Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Goodbye Thelma

Through no fault of our own, after 8000 miles of travel from the coast of Florida to the coast of California, and beyond, poor Thelma had to go in for repairs due to a faulty oil filter. The ford services could not repair her immediately so Cruise America had to provide us with a new vehicle, as per our contract. However, all their 25 ft motor homes were already out on rental, so they had to upgrade us to a 30ft motorhome. The kids were excited at the prospect of a new, bigger vehicle, but to us it was a terrible hassle. Firstly, it is longer. 5 ft may not seem a lot, but when going round corners, parking, reversing into tight spaces, it makes a big difference. Secondly, the entire contents of Thelma I, had to be moved into Thelma II. It was quite some hassle. A tow truck came to our RV park on the Las Vegas strip and towed poor Thelma (and all our worldy possessions away) - not a good advert for Cruise America, I must say. Then we had to get a taxi to the ford service centre. Then we found out she couldnt be fixed so we had to get a taxi to the Cruise America office where we spent well over an hour signing paper work and waiting for our new vehicle. Then we had to drive Thelma II back to the ford service station to fill her up with the contents of Thelma I.

Now consider, we have been living in Thelma I for three months, so we were well and truly moved in. It took us a good three hours of solid work to unpack Thelma I and pack Thelma II. Because we were in the service car park we had no hookups, and it was a blisteringly hot day, but we could not put on any air conditioning. All 5 of us were in a hot sweat and I started to feel quite ill by the end of it. Finally at 3pm we were able to drive away. We were supposed to be spending the day driving to the Grand Canyon. But instead we drove to Lake Mead, about 25 miles away from where we were in Vegas.

By the time we got to Lake Mead I was quite unwell with another migraine attack. I went to bed at 5pm and didnt get out till the next morning. My head was thumping and I had a terrible fever, on such a hot sticky night anyway. In the middle of the night I started violent sneezing attacks, and by this morning I had a full on cold ... I'm talking constant streaming noise, big puffy purple eyes, constant sneezing. Oh joy.

On the bright side, Lake Mead was beautiful and we drove across the Hoover Dam on our journey towards the Grand Canyon (which we still havent reached yet, but will do tomorrow morning). Themla II is lovely, and such luxury compared to poor old Themla I. Jimmie says its like an apartment, and he is right. We have a sofa now (such luxury!) which turns into a sofa bed. Which means we have an extra bed now, and so the kids can all have their own bed. Dan and I now have our own proper walk in bedroom! Complete with 3 large windows, a bigger bed, and loads of cupboards. Before our bed was a sort of climb-on, claustrophobic attachment to the kitchen. Now we have privacy! The shower is seperate to the toilet, and it has a power shower, which is such a change. And over all we have half as much cupboard space again, as we had before. Now we just have to get used to driving her.

There are some photos of Lake Mead and our stop in Kingman in Nevada Album 2. We are now 60 miles south of the Grand Canyon after a full day of driving, so should be there tomorrow morning, all being well.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Las Vegas

We are now in the state of Nevada, in the bustling tourist city of Las Vegas. Tonight is our fifth night here and we hope to leave tomorrow for the Grand Canyon in Arizona. However, slight problem with the RV means our plans may have to change slightly. We have driven over 8000 miles since we arrived at the end of January. Our contract states that we have to change the engine oil after 6000 miles. So today we phoned a mechanic and he came right out to the site to change the oil for us, a quick job, with a $75 bill for Cruise America. Two hours later the oil had not been changed and we were on the phone to Cruise America. The oil filter was well and truly jammed into position. The mechanic said he'd been changing oil for 35 years and never had problems getting a filter off before. The hire company gave him permission to hack away at the filter in the hopes he could get it out. He got parts of the filter off, but a new one cant be fitted. So now we are in an RV that can't be driven. Cruise America said that most likely they will have to bring us a new vehicle in the morning. Which is quite a hassle as we are supposed to be on the road to the Grand Canyon first thing. Plus it means we have to 'move house' into the new vehicle, which after 3 months of settling in will be quite some task.

Anyway, the kids have loved Las Vegas. We have been staying in a far too expensive KOA RV park behind Circus Circus on the main Vegas strip. But the park does have an excellent pool, spa and steam rooms. We have spent many hours in the pool here cooling off, as the weather has been really hot. One night poor Jimmie was struck down with some sort of tummy bug. He spent all night running back and forth from his bed to the bathroom, but at one point he didn't make it and so he puked out of his bedroom window all down the side of poor Thelma! He was out of sorts for three days, not eating, generally tired and lethargic. Dan got something similar the following day and had to spend a whole day in bed, but he recovered much quicker than Jimmie.

