Monday, July 14, 2014

Lunar Love

Supermoon, July 12, 2014

Photo taken from our back porch in Price, Utah.
Canon EOS Rebel Digital with 500mm Tamron lens.
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I hope everyone had a chance to witness this super lunar event on Saturday evening.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico

         The first thing you see—rotating on a platter like the grand prize on a TV game show—is the 1987 winning Indianapolis (INDY) 500 car.  But the gleaming race cars are only part of the story at the Unser Racing Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  

This winning INDY car is front and center at the museum.
Read the story below to learn of the extraordinary history of this car. 

The museum’s docents are happy to share the rest of the saga—the family history of the remarkable racing Unsers.  In the 1930s Jerry Sr. and Mary Catherine “Mom” Unser moved their young family to Albuquerque where Jerry Sr., an auto racer whose real skill was fixing cars, opened an auto repair shop along newly constructed Route 66.  It wasn’t long before all four of their boys were competing in, and winning, races throughout the western states.

Where it all began.  Al and Bobby's father Jerry, ran a successful
auto repair business in Albuquerque, where the boys developed
their proficiency for auto racing.
Three of the four brothers—Jerry Jr., Bobby and Al—qualified for the Indy 500.  After Jerry Jr. suffered a fatal injury during a practice lap for the 1959 INDY 500 his twin Louie raced for several more years before retiring from racing to follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming an engine repair expert.  At the urging of “Mom” Unser, Al and Bobby continued racing... and the rest is history.  The Unsers have won INDY a combined 9 times, Bobby with three wins, brother Al Sr. with four, and his son Al Jr. capturing two trophies.

Talent sometimes runs in families.  Does your family
possess its own special talent?

        The museum showcases cars from the old Pikes Peak hill climbs, as well as IROC (International Race of Champions) cars.  The INDY cars are the highlight though, and I know you’re wondering about that car on the platter:  No, it wasn’t a game show prize, but it could have been—the car sat idle in a hotel lobby in Reading, Pennsylvania just weeks before the running of the 71st INDY 500.  
Al Unser Sr.—dropped by his sponsors and considered too old for INDY—found himself on the sidelines of the 1987 race.  When the Penske Racing Team’s driver suffered a concussion during a practice run Penske asked Al Sr. to fill in.  For a year he had been itching to drive the March race car sitting on display in Reading, PA and so that particular car was towed to Indianapolis and readied for the race.  Al Sr. would win that competition, becoming at age 47 the oldest INDY winner in history, and driving that hotel lobby car for 500 miles at an average speed of 162 mph.  Even if you’re not a fan of auto racing, can you imagine the concentration and skill required to perform such a feat?  
If you are a racing enthusiast, I highly recommend a visit to the Unser Racing Museum.  In addition to the main building which houses the Pikes Peak, IROC and INDY cars and their history, a newer building is filled with the Unser family trophy, artwork/poster, and car collection. 

You know how every elementary school kid's bedroom is filled with
trophies—just for showing up?  Well, you don't get a trophy just for showing
up at a professional auto race—you actually have to win the thing.
This room is full of trophies from the 200+ auto racing wins
belonging to the Unser family.

One of the posters in the "artwork" room.  I included this photo as a nod to
the short-lived Detroit Grand Prix.  I lived in Detroit for the inaugural run of this race.
Detroit is also the current home of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

Al Unser Jr.'s 1994 winning INDY car is in the museum.
This model, under plexiglass inside the front door, is insured for

The Unser brothers built this museum, and Al Sr. is known to make appearances there on occasion.  Plan your vacation to Albuquerque today, and read more about the Unser Racing Museum here:

The Unser Racing Museum welcomes visitors to sunny Albuquerque.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Price Canyon Recreation Area, near Price, Utah

           A cool mountain getaway lies hidden in the hills near the desert town of Price, Utah.  Price Canyon Recreation Area, half an hour north of town, invites you to drop by, inhale the pine-scented air, and linger for awhile.
          You'll feel far from dusty desert environs as you camp or picnic beneath the shade of ponderosa pines or hike the Bristlecone Ridge Trail.  Bristlecone Pines—the oldest living things on earth—thrive in this arid alpine location.  Several of these venerable trees stand alongside the trail, welcoming you to their mountain home as they've welcomed visitors for thousands of years.


