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Desert ghost town and an oasis at the Desert Willow Resort

I filled up the tank and shook the dust off my sandals as I left Mesquite this morning. I’ve rolled up my jeans and packed them away — it’s shorts and sandals from here on.

I decided to take a small detour from Google Maps’ suggested route to Palm Desert — after many trips near here today I would finally visit the ghost town (and tourist trap) of Calico. One of the first record albums I bought was a double album by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, a ‘concept album’, written by Michael Martin Murphey, released in 1972 (when I was in grade ten). ‘The Ballad of Calico’ included a booklet with pictures of the singers in period costumes, pictures of the town, and the lyrics written in long-hand on ‘tea-stained’ sepia pages. Marvellous! I spent hours studying the booklet as I listened to the songs — and (like the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack album) I still know the words to all the songs by heart. The album is no longer in print, but many years ago I digitized my nearly worn-out old record and enjoy listening to it still, in spite of the loud pops and scratches that don’t match up with the rhythm of the tunes.

So after a few hours on the I-15, right through the middle of Las Vegas (enough with the casinos already!) and across the state line into California, I turned off the interstate at the little town of Yermo and followed a short winding road up to the ghost town of Calico. I paid eight dollars to park my car in the huge but nearly empty parking lot and trudged up the old main street. Yep, there they were — all the names and places I had come to know from listening to the album: the post office, the saloon, the shops, the school house, the trail leading up to the entrance to the silver mine. A couple of big tour buses coming from L.A., heading to Las Vegas, made a stop here, the halfway point on their trip. I don’t think any of French tourists that had joined me on my pilgrimage knew anything at all about the great Kenny Rogers album that had so inspired me. Same with the Japanese couples with their selfie sticks posing in front of the old stage coach. But for me, after numerous road trips where I had passed by not far from this place without making the stop, after 45 years of listening to and living these stories, it was a highlight. 

Back on the road I soon turned off the Mojave highway, and took the 247 down past the Joshua Tree National Park. That took me through a long blustery sandstorm of a drive through a big valley spotted with little ‘communities’ of ‘off-the-grid’ hobos and hippies, before I turned east on the I-10 and reached my destination — the lush irrigated oasis that is Palm Desert. 

As I arrived in Palm Desert, my ultimate destination, the brakes on my van were making a very loud shrieking noise as I slowed down for each traffic light. It hadn’t been a problem when I was flying down the highway, but it sure would need to get repaired if I was going to drive around here in this hoity-toity town of BMWs and Porsches. I found the Westin Desert Willow Villas where my friend Darrel had provided a stay for me for two nights. I checked in. When I got to my room I discovered that the room hadn’t been made up. I sent Darrel a text. His brand new condo was not far the villa. Reg and Bob had flown in earlier in the day and the three of them had just finished lunch. Darrel offered to come pick me up, but first I needed to contact housekeeping and get my room cleaned. When I talked to the maid she came right away and started cleaning. No chance for me to quickly shower first, so I decided to find a grocery store and buy a couple of things, including some wine for tonight’s supper at Darrel’s. When I returned the maid was just finishing up. I unpacked, hung up my clothes, and showered. Then I sent Darrel a text that I was ready for happy hour. He was right over in his golf cart to pick me up.

Robert Dyck was there now too — the five of us were going to have supper at the condo. I had a tour of Darrel’s magnificent home and then we sat out on the outdoor ‘veranda’ overlooking the Firecliff golf course for drinks and visiting until it was time for dinner. We had a delicious meal (steaks grilled on Darrel’s new electric barbecue) and watched the Jets game on the big outdoor TV.

Everyone was tired — it had been a long day for Bob and Reg who had gotten up early to catch the plane here from Winnipeg, and had lost 2 hours due to the time change to boot. And we had a 6:40 tee time booked for tomorrow morning. Early to bed, early to rise. Robert gave me a ride back to my villa (and stopped by for another little nightcap) before heading back to the RV campground where he’s been parked for the past number of weeks. I don’t think my head was on the pillow for more than a minute or two before I was fast asleep. 

