Sunday, January 31, 2016

Yuma Arizona

Sonoran Desert
Today was quite exciting for everyone.  We had another one of those drives that just amazes one at every turn.  The road from Tucson to Yuma travels through the Sonoran Desert and is surrounded by the Gila Mountains.  (I'm pretty sure this is the border area that Donald Trump promises to build a wall on.  Well, good luck with that. Take a look at this picture and consider building a wall not just to those mountains, but 5 times that far.) The accent from flat desert into the mountains is sudden and surprising.  We have seen the brightest green irrigated farms and acres of pecan trees, 1000's of cattle ready for 5 Guys and solar fields adjacent to 1000's of RVs.  

Wayne overlooking the Colorado River from the Yuma Territorial Prison
Yuma is only about a 3 hour drive from Tucson; short for us.  We arrived early in the day and went to the Yuma Territorial Prison.  The prison opened in 1876. It seems a brutal place.  There were men and women held for things as diverse as adultery to murder.  Sweetness and I temporarily ended up in the clinker because she was mistaken for a pet, and they are not allowed.  Can you imagine how insulted she was?  Wayne had to bail us out.  But things only got worse from there.
Sweetness and Christy Await Bail
On the way out one of the inmates called Sweetness a Razorback and gave the Texas Longhorn sign. She countered with a Wooooo PIG Sooie.  Suddenly a knife was wielded, and an ear was missing.  Man oh man was there squealing and hissing.  The ear retrieved; we booked it for the pig-mergency room.  I kept telling Sweetness that all wasn't that bad.  We could make a silk purse out of the ear.  More squealing and protesting that, "no, no, you can't."  Yuma had an excellent plastic surgeon who stitched the ear back on and promised no scars would be visible.  She's now in bed with Oxycontin.
Waiting for Surgery
Post Op
 More Pictures and Movies at flickr
* Yuma Arizona by Ann Owens

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sabino Canyon*

Sabino Canyon Recreational Area
The Historical District of Tucson looks a lot like 1930's style buildings.  It is primarily located along Congress Street, a wide one way street with 2 lanes, a trolley, and no trees.  It's not a very inviting street to stroll on.  The buildings are uninteresting and the shops also.  But there is one significant spot, The Hotel Congress and its Cup Cafe.  Hotel Congress has bragging rights to the place John Dillinger was arrested, not killed, but arrested.  We were told that the Cup Cafe had a great breakfast/brunch that is served all day.  I can attest to the Huevos Rancheros as the best and biggest I have had and served along with hotel potatoes all for $10. 
Wayne at Sabino Canyon
We spent this afternoon at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area with about a thousand other people.  Other than trying to find parking, the area did not seem over crowded, though.  The Canyon is located in the Santa Catalina Mountains and the Coronado National Forest.  The Sabino Creek runs through the Canyon and creates large waterfalls. The creek is formed from melting snow in the mountains.  I was surprised at the amount of water and the abundance of wild life.   We rode a trolley to the top and returned to within a mile of the headquarters.  There we got out and walked back.  

Tonight we took Sweetness to the Arizona Opera to hear Carmen.  She was really hoping to hear The Marriage of Pigaro or Pigoletto, but was pleased with her seat and enjoyed watching the cat fights among the cigarette girls.  

More pictures and movies are at flickr.
Sabino Canyon by Tim Mullen

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Sonora Desert*

Sonora Desert, Tucson, Arizona
Today was spent enjoying the Sonora Desert which covers an area of 100,000 miles. It is referred to as arid and with high biological diversity.  The area we visited was ripe with saguaros, blooming barrel cactus and palo verde trees.  We visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum which borders the Saguaro National Park.  And, yes, there were acres and acres of saguaro.  I always pictured this cactus growing in flat, bare, white deserts.  But here it appears like a forest and grows up the mountains.  They are also very tall at over 20'.  The Museum is unlike any other I've visited.  It is the very desert and arranged with winding paths that create views of specific desert regions.  The neatest part was attending the raptor exhibit.  Twice a day raptors are released to feed around a viewing area.  They are so accustomed to this activity and humans that they would feed from trees adjacent to us and fly inches above our heads.  Very cool!!  
The temps were in the 70's with really warm sun.  I was forced to buy a new hat since I thought all museums were indoors.  The colors surprised me.  We also saw a lot of the same animals and birds we saw in Costa Rica.  Sweetness was delighted to find a close relative, the javelina.  
Javelina Family with Sweetness
Tonight we began our annual effort to see all the Oscar nominated films before the awards evening.  We started with Spotlight and give it two thumbs up.  Well written, acted and directed.  They didn't even go over board with the Boston accents (except the locals, oy).  

More pics and movies at flickr.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Sunset from Speedway Blvd.
We haven't explored too much of the city of Tucson.  There seem to be two major four-lane boulevards that stretch the city's length east to west.  They are sometimes divided by trees.  One, named Speedway is anything but.  There are stop lights every block.  But, stopping gave us the opportunity this evening to marvel at the sunset.  We were on our way to attend an Operatif ,a play on the word aperitif, to discuss Carmen, the Opera we will attend on Saturday.  Unfortunately, our e-tickets said 6:30 pm but the event was for 6:00 pm.  It was a very small group of 9 people.  The music director for the Arizona Opera led the discussion, and what little we heard was interesting.  Also, the woman who took our tickets has promised to reimburse us.  The Arizona Opera performs in both Tucson and Phoenix.  Their seasons are a mixture of popular standards such as Madam Butterfly and Turandot, not so popular standards and new pieces.  The director said this was a choice to increase attendance and get out from under a 5 million dollar debt.  The Music Hall is adjacent to the convention center and near historic downtown Tucson which is mostly comprised of local businesses and museums.  The oldest part of the University of Arizona's campus begins here.  That campus is huge, too.  

More sunset pictures are at flickr.
*Carmen by Georges Bizet

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

By the Time I Get to Phoenix*

Picacho Peak, Arizona
We drove a couple of hours north to Phoenix today.  Wayne's long-time friend Ralph and his wife, Bobbie live there.  On the way out of Tucson we passed this most unusual shaped mountain, Picacho Peak, which can be seen from parts of Tucson 45 miles away.   It's known for wildflowers that bloom in March and April.  The area between the interstate highway and the Peak is an unspoiled Sonoran Desert packed full of Saguaro cactus.  It was just breath-taking.  I know I keep writing 'breath taking', 'amazing', 'awsome', etc.  But it truly is.  The mountains here are so unusual to my eye.  They are not consistent nor regular in their shapes.  And they surround this huge, vast area of flat farm land that was once the bottom of an interior sea.  
Bobbie, Christy, Sweetness, Ralph and Wayne at the Desert Botanical Garden
In Phoenix we met Bobbie and Ralph Friedly at the Desert Botanical Garden for lunch and a tour.  As we ate Roadrunners and Gambel's Quail visited the table.  I kept looking for Wile E. Coyote!  The gardens are filled with perfect cacti unblemished by man or beast. Sweetness was wondering why there were Teddy Bear cacti but no Swine Spines.  Phoenix was warmer than Tucson despite its northern location.  It sits in Sun Valley, which intensifies the heat.  
Sweetness with the Teddy Bear Cactus.
More pics and movies at flickr.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Oops! Back in Texas

Salt Flats, Southwest Texas

Who knew that to get to Tucson from Carlsbad one had to go through Texas. Apparently there is no direct route as the bird flies route.  We dipped down through that little part of Texas that sits under New Mexico and is home to the Guadaloupe Mountains. These mountains are the world's best presentation of a fossil reef from the permian era when the world was one super continent, the pangaea.  In laymen's terms, "wowzer".  We would drive through miles of salt flats and then suddenly be in mountains and canyon interiors.  It kept us entertained for another 7 hour day of driving.  
Guadaloupa Mountains
We are in Tucson for the next 5 days housed in a little studio cottage we found through Air B&B.  George, the owner, greeted us with chocolate deserts and coffee.  We think it will be nice here.  
There are lots of pictures at flick that seem repetitive. It was just so beautiful that I couldn't stop.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Carlsbad Cavern*

Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance
The Cavern sits in a natural gully of the Guadaloupe Mountains.  The elevators are not working, and we walked down through the natural entrance.  It was a benefit of sorts; the walk down offering sights one would miss riding directly to the bottom.  The large rooms at the bottom are filled with all the beauties one would expect of a cave.  It's 750' to the bottom, which means it is 750' to the top.  My pictures could not do justice to the vastness, the quiet, the dark the dripping water, the formations.  It was a sight not to be seen anywhere else.  
Chihuahuan Desert
The National Park building sits atop a bluff and offers a panoramic view of the Chihuahuan Desert. There were dust storms racing across the blues, greens, browns as far as the eye could see.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Leaving Texas*

Sweetwater, TX 
We struck out for Carlsbad, New Mexico today, some 450 miles from Dallas. The day was one of simply marveling at the land.  I thought Kansas was flat until we were in West Texas.  One of the most interesting sights along the way was around Sweetwater (Sweetness thought it was named for her) where one could see thousands of wind turbines for miles. According to Wikipedia, Sweetwater is the center of the Western Hemisphere's leading wind power generation region and West Texas has more than 4,000 MW of operational wind energy. Nolan County alone would currently rank as the eighth largest "nation" in terms of wind energy generation - with more than 1,500 MW installed. I read that 18 million dollars has been paid to landowners (farmers it seems).  The country is extremely flat, covered in cotton fields and peppered with horse head oil well pumps and refineries. I kept thinking, "it's a perfect location for a movie about desolation and desperation fed by desire". 
Somewhere in West Texas
New Mexico
One nice thing is the temperature, which was 70 today.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

If You're Ever Down in Dallas*

Wayne Bullfrog Riding at Dallas Arboretum 
I told Wayne, "It's BULLS they ride here, not bull frogs."  While our friends and relatives back east are shoveling out of the big storm, we are in Texas enjoying sun and 40 degrees.  We found a nice area, the Bristol Arts District.  It's one of those funky areas that grow up around college kids, artists and entrepreneurs.  We had, what else, bbq at Lockhart's Smoke House which was not nearly as good as Memphis' A&R.  But Sweetness was happy that we were considering beef over pork.  
Wayne and Sweetness dine at Lockhart's Smoke House.  

It was such a nice day that we opted for the Dallas Arboretum rather than the Museum.  There are 64 acres of manicured gardens on the grounds.  Fountains (and frogs) and large beautiful crepe myrtles grace the place.  There were girls of Latino decent celebrating their quinceanera, weddings and engagements being photographed. 

Tonight we attended the Dallas Symphony to hear an evening of Gershwin.  It was much like the Pops.  Sweetness was so excited when he heard us talking about going to the Meyerson Symphony Center designed by IM Pig and listening to some Porgy Pig and Bess. While she was enjoying a Pi(g)not Grigio sWine, we corrected her misunderstandings.  While disappointed she nonetheless enjoyed the performances.
Sweetness Enjoys Gershwin at the Dallas Symphony

Friday, January 22, 2016

On the Road Again*

Pig in a Blanket
We bundled Sweetness up and drove out of Memphis on dry roads and high clouds. We left behind an east coast waiting for a big blizzard.  2-3' are predicted in DC and about 10 inches in Wareham.  I was filled with nostalgia driving over the Mississippi River and into Arkansas.  The day was gray and snow clung to the naked deciduous trees. We had an easy drive, and about 7 hours later we were in Dallas checking into a Homewood Suites.  Tomorrow will be more interesting.  

Crossing the Big Muddy into Arkansas
More Pictures at flickr.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Walking in Memphis *

Sweetness Stands Her Ground at A&R Barbecue in Memphis
Memphis is a short drive of 3 hours from Nashville.  Before we even began to consider the hotel we found lunch at A&R Barbecue. Never disappointing, Tennessee came through again with pork that was smokey and tender. The joint was the usual converted gas station. But everyone was hospitable and friendly. One woman convinced me to buy a fried peach pie. 

We are here for only one night....wait what's that I hear?  4-6 inches of snow and freezing rain are predicted tonight.  It seems the farther south and west we go the colder it gets.  We're hoping the locals have snow plows and know how to use them because we have reservations in Dallas tomorrow.  To sooth our worried travel souls we walked to Beale street and the Rum Boogie Cafe where we heard a great blues band, Vince Johnson and the Boogie Blues Band.  

More pictures and video can be seen at flickr.
* Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohen

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I'm a Little Bit Country...*

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

We spent the early afternoon at the Nashville Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  A collection of memorabilia that includes vintage video, cars, costumes and wonderful guitars, the place had me tapping my toes.  It was fun to see old tv shows from the 60s and 70s.  Beyond the museum are shops, shops, shops just begging the fan to come in and buy, buy, buy.  

Broadway, Nashville

Tonight we walked to Broadway, the Beale and Bourbon street of Nashville.  Trip Advisor, et al, suggested we go to Robert's Western World, a boot shop by day and a honky tonk by night.  The Dan Kelley Band played a great set.  The Bass player was fabulous, a real showman.  

For a change of venue, we walked down the street to Jimmy Buffet's where we heard some rather low key folksy music by a duet.  It is true what they say about Nashville that on every corner there are 10 musicians with 10 others watching and waiting to take their place.  

For more videos of the music go to flickr.
Donnie and Marie Osmond

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

This Little Blue Bird*

Preparing the Pig at Martin's BBQ
Whenever we cross the Mason Dixon Line, a search ensues for local barbecue.  Nashville has its share of the smoke with Martin's BBQ coming in first among the aficionados.  The place has a nice jive as well as good bbq.  Good country music serenades, smoke scent fills the air and the staff is typical southern charm and friendliness.  Becks, the bartender loved Sweetness.
Sweetness Charms Becks
As we were leaving two guys emerged from the back hauling a whole pig (Sweetness squealed and hid her eyes) to the pit.  They used a hammer and cleaver to split the chest open.  It was gruesome. For more pics and videos visit flickr.

Nashville, the Athen's of the South, has a full scale replica of the Acropolis' Parthenon.  It is thought provoking to walk around and through the building considering how it affected the Athenians.  Inside is a full size replica of Phidias' Athena Parthenos complete with shield and snake.  The building also houses a small collection of American paintings with nice representations by Bierstadt, Gifford and Church. Sweetness prayed for Athena to protect the pigs of Nashville.
Sweetness marvels at Athena Parthenos
This evening following another meal of bbq at The Peg Leg Pig, we had a great time at The Bluebird Cafe. The Bluebird is a small 90 seat club located in a strip mall pretty far outside downtown. It is famous for acoustic music performed by song writers. Many well known performers were discovered here such as Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift.  You can read more about this fascinating place at Wikipedia.  We heard 4 writers/performers play individually in the round: Rivers Rutherford, John Driskell Hopkins, Brian Collins and Leslie Satcher.
The Bluebird Cafe
More pictures of the day can be seen at flickr.
This Little Bluebird by Christina Perry

Monday, January 18, 2016

Nashville Serendipity

Sweetness at Wholey's Fish Market
We awoke to a frigid 9 degree Pittsburgh morning.  But it had not snowed for which we are grateful.  Thinking we could pick up some sushi for lunch on the road, we went a couple of blocks to the Strip District and Wholey's Fish Market.  The District is a neighborhood historically home to mills and factories that sits on the Allegheny River. Today there remain some wholesalers but most of the spaces have been converted into speciality shops, restaurants and bars.  Sweetness was delighted with Wholey's and wants to spread the word, "eat more fish".  Oh, we were too early for the sushi.  

Some 7 hours later as we were entering Nashville, I checked out the local happenings and discovered Madonna's Rebel Heart Tour was performing that evening at the Brookstone Arena.  We checked in to the hotel, got tickets, and walked the 2 blocks to the Arena. It was a lively crowd of old folks like us, cowboys, and Madonna look-alikes.  We were surprised at how empty the stadium was and asked the usher what time Madonna would be on.  It was then that we realized we were still on EST and an hour early.  Oy!  Another serendipity occurred when the woman who sat next to us said she was from Quincy and just in Nashville on business.  I said to her I couldn't believe how great the seats were, and for only $60.  After her jaw dropped she said, "I paid $200 for this seat."  Guess it pays to buy at the last minute.  The Show!  The Show!  Man was it eye candy.  The technology and dancing rivaled any Cirque du Soleil.  Madonna was her usual irreverent self; her singing is as you know mechanical, but her message is still provocative.  At 2am we crawled into bed.
Brookstone Arena, Nashville, TN with Madonna

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Heinz, Heinz and more Heinz

Wayne at the Heinz History Museum
I'm surprised this city has not been renamed Heinzburgh since everything else here seems carry that name.  The Senator John Heinz History Center is directly across the street from our hotel.  We scurried over there this morning dodging snow flakes.  The museum's focus is on 250 years of history in Western PA.  It is a conglomeration of sports, culture, sports, exploration, sports, settlements, sports, and more sports.  There is an entire floor dedicated to the Heinz corporation and all 57+ brands that they produced.  

This afternoon we attended the Pittsburgh Symphony at, you got it, Heinz Hall.  To get there we had to drive past Heinz Field, home to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  More on them later. We heard a disparate program of Beethoven, Philip Glass and Respighi.  Right away Sweetness was enthralled that ResPIGhi was being performed.  She even finagled some time at the conductor's stand.  

Dinner was at Lidia's, a suggestion from the gentleman seated next to me at Heinz Hall.  Lidia's was okay with a nice setting, quiet and a great waiter, but not superb, nor what one would expect from a celebrity chef.  Back at the ranch we watched the Steelers loose a game they were winning for almost 4 quarters to Denver.  We're sad about that.  Means the Patriots will have to play in Denver and not at home.  Tomorrow is a long drive to Nashville.  

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Pittsburgh Bound

We left Massachusetts in the rain and arrived in Pittsburgh 9 hours later in the snow.  Nothing of significance to report today; there was very little traffic, only a few kooks, and dramatic skies. 

It was good news on the NE Patriots front as they won against the KC Chiefs and advanced to the divisional playoffs.  Sweetness complained throughout the entire game about how rude it was of us to cheer the tossing around of a pigskin.  She did do her share of work, though, with some relief driving.

But then as soon as we hit the hotel, she started celebrating and is now no use to anyone.

Friday, January 15, 2016

On the Road Again

Coast to coast, big cities, little cities, trees, deserts, mountains and wide open spaces, you guys, yinz, and y'alls, symphonic, country, blues and opera here we go. It will be a full day of driving tomorrow to reach Pittsburgh where we will spend two nights.  

Lucky is staying with Margaret while we are away, studying law and preparing for the Bar exam.  
Blackie, the wild Black Beast
Maud, the Fake Wild Beast

Our neighbor John is feeding Maud, Blackie and the 2 raccoons.  He's also watering plants and checking for leaks.  He is the best neighbor eva'.  

My beautiful Aunt Juanita called to wish us bon voyage.  Thank you, my dear.  We will indeed have a good voyage.  Good night all, until tomorrow night.