Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Goodbye Arizona, Hello Texas

At Quiet Texas RV Park, Hondo, Texas...

After a such long sleep in Prescott Valley, Phannie's Caterpillar diesel engine came quickly to life on the cool morning of our departure for Texas. I don't know why the eagerness of the engine surprises me slightly, for it has been quick to fire up every time for a thousand starts during our ten years and 100,000 miles together. I get the feeling Phannie tires of long downtimes; she seems more than ready to get on the road!

 After maybe five revolutions, the engine starts and settles immediately into 700 RPMs, barely audible 40 feet behind me. Due to the lack of engine noise, I sometimes have to check the engine gauges and the absence of warning lights to confirm a successful start. More than once, I have, absent-mindedly, attempted to start the already-running engine after leaving the coach briefly, forgetting that I left it on.

After hooking up Mae, we turned eastbound out of the beautiful but lifeless campground, still having met none of the hunkered-down employees or guests in person. A few days later, we received an email from some disembodied person, thanking us for our stay.  The absence of the human element in all this was still unnerving, to a degree. What an isolation it was--more than six weeks in this local area that had few cases of the virus and no deaths, yet one would get the impression that a nuclear blast had occurred and everything in the park was radioactive. Such is the power of today's media and the fear that it is capable of provoking. 

Nevertheless, we are definitely in the vulnerable age group, so we have decided to avoid larger cities for a while and stay away from crowds at all costs. It occurs to us that traveling by RV is probably as safe as you can get--self contained as we are. It wasn't long until we sadly left the Arizona mountains behind as we slowly descended into the flatlands of New Mexico and the rising outside temperature.

After a brief overnight in Clovis, New Mexico, our first stop in Texas was in tiny Lockney, to visit longtime friends Bubba and LouAnn, as well as two of their daughters, their son-in-law and three grandsons. It was a great visit, and we were treated royally. It was so good actually to interact with people again--especially these good friends. Naturally, I forgot to take photos but, in my defense, I was out of practice since we hadn't been around people for so long! We also didn't pay any attention to social distancing; cases of the virus are almost unknown in these remote areas of the Texas panhandle. 

Our next stop was in equally tiny Spur, Texas, where we had a nice visit with Sandy's brother, Rick, and his wife, C. J.  Since they had recently relocated here in west Texas from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we were eager to see their new manufactured home of the brand we may be considering when we exit fulltiming. You may be aware that Spur is a community known for welcoming tiny homes, offering inexpensive land and all the amenities of modern utilities. You couldn't really call Rick's and CJ's home a tiny home, though, as it occupies almost 900 square feet.  Here's a photo:

"Manufactured" housing almost always leaves the impression of a mobile home or park model on wheels, but that's not what this is. It has no wheels, but it arrives by truck from the factory and is set on a foundation that is installed beforehand to fit the structure. Rick and C. J. added a garage and a storage building. It has all the amenities found in a site-built home only, in our opinion, it is even better in many ways--for example, with foam insulation completely encapsulating it. The finish work is beautiful inside and outside, and we couldn't tell the difference from a site-built home.

There are several models of these offered and customizable at Leland's Cabins, built near the Dallas/Fort Worth area. We were so impressed that we have looked into the company ourselves. We are so done with the big houses we've owned in the past with all their upkeep and expense, and this might be an answer for us. The older we get and the more physical challenges we have, the more certain we are that we have more fulltiming days behind us than ahead of us.

Rick and C. J. gave us a nice tour of their town and the surrounding area, and I must mention their passion for photography, especially that of west Texas scenery. Having worked in the tech area and in education for many years, they are now free to pursue their talent for photography--even turning it into a side business, Texas Big Sky Photography. 