Humming through my favourite state in the union

There is nothing better than a LONG drive on the American freeway system. For the third day in a row, I was up early, cruising at a ridiculous 85 miles-per-hour, doing my best to keep up with all the truckers I was sharing the road with. With wind, and often downhill! Eighty-five miles per hour and still the ‘ECO’ light regularly lit up on my dashboard — ‘ECO’ means the engine shuts down 3 of the 6 cylinders so it SAVES ON FUEL. Crazy!

Near Heber City, Utah

Today would be a shorter day. I could have made the trip from home to Palm Desert in three long days of driving, but I had decided to do it in four (just in case of bad weather or poor road conditions or a breakdown of my old van). So today would be a six-hour driving day, only 400 miles. And another glorious day it was. Mostly sunny skies. Mostly downhill. Amazing scenery from the minute I entered Utah. In Heber City the highway took me right through the centre of town. I spotted a car wash and made a quick pit stop to wash the brown Wyoming silt off of my van. A shiny clean vehicle is as invigorating and refreshing as washing your hair and brushing your teeth in the morning.

I was on the I-15 all day today. A great road and beautiful day in what I consider the prettiest state in the US. Utah has five national parks — I don’t think I’ve been in all five, but wow! the ones I have visited…

Of course, my photos don’t do justice to what I actually saw — they never do. (And they are taken through my windshield as I’m screaming down the highway at more than 85 mph.)

With wind and downhill! Near Coalville, Utah.

I had to catch up on the US election results so I listened to a bit of Rush Limbaugh on the AM talk radio. Hmmm… That is POISON! No wonder America is divided. You’d never know that the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives from the way this right-wing hate-filled radio host described the outcome. Mom always said if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. If Rush followed Mom’s advice this would have been a very quiet morning. Well, I didn’t NEED to listen to it, so I didn’t. I switched back to my trusty old iPod, filled with songs from my iTunes library.I sang my heart out. What a random collection of fine music! Ella Fitzgerald singing a happy scat tune with the horn section blasting away, followed by the melancholy accordion-backed Mary Chapin Carpenter making you feel so good about being depressed! Neil Young, the Eagles, Kris Kristofferson, Linda Ronstadt, Van Morrison, John Prine, and even the odd Mozart and Gram Parsons in there, all mixed up together, side by side.  

And when I wasn’t singing, I was humming. I am ALWAYS humming. It used to drive Sue nuts. I don’t even notice it. I can’t help it. It’s a (bad) habit. And I’m usually ‘playing the drums’ on my my teeth — maybe that will end once my (newly installed) braces have kicked in and aligned the high-hat with the snare and moved the tom-toms where the top left molar can no longer reach them. Hey, what’s this? An old Delaney and Bonnie tune. I didn’t even know I had this. I must have recorded this off of one of my old records — it still has the clicks and pops of static in all the wrong places. But a great song! THAT’S why I like listening to this old iPod. That is just one more reason I love road trips.

I stopped in St George, the southern-most city in Utah, and a gorgeous city at that. I checked out a couple of hotels since I hadn’t booked anything — and I really SHOULD HAVE stayed there. But I’d seen billboards on the way in, advertising cheap hotel rooms and restaurants just across the border in Nevada. And that’s why I ended up in the Virgin River Hotel and Casino in Mesquite, Nevada. Oh boy! Won’t do that again. Sure, the room was clean and had everything I needed and only $27! But yuck! Mesquite’s only reason for being was casinos, and I find casinos very depressing. A big ‘factory’ to suck people into staying there and spending all their time and money in a giant arcade of losers. What a sad way to end a perfect day. I bought a pizza and ate it in my room while I watched TV.

Why oh why? Y-O-ming

I woke up at three and again at 5:30. When I went downstairs to enjoy the breakfast the kitchen was all dark. The guys at the front desk told me I had missed the Daylight Savings Time time change. No, I hadn’t. Okay then, how about the fact that I was in a new time zone. Oh! so it was really only 5 o’clock — still another hour until the breakfast bar opened. I took a cup of coffee up to my room and waited it out. Not that it was worth it!

I was going to take the ‘short cut’ by going through Lead and down through the Black Hills National Park, but after a couple of miles along that slippery foggy uphill road I gave up, turned around, and headed back up to the I-90 freeway through Spearfish. Good call. No issues on that road. At least no issues as far as road conditions.

I followed the I-90 into northeast Wyoming and down to Casper, where I once again took a two-lane road south to the next east-west freeway, the I-80. And once again, I had gas gauge drama. As I was driving my Garmin advised me that I would NOT make it to Rawlins, where there were many gas stations — but I would JUST make it to Muddy Gap, about 30 miles short of Rawlins, where there was ONE gas station. About 10 miles before reaching Muddy Gap the traffic in my lane came to a standstill. An LED road sign announced that both lanes up ahead were closed due to a major accident. We were stopped for only a few minutes before traffic began to move ahead, slowly. A pilot car was leading us along the left lane. Unfortunately for me, I could NOT continue in that procession as it past the accident scene — I was almost out of gas and had to turn off at the only gas station, just across from the intersection where a big Freightliner semi truck had demolished another vehicle. I filled in twenty bucks while the long procession of cars continued on past the plugged intersection. By the time I’d paid for my fuel the officials (and there were many of them) who were measuring and documenting the accident scene had once again stopped all traffic. I had to sit on the gas station driveway with about 10 other cars and wait until the next opportunity.

Accident scene at Muddy Gap, WY

For the next hour and a half no traffic moved. I had a ‘front-row’ scene from the gas station parking lot, but it wasn’t until I saw officials sweeping up debris and heading for their various vehicles and I decided to make a run for it around the taped off scene, that I saw the completely obliterated pieces of a white vehicle that had been crushed by the semi. Horrible. As I headed down the highway, passing MILES of stopped traffic in the opposing lane, I couldn’t help singing Bruce Cockburn’s “Tokyo” song: “Did you have to show me that accident scene / Didn’t I get enough shaking up?”

I pulled into another service station at Rawlins and filled up the tank and bought a burger for the road. I still had three-and-a-half hours of driving to reach the hotel I had booked in Evanston, Wyoming. At least the road was good, driving conditions were great. After two long days on the road, I was feeling great. It felt good to be driving — I should have been a truck driver. All day it was me and mostly truckers sharing these great American highways. And all day today I was ‘home on the range’ in Wyoming, where the deer were mostly lying dead along the side of the road, and the antelopes (pronghorns, actually) were hanging out in clusters in the open fields, their distinct white rumps making them easy to spot as I squinted into the setting sun.

I wanted to check in early today — it is the day of the mid-term elections in the US. I got to my hotel at around 6pm. The van was filthy. I filled it up and looked around for a car wash. Nope. I checked in and checked out the hotel TV. Hmmm.. lots of Fox News, and only static on the local CBS station. I guess I won’t be watching Colbert who’s supposed to be ‘broadcasting live’ the election results tonight.

I went for a fine supper at the steakhouse across the road from the Quality Inn. Then back to my room. I was now in Mountain Time Zone, so the eastern polls were already reporting results and Fox News (all that was on in the restaurant too!) was predicting results. Not a big surprise. It was interesting that Fox was declaring a ‘bigly’ win for the Republicans even though they lost control of the house. I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay awake to watch Colbert anyway — after two early morning starts and long days of driving I think I was asleep the minute my head hit the pillow.

On the road again

I’m heading down to Palm Desert, California. I’ve rented a friend’s condo in the Monterey Country Club until the end of November. I’m driving down in my van which is carrying a bicycle, 2 sets of golf clubs, a golf cart, a guitar, a small cooler, and a big suitcase. I’ve packed a lot of my Oak Leaf golf shirts, shorts, and sandals in that suitcase. And my trusty old (and it really IS getting old) MacBook Air. So I’m blogging again.

Monday morning, six o’clock. I gather up the garbage, turn off the hot water, lower the thermostat, and back out of the garage. On the road again. I drop the garbage bag off in a dumpster on my way out of town. It’s cold and dark.

Sunrise in Morris, MB

By the time I get past Morris the sun is coloring up the eastern sky. At the border crossing there is only one car ahead of me. Customs guy asks me all the usual questions and just like that I’m in America!

In Fargo I took a right turn and headed west on the I-94. Roads were fine, although the skies were cloudy all day and there were occasional sprinkles of rain — just enough to get the van dirty. I went through Jamestown and Bismarck and turned south in Dickinson, ND. Down a two-lane into South Dakota. The road started winding as I neared the Black Hills of South Dakota. I’d booked a hotel in Deadwood, a small tourist trap that I recalled fondly from 50 years ago when the Nikkel family went to the Black Hills. Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. Cowboys and saloons and shootouts.

near Newell, SD
near Newell, SD

Right now I was getting a bit antsy about getting there. My gas gauge was getting near empty and there sure weren’t any towns with gas stations on this road! I punched in gas stations on my trusty old Garmin. Nothing until the town of Belle Fourche. The Garmin was giving me MILES to go, while the Honda was showing me KILOMETRES left with the fuel I had. So I had to do a bit of math. Yikes! This was going to be close.

I pulled into the CENEX station with the dashboard alight with warning lights. It showed that I had 2 kilometres of fuel left. Whew! As I pulled out of town and drove the last 30 miles to Deadwood I realized how tense I had been. My shoulders were all hunched up and tight. It would be better NOT to try that again.

It was dark, wet, and cold by the time I pulled into the Comfort Inn & Suites in Deadwood. Wow! Not at all the town I had envisioned. Casinos everywhere. In fact, after checking into my room I headed out to look for a nice restaurant and couldn’t find any! ONLY casinos. I ended up eating at a Mexican restaurant inside one of those casinos — something I found very disappointing, even depressing. Casino towns are depressing. Poor losers sitting at VLTs, tapping away at big red buttons while their credit disappears. Sad.

But the room was nice and I was tired. I had a glass of merlot from the bottle I’d bought on my way into town. And went to sleep.

So tired of seeing that same first post on this page!

No, I’m not blogging again. But really, I was so tired of seeing an old post about going to Palm Desert here I just had to change it. So, today is Friday. It’s the second half of November and we still haven’t had snow. Crazy!

This afternoon Sue and I are going to Winnipeg — first to do a bit of shopping, and then we’re going to friends’ house for dinner.

And now it’s almost time to go. So, adios. We’re off to Winnipeg. How’s that for excitement!

Goodbye Steinbach, Hello Palm Desert

A long busy day of packing and saying goodbyes. The plan is to leave early tomorrow morning for Palm Desert. A long first day of driving.

Sue says goodbye to Max the afternoon before we leave for Palm Desert.
Sue says goodbye to Max the afternoon before we leave for Palm Desert.

We cleaned up the house — got rid of all the Christmas stuff. Sue did laundry, vacuumed, cleaned out the upstairs fridge. The kids came over with Max for a bit. We said goodbyes. We went to visit first Sue’s mom, then my parents, and said goodbye.

I’m looking forward to the next few months. I’m looking forward to warmer weather. I’m looking forward to golfing. I’m looking forward to hanging out with Sue full-time.

I’ll miss a lot of things about home too. I’ll especially miss my family, and my little grandson. But I hope that we will be able to Skype regularly and that our kids can come visit us this winter. I’m looking forward to that, too.

Merry Christmas

Just so you know I’m still alive, here’s another post. It’s 7 in the morning, Christmas morning. Freezing cold outside. Freezing. And our ‘Nest’ energy-saving thermostat has it pretty cold INSIDE too.

Sue is making coffee. Sue is making another big feast for the second Christmas family gathering at our house this season — today it’s the Nikkel gathering. There will be a lot of cooking here today.

My desk is a mess. Papers and sticky notes everywhere. I need to clean this up. I’ve had my computer apart this past week — replaced the internal drive with a 256GB SSD drive and moved extra files to an external 2TB Passport drive. Re-installed Mountain Lion. Got my Macbook Air all cleaned up and ready to go too. And I’ve sent out most of my end-of-year invoices. Cleaning up.

Starting to think about heading south at the end of the week. Palm Desert. I’m looking forward to it. First year away since Max was born. We’ll miss him. A lot. We hope he’ll come visit us while we’re down there in California.

Maxwell James - 11-2012 Hey, I don’t think I’ve actually mentioned Max here on this blog. I’ll get a picture of him. That’s him there. Great photo (by David Klassen, friend of Tim and Alex). It was on the Christmas card the kids sent out. Very cute.

We had Christmas last night at Tim and Alex’s. Sue and I babysat while the kids went to church. Then we had supper and chocolates and opened gifts. Nice.

Okay, that’s the news from here. Did I say it’s cold? Yeah, it’s freezing cold. But now Sue has brought me a cup of coffee, the Byrds are playing on my itunes, and it’s time to get on with the day. Merry Christmas.

Snowy Thanksgiving Weekend

Just finished my Saturday bacon-and-eggs breakfast. Snow outside is starting to melt — it may actually all melt and allow Tim to go golfing at his scheduled 1:30pm tee time today after all. The Dehnes (the German couple we met at Peggy’s Cove this summer) were here for Friday night — and have now arrived safely in Brandon. Our first grandson has still not made his official appearance — Tim and Alex were over for supper last night and that little schnerps is really testing Alexandra’s patience. But all is well and that’s what really matters. Ed and Val are coming over for supper tonight. Now I am going to go sit down in my (new) favorite chair and read the latest David Bergen book, Hope. Maybe I’ll tackle the New York Times crossword puzzle in the weekend edition of the Free Press (if it ever arrives — it’s 9:30 and there’s still no paper!). I’ve started up iTunes and today’s playlist is already going strong.

Nope, not going away for the weekend after all!

So Ingrid calls and tells me that she’s reading my blog. What? Really? Reading my blog?

Okay Ingrid, here’s an update:

NOT going to Park Rapids. We’re wimping out. But the upside is that I don’t have to miss week 3 of my Friday night ‘Neil Young’ course at McNally-Robinson. And on Sunday we’ll go celebrate a 60th birthday for some friends of ours. Plus, I hope to be able to watch a bit of NFL on Sunday.

And MAYBE I can squeeze in a game of golf in there somewhere. That is, unless I have to go visit the doctor or something else as exciting as that!

It’s almost Fall

It’s Monday. A beautiful fall day. Since we have our windows open at night, it was 19 degrees in our house this morning. Time to log into my ‘Nest’ thermostat and switch it to the ‘heat’ mode. In a few days the actual autumnal equinox will cause the sun to reflect its light directly west of the 2 upper windows in our bedroom — an alignment that we get to see only twice a year. I’ll have to stay in bed until at least 7:30 to witness it.

I’ve not written in my blog for quite some time. The last entry was the first of what was to be a regular update on our trip to the east coast — I guess I’ll have to remove that ‘Cabot Trail’ entry from my menu. It already seems like that happened a long time ago. I haven’t ridden my bike since the last day of the cycling trip. In fact, on Saturday I went to Bikes and Beyond in Winnipeg to pick up my bike — had the chain replaced so it will be ready for this weekend’s “Headwaters 100” ride in Park Rapids.

Saturday was also Tadeo’s second birthday; we took Mom and Dad in to Winnipeg with us and enjoyed a piece of birthday cake at Stan and Irmy’s. Then in the evening we had Dave and Lois over for dinner — celebrating Lois’s birthday. Yesterday Sue and I read in the morning and then got picked up by Tim and Alex to go golfing at the Fly-in for 3 o’clock. It was cool but fun. Alex rode the cart and froze. We had smokies and beer when we got home from golf and we watched Sunday Night Football.

Tonight Sue has book club in Winnipeg. And I’ll stay home and watch Monday Night Football. Maybe i’ll turn on the fireplace.