          The following photos were taken on two separate outings to Price Canyon Rec.  On an October Saturday I hiked with an employee of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and several other friends on a trail maintenance outing.  You can see the shovels and pick axes to the right of the picnic table in the third picture.
          The final two photos were taken on a September hike with family members visiting from Pennsylvania.  Notice the differences in fall colors, and in clothing choices, between the September and October hikes.

A Bristlecone Pine (left) frames the view from Bristlecone Ridge Trail.

Friends and dogs take a break along the steep path.

A post-hike picnic under the pines. 

Tim surveys the Central Utah landscape from a rocky prominence
along the trail.

The trail continues for several miles past the Bristlecone Pine ridge.
This meadow provides a quiet place for a rest stop.

If you're traveling south from Salt Lake and need an overnight campsite or a pleasant place for a picnic I highly recommend a stop at the BLM managed Price Canyon Recreation Area.  Read more about it by visiting their website:

Read about the amazing Bristlecone Pine Tree here:

Monday, May 12, 2014

Primitive Camping in Southeastern Utah's Valley of the Gods

       On a warm Friday evening Tim and I entered the Valley of the Gods.  This “Mini Monument Valley” is traversed by a 17 mile dirt road and views of the real Monument Valley, 20 miles away, can be seen along the drive.  We’re on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, and dispersed camping is allowed throughout the valley.  After passing several spots outfitted with campfire rings we pulled into a site tucked between sandy hills and rocky outcrops.  Home for the weekend!

View of Monument Valley from our campsite.

        We set up our bedroom (tent), bathroom (portable toilet) and kitchen (folding tables and Coleman stove), then cooked our camp staple of mac n’ cheese with sausages and stewed tomatoes. 
       After dinner Tim started a campfire and we lounged by the blaze sipping from mugs of Earl Grey tea.  Sighing breezes, trilling rock wrens and distant whining traffic interspersed with the desert quiet. This being her first camping adventure, our dog Annie wasn’t exactly sure of the protocol.  She enjoyed exploring the desert around our campsite but, as darkness fell, she thought we should be jumping into the truck and heading for our real home.  After a bit of coaxing we herded her into the tent and soon she was snuggled by my side.

Evening in our desert home.


           Early Saturday we crawled from the tent and started the morning with Annie's daily walk.  Rounding a bend in the road we noticed hoof prints, then saw cows in a desert wash.  So those were moos which woke me at dawn.  With sparse vegetation and little rain this seems a terrible place to graze cows.  But here they are.

Annie, out for her morning walk.

In the west we share our public lands—even these seemingly
 inhospitable locales—with cows.

          Back at the site water boiled for coffee and tea while we started breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and sausage.  I love breakfast in the wilds.  And this spot qualifies.  We ate gazing south and west toward Monument Valley, its rocky spires reaching into the sky.  It’s easy to understand how this landscape inspired classic western movies.  John Wayne with his posse of cowboys was the only scene lacking from our morning vista.

Where is John Wayne when you need him?  Tim relaxes in the morning at
our classic Western campsite (sans a cinematic cowboy).

          Today we drove the Moki Dugway road, a 2.2 mile, 10% grade switchbacking road which climbs high above the Valley of the Gods.  At the apex we stopped to let Annie stretch her legs and we all met a couple from upstate New York, completing the final few days of a southwestern road trip.  They exclaimed over the 20-30 mile views, views we sometimes take for granted.
         Back in camp the evening’s dinner was followed by another of our camp traditions—s’mores with a big glass of milk.   Tonight, as we turned out our headlamps and unzipped the tent door, Annie crawled right in.  Her second night of camping and she’s learned the routine.

The Moki Dugway road inspires awe among tourists and travelers.

High above Valley of the Gods Annie poses on a ledge along the Moki Dugway road.