We have seen all the usual Vegas sites here. The free circus shows in Circus Circus, the water fountain shows at the Bellagio. We bought the daily bus passes for 'The Deuce' buses that run up and down the strip. The buses are so over crowded with so many tourists packed into them. They were regular most of the time, but crammed to capacity. Unfortunately a lot of the free stuff that the kids would have enjoyed was not on offer while we were there. The Treasure Island show was canceled, the volcano at the Mirage is out of order, the white tigers have been moved to a $15 entry location, the rain show in the mall was out of order. Fortunately the kids really enjoyed the free circus shows at Circus Circus. We saw a variety of performances from clowns, acrobats, contortionists, trapeze artists and some fabulous limbo acrobats from Africa. At one of the clown performances Jimmie and Annabelle made their Las Vegas stage debut as the clown called them both up to help him with his act! We clapped and cheered for them as the clown taught them to spin balls on the end of their fingers.

The Bellagio Hotel also turned out to be a lovely place for the kids. Not only do they have big water fountain displays to music every 30 minutes, but inside the hotel is a beautiful, magical botanical garden. Filled with creatures made from flowers, such as ladybirds, snails and frogs. It was such an enchanting place for the children. The walkway under a ceiling full of butterflies was lovely too.

One of the highlights for little Barney was beating his Mum at air hockey. We had quite a few family matches of air hockey and Jimmie is currently the reigning champion. But Barney enjoyed it the most and took great pride in beating his Mum 7-3. He also beat his Aunty Maddi today! Another memorable moment for Barney is his adventures in the campground pool. He has always been nervous in water and doesn't leave the steps of the pool. If there are no steps, he won't go in. But yesterday he ventured right into the pool with me and really started to enjoy the water. At first he was brave enough to walk along the edge of the pool, gripping tightly onto me. Then he walked on his own, without holding anything. By the end of our two hour swim he was leaping on and off of me, kicking his legs out in the water to swim, and feeling really proud of himself. He was so delighted that we had to come back to the pool a few hours later so that he could show his Dad his new tricks.

By pure coincidence we happened to be in Las Vegas the same time that my sister Maddi and her partner were here on holiday! The kids were very excited about seeing them, especially little Barney who made them a picture. I was also excited as they promised to bring me a jar of marmite! Wahey! We met them this morning at their hotel, went for a coffee, then went to the Bellagio to watch the water fountains and botanic gardens. Then we took them on the bus up to Circus Circus where we watched a show and then went to the indoor theme park there. Maddi, Tom and Jimmie were brave enough to go on a few rides, and Annabelle raced her big brother on the dodgems. Aunty Maddi helped Barney win a prize on a fishing game, a big cuddly frog which he has named Daphne. He is now in love with this frog. I watched his little face as he fished for the red magnets, and his delight as they caught one for a prize. It was so cute.

There are plenty more Las Vegas photos in the Nevada photo album, so do check them out, as I cant post them all on the blog.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Death Valley, California

We have spent two days and two nights in Death Valley, California. When we left Victorville to make the three hour drive here we had no idea where we would stay, and nothing booked. So we stopped at an Inn outside of the Death Valley region, actually just over the border in Nevada, and slept overnight in the inn’s RV park. Finally we had some electrical hookups, and access to a laundry. So we spent the afternoon washing laundry, filling our water tanks and emptying the sewage etc. The Inn had a very large pet cow in a pen near the RV sites, so the kids took a walk with Dan to visit it. The cow was extremely friendly as they fed it dried grass. I was tired so I took a nap while they walked. They discovered a huge fish pond, and a metal cow which was so big that they stood under it and pretended to drink from its udders!

The following morning (Monday) we drove into Death Valley National Park with no idea what we would see here, or where we would stay. Eventually we found a resort called Furnace Creek Ranch, which amazingly had one RV hookup space for two nights. It’s usually booked out in advance, so we were lucky, and it wasn’t too expensive at $29 a night. The ranch has a general store, steakhouse, museum, horse rides, cafĂ©, tennis courts and a warm spring water swimming pool which he made much use of. The actual RV sites aren’t that nice, but at least its in Death Valley, and has hookups so that we can put the air conditioning on.

We have taken two drives through Death Valley. One heading north and west, the other south. We drove up to Stovepipe Wells and stopped to walk across the sand dunes. The sand here is very hot, unlike the white sands in New Mexico. In the summer Death valley can reach temperatures of 140 Fahrenheit, so people tend to come here in the springtime when it is more bearable. Today it was about 85, which was nice enough. We pulled over near Salt Creek and took a walk across the desert to the salt lake there. As we got closer to the salt, the ground started getting very crunchy underfoot. Barney loved the sound of it. He wanted to eat the salt but I wouldn’t let him, for obvious reasons.