I thought I would include just a few of their west Texas photos here; there are many, many more available--scenes of Texas and other locations--on their website. It takes a degree of artistry to see through a camera lens certain things of beauty that may not be evident to many. These images were taken in Spur and nearby areas in west Texas and treat the viewer to the concept that those things that appear old and worn--even small, sleepy towns themselves--can be charming and beautiful, especially considering the stories of the past they could tell if they could only speak. In these cases, they are speaking through the artistry of the photographer:

I confess to being guilty myself of seeing things superficially and failing to behold the beauty and the essence thereof. I have taken hundreds of photos that appear in this blog, and I have to confess that the really good ones are mostly accidental. Not so with these.

Having had a great visit with Rick and C. J., we left for the San Antonio area, where we will find another small town to stay safely away from the masses of humanity and enjoy the feeling among the townfolk that life goes on as it always has. We are looking forward to remembering Covid-19 as a bitter episode in history after it is vanquished. We will also be more keenly disposed to appreciating life and looking for the hidden beauty in things that may not be evident at first glance.

Thank you, family and friends, for treating us so well.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Places We Would Revisit

At Orchard Valley RV Park, Prescott Valley, Arizona...

As we approach the end of our lockdown here in Arizona, I figure it's time to send out another update. Being able to include something interesting is a bit of a challenge, since nothing very compelling has been going on here. In 15 years of RVing, we have never before had the experience of having no significant interaction with RV neighbors in nearly two months. I guess the virus has everyone spooked, although I don't think anyone else has checked into the infection statistics in our location. In the zip codes covering the towns of Dewey and Prescott Valley that border our park, there have been fewer than 10 Covid cases and no deaths. That makes for astronomical odds against running into anyone who is contagious, but such facts don't seem to make much difference when there's nothing but 24-hour doom on the TV. It's pretty sad.

One thing to which we've become accustomed is cooking in Phannie. In all this time, we've had only three takeout meals. All the rest have been cooked in the coach by me, since Sandy is still waiting on the orthotics that, hopefully, will relieve some of her arthritic foot pain that she has when she's on her feet.  We have two meals a day--brunch and supper--and you certainly couldn't call any of them gourmet or even mildly complicated, for that matter. Although my grub is simple southern cooking, we have a surprising variety of dishes that I found I could cook, and, since I also wash the dishes to keep Sandy off her feet, I don't get any complaints from her. The only thing I don't cook is cornbread and baked goods like cookies, cakes and pies. I would never try to compete with her on such things, and I don't particularly enjoy baking stuff. Besides, we definitely should not be eating these sorts of things so, although I miss these goodies, it's much better that they aren't available. I will admit that I've talked Sandy into fixing cornbread a couple of times; I help as much as I can, so she can stay off her feet as much as possible. 

The Arizona governor still has the whole state closed down, which I think is ridiculous for rural areas like this. I don't know why it has to be a one-size-fits-all situation but, since we're not Arizonans, we really don't have any say in the matter--just an opinion.

Now, let's get to the real topic of this piece--places we've been that we would definitely revisit.  Most of these have been in the western U. S.--probably because of the scenery and open spaces. 

Number one would probably be the Grand Canyon. We never get tired of the wonders of this immense place:

Then, of course, we would have to go back to Glacier National Park, as we only saw half of it when we were there, due to forest fires at the time:

We need to go back to Yellowstone, all of which we still haven't seen because the park is so large:

Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. We're hoping to go back here and to Yellowstone this summer, if things work out:

Monument Valley. Who could get tired of these vistas?

Moab Area: Arches and Canyonlands N.P.s:

Big Bend Area:

Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg and the Smokies:

Arizona. We didn't get to see everything here we wanted to visit this winter because of the pandemic. We definitely must return and do this.

The Oregon Coast and the Pacific Northwest:

The Gulf Coast:




As I'm writing this, I am overwhelmed by all of this beloved country and Europe that we have seen--some of which occurred before digital photography was in use, and I haven't digitized those photos! I simply cannot include all of the places we would like to revisit. But I find that I'm getting ahead of myself, because there are still so many places we haven't seen yet!  

God willing, this plague will go away and we can get busy again!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Surreal Existence

At Orchard Ranch RV Park, Dewey, Arizona...