          The final day.  After a morning walk Tim cooked breakfast while I rolled up blankets and sleeping bags.  We savored Sunday morning quiet while downing our eggs and hash browns.  Then it was time to pack up the tent and tables, load everything into the truck and be on our way. 
         Primitive camping is not for everyone.  But with an adventurous spirit and willing companions—both human and canine—Valley of the Gods is an ideal destination for a spring weekend.   

Learn more about Utah’s Valley of the Gods by visiting this website:

If you’re intrigued by Valley of the Gods but not interested in camping, you’re in luck—check out Valley of the Gods Bed and Breakfast 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Elvis's Graceland… Gotta Do It

          Graceland.  It’s not your standard mansion tour. You travel to Graceland not to ooh and aah over opulence or to be impressed by material wealth, as tourists do when visiting the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island.  
          No, you go to Graceland so you can walk where Elvis walked, so you can be where Elvis was, so you can see where Elvis lived—and where he died.  You go to Graceland to immerse yourself in the legend that was Elvis.


Elvis purchased this large house on 13 acres of land for ~$100,000 in 1957.
Now, $100,000 buys little more than a fixer-upper in a bad part of town.
Actually, Graceland is in a bad part of town; the area of Memphis
surrounding the estate has fallen into sad disrepair.
         Does grandeur exist in the home Elvis purchased at the age of 22?  Oh sure—stained glass panels and a grand piano in the stunning all-white living room, a crystal chandelier in the dining room, intricately hand-carved furniture in the family/music room.  But the home also appears much as it must have on August 16, 1977—aging appliances in the kitchen, shag carpet in the family room, a rusted swing set in the back yard. 

          Lisa Marie narrates part of the audio tour and—with reminiscence exclusive to a nine-year-old's memory—her voice radiates pride and wonder as she relates tales of a home overflowing with the presence of her famous father, a place teeming with music and merriment.

Lisa Marie remembers her father entertaining guests in the living room, and she remembers lively "jam" sessions around the piano.

Elvis's final resting place.

         The tour’s final stop is Elvis’s gravesite in the side yard by the pool.  Elvis died at the age of 42.  At the time I thought he was impossibly old.  But now it seems so tragically young.
          The next time you’re in Memphis take a few hours to visit Graceland and absorb the aura of this near mythical entertainer.  You’ll gain a new appreciation for Elvis and his music, and for the high price of fame.
          Graceland.  Gotta do it.  And I’m glad I did.


After the tour, you can add your dollars to the Presley estate by purchasing souvenirs in the gift shop.  I picked up a key chain and a few post cards, shown above.  As per the card in the upper left corner, Elvis was known for his love of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Here's a quick quiz:  Can you name one single favorite sandwich of any popular entertainer today?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Welcome, Spring!

          Today, at 12:57 p.m. Eastern Standard Time we mark the Vernal Equinox, the beginning of spring.  But we don't need the calendar to tell us what we can already see and feel—lengthening days,  greening landscapes, warming sunshine.

          It's that time of year when we plan both gardens and summer vacations.  And, for me, it's also time to change the header photo on my blog.  While picking a header for spring, I've decided to use this post to showcase all my header photographs.  Click on any picture to enlarge.  Click on the links to view previous posts.  Enjoy!

A pair of Sandhill Cranes fly across the marsh in
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

The "Holy Ghost" panel, artwork from The Ancients.
The Great Gallery, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. 

A group of Convict Tang swims by, off the waters
of Kauai, Hawaii.

A day at the beach in Ocean City, New Jersey.

Cathedral Valley Overlook, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

Half-Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Fisher Towers trail silhouette, near Moab, Utah.

The  mountains of Southwestern Colorado, near Lake City.
This was my original banner photo.

In addition to travel, Tim and I enjoy gardening.
These pictures are a montage of several year's worth of
jack-o-lanterns carved from our garden's pumpkins.

The San Juan Mountains in Winter,  near Lake City, Colorado.

Snowshoeing is a great winter activity in and around Lake City, Colorado.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Ides of March at the Ed Ball Lodge, Wakulla Springs State Park, Florida

                                      “Beware the Ides of March”
                                                                    William Shakespeare,  from Julius Caesar, 1601


                 Until Shakespeare penned that line warning Julius Caesar of his impending death, the Ides—a day on or about the middle of the month—was not necessarily an ominous date.  For a woman traveling alone, however, any day has the potential to turn dangerous.  I frequently travel alone and am ever vigilant regarding untoward, unseemly, or unsafe circumstances.  

               The date:      March 15, 2007, The Ides of March.  
               The setting:  Ed Ball Lodge, an imposing 75 year-old structure in Wakulla Springs State Park, Florida.

               The story:     I didn't sleep well last night in this lonely place and woke with a sore back and a stuffy nose.  I entered the dining room for breakfast and noticed only a few other solitary travelers sharing the cavernous space with me.  Sitting by the window, I watched the mullet jumping in the Wakulla River, wishing them a better meal than the mediocre fare offered here.

      After paying the bill I wandered into the lobby to look at old pictures on the wall and to read about the history of the lodge.   A well-dressed, well-groomed middle-aged man left breakfast shortly after I did.  Although he didn't seem suspicious I noticed that he, too, lingered in the lobby, perusing the photographs and paintings.  He seemed to be watching me from the corners of his eyes.  I felt a pang of unease.  And for some reason this thought occurred to me:  
     “ This man is waiting for me to go upstairs and he's going to follow me.” 
      From the lobby a set of stairs led to a large landing; from there a left turn led to another set of stairs and our rooms on the second floor.  At the top of the stairs you could turn right to access a hallway of rooms, or left to enter a perpendicular hallway and more rooms.  My room was on the perpendicular hallway (the top of the “T”).  Two alcoves off this hallway—one to the right of the "T" junction and one to the left—provided seating areas with windows overlooking the river.  
      I decided to wait for the man to go upstairs first, and after several more minutes of shuffling around in the lobby he did indeed ascend the staircase.  But then this thought occurred to me:  
     “He’s going to be waiting for me upstairs.” 
      And so I waited too.  Five minutes later another diner, a woman, left the dining hall and walked upstairs.  I had now been in the lobby for 20 minutes and wanted to get back to my room, check out of the hotel and be on my way.  And so, 30 seconds after the woman had gone up the stairs I followed in her footsteps. 
       When I turned left at the top of the stairs, entered the perpendicular hallway to my room and passed the alcove off the left arm of the "T" there he was, just as I knew he would be.   Again that feeling of something being not quite right came over me.  My heart quickened.
      "But where is the other woman", I wondered, "She should be just ahead of me." 
       This mysterious man, obviously waiting for me to appear, approached me from the alcove and said:  
       “Excuse me, I’m supposed to be meeting a Rachel Norville here today.  Are you her?  Do you know anything about that?”   
        At that exact moment the woman I had followed up the stairs appeared from the alcove on the right arm of the "T" and strode down the hall toward her room.  As she passed us I told the man, loud enough for the woman to hear:  
      “No, I’m not Rachael and I don’t know anything about it, or your supposed meeting– I'm sorry!”   
       And…. the man, seeming flustered, left and walked down the hall toward his room.  I had been counting on the fact that the woman I followed up the stairs would still be in the hallway when I got there, and luckily she stepped out from the alcove at the time the man confronted me to ask if I knew anything about “a Rachel or a meeting”.  Who knows what may have occurred, had I been alone in the hallway?  If he truly was supposed to be meeting someone at this hotel and he thought I might be that person why didn’t he ask me at breakfast, or when we were both downstairs in the lobby? 
                  Was this, potentially, one of those unsafe circumstances?  My intuition told me it could have been, and that's good enough for me.   As I said, a woman alone has to be mindful of anything out of the ordinary, and I did considered this situation worthy of that designation.  No, I didn't hear anything later on about criminal activity occurring at or near Wakulla Springs State Park, and I suppose this story would have more clout if I had.  But I offer this report as a cautionary tale to women travelers to beware.  And to be careful out there.

   To read about a delightful experience at Wakulla Springs State Park, visit this account of my wildlife-spotting boat ride, the evening of March 14: