Saturday, March 21, 2015

March 21: Carrizozo NM > Albuquerque NM > Phoenix AZ

When we awoke the following morning, I told Steph about my fitful night's sleep, and how I was counting on her ninja-like reflexes to spring into action as soon as she heard our pseudo-attacker cutting into the tent to murder us in our sleep.

She laughed.

Here was our campsite in the light of day. Just beyond the ridge was the lava field.

Friday, March 20, 2015

March 20: Las Cruces NM > White Sands > Carrizizo AZ

All in all, the night spent in a gravel lot just outside the Aguirre Springs Campground was not all that bad.

We didn't have any restroom facilities, but sometimes camping is like that.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

March 19th: Nogales, AZ > Tombstone AZ > Bisbee AZ > Las Cruces MN

After the miserable weather the night before, we woke up to over cast, but not rainy skies. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

March 18th: Phoenix AZ > Tucson AZ > Nogales AZ

My first day in Phoenix, and I was excited! The Airbnb was very nice, and I was glad to have found it. I didn't get much of a chance to speak to my hosts, but the room was just as advertised, and I slept like a log.

I also had a chance to check out the Sonic a bit more thoroughly, and was glad that I had gone for the hatchback. Off in the distance, parked on the gravel was the famous blue Scoot. The last time I saw the Scoot was seven months prior, in Nevada. Since then it had gone to Mexico and back. Must be a tired scoot!

After a bit of a struggle finding a decent breakfast place, eventually we settled on a funky coffee shop that was in an old craftsman style bungalow. The food was decent and the atmosphere was great.

Why does it seem that when I show up, the Scoot is always being abandoned besides someone's house?

Back at the Airbnb, we packed our food in the the coolers.

An then packed Hedgehog (Sonic the Hedgehog...get it?) and departed southward.

Before we left, I stopped at a cul-de-sac for a formal portrait of the Sonic. I was interested in see in how it compared the Ford Fiesta I had rented from Payless Cars a few years back on my trip to Las Vegas, Reno and everywhere in between. It was a base spec Sonic, with AC, cruise, iPhone input and surprisingly, remote start.

My first real taste of south west desert, and boy was I happy to be there.

On our way south towards Tucson, I happened to spot something way off in the distance. It was the Pinal Air Park. It is now primarily a boneyard for commercial aircraft (one of the largest, if not the largest, in the world). It has an interesting history, including being the base of operations for the CIA's covert air operations during the Vietnam war (including the famous Air America). It was sad to see so many 747's awaiting scrapping.

I was so excited to go to the Pima Air & Space Museum - it felt like it was the Smithsonian Air and Space on steroids! I promise I'll try not to bore you with lots of plane pictures.

A Boeing B-52 Stratofortress that was used in the X-15 rocket program.

Boeing B-50 based inflight refueling plane (based on the B-29 design, but with uprated engines and removed armements, these old planes were used into the early '70's).

Another B-29 based plane, the C-97 cargo plane.

Yet ANOTHER B-29 based plane, this time a Super Guppy - used to move massively large items, including the Saturn booster rockets used in the Apollo Space program, and amazingly enough, up until the 1990's, every single fuselage for any Airbus plane. And yes, it can fly.

A Convair B-38 Peacemaker, one of my all time favorite planes, of truly massive proportions.

Another B-52 lurking behind a roped off area, this one dark and mysterious in all black.

And finally, an actual B-29, in all it's restored glory. There were so many other planes there, that I really couldn't take it all in. Unfortunately, the weather started to turn cold, windy and even a little drizzly, so it was time to move on.

As we headed closer to the Mexican border and our campsite for the night, the weather got progressively worse. The dark skies started to open, and it began to rain. Somehow, I managed to miss an important turn, and we headed off into the wilds of Arizona.

We were very much not in the right place, but at least I got to see an real live arroyo, with concrete in place of the asphalt so as not to be washed away when the sudden flooding happened.

Determined not to backtrack, we kept going further south on a road that became increasingly bad. eventually, some 30 miles from the missed turn off, we gave up. The road signs didn't make any sense, our GPS was without signal, and darkness was approaching.

We spotted a lonely calf wandering the road while retracing our steps.

Eventually we made it back to the main road, and the skies that looked like they were no longer threatening opened up again. We still ventured into the campground we wanted for the night, but for some weird reason, it was completely full. Thoughts of trying to set up camp in the cold rain and darkness just weren't that appealing, so we headed into the border town of Nogales, Arizona for the night, and found a Motel 6 with reasonable rates. Figuring that we had nothing to lose, we checked in.

I had a tiny bit of forethought while in the hotel room, and decided to prepare some of the food we had bought for the next night. Onions + red wine + steak, left to marinate seemed like a good idea.

The rest of the night was accompanied by a bottle of wine, and a good nights sleep.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

March 17th: LaBelle > Ft. Lauderdale > Phoenix AZ

Today was my last day with my parents, before setting off on the second part of my vacation. It wasn't going to be a short day, but I was ready for it.

The day started off foggy, which was unexpected, and made for a pretty morning at the campground. I say campground, but this place was a bit strange.

There were quite a few RV's like my parents, fifth-wheels, trailers etc, but more than a few had been modified into something that was far more permanent. Even trailers that are supposed to move around from place to place seem to have sprouted permanent roofs. 

And then there are the "park model" trailers that are never going to move again, with porches, carports and concrete driveways. When I say they'll never move again, there is one way they'll go someplace: the moment a hurricane swipes through. Which leads to the next strange thing:

If you look closely at this "house", you'll notice that it has a Florida license plate hanging just below the window. I assume this is for insurance purposes, since mobile homes in south Florida are highly regulated, if they're licensed with the state as a portable vehicle, they can dodge all the requirements and get insurance at a cheaper rate. It's hard to feel pity for people who do such stupid things.

And then there's this sign that was posted on the shower house door. I...don't even know what to say. Yes, this was a strange place indeed.

We loaded up the truck and headed south shortly after breakfast.

I've always wanted to drive down Tamiami Trail, which is further south than I-75 / Alligator Alley.

I don't know what I expected to see or find down that way, bug the Big Cypress Natural Preserve was an interesting place for sure. I wish I had been able to spend more time poking about, but sadly I had a plane to catch. 

Alligators, of course.

Lots of alligators. Sunning themselves in the warmth, and not really doing much else.

There really wasn't much else to see as we moved eastward into the Florida Everglades, just mile after mile of flat swampland and blue skies. Eventually we reached the far western edges of Miami, and the urban sprawl set in.

After slogging through early-afternoon Miami traffic, I made it to the Ft. Lauderdale airport and said goodbye to my folks and the red truck.

For this leg of the trip, I was flying on US Air. It was a fairly unremarkable flight.

Nice view of Fort Lauderdale coastline.

Flying above the clouds somehow felt magical, as it always does.

Fantastic sunset, flying over what I believe was Mexico.

Hello, Phoenix! My first view of the city since 1996, and then I was only passing through.

I finally arrived, and made it to the rental car counter. I was early by a few hours, but I figured they'd surely have a car for me. Oh, how wrong I was! I had to kill almost 3 hours, so my friend Steph's friend in Phoenix came to pick me up, and we all went out for Ethiopian food. That beer, whatever it was, was one of the best tasting drinks I've ever had.

The jet lag, combined with the warm Phoenix air and the fantastic food made me supremely tired, but I still had to return back to the airport to pick up my rental car.

Not tired enough to accept a ratty 2013 Hyundai with 47,000 miles on it.

Of course the Chevy was an "upgrade" for some weird reason, but it only had 17k on the odometer and was a hatchback, far more preferable than the sedan. So I splurged, and set off to find my Airbnb that I was staying at with Steph. A short while later I was showered and in bed, thankful to finally be resting.

Monday, March 16, 2015

March 16th: LaBelle > Ft. Myers > LaBelle

Today started off just like yesterday, however the intention was to have an earlier start. I was in dire need of a haircut, so I ventured to downtown LaBelle.

Having spent almost six years in Florida for grad school, I have a soft spot for the deep-southern parts of Florida. LaBelle was exactly that. 

With the large shaded streets, it made me miss living here.

LaBelle is situated on the Caloosahatchee River, and it has a tiny marina, and a draw bridge to allow for pleasure craft to transit the river. It connects the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okechobee, and amazingly enough it is a tidal river!

I ended up very lucky - the barber shop was right next door to a coffee shop. After my trim, I sat down for an hour or so for some unsweet ice tea and a little time to myself. 

One of the reviews for the coffee shop said it was reminiscent of those that you would find in the Northeast, and I would have to agree. 

I have to admit it does feel a lot better. Especially in the heat. Today we were headed to the Edison-Ford Winter Estates in Ft. Myers, someplace that I've driven past many times, but never had the opportunity to visit. 

While walking to the main entrance, I happened to spot this:

Anyone familiar with Rhode Island will know instantly why this is so peculiar. No one from RI ever seems to leave the state, so finding one 1500 miles away was quite a shock! 

The Edison-Ford Winter Estates were exactly that - retreats for Thomas Edison and later Henry Ford. A far cry from the harsh winters that they would experience in the North, Edison was first to winter here, and later on when Henry and Thomas became close, he purchased the properly directly next to Edison. It seems like the houses (at least Fords) were seldom used.

Ford's house was simple, relatively small and had the design on the inside that suits my tastes perfectly. 

Edison was big on botanical science, so the vegetation around the estates was impressive and varied. There were several huge fig trees, with roots that jutted 4 feet into the air.

A nice palm-lined pathway from the Ford house right down to the bay.

Edison's house was furnished just as simply, but it didn't quite have that craftsman-bungalow style that I favor. 

It did boast however one of the most impressive porches that I've ever seen, a porch that I wish I could just sit and relax on.

The wisteria was also beautiful.

This is Edison's Moonlight Garden behind his study. I can picture it at night, and I bet it's just serene and beautiful. 

After the Ford-Edison Winter Estates, I was determined to find some real gulf seafood. Since I was driving, I just headed south, knowing that I would eventually find a place situated along the water. Regardless of how tacky it was, they were going to have fresh seafood. And lucky enough, I found exactly that, and had some amazing grilled grouper, one of my favorite fishes.

After sitting in traffic for what felt like forever (but wasn't really all that bad), we stopped at another deep south stalwart, Publix.

Dinner, food, two beers and a glass of wine later, it was time for bed. Tomorrow was going to be another long day, especially since I was flying out to Phoenix for part two of my trip.