It seems like a bad dream from which we will eventually awake. It has been almost a month since we arrived here, unceremoniously and almost unseen, at this park not far from Prescott, Arizona. Oh, I suppose Phannie was visible outside by whoever was in the office, as the bulk of a motorhome pulling a car is sort of hard to miss. However, almost everything related our visit here has been done via cell phone, from making the reservation to paying our fees. The only personal contact we have had with a park employee was when we arrived a month ago. As instructed then, we called when we were a few minutes from the facility and, upon parking, an older gentleman in a golf cart suddenly appeared, seemingly from nowhere, at Phannie's open door and handed us a clipboard, smiling politely as he stood at the bottom of the stairs. 

"Sign the first page and give it back, please; keep everything underneath." 

The 'underneath' was the customary park information package you get at every park check-in. 

"You're in space number 16," he said; "I'll lead you to it." 

I followed him closely, and, after driving through our site to identify it for us, he sped away, not to be seen again. The whole place is well-manicured, but silent and lifeless. Although the office is occupied by an unknown person who can be seen moving around inside, no admittance is allowed by the guests, and the the large  event center nearby stands empty and locked. 

Park Office Closed

Event Center Closed
The laundry and mail rooms are open, and there are courts for shuffleboard and boccie ball, as well as a putting green and swimming pool, but they are all eerily vacant. The whole place  seems abandoned, although nicely maintained, as if everyone has just left for the day.    

In the parking space beside us, there is a Thor motorhome about the same size as Phannie; on the other side are several empty sites.  There are RVs parked across the street in front of us and in back, as well. The RV park is about 2/3 full, I would estimate. The only time we have conversed with any other person since we arrived was when the driver of the Thor and I happened by chance to be outside our respective coaches at the same time. I greeted him, as I am accustomed to doing, but he was obviously not interested in a conversation, as he quickly went back inside. We still know nothing about each other, for they are rarely seen outside their rig. When the weather is nice, we sit outside on our patio, enjoying the quietness and fresh air.

Although there are several empty spaces in the RV park, we have  seen few arrivals or departures. We rarely see anyone outside their rigs, and when someone does pass by while dog-walking, all we get from them is the return of our wave and, sometimes a returned greeting.  No one stops to chat, even from a safe distance.

In 15 years of RVing, it is completely unprecedented that we could spend nearly a month at a very nice RV park, having virtually no meaningful contact with anyone. This park is part of a much larger complex of perhaps two hundred homes occupied by older residents, as it is a 55+ community. We've driven around the neighborhoods, but we've seen no one outside.  If it weren't for the sight of an occasional auto or golf cart, one would think the place is totally deserted. The streets all look like this:

A new section of modular homes had been under construction just north of the older complex like the one in the above photo, but work on that has now ceased, with houses in various stages of completion. It is always eerily quiet everywhere, with only the occasional garbage truck or delivery van to break the silence and to occupy for a moment the empty interior roads.

It seems the ultimate irony that the residents here seem to be practicing social distancing with such completeness in a place so utterly unlikely to harbor a wandering virus. The Covid-19 cases in the this entire Arizona county appears to have leveled off at 63, yet everyone here at this development seems paralyzed with fear.  No one seems to comprehend how unlikely it would be for anyone, even in a crowd, to be infected in this remote area with such a low incidence of illness. A quick calculation reveals that, in this entire county, a person would have only one chance in 4,000 of encountering anyone known to have the virus. The chances are actually much lower than that, for those with the virus would, presumably, be quarantined. 

While I'm certainly not advocating social gatherings yet, I think all this cowering in total isolation indicates that fear has replaced common sense here in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. If there were ever a place where opening the economy could begin with little danger to the public, it would appear to be in this area and other similarly remote locations.

Besides our puzzlement over their behavior, the absence of interaction with our neighbors has had little effect on us or the routine we have developed, which is sloth-like, compared to normal times. We do just fine being with each other, but we are also social people, and we do miss the interaction with others of our ilk. Meeting new people as we have traveled across the country has led to our finding some really great friends. 

