Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Photos from the road.  And the stops.  Click the photo to go to the album,

Travels with Avon July 2015

Monday, July 27, 2015

The last leg

The travels with Avon destination is Los Angeles.  And here we are.  The last leg of the trip was a California classic, starting with burgers and fries to go from In and Out, continuing up the freeways that are referred to not as "interstate five" or "route five" but "the five."  Today the five was running in compression mode:  Periodically, without external influences like wrecks or construction, it got so clogged it just stopped.  Then started.  Then stopped. Zip along at 70 for a stretch, then brake down to 10 or so because the cars ahead of you encounter something like a hill and have to bunch up before they break out again at speed.  It's a phenomenon of all high speed highways, but all the more frustrating when there are four or six lanes all clogging up and unclogging, for no reason.

But somehow out here it's not as maddening as it is on, say, I-95 from the Beltway to Fredericksburg.  Maybe it's because the road isn't as familiar and you accept the clogs as part of California freeway life  Or maybe it's because there are things to look at along the way that you haven't seen before, which takes some of the pressure off the fact that you're going 10 mph on a big freeway.

And a the end of the road, you still get where you're going.  No one's left tooth marks on the steering wheel.  Everyone's been mainly cordial and laid back.  And I've spent more time with two of my sons than we've spent since - hell, this is probably more time than we've ever spent all together nonstop.

That's been the real treasure of this trip for me.  Sharing all that time, and all those miles, with Deke and Ted.  Pointing to things outside the car windows and sharing the wonder of all that American landscape.

I'd do it again in a heartbeat.  Let's go.
End of the Road

South by southwest

at sunset
We left the Grand Canyon after two nights of camping.  I think the last time I was camping overnight with any of my kids was when they were Cub Scouts, so no one knew what to expect.  Kudos to Deke for (a) having an excellent tent and air mattress, (b) booking the Mather Campground at the Grand Canyon, (c) the steak tacos on night two and (d) coming up with the idea in the first place.  Mather campground is first rate - clean, convenient, well spaced camping sites, good facilities,  Great place to reintroduce yourself to the great outdoors.

Our first night at the canyon we stayed at a hotel just outside the south entrance.  Again, a Deke choice.  We bowled a few frames in the hotel's rec center, got introduced to Grand Canyon pilsner (very drinkable) and loaded up on water, firewood and supplies for our camp.

After the park we headed south to Phoenix for the purpose of catching a baseball game.  It was 100+ outside, but the ballpark is covered and air conditioned.  Diamondbacks beat the Brewers, so the home team fans were happy.  And we checked Phoenix off the list.

Somewhere during the trip, San Diego was added to the itinerary when Deke contacted an old friend and all of us were invited to stay over.  Worked out perfectly, since we learned that I-10, our planned route, was running single lane for a long stretch because of a bridge washout, which we were able to avoid by heading south and taking I-8 into San Diego.

That's literally the southwest US.   At time you could look left and see the long fence near the Mexico border.  And a landscape full of surprises.

For most of Arizona it's rocky desert.  Long expanses of nothingness.  Then about the time you cross over into California, it becomes sand, blowing into giant dunes on all sides, then subsiding into rock again.  In the Imperial Valley there are great green fields of crops.  You look in wonder at these verdant fields in the desert, then realize that they're sucking up water that's in precious short supply as you go further west.  Looking west, what I first thought was falling from clouds was actually the contrast between blue sky and clouds of dust stirred by the relentless wind.  That wind is harnessed by a forest of windmills as you approach the mountains.

And these are no ordinary mountains.  They take you from sea level to 4000 feet in a steady climb. You're warned at the outset to turn off air conditioners if your car starts to overheat.  When you get into the first ascent you see that the mountains are actually giant piles of rocks - boulders piled high.  How did they get there?  Farther up they become a little smoother in texture but they're still all rock and sand.  You watch the temperature gauge slowly climb and realize that maybe the warning was right, so you turn off the AC and eventually turn on the heat to circulate water through the engine and open the windows.  Finally just over the top there's a gas station, where you stop to fuel and let the car cool off a little.  Here's a first taste of California, where regular gas is over $4 a gallon.

The rest of the drive into San Diego is scenic, in a California sort of way.  Hills covered with short trees and none of the underbrush we're so used to in the east, brown in the midsummer drought.  San Diego itself seems an oasis, although locals see the transition from green lawns to desert landscaping.
So we reached the Pacific, and almost our destination, in the company of Kelly and Marc and their terrific boys, who welcomed the scruffy voyagers into their home for an evening.  Such a treat,  We can't thank you enough.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


It was in Nashville, early in the trip, when we realized we weren't going to make every stop we'd  intended.  The Ryman Auditorium was on the pretrip list, but somehow we didn't get there when we were downtown the first time, and it was hot and no one was up for a tour the next day.  So we drove by and checked it off the list.  There it is guys.  Check.

In Memphis, Deke had wanted to see the Stax studio.  By the time we got into the neighborhood, it was too late in the day, and as we drove by Stax was checked off the list.

This isn't to say we've glossed over things we thought were worth a close look.  We weren't like the bus trippers at the Grand Canyon who look over the edge at the south rim visitors center, buy a souvenir and check it off the list.  But there are so many things to see that we find ourselves turning to each other and signing a check mark, shorthand for "yep, saw that."  Check.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The star of the show

It is all about Avon, after all. 

Today we let him visit the Grand Canyon Kennel for a spa day while we hiked the rim trail.  Not because he’s a hassle on the trail – he’s a trooper.  And not just because we would be slowed down because he needs to sniff everything along the way and pee on every available tree – you can always drag him by the leash until he settles into a walking gait.  The reason Avon is a hassle on the trail has to do with the other hikers’ reaction to him.  Is he a pit bull?  Is he purebred?  Can I pet him?  Yesterday on the trail a couple of young ladies from New Orleans not only wanted to know all about him and pet him, but have their pictures taken with him.  We’re thinking about getting him business cards.

We camped two nights at the Grand Canyon.  Avon thinks all this outdoors is OK, but at heart he’s a city dog.  The smells are interesting, but when 12-point buck elk walked through our campsite around dinnertime yesterday, he just looked up from his dog bed – his dog bed, not the ground – with only mild surprise.
Night before last in the tent he was pretty sure he was supposed to be on the air mattress instead of his dog bed, so when I turned in I had to push him off my sleeping bag several times before he got the message. Last night he slept in the van.  We were all happier.

He still seems to believe that Deke is abandoning him any time he disappears for whatever reason.  Yesterday I had to do my Avon-calming routine when Deke went off to fetch coffee.  Again last evening when Deke and Teddy went into the store to provision us for dinner, I stayed with Avon and was pulled through the parking lot until I made him understand he can’t go into the store and would have to look for them standing on the bench outside. 

But he’s been great in the van.  Hops in whenever the door is opened, moves to his dog bed in the back when he realizes he isn’t going to be able to sit up front (this happens every time, of course), lies quietly until he senses that we’re going to stop and then jumps up to take a look out the window.

Don't tell Deke, but I'm going to miss him.

We are hardly pioneers

We are hurtling across the country at 75 miles an hour (at least since Texas) in air-conditioned comfort, listening to music or ball games from a satellite, or music from a digital device.  When we need to stop there are gas stations and flush toilets.

But at least since we left Tennessee, it’s hard not to feel a little part of what the westward pioneers of the 1800s must have felt, looking across the vast emptiness of the west and wondering what lay over the horizon or next range of mountains.  Rolling along in wooden-wheeled carriages, hoping there’d be water for the humans and animals by the end of the day, that the water wouldn’t be running through an impassible river or gorge, that their wagons wouldn’t break down or mire in the mud or ruts of the pioneers before them, that they’d be able to get through the day and the next and the next without being attacked by men on horseback who appeared to be wild and uncivilized and unhappy about the march of what the wagoneers considered to be civilization.  Just looking at the never ending flatness, changing unexpectedly to rocks and gorges and in the closing distance mountains higher and more forbidding than any ever seen in the east, you get an appreciation of the challenges these brave settlers faced every day. 

I expected flatness as we crossed from Arkansas into Oklahoma and Texas.  I was awed at the enormity of the space – my son noted that he could see 100-car freight trains front to back – and surprised as how abruptly the landscape changes.  After miles of emptiness, suddenly there are piles of rocks and gorges; the roadside changes from forest to scrub with little or no transition.  We easterners have so much to learn about the west.

Turn the AC up please, check our position on the GPS and pass me a bottle of water.  Pioneering indeed.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Car Songs

When the kids were small we made a car tape for road trips.  A cassette filled with songs that got us through those dark stretches of Virginia and North Carolina, or north to Connecticut, to see the grandparents.  Now it’s the car mix, and loaded on an iPod patched into the car sound system.  And it’s getting us across a stormy stretch of New Mexico.   Feel free to sing along.

Suite Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills & Nash
Sitting on Top of the World – Cream
Day Tripper – Beatles
25 or 6 to 4 – Chicago
In the Midnight House – Wilson Pickett
Stand by Me – Ben E. King
The Last Time – Rolling Stones
I’ll Cry Instead - Beatles
Can’t Buy Me Love - Beatles
Lay Down Sally – Eric Clapton
Make Me Smile – Chicago
Nobody Knows You  When You’re Down and Out – Spencer Davis Group
Some of Shelly’s Blues – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
The Cure – NGDB
Lyin’ Eyes – Eagles
Kodachrome – Paul Simon
Tequila Sunrise – Eagles
Peaceful Easy Feeling – Eagles
Bayou Jubilee – NGBD w/Linda Ronstadt
Hey Good Looking – NGDB w/ Linda Ronstadt
Rocket Man – Elton John
Could You Put Your Light on Please – Harry Chapin
Everybody’s Lonely – Harry Chapin
Your Song – Elton John
Political Science – Randy Newman