla near Las Cruces where they had lunch and spent the afternoon wandering among the old original buildings that line the picturesque square.
       Mesilla is a gem of a town that has a chance to stay just the way it is because it is very small and has no room to grow. Like Bisbee it is completely devoid of chain restaurants and other evidences of "progress" and the residents seem determined to keep it that way.
       We have added Mesilla to our long and growing list of places in the southwest that we would very much like to visit again. They are spending Thursday
night in El Paso which will definitely not make the list.


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The ancient town square in Mesilla. All the buildings facing the square date back at least to the mid 19th century except for the church which was rebuilt in 1906 after a fire destroyed the old one.

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These very good musicians play for tips in the square every morning and late afternoon.

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A plaque in the square tells Mesilla's early history in brief. Much more happened after 1850. The town now has 2000 inhabitants so obviously it didn't stand still.

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The excellent La Posta restaurant is housed in the original old posthouse where early travelers could be housed and fed more than 150 years ago. Our enchiladas were fabulous.

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Billy the Kid was sentenced to death here but he escaped from jail and was later killed by a lawman. Out of the frying pan into the fire so to speak.

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The road to El Paso goes for about 5 miles through the largest family-owned pecan groves in the U.S. Tens of thousands of trees lined up in perfect rows on both sides of the highway. A lovely sight. Look for Stahmann's pecans at your neighborhood grocer

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:23 PM

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Thursday, October 27, 2005
Bisbee, Arizona and points east
       Bisbee is a national treasure. The whole town is listed on the Register of Historic Places and rightly so. We spent the night there Tuesday and stayed to explore it most of Wednesday.
       Bisbee came into existence with the discovery of rich lodes of copper ore at the end of the 19th century and became a boom town in the decades that followed when the population grew to 20,000. The Phelps Dodge Copper Company was the driving force behind the copper business which continued until the ore ran out completely about 35 years ago.
       The population has dwindled to about 6000 but the town has stayed alive as an artist colony, a tourist destination and a retirement community. Even after wild inflation in house prices you can still buy a very respectable house here for half the cost of a small vacant lot on the west side of the bypass in Nags Head.
       At its peak Bisbee must have been hell on earth with smoky smelters going full blast and continual dynamite explosions as the miners blasted their way into the rocky mountains surrounding the town. Today it is a clean, charming, funky community full of interesting and perfectly preserved old buildings which is undergoing a boom of another kind.
       There is not a single national chain business of any kind in Bisbee. No motels, no fast food outlets, no big box stores. It is almost eery to drive around in a place that looks so much like every American town must have looked 75 years ago.
       If you ever get a chance to visit southern Arizona forget about Tombstone and try to get to Bisbee before it gets discovered.


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The Copper Queen Hotel, Bisbee's largest and finest with 45 rooms. A gem among the hostelries of the world.

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Downtown Bisbee. Notice the absence of McDonald's arches.

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A yellow Mini (not ours) parked in front of the Bisbee Mining Museum housed in the old Phelps Dodge headquarters. One of the finest small town museums we have visited in all of our travels.

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This "modern" (1939) building replaced one destroyed by fire. It was the very first building designed by an up and coming young man named Del Webb who later went on to build more houses than any other developer in history.

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More of downtown Bisbee. A river runs under the street, just like Fleet Street in London.

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One of several giant open pit mines around Bisbee. It took 50 years of blasting away solid rock to make this hole.

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It took Mother Nature a lot longer to make the Grand Canyon.

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Mini pays his respects to Geronimo at the Geronimo Surrender Monument in Apache, AZ northeast of Bisbee. It memorializes the surrender of Geronimo and the end of the Indian wars.

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Part of Cave Creek Canyon northeast of Bisbee right on the border with New Mexico. It's a mini Zion National Park but accessible only by a 20 mile "primitive road" which we didn't want to tackle in the Mini. The rocks are multi-colored.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:06 AM

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Saguaro N.P. & Tombstone, AZ
       Tuesday the 25th was delightful from beginning to end. We spent the morning visiting the Saguaro National Park just west of Tucson, the afternoon in Tombstone and the evening in Bisbee, AZ,an old mining town south of Tombstone. The whole town is
in the National Register of Historic Places in its entirety, as is Tombstone. So much history, so little time.
              The saguaro has always been Uncle Jack's favorite cactus because it's the one that always showed up in the cowboy movies he loved when he was a kid. Saguaro National Park has hundreds of thousands of them in all sizes and shapes
and it also has the best and most beautiful of all the interpretive centers we have visited this summer. The architect who designed and sited this building deserves at least a Nobel Prize.
              Tombstone, the quintessential wild west town, is in the desert about an hour south of Tucson.       Most of its 1500 inhabitants are engaged in keeping alive the memory of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, and the bloody doings at the O.K. Corral by hook or crook.       We were prepared to endure the worst junk a major tourist trap could throw at us but we actually enjoyed our visit a lot more than we thought we would.
              While the main street, which is closed to auto traffic, resembles a movie set most of the buildings are old and authentic even though many of them are now shops full of suspect memorabilia of one kind or another. The offices of the Tombstone Epitaph, the oldest newspaper in the U.S., are now a delightful museum and the Crystal Palace bar next door looks like it hasn't changed a bit in
a hundred years.
              In Bisbee we stayed in the century-old Copper Queen Hotel which has somehow been lovingly preserved and serves now as a kind of time machine for nostalgic visitors. The dining room at the Copper Queen is as good as any we have encountered in all our travels this summer. Bisbee itself doesn't seem to have changed much in the past century even though the copper ran out more than
30 years ago. More about Bisbee later.
              We are beginning to understand why Arizona is one of the fastest growing states in the union. What they will use for water a few decades from now is anybody's guess but the developers are not waiting to find out.


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Tourist poses with one of the residents of Saguaro National Park. The Saguaro can live for 200 years and doesn't start to grow "arms" until it is at least 75.

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Mini pauses for a portrait while traversing one of the several "primitive" roads that wind through Saguaro N.P.

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Disheveled tourist poses in front of the visitors' center at Saguaro N.P. This is absolutely one of the finest facilities of its kind in the entire National Park system.

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View of cacti in back of the visitors' center.

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A cholla cactus of which there are many varieties. Never touch a cholla is the advice we were given over and over. Their needles are harder to remove than fish hooks.

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Not a very busy day in Tombstone, AZ which still sports wooden sidewalks. No cars are permitted on the main drag.

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Not even Mini who is forced to admire the street from afar.

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The Tombstone Epitaph office/museum is loaded with fascinating memorabilia from the golden days of this unique city.

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After a hard day of driving the Mini through dusty desert roads there is nothing quite like a cold beer at the bar in the century-old Crystal Palace (where sheriff Wyatt Earp ran the Faro game).

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The back bar in the Crystal Palace is every bit as impressive as the one Queen Victoria gave Buffalo Bill Cody for his Erma Hotel in Cody, WY.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:53 PM

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Monday, October 24, 2005
San Diego to Tucson
       On Monday the 24th the Mini carried us across the numerous deserts which occupy the space between San Diego and Tucson, a distance of 400+ miles. Uncle Jack will have to reach deep into his bag of superlatives to describe the astounding things they saw today.
       For openers they now believe that Interstate 8 which begins in San Diego and ends in Tucson must have some of the longest straight stretches of highway anywhere in the U.S. Montana and North Dakota interstates are concrete pretzels by comparison. No wonder that 90 mph seems to be the prevailing speed out here.
       Along the way they saw terrain that is completely different from anything they have seen to date---including the flattest of the flatlands--- covered in some areas with vast corporate farms (which depend completely on irrigation) and in others with cactus fields extending to the horizon.
       They passed through Yuma which is the snowbird capital of Arizona and perhaps the whole country. An estimated 100,000 residents of the frozen north hole up in RV's in the Yuma area every winter.
       This is a truly weird part of the world and they are glad they got a chance to see it. On Tuesday they will visit the Saguaro (Cactus) National Park and then head for Tombstone and the O.K. Corral. Stay tuned.
      


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This fuzzy shot of the Arizona sand dunes (taken at 75 mph)can only suggest the immensity of them. They stretch for more than 50 miles and some are over 400 feet tall.

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This cattle-fattening operation was hard to believe. There were at least a thousand animals, each in his or her own stanchion, munching away at hay and other goodies non-stop. Burgers on the hoof.

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This was a small part of the mountains of hay stored on this "ranch", ready to meet the gustatory needs of the local cattle. Massive amounts of hay are grown on irrigated fields here---most for export.

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This prehistoric site, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, was just a few miles down the road from the feed lot.

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It looks like an ordinary pile of rocks but there is much more to it.

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Almost every rock contains carvings done by Indians who lived here as long ago as 7500 B.C. It is a most sacred place for the Indians who live in the vicinity today.

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Another.

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And yet another of the hundreds at the site which is located 17 miles west of Gila Bend, AZ just north of Interstate 8 about 11 miles. By all means check it out should you pass this way.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:03 PM

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Monday, October 24, 2005
San Diego proper
       Saturday and Sunday in San Diego were enlivened by the presence of Uncle Jack's grandchildren and their parents (Eric and Judy Sandberg) who drove down from Los Angeles to spend the weekend with us.
       Most of our time together was spent at Balboa Park, San Diego's justly famous collection of museums and galleries (not to mention its zoo) in the heart of the city. Uncle Jack knows of no other city twice its size that can boast of a public amenity to match Balboa Park.
       Unfortunately the battery in the Elph ran out halfway through their visit so he has precious few photographs to show for it. He can tell you, however, that if you ever find yourself in San Diego you must visit Balboa Park. It is something else.
       Tomorrow (Monday the 24th) they point the Mini east and start to head for home again with numerous stops scheduled in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana---including New Orleans if possible. Stay tuned.

      


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Uncle Jack's only begotten grandchildren, Kelly and Alexander Sandberg of Los Angeles, hard at work at one of the science displays in Balboa Park in San Diego.

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The same adorable grandchildren clowning around among the bones in the paleontology section of the Natural History museum in Balboa Park.

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Kelly poses prettily in front of the fabulous botanical garden building in Balboa Park.

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Much to their amazement the Oosterdam, the Holland-America line cruise ship on which they traveled to Alaska in July, was docked on the waterfront in San Diego near their hotel.

posted by Uncle Jack at 12:45 AM

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Monday, October 24, 2005
Coronado Island-San Diego
       Uncle Jack spent the first of their four nights in San Diego in the Hotel Del Coronada across the bay from downtown San Diego. It is a magnificent old heap reminiscent of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan where they spent a night back in June. They just don't make them like this any more for obvious reasons.
       It was delightful to walk barefoot on the beach again and watch pelicans doing their thing. The beach in front of the hotel is quite wide but erstwhile swimmers must negotiate a pile of rocks to get to the water. It was almost flat calm while we were there but both the air and water were chilly so there were no swimmers.


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The Hotel del Coronado in San Diego is one of the Great Hotels of the World that has survived numerous dates with the wrecking ball and seems to be thriving. Pictures do not do it justice.

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The view from the beach. The "Del" was built in 11 months about 120 years ago. Amazing considering that no particle board was used.

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The movie "Some Like it Hot" with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon was filmed at the Del Coronado about 50 years ago.

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Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. could only afford to stay here for one night but luckily the sunset was lovely when viewed from one of the beachfront dining rooms.

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The hotel has found a creative solution to the problem of beach erosion----a big, ugly pile of rocks.

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Just south of the hotel on Coronado Beach the high rises begin. Nothing charming about them, unfortunately.

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Pelicans are as prevalent here as they are on the Outer Banks.

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Math students from a local college build sand sculptures of geometric figures. Only in California.

posted by Uncle Jack at 12:07 AM

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Sunday, October 23, 2005
Riverside, California
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Riverside, California visiting her brother Jeff and his wife. They were given the grand tour which included stops at several impressive public memorials which Jeff has designed and constructed in the city. He is a very talented artist-designer whose skills are very much in demand in southern California. Riverside is about an hour east of Los Angeles on the I-10.
       From here they go to San Diego for three days where they will rendezvous with Uncle Jack's only begotten son and his grandchildren. God knows when he will find time to do another blog entry.


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Mrs. U.J. poses with her brother, Jeff Crumbaker, who designed and built the magnificent memorial to Congressional Medal of Honor Winners at the Riverside National Cemetery.

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Tens of thousands of people visit the memorial every year and an average of 37 veterans per day from all over the country are interred in the National Cemetery.

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The names of all Medal of Honor winners from the Civil War to the present are inscribed in granite in the Memorial.

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The Old Mission, a magnificent century-old hotel in downtown Riverside, was saved from the wrecker's ball a few years ago by a wealthy local investor who has restored it at great cost.

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The Mission Inn is on the short list of Great Hotels of the World and rightly so. It is worth a trip to Riverside just to see it.

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How many hotels have their own chapel built in?

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The Holiday Inn Express this is not. You have to see it to believe it. It gives Riverside a touch of class that very few cities can boast.

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An addition to our photo gallery of wild creatures seen on our trip. This is the wild bunny that stalks the Crumbakers' otherwise civilized neighborhood in Riverside.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:29 AM

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Friday, October 21, 2005
London Bridge & Palm Springs
       After reluctantly leaving the Grand Canyon Sunday afternoon Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. stopped for an hour in Tusayan, AZ just outside the park to view the National Geographic's Imax film on the canyon. It is magnificent and a must-see for canyon fans whether they have actually visited this incredible place or not. The recreation of John Wesley Powell's first expedition by boat through the entire length of the canyon in 1869 is worth the price of admission by itself but there is so much more. See it if you can.
       After the film they drove a couple of hundred miles to Parker, Arizona which took them through the celebrated town of Lake Havasu City which gained fame back in the 1960's when a brilliant developer named McCulloch purchased London Bridge from the city of London, England and had it taken apart, moved and reassembled at Lake Havasu, AZ which no one had heard of up to that point.
       It cost him about $9 million all told to pull off this stunt but it got him hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free publicity and his resort turned out to be wildly successful. In 1978 Lake Havasu City incorporated and continues to grow at a furious pace---even more rapidly than the Outer Banks if you can believe that.
With a 45-mile-long lake as its base and no threat of a water shortage any time in the foreseeable future it looks like Havasu City could overtake Phoenix one day as the most totally messed up city in all of Arizona.
       After surviving their trip through Joshua Tree National Forest (see blog entry below) they spent most of two days in Palm Springs which turned out to be a delightful city. If Uncle Jack ever wins the lottery he would like to return to Palm Springs and stay longer than one night.
      
      


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London Bridge has been the focal point for massive and upscale riverfront development in Lake Havasu City.

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Even when it was in London it looked better from below. The palm trees are no more native to Havasu City than they are to Nags Head but the climate here is a little more conducive to long life.

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Palm Springs is another matter. Here the Palm Trees belong and there are thousands of them lining every street.

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We spent a night in Palm Springs in a delightful little 10-room motel that was reputedly a hang-out for Frank Sinatra and friends back in the 50's.

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This splendid hostelry will probably soon follow the Sea Oatel into oblivion because the land under it is worth so much more than the motel.

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The Museum of the Living Desert in Palm Springs is a must visit if you ever are in the vicinity. Can you find the resting hummingbird almost dead center in the picture?

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How about the Monarch butterfly in the middle of this one?

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This guy was a lot easier to photograph.

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This very nice gent is responsible for the fantastic layout of model trains in the Museum of the Living Desert. Uncle Jack has never seen anything quite like it.

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Every other street in Palm Springs is named for a Hollywood celebrity it seems.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:37 PM

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Thursday, October 20, 2005
Joshua Tree National Park
       Monday the 17th turned out to be one of the most interesting and exciting days of their trip so far. After spending Sunday night in Parker, AZ (more about that some other time) they set out across the desert to Palm Springs, CA on I-10 Monday morning. After seeing Grand Canyon the day before they didn't think Joshua Tree National Park would be worth the time it took to drive through it but were they wrong!
       Of the 22 National Parks they have visited this summer Joshua Tree stands out as the craziest, weirdest, wackiest of them all. It is as though God, having created the most sublime place on earth at the Grand Canyon, decided to have some fun by making what would later become Joshua Tree National Park. Nowhere else have they seen such a riotous collection of stones, trees, bushes, flowers, mountains and scenic views----and all of it only an hour away from Los Angeles.
       It is a desert park where rain seldom falls but as it happened their visit coincided with one the biggest rainstorms of the year which caused washouts on some of the major roads in the park and outside of it. They had to detour several times and on numerous occasions they feared that the Mini would stall out or wash away in the foot-deep torrents they had to ford. On highway 62 north of Palm Springs they were held up for 15 minutes by a horrendous accident involving three cars that collided violently in the humongous downpour. (They couldn't help contrasting the efficient way the local police got traffic moving again with the massive tie-up that ensued after a similar accident on the by-pass this summer).
       One interesting sidebar to the visit to Joshua Tree was our conversation with the ranger manning the desk at the Cottonwood entrance to the park off I-10. Turns out she spent two years a while back stationed at Ocracoke. It would be hard to imagine two more disparate assignments in one career but apparently that's life in the Park Service.
       To which Uncle Jack would like to add his sincere admiration for the way the National Park Service carries out its responsibilities in all the wonderful parks we have visited this summer. Of all the dollars spent and misspent by the federal government he has to say he is happiest with those allocated to our National Park system. It is no wonder that people flock from all over the world to visit these priceless places. They are our greatest public treasures.


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God's rubble heap in Joshua Tree park.

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We half expected to see "Chopped Liver Wash" next.

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One of the many weird bushes that flourish in Joshua Tree. This one is called an ocatillo and it's kind of a half-cactus half-ordinary bush.

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A cholla cactus of which there are zillions in Joshua Tree park. They look like little people sometimes.

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A joshua tree, of which there are zillions in the park. They too assume all kinds of human-like shapes.

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One of the hundreds of piles of smooth giant boulders that are strewn about the landscape for miles. They make you want to stop the car and go climbing.

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The dark clouds ahead of us signalled trouble.

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The streets of Desert Springs turned to rivers in a matter of minutes as we passed through. The highway we would have taken had been washed out hours before.

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This was the only time on the whole trip that we wished the Mini rode a little higher. We were too the left of the center line when Mrs. U.J. took this picture in Desert Springs.

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This picture was taken at 3 in the afternoon. Weird. They don't get much rain in this desert but when they do it comes like gangbusters.

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:25 PM

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Sunday, October 16, 2005
The Grand Canyon
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. spent most of Saturday and Sunday at the Grand Canyon and he is pleased to report that everything they have heard about it is true. Any readers who have been there and seen it with their own eyes will know what he means when he says there are no words to describe it so he isn't going to try. His little Elph camera wasn't up to the job either but the pictures below are the best he could do.
       Plans are underway to ban all private cars from the park and replace them with shuttle buses because of the increasingly impossible traffic jams that develop in the summer. About 9 million people visit every year and the infrastructure of roads and parking lots simply cannot handle the crowds.
       Some freedom will be lost when this happens but it shouldn't discourage anyone from visiting Grand Canyon National Park. It is one of the greatest experiences one can have in this life.


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Tourist gazes in awe at the first overlook after entering Grand Canyon National Park from the east. The first glimpse is probably the most overwhelming but every view is incredible in its own way.

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Even Mini was impressed.

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A rainbow formed over the canyon at one point but the Elph couldn't quite capture it. What Uncle Jack wouldn't do for a Hasselblad with a 9x zoom sometimes.

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Sunset Saturday night, unfortunately not over the canyon which was facing in the wrong direction.

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The El Tovar, a marvelous century-old hotel in the park where Mrs. Uncle Jack miraculously got us a reservation for Saturday night. Not a piece of particle board in the whole place.

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A California condor sits on a branch just over the rim. He (or she) took off moments later displaying a 7-foot wingspan. Condors are on the endangered species list but are making a comeback in the Grand Canyon where several nesting pairs are known.

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Miraculously Uncle Jack caught the magnificent bird in flight. Below is the Bright Angel Trail which leads from the rim near the El Tovar to the river several thousand feet below. They watched a mule train start down on Sunday. Scary.

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There were many people in the park but there are so many viewing places that it didn't seemed crowded. Japanese tourists outnumbered all others including Americans.

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Ruins of an 800-year-old Hopi pueblo in the park. The Park Service interpreter who conducted our tour was extraordinarily knowledgeable about the history of human life in the Canyon which goes back at least 13,000 years.

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What can one say?

posted by Uncle Jack at 11:19 PM

Comments [9]



Friday, October 14, 2005
Santa Fe, New Mexico
             

The 300 mile drive from Amarillo to Santa Fe on Monday the 10th was uneventful except for an occasional rainstorm. We were lucky compared to travelers on I-70 to the north who were forced off the road by blinding snowstorms which left as much as a foot of snow on the ground. Snow fell in the Santa Fe area, too, but only in the higher elevations. The temperature fell to 40 F on Monday night but sunshine is predicted for today (Tuesday) which is appreciated as we have a full day of gallery and museum hopping planned, including a visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe gallery which is a short walk from their motel.
       We are staying in Garrett's Desert Inn, an old-fashioned 50's motel in the heart of downtown Santa Fe. We were dubious at first because of its very low rates in comparison with other downtown chain hotels (like $100 a night less) but it turned out to be a perfectly fine place to stay----close to everything, clean and comfortable. If you are planning to visit Santa Fe and you are not super-fussy about your accommodations you could do worse than Garrett's Desert Inn.

                                                                                                                       ***********
       The O'Keeffe Gallery was a bit of a disappointment in that it contains few, if any, of her major works. The curators had mounted a show comparing O'Keefe's approach to painting flowers with Andy Warhol's but it struck us as rather far-fetched and lame.
       While Santa Fe is a major center for the arts with galleries on every corner and most of the spaces in between it is the city itself and its ancient buildings that impressed us the most. The San Miguel Mission next door to our motel, built in 1610, is the oldest church still in use in the U.S. The "oldest house" in the U.S. is right next door to the Mission and was used to house the workers who built it.
       The Palace of the Governors which forms one side of the ancient Plaza in the center of town is the oldest government building in the U.S. still in use. It now houses a fascinating museum of New Mexico history.
       All of the oldest buildings are built of adobe which appears to be substantially more durable than particle board. Most of the newer buildings (i.e. less than a century old) are also adobe structures which complement the older buildings and make the central part of the city a delight to behold.
       Santa Fe's only drawback as far as Uncle Jack is concerned is that it is located over a mile above sea level and the air is so thin that he has had trouble breathing.
It was also cold as hell the whole time they were there for which they were not prepared in the clothing department. Tomorrow they will flee to the warmth of Sedona, Arizona.
      
              Neither Uncle Jack nor Mrs. U.J. are particularly fond of Mexican food (or so they thought) but they have changed their minds after several meals here. Dinner at the "Pink Adobe" restaurant (housed in a 300 year old adobe house nearby) was the culinary high point of their trip so far, followed closely by lunch at the "Blue Corn Cafe", a brewpub in the heart of downtown. Having discovered the delights of authentic Mexican cooking they are looking forward to much more of it while they are cruising the southwest.


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This is as close as they could get to the bizarre "Cadillac Ranch" just west of Amarillo. Ten old Cadillacs buried in the sand for God knows what reason. No doubt has something to do with Intelligent Design.

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Madrid, NM is an abandoned coal mining town just south of Santa Fe which has been repopulated by struggling artists who can't afford Santa Fe rents. Full of sagging shacks and bizarre art work.

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Here's a sample. You won't find anything this funky in Santa Fe which has more upscale galleries than just about anywhere outside of Manhattan.

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San Miguel church, the oldest in the U.S., dating back to 1610 or thereabouts. In the heart of downtown Santa Fe right next to Uncle Jack's motel.

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Interior of San Miguel. The altar piece is handcarved wood.

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The oldest house in the U.S. Located right next door to San Miguel church, it housed workers who built the church. Affordable housing 17th century style.

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Nearly every building in central Santa Fe is constructed of adobe. Some of them, like this hotel, are truly spectacular.

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The legendary Pink Adobe restaurant. Housed in a 300 year old house since 1944. One of the best eateries anywhere. Equally famous is the bar at the left where many famous persons have made fools of themselves.

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The Plaza in the center of old Santa Fe, where the Santa Fe trail terminated. The old Palace of the Governors takes up one side and some of the most expensive shops on the planet occupy the other three.

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Mini gets a well deserved rest at the Desert Inn in Santa Fe after turning 16000 troublefree miles this summer. His top was frozen stiff Wednesday morning and would not open until afternoon.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:37 PM

Comments [5]



Friday, October 14, 2005
Sedona, Arizona
       Wednesday was spent tooling down scenic I-25 and I-40 from Santa Fe through Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico and across northeastern Arizona to Sedona where they plan to spend a couple of days before visiting the Grand Canyon this weekend.
       Sedona is the most expensive place to live in all of Arizona by a long shot and could best be described as an extremely upscale shopping center surrounded by extremely expensive houses surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. are splurging on a room in a motel called the Sky Ranch on a mountaintop overlooking Sedona and he has to say it is worth every penny.
       Needless to say Sedona faces some of the same problems as the Outer Banks relating to the paucity of affordable housing for workers whose incomes fall far short of what is needed to live here. Like the Outer Banks everybody recognizes the problem but nobody seems to have any good ideas about what to do about it. They consider themselves very fortunate to have been able to spend a couple of days amidst such splendor but no way could they ever afford to live here.


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Sunrise in Sedona, looking west as the sun lights up the tops of the mountains and then works its way down. The western part of Sedona is at the foot of the mountains.

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Sunrise balloon flights are popular here. Beautiful to watch but you would never get Uncle Jack up in one of those contraptions.

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When the sun finally tops the eastern mesa the town, absolutely gorgeous, becomes visible below. Uncle Jack doesn't know how the town fathers did it but they have kept the developers from ruining the place.

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Everywhere you look in Sedona there is another breathtaking view.

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Another one at dawn. It was freezing at sunrise but 75 degrees by noon.

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Sunset wasn't too shabby either.

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Takes more than one picture to do it justice.

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The Wright Brothers are remembered at the Sedona airport which is on top of a mesa overlooking the city.

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Slide Rock State Park near Sedona has a natural waterslide in a spectacular setting. These kids were having a ball even though the water was ice cold.

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Every where you look in the Sedona area you see something like this. Arguably the most beautiful city in the country and only a short hop to the Grand Canyon a couple of hours away.

posted by Uncle Jack at 9:26 PM

Comments [0]



Sunday, October 9, 2005
On the way to Amarillo
       Only a few shreds of old Route 66 remain between Oklahoma City and Amarillo (roughly 250 miles) which Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. spent most of Sunday traversing. For a while they thought they were back in North Dakota because the terrain is so similar---flat, flat, flat and covered with beef cattle and gigantic corporate farms.
       As shown in the pictures they did come across a few oddities along the way and most amazing of all they got caught in a frog-strangling downpour while looking for their motel off I-40 in Amarillo. Uncle Jack has to admit to a few terrified moments when he couldn't see a thing while phalanxes of 18-wheelers raced past the Mini like nothing unusual was happening.
       This was the first rain they have encountered in nearly 12000 miles of driving this summer so they can't complain but he hopes it's the last for a while no matter how badly they need it out here.
       Tomorrow the Cadillac Ranch first and then on to Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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Part of a huge wind farm about 50 miles east of Amarillo. We could not get an accurate count of the number of windmills because they stretched out to the horizon in all directions. Awesome sight.

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Oddly enough the wind generators are scattered among a number of natural gas wells and they are all apparently owned by the same company. They should clean up when we finally run out of oil.

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The famous leaning water tank of Route 66 lore. The wind really blows out here, hence the cockeyed tank and the wind farm.

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Mini pauses for a spiritual moment at the famous 150 foot tall stainless steel cross just down the road a few miles from the leaning tank.(It does not tilt. Uncle Jack does).

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Holy Taco! (This hallowed greasy spoon is in Groom, Texas near the Giant Cross). What a great franchise opportunity in a state where there seems to be a church every 500 feet.

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This is a first! The men's room in the Tourist Information Center in Amarillo. Without a doubt the most beautiful facility of its kind he has ever seen. Texans can be proud.

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This canyon in Palo Duro state park near Amarillo is billed as the country's longest after the Grand Canyon itself. We'll be able to compare them one day soon when we get to Arizona.

posted by Uncle Jack at 6:59 PM

Comments [7]



Saturday, October 8, 2005
A visit to Lynchburg, TN
       Uncle Jack just discovered that he failed to post any of the pictures he took during his pilgrimage to the Jack Daniel distillery in Lynchburg, TN a few days ago. This is an oversight that might better have been understood back when he was drinking entirely too much of that wonderful stuff but he can't explain his oversight this week.

       It has been more than two years since Uncle Jack lifted a thimble of Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 to his lips but he still has a soft spot in his heart (and probably his liver) for that wonderful elixir. This is why it was such a thrill to visit the distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee on Wednesday where the excellent sour mash bourbon that kept him sane for so many years is produced. Lynchburg is a holy place for bourbon drinkers worldwide and Uncle Jack is very happy that he was finally able to make his pilgrimage. (It occurred to him while on the distillery tour that if Muslims and Christians both consumed more Jack Daniel's---in moderation of course---this would be a happier world).
              He and Mrs. U.J. spent much of the day driving toward Memphis on U.S. Highway 64 which he realized at some point is the very same Highway 64 that terminates in Manteo. There are some remarkable similarities between the N.C. section and the Tennessee version including the many fields of cotton and the bewildering profusion of churches. At one intersection there were three Baptistchurches on three of the corners and a gas station on the fourth.
              Which reminds him of another interesting phenomenon he has observed for the past several days, to wit: gas prices rarely vary more than a penny a gallon from station to station no matter which brand of gas is being sold. Nine out of ten stations along Highway 64 charge $3.19 for a gallon of high test and the tenth station is likely to charge either $3.18 or $3.20. Isn't that amazing? Isn't it wonderful that in our competitive free enterprise system we are offered such a choice of prices by our highly competitive oil companies? Why pay $3.20 when you can drive a few miles to the nearest competitor and only pay $3.18?
      


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Entrance to the visitor's center. A one-hour guided tour of the whole place starts here.

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One of the distillery buildings. There are 72 buildings on the premises filled with barrels of Old No. 7 aging in oak casks. This one is a kiln where ricks of maple are converted into charcoal for filtering the whiskey.

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Tourist poses prettily in front of Old Cave spring whence flows the water which adds so much to the legend of Jack Daniel's famous whiskey.

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Thousands of gallons of sour mash cooking. Do not try this at home.

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Barrels of new whiskey being unloaded into a storage warehouse. One can buy a single barrel for home consumption for a little over $9000.

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Tourist bellies up to the bar at the end of the tour for his glass of lemonade. Lynchburg is dry so you can't get a shot of Jack Daniel's even in the distillery.

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In the picturesque Lynchburg town square. Loaded with souvenir shops but not a single bar. This is the town hall.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:01 PM

Comments [8]



Saturday, October 8, 2005
Route 66, where are you?
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. have landed in El Reno, Oklahoma Saturday night after driving from Hot Springs by way of Fort Smith, Ark. on I-40. This is where they expected to pick up Route 66 on which they planned to get their kicks for the next couple of days only to learn that Route 66 is buried under I-40 in these parts so they will have to settle for a visit to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, OK tomorrow.
       Fort Smith was an early outpost of the U.S. Army while it was engaged in pushing native Americans off their lands and into oblivion. It was a stopping point on the Cherokee "Trail of Tears" from Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama and points east from which the Cherokees were herded out west to new reservations. This is one of the saddest stories in American history and reminders of it abound in this area.
       Tomorrow (Sunday) they hope to reach Amarillo, TX which is on the threshhold of New Mexico where they plan to do some serious exploration around Santa Fe and Taos.
      


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They almost hated to leave the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs. It is truly one of the finest hotels they have ever stayed in and they would recommend it without hesitation to anyone. Even Donald Trump would like it even though it isn't all that expensive

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The old courthouse and jail have been transformed into a visitor's center for Ft. Smith National Park. Once again their Golden Age Passports came in handy.

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The dank and dreary Ft. Smith jail where many a desperado was held before trial in Judge Parker's court. Over his lengthy career the judge sent hundreds of outlaws to the gallows.

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Which wasn't very far. The gallows were right outside on the courthouse lawn. A hanging never had to be called on account of rain.

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Another view of the jail and courthouse. The Ft. Smith complex is located on the banks of the Arkansas River and the grounds are immaculately kept up and lovely to behold.

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Johnnie's Grill in El Reno is celebrated in all the Route 66 guidebooks for its "onionburgers".

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Having dined there this evening we fail to understand why. The place is a dump and the hamburgers mediocre.

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For consistent excellence in the pecan waffle department you cannot do better than a Waffle House. They are ubiquitous in the south and it's a good thing given the mediocrity of most of the other fast food places.

posted by Uncle Jack at 9:27 PM

Comments [0]



Friday, October 7, 2005
Memphis
In Memphis they strolled the length of Beale Street, famous for its blues music joints going back to the days of W.C. Handy who wrote St. Louis Blues, Beale Street Blues and Memphis Blues among dozens of others that are still staples of the jazz and blues repertory. They also visited the W.C. Handy Museum on Beale Street which is housed in the tiny shotgun house he lived in for many years in Memphis before moving to New York City. The city has been trying very hard to keep the downtown area vibrant and with some success. While New Orleans is struggling to recover from Katrina Memphis could provide a good alternative venue for lovers of blues and jazz music.
              The drive from Memphis to Hot springs through flat-as-a-pancake eastern Arkansas could best be described as forgettable. Most of it consists of gigantic corporate farms on the scale of those in North Dakota and Minnesota growing thousands of acres of cotton, corn and beans. Most of the towns are dreadful assemblages of farm machinery dealers, feed stores, fast food outlets and used car lots. America at its least lovable.
              Arkansas did give us Bill Clinton, though, so we have to be a little forgiving.


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Nothing subtle about Beale Street.

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Further proof. (Any resemblance to Bourbon Street is probably deliberate).

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W.C. Handy's home, now a delightful museum on Beale Street.

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Tourist sits at the feet of W.C. Handy while humming St. Louis Blues, his most famous composition.

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Schwab's general store on Beale Street. An incredible emporium of choice schlock at rock bottom prices.

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Just one of the many rooms in Schwab's. How Uncle Jack got out without buying anything he will never understand.

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B.B. King got his start on Beale Street. And then there was the other "King".

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This pyramid was inspired by, but is not to be confused with, the one in Memphis, Egypt. It's an auditorium.

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This gigantic shopping and entertainment mall is right next to Beale Street, replacing a run-down neighborhood that once made venturing to Beale a real adventure. Now it is sanitized.

posted by Uncle Jack at 6:36 PM

Comments [4]



Friday, October 7, 2005
Hot Springs
Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. spent most of Thursday in Memphis and then drove on to Hot Springs, Arkansas where they spent Thursday night in a funky old 1930's hotel called the Park which is undergoing a major renovation. The hotel is right in the heart of downtown Hot Springs and right across the street from Hot Springs National Park and because parts of it were torn up the price was
ridiculously reasonable (and rightly so).
              Hot Springs has been a resort town since the mid 19th century and most of it has survived the wrecker's ball as the pictures show. Several of the old bathhouses are marvelous examples of Victorian and Art Deco design, especially the Fordyce which now houses the headquarters of Hot Springs National Park.
       On Friday morning they toured the old Fordyce Bath House which has been restored to its full 1920's glory by the Park Service. They stopped for lunch at the magnificent Arlington Hotel, the original of which dated back to the 1870's, and
liked it so much they decided to stay in Hot Springs for another night. They had brought with them from the Yellowhouse Gallery inventory a wood engraving from Harper's Weekly Newspaper of Hot Springs in 1877 which the manager was more than happy to trade for a night's lodging. The original old Arlington was prominent in the foreground.
              Should you ever visit Hot Springs by all means check out the Arlington. It is a truly excellent hotel and the rates, at least during the off season, are amazingly reasonable. (An additional fillip for Democrats is the fact that Bill Clinton's junior and senior high school proms were held in the Arlington. He was born in Hope but
grew up in Hot Springs).
      


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En route to Hot Springs. The Mini in a truck sandwich. A collision involving three 18-wheelers slowed traffic for a while on I-40 which we escaped at the next exit.

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The ultimate SUV, probably on the way to Iraq.

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Baling cotton the modern corporate way.

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The Park Hotel in Hot Springs. Fuggedaboutit until they finish renovations in a year or two.

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Entrance to the Fordyce, one of several glorious old bath houses saved from destruction by the Park Service. Your tax dollars at work in a way that makes sense for once.

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The men's bath in the elegantly restored Fordyce.

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The ceiling in the same room.

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Another of the marvelous structures on Bathhouse Row.

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And another. This one has been leased from the Park Service and is operating as spa under private management. Prices are amazingly reasonable.

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These buildings are across the street from Bathhouse Row and are privately owned. Nobody is even thinking about tearing them down.

posted by Uncle Jack at 6:07 PM

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Tuesday, October 4, 2005
Great Smoky is Great!
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. have fetched up in Monteagle, Tennessee Tuesday night after apending a perfect day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The brochure says that this is the most visited of all the National Parks and it is not hard to see why. You don't have to go west of the Mississippi to see magnificent scenery because this park has it in profusion.
       It's only a day's drive {a long day) from the Outer Banks and the leaves are about to start turning so plan a trip in the next couple of weeks if you possibly can.
       Tomorrow: A pilgrimage to Lynchburg, TN and then on to Memphis.


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View from an overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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View from Clingman's Dome, highest point in Tennessee. You have to see it to believe it.

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Ditto.

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Lunch al fresco in Cade's Cove picnic grove. Peanut butter crackers never tasted so good.

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Millions of trees in Great Smoky park have been killed by a beetle accidentally imported from Europe.

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Who needs an SUV when you have a Mini. Actually this was a little hairy because the Mini kept scraping bottom in places where the road was badly rutted.

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This was like hiking the Appalachian Trail but in a car.

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This parkway runs for 50 miles just west of the Great Smoky Park and has more magnificent views of the mountains.

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Like this one for example.

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A rockslide that closed one lane of the parkway.

posted by Uncle Jack at 9:57 PM

Comments [4]



Monday, October 3, 2005
Still in North Carolina
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. have been driving steadily for two days but they are still in North Carolina. They spent Sunday night in Boone and then headed south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Cherokee, 175 miles of the most magnificent scenery east of the Mississippi. They will spend Monday night in Cherokee and then traverse the Great Smoky Mountain National Park on Tuesday before heading for Sewanee, Tennessee.
       The Mini is performing flawlessly and has been profusely admired at many stops along the way. Uncle Jack's bosom swells with pride.


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Mini admires the view from the Best Western parking lot in Boone. Uncle Jack left the lights on all night but she started up with no trouble. What a car.

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Typical shop in Blowing Rock, a town so quaint it made Uncle Jack want to gag. He was ripped off twice by merchants here in less than a half hour.

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The Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain. Uncle Jack conquered his acrophobia long enough to walk across.

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View of Sugar Mountain from Grandfather. One of the worst atrocities ever perpetrated by a developer is visible at the top of Sugar---a condo building that is grotesquely out of character with the environment. The locals despise it.

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At the top of Grandfather, a mountain that has been privately developed so tastefully that it is hard for even a curmudgeon like Uncle Jack to find fault with it.

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One of the hundreds of spectacular views from overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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A small crowd gathers to admire the Mini in the parking lot at the summit of Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. One gentleman admitted he made a terrible mistake by buying a gas guzzling Corvette.

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Millions of trees in the Blue Ridge are dying from a combination of acid rain and beetle infestation. A truly sorry sight.

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Highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 6000 feet above Nags Head.

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Sunset in the Blue Ridge. Almost as pretty as sunrise over the ocean----but not quite.

posted by Uncle Jack at 10:13 PM

Comments [5]



Saturday, October 1, 2005
In like a lamb.
       The wind has died down a lot since yesterday morning and the surf is beginning to look somewhat more rational. Should make for better performances at the East Coast Surfing Tournament which continues today and tomorrow.
       Uncle Jack and Mrs. U.J. will be busy closing up the gallery and packing for their trip today. Packing the Mini is a kind of mind-over-matter enterprise. There is no room to spare for unessentials and trying to decide what is unessential and what isn't can be challenging.
       This will be the last sunset from Sonag for a couple of months but he will try to post a blog entry now and then from wherever they are along life's highway---high speed internet connectivity permitting. Ciao.


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6:50 a.m.

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A sliver of orange appears right on time but then the sun goes behind a cloud for five minutes while illuminating the clouds above.

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Peek-a-boo time.

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Back to stay.

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The seaweed is back with a vengeance posing a real challenge to participants in the annual Beach Clean-up Day today. Hard to find the trash amongst the sargassum.

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Undaunted by the stiff wind and wild surf the East Coast Surfing Wingding continued yesterday at Jennette's pier. This photographer is trying to shoot the action from the lee side of the pierhouse, out of the wind.

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Uncle Jack hopes that photographer had better luck than he did. You will have to take his word that there is a surfer in this picture.

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Will the Manor Motel go the way of the Sea Oatel, the Beachcomber, the Vivianna, etc. etc. etc.? Stay tuned. (It's an oldie about a half-mile north of the Sea Oatel property).

posted by Uncle Jack at 7:39 AM

Comments [9]




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Uncle Jack lived in Nags Head for 35 years before he moved to Baltimore a couple of years ago. He still has a house in South Nags Head which he and Mrs. U.J. visit every chance they get.
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