Everything seems to be in slow motion now, and we try to spread out our tasks to perhaps one a day--two at most.  Sandy gamely tends to her household routine until her bum foot becomes too painful, then she has to elevate it for a while. (We're still waiting for the arrival of the new orthotics.) I've completed a few projects needed for Phannie, including replacing the Onan genset's exhaust tip that apparently fell off on the way here from Tucson. I also ran the engine and genset for about an hour to exercise them, taking the opportunity to move the coach a few feet forward for better satellite reception. A limb near the dish has begun to leaf out, and it was interfering slightly with the signal reception. I also cleaned out the lint from the clothes dryer exhaust hose and resealed the outside dryer exhaust vent. Then there are always small chores like replacing bulbs and changing batteries in various gadgets. I see that the refrigerator water filter light is on, so I suppose that will be the next task to be completed. Besides TV-watching and reading, we spend a good deal of time online, taking care of personal business but, mostly, interacting with our friends and family on social media--something that certainly has blossomed during the shutdown. 

We make an occasional trip to the grocery store or drugstore--a welcome diversion, since Sandy can't walk very far around the park right now.  The nearest town of any size, Prescott Valley, is about 10 minutes away but, in terms of activity, it is a different world compared to our RV park. Even with many of the stores closed, there is plenty of activity and lots of traffic on the streets. The restaurant takeout windows are always busy, and we see a steady stream of people going in and out of the stores that are open. Few of the people we've seen here were wearing masks or gloves, irrespective of their ages. Do you suppose they also have figured out the huge odds against encountering the virus in this area? Are they daring, reckless or clueless? Who knows?

I couldn't help but compare the difference between teeming Prescott Valley and the virtual ghost town that is our RV park/retirement development. I feel sorry that the fear among these senior citizens is so intense that they mostly imprison themselves, even from stepping outside for a walk. Here's the way the roads look at the front and rear of Phannie's parking spot:

Nope, not a soul visible, and it's like this 99 percent of the time.

I suppose that, considering the 24/7 TV bombardment about the horrors of the heavily-affected areas and the warnings about the vulnerability of the elderly, it is a little easier to understand their phobia. I can't imagine what it will take for them to return to some kind of normalcy.

Since we've nowhere to go (we're paid up through the first week of May), we've never done so much cooking in Phannie as we have in the last month. We have a new Ninja Foodie Grill that I really like. It has been fun getting familiar with it and, so far, we've at least been able to eat the experimental dishes, some of which have been quite good.  Staying put has also cut our outlay for eating out by hundreds of dollars, but we do miss that part of our entertainment.

We also miss personal visits with family and friends, and we are very sensitive to the the terrible toll this virus has taken on the country and its citizens. So far, we don't know anyone who has been infected, but we pray that all our relatives, friends and those who read this stay well.

It seems pretty clear on both sides of the political spectrum that China has played a nefarious role in the spread of this plague and that our country has become far too dependent upon them in many ways. I, for one, will be more diligent in limiting my purchases of goods that I can identify as having Chinese origin.

I'll leave you with one more photo that I forgot to include when we were roaming around Prescott before the shutdown:

There is a bronze foundry here in Prescott, and the city commissioned local artist Bill Nebeker to do this wonderful sculpture. The foundry fabricated it to a large scale for outdoor use, and it was placed in the center of a traffic roundabout. It shows a cowboy trying to rope a calf while it runs under the horse, causing the horse to stumble and the cowboy to lose his hat. While I'm usually not a huge sculpture aficionado, I really like this one.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Monday, March 30, 2020

Thankful to be Here

At Orchard Ranch RV Resort, Prescott Valley, Arizona...

Things are very quiet here in the rural area where we're parked between the small towns of Prescott Valley and Dewey, Arizona.

There's been a small uptick to 15 known virus cases here in Yavapai County, with about 1,100 in the entire state of Arizona and, unfortunately, 20 deaths, statewide. Thankfully, the risk is low around here, but we still try to take the prescribed precautions. We've washed our hands as never before, and we're very mindful of what we touch outside Phannie, making sure to sanitize afterward. The thing we're having difficulty learning is to avoid touching our faces with our hands. Never before had we noticed how many times we touch our faces every day and, even as I write this, I find that I mindlessly reach up to adjust my glasses or scratch an itch or something on my face. It's maddening to try and break that habit.