Today Dan pulled a muscle in his neck whilst making breakfast. I know, you wouldn’t think breakfast time would be so strenuous, but the poor guy has spent the whole day in agony. So I did the driving and we went southwards to the Badwater Basin. Badwater is a salt basin 282ft below sea level - the lowest land in America. The basin fills with water, but because it is so extremely hot here the water evaporates, leaving a huge basin of white salt. The salt crystals expand and contract to make different patterns and shapes in the ground, which constantly change. Jimmie wasn’t feeling great so he stayed in the RV while the rest of us trekked out into the basin. Some of it still had water in and little pup fish could be seen swimming around. For some reason the area was abundant in ladybug’s - there were millions of them flying around, despite a complete lack of plant life. They kept landing on us. Barney and I saved a few from drowning in the salt water.

As we headed back towards our RV park we took a detour onto the Artists Drive. The road was tarmac (most of the off roads here are gravel so we cant drive down them in the RV) and allowed vehicles up to 25ft long. We were delighted as our RV is exactly 25ft long. The one way drive was spectacular. The mountains looked like they were made out of fudge or chocolate. Some of them looked like marble cake, with so many colours ranging from black, chocolate brown, all shades of beige, cream and honey, to green, blue, pink and burgundy! The view from the top showed the salt basin bellow, which looked like white snow. As we went further on we arrived at the ‘artists palette’ which really did look like mounds of artists paint in all the colours I mentioned before. The road down from the artists palette was such fun to drive and Dan was disappointed that his neck wouldn’t allow him to drive. I thoroughly enjoyed driving. The road wound through tight caverns and crevices. At times it seemed that the RV would not make it round the tight bends, but thankfully we made it without any scratches. Heaven help anyone above 25ft in length that tries it!

This afternoon after the drive we came back to the resort and made use of the hot spring water pool. The pool really was warm, like bath water. Dan sunbathed outside the pool as his neck was still sore, but the kids and I spent three hours splashing about in the pool. Barney pretended to be different animals (fish, turtles, crabs and swimming coyote and reindeer!) and taught me how to swim like them. Then he spent two hours playing with some new plastic bugs that we bought him. Annabelle made friends with a little dutch girl, aged about 4. And Jimmie and I had a fab time throwing each other about in the pool, swinging each other about and swimming under each others legs etc. When we got back to the RV he gave me a kiss and told me ‘thanks Mum, I had a really fun time’.

Tomorrow we head to Las Vegas. Once again we don’t know where we are sleeping. But as always, its sure to be an adventure. Oh yes, by the way, last night I saw a wild coyote wandering around outside! I was so excited to see one, after hearing them howling so many nights.

Oh, one more thing. I found out today that my blog was featured on a travel site. If you want to take a look at it you can click here.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

How hot do you like your salsa?

From Bakersfield, California, we headed south again to an old town called Victorville. We even drove on old route 66 here, which was quite exciting, although to be honest, it was just another road. We met our friend Shane at Starbucks, where he works, and headed to a state park nearby. We were fortunate enough to get the last free RV space in the park, next to a lake and near a kids park. The park also had camels roaming about the place, and lamas.

As soon as we got to the park Dan disappeared off to someone else’s RV for a beer. Wherever we go people just invite him in. I don’t know what it is about him! Then we took the kids and Shane to the park to let them burn off some steam. In the evening Dan cooked me a curry. No one seems to eat curry here in the US, and I’d been craving one for the three months we’ve been here. I ate two plates of it as it was so nice! He’s promised to cook me another one soon.

Shane wanted us to meet some of his friends so we invited them round that evening for a bit of a bonfire outside the RV. His friends invited their friends and people kept turning up. In the end it was almost a full on party till 2am, and I was worried about getting kicked out of the park, as quiet time is from 10pm onwards.

One of Shane’s old school friends, Jose, invited us round to his place the following day for a Mexican barbeque. Jose is Mexican and his parents seem to enjoy cooking. While Jose prepared the meat on the barbeque his parents (who we never even met) were in the house preparing all sorts of Mexican dishes for us to try. First they sent out a hot jalapeno salsa. They were kind enough not to make it as hot as they would eat it themselves, but still it was hotter than the average Brit was used to. Well, we had a right laugh as Jose dared Dan to eat some. His face was a picture! All the kids tried the salsa too, with some tacos, even little Barney. Jimmie ate a load and had to keep going inside the RV to get water and blow his nose! Then the parents sent out what looked like a bowl of sliced cucumber with cocktail sticks in them. They turned out to be the sort of food I could eat eternally and never get bored of. It was slices of cucumber, marinated in lime juice, jalapeno peppers and onion. It was comfort food at it’s best - and healthy too! Another dish was cubes of freshly cut melon with lime juice and chili powder sprinkled on the top. It was amazing too. Jose was cooking half a cow on the barbeque, which he sliced up and put into tortilla wraps, with rice & corn on the side. Dan is still talking about that food. I think he wants to move to Mexico.

That second night we parked the RV in Jose’s back yard as we had to leave early in the morning. Dan went out with Shane’s friends after the BBQ to a local bar, while I got a bit of sleep with the kids. The following morning (Sunday) we stopped at Starbucks to say goodbye to Shane, and headed east to Death Valley, which is where we are now for a few nights. After Death Valley we will be heading to Las Vegas, where by chance my sister and her partner will be on holiday at the same time!

Visiting our Bakersfield friends...

We have had barely any internet access since we left the RV park near Joshua tree, which is why I suddenly have three blog posts to upload in one go.

After leaving the Joshua Tree area we headed up to Bakersfield, California, to visit a family that we once exchanged Flat Stanley’s with. I read Tammy’s blog, and she reads mine, and we once swapped Flat Mum’s as well. Tammy was kind enough to let us camp outside her house and we took advantage of some of her cleaning equipment too. We spent almost a full day cleaning the RV, inside and out. Dan washed 3 months worth of squished desert bugs off, while I vacuumed the seats and mattresses, and washed the floor. It was exhausting work but it really had to be done. Poor Thelma was covered in such a bug holocaust that she was almost camouflaged in the desert!

Our kids were delighted to have some company for three days and made good friends with Tammy’s three children. They were all very patient and kind to Barney, which was great for him, and he has since decided that one day he will return to ask the younger daughters hand in marriage! Annabelle slept in the living room with the girls all three nights and barely got a wink of sleep, from what she has told me. She had a blast.

Tammy and Mike took us to a baseball game. Wow, it was so American! Dan was excited beyond belief about going to the game, and plagued Mike with thousands of questions right through the match. Amazingly, I was able to understand what was happening most of the time too.

We also took a trip to the $1 cinema and watched ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ (possibly the scariest film Barney has ever seen!) The film was great, despite the loud noises and monsters. I was worried Barney would have nightmares, but he climbed onto my lap and hid his head at the noisy bits. He was so worn out that night as he didn’t go to bed till 1am (after attempting to sleep over at a pajama party), so he had completely forgotten about Goblins and monsters by that point.

That same evening we took Tammy, Mike and the kids to an all-you-can-eat buffet to say thanks for having us. The six kids had their own table and made lots of noise, and lots more mess. The kids were all given helium balloons by a huge walking bumble bee, which pleased Barney no end. That evening we sat out in the back garden till the small hours of the night talking about music and stuff. Dan entertained everyone by walking into the patio door fly screen, not once, but twice! Barney and I headed to bed at 1am. He had intended to sleep in the living room with all the kids but begged to go to bed by that point. Dan made it to bed at 4am, and from all accounts the rest of the kids stayed up till 6am to watch the sunrise!

It was great to have a rest at Tammy’s house. She was very hospitable to us, cooked us a lovely Mexican meal, and made the kids feel very at home. I’m glad we had the chance to meet up with them our travels.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Joshua Tree

I posted last night about our trip to Anza Borrego, so if you haven't read that yet, its below this one.
We were enjoying our stay at Anza Borrego so much that we almost didn't move on. But eventually we decided to head north to Joshua Tree National Park. We had not researched the park at all and had no idea what it was like, so we just thought that we'd stay if we liked it, and drive right through if we didn't. Well, we were pleasantly surprised. Every time we get into the RV and start moving on, the scenery changes so completely. This time we drove past miles and miles of vineyards, followed by miles of palm tree farms! The lower half of Joshua Tree park is set in the Colorado Desert, and the upper half in the Mojave Desert. The sign that you have crossed over into the Mojave Desert is the appearance of the Joshua Trees. We spent our time in the Mojave. This photo here shows a typical Joshua tree which was near our camp site. These trees only grow half to one inch a year, so the big ones must be pretty old.

Camping at Joshua Tree Park is first come first served. There are quite a few camp grounds but spaces for motorhomes is limited. RVs over 25ft in length can not camp here, so we were lucky as we are 25ft long. Right now the deserts here are blossoming. All the spring wildflowers are out in full bloom, and instead of looking like a barren waste land, it looks like a beautiful oasis of colour and tranquility. We drove past miles of the most lovely yellow wild flowers.

The first camp ground we came to was called 'White Tank'. It didn't sound very appealing from the name, but we drove into it and the whole family just said "Woooowwww", in unison. We were fortunate enough to find a free space big enough for the RV, with no neighbours near by, set between piles of Joshua Trees famous boulders. The kids couldn't wait to get out. The next day we drove around the other camp sites. They were all very similar but we decided we'd definitely been blessed with the best site of all and so we stayed there for 4 days. Once again we had no water, sewer or electric hookups.

This photo shows us having lunch in our camp site. The RV was parked to the left of this picture and where I was standing to take the shot was just miles of desert. Joshua tree park is just covered with the most amazing formations of boulders. It's a magical place where children and adults alike can spend hours exploring and climbing. I found it almost as magical as White Sands, although completely different. The kids couldn't wait to get out and start climbing the rocks. The small nature trail runs right through the camp site, but we often wandered off the trail and just went exploring.

In this photo you can just about see Dan and Jimmie attempting to climb these rocks (just left of the Joshua tree) This was at a nature trail called Cap Rock trail. They didn't make it to the top, and Dan got stuck about a third of the way up, which made Jimmie the bouldering champion. I had to laugh at little Barney though - anytime he was climbing a bolder and I'd tell him "be careful honey, don't fall", he'd reply "don't worry Mummy, I'm an extremely experienced climber". Apparently conquering the mountain with his Dad (see post below) had made him an expert climber.

Once again the kids completed Junior Ranger Programs which were educational. I learnt a lot about the area from them. We learnt that the yucca fan palms were used by Apache Indians to make baskets. And we learnt that one of the native birds in the area impales its dinner (eg lizards) on the sharp spikes of the yucca to kill it (nice!) We discovered that mistletoe grows as a parasitic plant on Juniper trees, the way Ivy grows at home. On our first afternoon there Annabelle, Barney, Dan and I took the white tank nature trail walk through the boulders. Barney just loved the area, and ran about the place like a wild thing. I took Jimmie on the same walk the next day and we started calling him Spider Man, as he literally scaled the rock formations like a spider!
We had a camp fire on our 2nd night at White Tank. The kids always love a camp fire in the evening, but we don't have one all that often. Firstly because we have to been in an area with a fire pit that allows camp fires, and secondly because we have to have our own wood. Gathering of wood is prohibited in the desert, and we cant afford to buy bags of it every day. But we had a small fire one night and all sat out in our duvets and woolly hats. Night in the desert can be very cold.

Since its spring time the lizards, snakes and tortoises are coming out of hibernation. We saw a lot of lizards, and plenty of locusts, but I am yet to see a snake despite my constant looking.

One of the days we were there I took myself off on a hike, with water, snacks and Dan's camera. I felt a bit guilty going on my own as the kids wanted to come too, but I was so filled with energy and inspiration from my surroundings, that I just wanted to hike out on my own, to be totally alone and just sit and meditate on the area around me. I went in three different directions, climbing over boulders, discovering areas that couldn't be seen from the camp ground. I found shaded spots and sat to watch the wildlife. Then hiked on further. I found one area with a large desert squirrel nest. The desert squirrels look more like chipmunks to me. They are the cutest little energy filled things. Once they got used to me being there they started going about their business, playing together, running over the rocks, busying themselves. I really enjoyed the hike on my own and its something I will remember forever.

Yesterday Dan and Annabelle took a hike together. A bit of father and daughter time. Dan saw a huge Iguana sunbathing on a rock, but it noticed him and ran off before he could get a photo. There are so many stories I could tell from this part of the trip but I'd be typing forever... like Annabelle, Barney and I climbing to the top of some rocks to watch the sunset together, or when Dan and I slept half the night outside under the stars and the kids kept peeking at us out of the window to see if we were snogging! The weather was just perfect until Sunday when it got over 90 degrees. We had no air conditioning so come 5pm we decided to head on to an RV park with hookups where we could all shower, do laundry and have electric. By this point (over a week in the wild) everything needed charging up. As we were packing up to leave Dan saw another RV looking for a camping spot, so he went over to tell the driver that we were leaving. He came back laughing and said he'd asked the woman inside if she needed a parking spot, and she had replied "Ive been staying in he desert, I'm just looking around and I'm totally senile" then she sped off into the distance!
Don't forget to check out the three California photo albums. Tomorrow we are heading to Bakersfield to meet some friends who we traded Flat Stanley's with when we were homeschooling. Today will be spent doing laundry, showering, swimming in the pool and tidying up.

Anza Borrego Desert

After a couple of days at Oceanside near San Diego, playing on the beach, we took to the road once again and headed to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California. We programmed the sat nav and set off. Thankfully, Louise (our satelite navigation system) decided to take us the scenic route, through countryside, over mountains, into valleys. The views the whole way there were spectacular. We drove passed miles of Orange tree fields, all blossoming with both Oranges and spring time wild flowers. After an hour of driving we stopped at a scenic lakeside spot for breakfast. Whilst the big kids and I ate breakfast in the RV, Barney and his Dad went for a bit of a hike. Barney has had it in his head that he and Daddy would be conquering a mountain at some point. When they saw a decent sized hill (a mountain to Barney) with a sort of little fort on top of it, they set off and left us to breakfast. This is the photo of Barney at the top of his conquered mountain, in his Power Ranger Pyjamas.

The drive into the actual desert state park was scary! Cliff edge roads, often without barriers, with 200 ft falls on my side of the RV. I was way more bothered by it than Dan, because he was driving and I felt totally out of control. But the views from these mountain cliff edges of what seemed like hundreds of miles of desert, were worth the drive. In the middle of this desert park is a small town called Borrego Springs. The park has over 500 miles of road to explore, as well as hundreds of miles of hiking area. Once we arrived at the visitor centre we were pleased to discover that we could camp absolutely anywhere in the state park for free! Obviously, we had no water or electric hookups, but we were able to choose a spot to park, miles from anyone else. Most of the other parks we have visited are very strict about where to park, and where not to.

On the first night we chose a completely secluded patch of desert, with mountains in the distance, and hills to one side of us. No one could see our RV because it was parked in a depression. I think this is the most secluded I have ever been in my life. We never saw another person or vehicle for the 24 hours we were there. This photo shows our Thelma parked up in that spot. Jimmie enjoyed exploring the area so much that he didnt want to leave (until the next day when he found an even better place to explore, and then the next day when he found an even better one than that!) When Jimmie is somewhere that inspires him like that, we dont see him for most of the day. Every now and then we call out to see if he's still alive, and he calls back "yeah I'm just playing".

We sat outside the RV in the small bit of shade you can see in that photo and ate some Mexican food which Id tried my best to recreate. It was no where near as nice as the food Cha-cha had made us, but wasn't bad for a first attempt, and everyone eat it up and asked for seconds.

That night Dan and I sat out for an hour or so looking at the stars whilst the kids slept inside. There wasn't a single sound, no wind, no animals, no nothing. The stars were awesome again, and we both saw a huge bright shooting star which was a bonus.

As we had a whole massive area to explore, we set out on our second day and found another camping spot. This one was at Yacqui Wells camp site. It's a proper area for camping (still no hookups) that would be busy at the weekends, but there was no one else camping in it while we were there so we had the place almost completely to ourselves, apart from the odd hiker passing by. Jimmie loved this area more than the last. It was a completely different sort of setting, next to an oasis, with lots of wildlife and plant life. Because it is spring now the cactus are blooming and they look so bright and beautiful. All through the desert wild flowers are in blossom, and in some areas it hardly seems like a desert at all. We saw lots of lizards, jack rabbits, quail and exotic looking birds there.

Dan, Barney and I took a gentle walk along the nature trail here to the oasis. Barney just had the best time, discovering new cacti, spotting rabbits, and spending quality time on his own with his Mum and Dad. We stayed there two nights, and the following day I took all three kids on the same hike. Barney couldn't wait to show his big brother and sister everything he had discovered the day before. We barely saw Jimmie the whole time we were there. He was off exploring the nearby area with a large stick. He came back now and then to refuel and drink. The first night we stayed in this spot, there were the most terrible winds during the night. I almost thought the RV was going to blow right over at one point! At least the days were pleasant enough.

There are three new photo albums for you to look at. California Album 1 has photos from before our state and national park trips, and will have more added to it over the next few days. Also check out the Anza Borrego album for photos to go with this blog post, and the Joshua Tree album for photos to go with the post above. (If that post isnt here yet, it will be soon)

Sunday, 6 April 2008


We've reached the sea, which means we have drive the entire way across America in 9 weeks. Yes, we are in San Diego, California. We left Arizona yesterday (but will be back there again soon enough) and took the scenic route along the border to Mexico rather than the interstate. What a drive it was, over mountains, down into valleys, through quaint little villages. California seems more like Britain than the rest of America so far. It's so green for a start, with fields full of vegetable crops to drive past. The mountains are green, the trees are bigger and look more like the trees we get at home. With the exception of the odd palm tree and the weather, we could have been forgiven for thinking we were in the country side of Ireland at some points. Every inch of roadside is covered in pretty spring flowers. Why doesnt that happen at home? One strange moment on our drive through CA was driving through a swarm of huge big bottle flies! I've never seen anything like it! Thousands of massive big flies hit the windscreen in two seconds and we had to stop at a gas station to wash off all their remains! The noise they made was something else, and the kids were highly amused by it!

We had no idea where we were heading, only that it was west, and we eventually ended up in San Diego, with no where to stay. San Diego is extremely pretty for a city. As its the weekend all the RV parks were fully booked (and extremely expensive at around $60 a night!) We thought we'd stay in a Wal-Mart car park, as we havent done that yet, only to discover that San Diego county law states that it is illegal to sleep over night in a Wal-Mart car park. The manager said she'd turn a blind eye to us being there, but the security guard started being a pest, knocking on our door every 5 minutes, and asking us to do silly things, like drive around the block every hour so that no one would think we were camping. Honestly, can you imagine waking the kids up every hour to drive around a city block? So we decided at 8pm to just start driving north and see what we found. We drove through streets full of mansions, expensive restaurants and beach side villas. This is obviously where the other half live. We found a few expensive, fully booked RV parks along the way and eventually stumbled across a park in Oceanside that accepts Passport America (when no where else would). Its only $17 a night here so we are staying a few days and letting the kids enjoy the nearby beaches. Below is the map of our route so far, 9 weeks into travel with 11 weeks left to go.

As I've been writing this I've just heard that it's snowing in England! Snow? In April? And here I am bathing in the sunshine, ahhh its a hard life.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Organ Pipe Cactus, Arizona

(There is a new blog post by Dan below this one... don't miss it!)

We have come to the last few days in Arizona for the time being. We will be back here in a few weeks to visit the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, on our way further north into Utah and onwards. But in the morning we will be heading into California.

The last two days have been spent admiring the Saguaro and Organ Pipe Cacti, at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, in west Arizona, bordering with Mexico. The drive to the park was as beautiful as ever. The roadways were lined with gorgeous spring flowers, and for two hours we stared at miles and miles of Saguaro cactus (see 2 posts down). We drove through an Indian Reservation and past hundreds of miles of mountains, desert wilderness and cacti. The prickly pear cacti have become less and less as they are replaced by the Saguaro and Organ Pipe varieties.

We ended up getting an RV spot at the Alamo Canyon part of the park. The ranger said it was beautiful there and that RVs werent generally allowed, but since ours was 25ft and not 45ft she'd let us use it. The Alamo park only allows for 4 sites, whereas the main campsite had about 100 sites. We love to be as alone as possible in the wilderness, so we took that option. The 3 mile lane to the Alamo Canyon turned out to be a gravel dirt track. We could not drive more than 5 miles an hour on it without feeling like the RV would fall to bits. But it was worth it. We were blessed with the most stunning, remote, quiet place to sleep, surrounded by mountains and cacti. The kids, as usual, completed the junior ranger program in the park, which was educational. Barney and I went on a cacti scavenger hunt as part of the program and made notes about various species of cacti, wildlife, bite marks in prickly pear etc. He really enjoyed that. It was very hot but a dry heat, no humidity. It was bearable, and as we had no electric or water hookups we had to cope whatever the weather was.

The area we stayed in was so beautiful that we had no need to drive about the place. Dan and Jimmie went on a hike to the creek whilst Barney played cars in the shade, and Annabelle and I relaxed in the sunshine. We saw plenty of lizards creeping about the place. In the evening we all sat out to watch the sunset behind the mountains. The silhouette of the cacti across the landscape was something I will never forget. Later that evening we all sat out staring at the stars. The sky was so clear that we could see satellites, and even the odd shooting star. The desert skies are so much clearer than city skies.

Now we have driven almost to the border of California, where we will head to in the morning.

American People.... (by Dan)

If I ask folks back home what they think of America and it its people they (in most cases) talk mainly of a crazy bunch of people with a bad president, that love junk food. They see them as a very dangerous people that would knife you for a few dollars.

Into my ninth week and my eighth State, I will share with you what I have found so far. I feel inspired to share with you what (staying away from the big cites) my perceptions of people here are like.

I got off the plane nine weeks ago and took a ride with a jolly dancing cab driver. The next morning the staff at the RV hire place were very kind and did all they could to give us the best possible RV for our trip. An amazing couple, Pat & Jim drove all the way to the hire place to meet us a treated us like their sons & daughters for 10 days (See Brees older blog posts on Florida)

From there we have continued to meet the nicest, friendliest, sharing people possible. We went to Georgia to a maximum security prison where all the inmates and staff were very nice, and where we met a lady called Lesley who went out of her way to help Bree set up the visit over a period of many weeks previously.

The people of Alabama greeted and us treated us well, they were very interested to hear all about our family and Ireland.