All of the social gathering places in the park are closed, and we rarely see another guest outdoors. Our daily routines are becoming fairly predictable:  We sleep late (nothing new about that), then Sandy gets up to start her iced tea IV drip (if you know her, you'll understand). Shortly afterward, I stumble into the kitchen and figure out what I'll fix for brunch.  We eat only two meals a day--brunch and dinner.  For years, I have done the meal cooking and Sandy does the baking. It works perfectly, because I enjoy cooking entrees but not baking, and she enjoys baking (at which she's very good) but not cooking entrees.  However, she doesn't get to use her baking talents much these days, because we have tried very hard to limit carbs in the last few years. That's helped me lose 53 pounds since retiring, but we've sorta plateaued now that our outside activities have been curtailed--mostly by the social vacuum and Sandy's foot problems.  

She's seen yet a third podiatrist in nearby Prescott Valley; he is changing the orthotics she received from the previous Tucson doctor (who made things worse at a cost of $600) and advised that the orthotics he would be using would be much more appropriate for her condition (we'll see). He also said that surgery may be the last resort, but warned her that it may have only a 50-50 chance of success, in his opinion, because she has already had bunion surgery in the past. We'll see what our doctors in Houston have to say--if we ever get back there.  She mainly just toughs it out, walking with a temporary orthotic from the new doctor. It seems to help, so we're encouraged that he may know what he's doing.  She doesn't complain, however--unlike me, who would do much more whining if I were the one with her problem.

In the afternoons, we generally watch television or spend time on the computer conducting our personal business or keeping up with family and friends.  Thank God for modern technology! We have kept Phannie updated with the latest in satellite and unlimited wi-fi streaming capability on all the major cellular networks, so we are completely independent of any park resources for TV and wi-fi, which is a good thing, as the wi-fi in most parks is terrible.

Dinners are usually light and simple. We have no problem with leftovers, which we often have on hand, as it's not all that easy to cook for just two people.  This has been a huge change for us, as we have had a habit of eating out for the evening meal, usually trying new restaurants that we hear or read about as being good ones.  This has come to a crashing halt with the closing of inside dining, as we almost never do takeout.  We don't like eating in the car, and takeout food has usually deteriorated in some way in the time it takes to get back to Phannie.  Today's menu was a scrambled egg and sausage sandwich for brunch, and dinner tonight will be leftover beef stew and some sauteed fresh vegetables. I would like to say there would be a piece of one of Sandy's wonderful pies, but that would be like giving drugs to a recovering addict--not a good idea.

Thanks to technology, we're able to keep up with the kids, relatives and friends--sometimes by Facetime, and that helps a lot. It has been hard not to be around the grandsons as they grow like weeds. Here's their latest photo:

L to R:  Pryce (6) Sutton (11 months) and Mason (10)
On some days, we drive around the local area, so we'll know our temporary home better. There are some very unusual and picturesque granite rock outcrops around Prescott that we find fascinating. You can barely see Sandy standing in the shadows at the base of some of these rocks:

Here's another photo of the rocks along Highway 89 northbound from Prescott. The mountains in the far distance are 7-8000 feet, near Williams, Arizona:

Beautiful Watson Lake, just north of Prescott, is nestled in the rocky area:

According to geological sources, this collection of granite rocks is known as the "Dells" and consist of very old granite that has been exposed and weathered over time into spheroid shapes. The rocks are unusually high in uranium levels, necessitating periodic radon testing of houses built nearby. All we know is that they're very scenic, and we enjoy driving through the area.

We'll try to get some photos of the town of Prescott the next time we take an excursion. Life, for us, is moving very slowly now, in this unusual time for our country; it's almost as though everything is happening in slow motion. For us, a day's activity may consist of just one chore or maybe a trip to the grocery or drug store. We feel especially bad for those who are sick and those who have lost their jobs, and we pray things will return to normal sooner rather than later.  Until then, we'll keep you updated from time to time.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw
"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Settled In 'Til The Storm Passes By

At Orchard Valley RV Park, Prescott, Arizona...

Well, we didn't see this one coming. I am reminded of the old Yiddish proverb, "We make plans, God laughs." And so it was; we had made extensive plans for the next six months or so--perhaps more than at any other time during our travels. We have made appointments and reservations months in advance...and now this.

It was a conversation with my old hometown friend John that gave me the idea to change our route back to Texas and detour through Prescott, Arizona. We thought it would have warmed up by late March, and there are so many beautiful places nearby. However, we got here just as the world was shutting down, so here we'll stay, I suppose, until the storm passes by. 

There are worse places to be. We secured a space at this very nice 55+ park in nearby Prescott Valley. It is a combination of an RV park and modular home neighborhoods--a very quiet place with no children around to spread germs to us older folks:

Yavapai county had the added benefit of having no reported cases of the Coronavirus, but that didn't keep the inhabitants and staff of the park almost totally out of sight. Only occasionally would we see another person outside or at the office, which is closed to all except staff. As of this writing, we haven't met a single person here, even at check-in, which was done over the phone when we arrived, including the payment of our rental fee. It was a surreal situation, revealing the paralyzing fear of so many in perhaps one of the safest places in Arizona, if not the nation. There's no virus here to catch, folks, at least for now. Good grief!

This "social-distancing" taken to the extreme did not deter us from going into town almost daily to take care of errands and get groceries. Our on-board provisions were not very robust, given our usual daily entertainment of trying new restaurants wherever we are. We found the grocery stores to be very busy, and success in finding things we wanted usually required visits to more than one store. There were a number of empty shelves in all the stores, but we finally found almost everything we needed. We gave up on finding toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizers, but we really didn't need them, as we had luckily stocked up on these recently. 

We were able to try one Thai restaurant before indoor dining was shut down, and it was perhaps the best Thai food we have ever eaten. I was so surprised at the good food that I forgot the name of the restaurant, but we will certainly patronize it again and put it on our list. I hope they are still in business when this virus hysteria is over.

After a down day for bad weather, we awakened to a rather substantial snowfall! How ironic this was, as our whole reason for going to Arizona and southern California for the winter was to get away from cold weather. Following is a photo of the sight we saw driving into town that day:

This should be expected, of course, since Prescott is about the same elevation as Denver, and the high country is more subject to snowfall. Even so, Sandy and I looked at each other and marveled at how our plans and circumstances had changed so quickly and unexpectedly in the space of perhaps three days. Never in our wildest dreams would we have imagined going to Arizona for the winter and finding ourselves in a snowstorm.

Speaking of Sandy, the orthotics have not helped her foot at all, so we've made an appointment with a local podiatrist to get a third opinion. We now have no idea when we will be able to return to Houston and the medical teams whom we trust.

On the fourth day here, the weather improved greatly, so we went on a short sightseeing venture. This is a very picturesque town with an old west flavor and lots of granite rocks strewn around:

We didn't have very good light on this day for photos, so we'll be including more in future posts, since it looks like we'll be here for a while.

The virus plague, even though it hasn't visited Prescott yet, has caused all the restaurants to close their dining rooms out of fear, offering takeout food only. this puts a real crimp in our restaurant foodie habit, as we really don't care much for takeout grub. As a result, we're having to get back into the habit of (gasp) cooking again. After a light lunch of a couple of hot dogs, I fixed a respectable hearty vegetable soup, and Sandy cooked a skillet of her famous cornbread for dinner. 

Oh my, this isn't going to be so bad, after all!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood

Friday, March 13, 2020

Saguaro National Park and We Meet Fellow Bloggers!

At LazyDays RV Resort, Tucson, Arizona...

While waiting for the orthotic inserts for Sandy's boot and shoes to be fabricated and sent to us, we decided to take a ride out to the Saguaro National Park, about 15 miles west of Tucson. We're usually pretty happy to hang out out our RV park because of how nice it is, especially for a KOA, but this was such a nice day, we just had to do some sightseeing: 

Sometimes we have raised eyebrows about KOA parks, as many are old, run-down and expensive for what you get. This one is anything but that. It is beautiful, expertly managed, with each site having gravel for the RV, asphalt for the accompanying vehicle and a concrete patio with table and chairs. Most sites have fruit trees from which you're invited to pick. 

You barely get your trash set out any time of day before it's picked up, and you won't find a weed anywhere. Yes, it's a little pricey at about $60 a night, but life is short, so why not treat yourself once in a while?

Our trip out to Saguaro was in the usual format--Sandy in the back  seat with her bum foot elevated and my position in the front as chauffeur. It would have been fun to wear a chauffeur's cap, driving perhaps the world's only Honda CRV limousine.

The fairly new national park (designated as such in 1994) is relatively small, with a very nice visitor center looking out over what appeared to be a forest of saguaro cacti. For some reason, I neglected to take a photo of the visitor center itself which, while fairly small, seemed quite adequate for the number of visitors on this day. Inside was a theater with repeated showings of a video that stressed almost entirely the desert customs and culture among Native Americans, their connection with the saguaros being their belief that, since the Indians came from the earth at birth and returned to the earth at death, they are also part of the earth and, thusly, the saguaro itself, thereby necessitating the need to respect the earth, the saguaro and all things that come from the earth--or something like that. Well, okay, we get it, but so much time was spent with this mysticism, no time was left for imparting any knowledge about  saguaro itself--not even one fact.  It seems these are the times in which we live--cultural identity is cooler than the objects for which the park was named and which we came to see.

A very nice desert garden formed the front couple of acres of the visitor center, with concrete walkways throughout. Following are a few photos taken in the area. 

In this one, I liked the contrast between the saguaros and the eroded rock layers in a draw viewable from the visitor center:

The next photo shows the saguaros growing impressively from a rocky hill where there seems to be little soil for their stability and nourishment:

The desert marigolds were in full bloom, surrounding the cacti at the side of the road:

The following photo shows a Teddy Bear cholla, named for its seeming fuzzy cuddliness. That would be a mistake, as its thorns pull away easily and are painfully sharp:

I caught this view out the car window as we were driving back to Phannie. I never get tired of these beautiful vistas here in the Southwest. The beauty of the Sonoran Desert is simply amazing:

We returned to Phannie fairly early, as this was a pretty ambitious day for Sandy's foot. Besides that, she had to rest up for a much-anticipated visit with Cheri and Dean Peine, who happen to be in Tucson for a few days. We've been reading their blog, Travels with Bentley, for a long time, and we always like to add to our list of bloggers we've actually met in person:

We drove out to where their fiver, Bentley, was parked west of Tucson and chatted for a while before taking a small tour around the city. In easy, nonstop conversation, we learned more about each other, then set out in the car, heading first to Sentinel Mountain, for  a bird's-eye view of Tucson and its environs:

We then made a stop at Amy's Donuts, an offshoot of the famed and larger Amy's Donuts in Colorado Springs. Their claim to fame is an epic selection of donuts, the likes of which we've never seen before. Ever had an Elvis donut? We'll, you can get one at Amy's.

Dean and Cheri had never experienced Amy's before, so we all went in and bought a few goodies. Then, returning the favor of a foodie find, they informed us of one of their own favorite carb hangouts, Breadsmith, which just happens to have a store here in Tucson. Armed with this information, I told Siri to take us there at once!  It was late in the day, and they were sold out of most items, but not sold out enough for us all to get some really tasty bread:

Okay, I can just sense you out there, getting all judgmental and wagging your fingers! Well, I'll have you know that these loaves of bread are chock full of whole grains, fruit and nuts, so there's not much room left for carbs, right?  Besides, we need to get stocked up for the coming Corona virus famine!  And, just so you'll know, we didn't contribute to the toilet paper shortage; we're pretty well stocked up on that. (Don't get me started on this stupidity.)