In Mississippi and Louisiana we were welcomed, especially in the places that were effected by Katrina. These people were really pleased that we came to spend a few dollars and see first hand the effects of the terrible hurricane.

People in Texas treated us like long lost family the second we walked in the door in certain places making us feel really at home, in fact warmer than being at home.

The people in New Mexico walked the extra mile with kindness and friendliness, if they saw you arrive in a town they would greet you and introduce themselves. Great down to earth people, really pleased to see you.

At present we are in Arizona and it just keeps happening. After speaking to a lady for a few minutes one night I had an offer to take my family to her house for Sunday dinner and baths! She treated us so well, cooked amazing food and had a wonderful family.

In general I have met the most thoughtful, kind, and interesting people possible. People that appreciate and enjoy life, with good values, people you could talk to for hours about things that matter, family, nature etc.. people that don’t want big yellow M’s coming to their towns, people who watch the stars and ignore the rubbish on TV. People who I could mix with and get along with just fine. Sometimes I feel like an alien in my home town in Northern Ireland. In a way I feel one of these little towns is more than my home, even though I only just passed through it.

In fact the only cross people I have met are only cross with the running of the country. They would say to me “everyone hates Americans at the moment , we are hurting real bad, thanks for coming and thanks and for the nice things you have said”

Its so easy to get an opinion of a place by a weeks holiday or something that you have read in the newspapers or watched on TV. I am not saying I know it all after a few months, but from what I have seen, this place is amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it must have more than its fair share of nut cases and after all statistics don’t lie, this can be a dangerous place to live. But if you keep out of the big cities, America would get my vote for a friendly place to live.

Don’t even get me stared on the beauty of this place. I could write a book on that one. The national parks are everywhere and are breath taking. Going back to the people, the staff at the state and national parks are passionate about the parks in a real and genuine way. The children are given activities to do and the staff are so friendly to help and so pleased when they see them learn.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The good, the bad and the beautiful...

I have two things to blog about today, as I haven't written a post since we left Bisbee. From Bisbee we headed not very far to Tombestone, that famous town (made even more famous by the movie) where Wyatt Earp and others had the renowned shootout at the OK Corral. Anyone into Western films will completely know what I'm talking about, and would just love this place. The town in itself is a museum. It has been preserved just the way it was 130 years ago. It is not one of the many film sets that you can visit over here, but a proper working town. Visiting Tombestone is like walking back into the wild west 130 years ago.

Our first stop was to the Boothill Cemetary, where many infamous names can be found on the gravestones, and many more interesting names such as 'cowboy bill', 'six shooter Jim', 'Stinging Lizard', or 'Cherokee Hall'. The graveyard has been restored by members of the local community and is an extremely interesting place to wander around. Some of the graves tell of how the owner died, and some have some strange messages on them. Most of the people in there were shot or hanged. Its truly a real wild west cemetary with many of the residents having been 'shot in a pub brawl' (one man shot over the colour of his shirt), or 'lynched from the county jail by an angry mob and hanged from a street light'. There are many more photos from Tombestone and the cemetery in Arizona Album 1.

We spent the afternoon wandering through the old streets of Tombestone. The bars were authentic looking, and all the buildings had wee gift shops inside them. Occasionally someone in period costume would wander past. We met 'Wyatt Earp' wandering the streets and he was kind enough to pose for a photo. At certain times during the day the shootout at the OK Corral is re-enacted. We didn't buy tickets for this, but the actors start out in the street before heading inside for the paid show, so we able to experience a little of what it was like.

We did however, pay to take a wander around 'The Bird Cage Theatre', a theatre/bar/brothel which has been perfectly preseved just the way it was. It was amazing to wander around and I really felt I'd been taken back to 1880. This house of ill repute still had its original stage, back stage, front stage, basement bar for customers of the 'working girls' and bedrooms that the girls worked from. There was a room with photos of all the girls that worked there over the years, each with a caption of how they got into the profession (eg - husband forced them).

We could have spent a week wandering around Tombestone but it was time to head on. We drove northwest slightly to an area near Tucson - the Saguaro National Park. Home to the giant Saguaro cactus, the symbol of the American west. We stayed 2 nights in an RV park nearby, which had a pool, much to the kids delight. Yesterday we spent the day at the Saguaro National Park, taking the 8 mile loop drive through the Sonoran Desert, and stopping every 2 minutes to get out and look at the amazing scenery. We felt truly as if we had reached real Arizona with these giant cacti literally everywhere. The kids put their heart and souls into completing the junior ranger programs (we do this in all the national parks as they are very educational). I think Dan could have spent the rest of his life wandering around the large cacti. He was in his element photographically. The photos from this trip are in Arizona Album 2.