After scoring all this "health food" from Breadsmith's, we had Siri take us to El Torero, a Mexican restaurant supposedly run by a talented and innovative chef who is part of another family restaurant dynasty here in Tucson. 

So, here we went again, taking our new friends to an untried Mexican restaurant--shades of our treatment of Doug and Michelle; you'd think we would have learned by now. However, I thought I had an ace in the hole on this one. I was doing some clothes shopping the day before, and I asked the clerk--a Tucson native named Mark, who seemed pretty sharp--for his opinion of the best Mexican restaurants in town. He put his fingers to his chin and thought a moment before giving me a list of four--of which El Torero was near the top. As good-naturedly as possible, I thanked him but left him with the understanding that there could be consequences if he guided me wrong. 

"Don't make me come back here to return these clothes," I said. "I'm counting on you, Mark, and my reputation is at stake." I was trash-talking him, of course, but I noticed he wasn't smiling any longer. After leaving, I pulled up Yelp and checked out El Torero, finding that it has great reviews, so I was a little more comfortable. Dean and Cheri agreed to join us as guinea pigs, so off we went. 

I began to get nervous as we turned down the street in a questionable part of town where the restaurant was located. It took a while to spot the small pink facade that was almost hidden from view across a small dirt parking lot. I winced and thought back to my conversation with Mark, the store clerk who recommended this place. I convinced myself that a jury would side with me, once they heard my story.

I parked Mae and turned to the other guinea pigs. "Are we up for it?"

I saw their eyes darting from side to side, clearly nervous but not wanting to offend. They replied with a surprising bit of gusto: "We can do this!"

Buoyed by their response, I turned off the engine and said a little prayer as we made our way across the parking lot to the front door. Once inside, the restaurant was larger than expected, but there was only one table occupied!  

"Sit anywhere," said a smiling waitress. 

"No kidding," I thought. I was beset with a feeling of doom, as I remembered the fairly busy restaurant where we had taken Doug and Michelle for their debacle--and there were many fewer patrons here at this place. This couldn't be good, I thought.

A perky blonde waitress came over and, in chatting us up, asked us from where we hailed and then, learning we were from Texas,  revealed that she, too, was from Texas and claimed to have recognized instantly my accent. (For the record, Texans have a right to have a unique accent, as we were once our own country for nearly ten years. A lot of us would like to go back to that status, but we wouldn't include Austin, which has been ruined by too much immigration from the left coast. We would carve it out and let it be its own country, named Austifornia. After it collapses, we'll just invade and take it over again.)  But I digress.

The menu was huge and included names of dishes I had never heard before, but the descriptions sounded good. As it turned out, the food was delicious and plentiful, and the enchiladas they served may have been the best I've ever eaten. They served something called a green tamale that was uniquely tasty. They also had a house hot sauce (not salsa, but sauce in a bottle), that was so good I could have drunk it, except I was worried that it might be fatal to do so. In fact, I bought a ridiculously high-priced bottle to take home with me:

Now before you get all judgmental again about our foodie extravagances, you should know I have few, if any, costly hobbies or vices. (Well, flying airplanes isn't exactly cheap, but I don't do that too often.) Sandy has become pretty economical too, now that her shopping has been curtailed by the limited space available in Phannie. Nowadays, if she has plenty of iced tea and doesn't have to cook, she's relatively happy (therefore, so am I). 

So, in the whole scheme of things, my designer hot sauce is a pretty cheap high. I don't even want to know what's in this stuff; I hope it's not something illegal.

It wasn't too long before the restaurant began to fill up, thankfully. We all agreed that the visit to El Torero was a success, and we had a great deal of fun during the meal. Oh yes, and Mark, the guy who recommended the place, is off the hook.

After we took them home, we bade Dean and Cheri goodbye, grateful to have turned these cyber friends into real ones. Godspeed, y'all! Hope to see you again soon.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
 ---George Bernard Shaw

"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood