18 November 2014

Across the U.S., Day 43 - Barstow (CA) to Sunnyvale (CA)

Exactly six weeks ago I had started this very special journey and on the agenda today was simply "get the last 400 miles back home".

On my way to Bakersfield I noticed some lonesome houses that had become the target for someone's creative urge.

Otherwise, I did not stop very often. Just here and there to capture the open landscape along US-58 and through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

My route brought me through Bakersfield, which is also known as "Nashville West" or "California's Country Music Capital". Due to the severe dust storms in the 1930s settlers from the Great Plains migrated into California and brought their Country Music also to Bakersfield (see blog entry from Oct 15th).

There are some fairly ugly areas around Bakersfield. Years ago, I had met someone from there and she used to tell people that she was from LA, did not want to admit her real home town. I kind of understand why. The closer I got to the city, the more the sky darkened and it felt really depressive. Maybe it was due to a lot of smog or just because of some rainy weather in the forecast?

I briefly stopped for lunch at a little town called Lindsay (near Fresno), surrounded by citrus orchards. My dear friend and former co-worker Virgie grew up there and I drove by the Sacred Heart Church where she got married.

And then finally, after some nerve-wrecking driving on busy highways 101 and 85, and precisely 8,366 miles (13,464 km) and countless extraordinary impressions later, there I was back home. Safe and sound and happy to be with Guido again!

Would I do such trip again? Yes, absolutely! But certainly not tomorrow! :-)

17 November 2014

Across the U.S., Day 42 - Phoenix (AZ) to Barstow (CA)

After a brief section on I-10 to get out of Phoenix I took Salome Road & US-72, which travel peacefully towards north-west and across some open-range cattle area. This reminded me of the "five C's" Arizona is/was known for: cattle, copper, cotton, citrus and climate.

Sorry for repeating myself, but I'm fascinated by these amazing Saguaros and Mother Nature's creativity in terms of survival strategies. Saguaro cacti grow a shallow root system just below the surface of the ground to absorb as much water as possible when it rains. In dry periods the root system dies back partially to help the plant conserve water and extends again in the wet season.

Instead of opening their pores (stomata) during the day to absorb carbon dioxide required for photosynthesis, these highly adapted desert plants open their stomata at night. This reduces water loss  through evaporation. Some trees adapted to the desert climate even have green bark. When they shed their leaves to conserve moisture during summer they can continue photosynthesis via their bark.

Isn't this a type of Helianthus?


Right behind the small town of Parker (AZ) on US-72, my home state welcomed me with its famous state colors blue and gold. California's designated state flower is the California Poppy (Eschscholzia Californica) and I can't wait to see them turning my front yard into a sea of orange again in spring!

"California Popeye"?
(running gag between our dear friends Corinne, Dan and us)

I enjoyed to coast through parts of the Mojave Desert and its "heart" along US-95. To be honest however, such harsh environment always feels intimidating to me. Turning west again, I-40 would have been the fasted way to Barstow. The interstate brought up memories of our amazing motorcycle trip to various National Parks in Utah and Arizona last summer. I really did NOT like to ride my heavily loaded F650GS on windy I-40 though. Today, I did not stay long on that interstate either but took parts of the historic route 66 instead.

Famous "Mother Road"!
Celebrity comes with a price: $5.49/gallon diesel. ...

Unfortunately, several connections to US-66 were closed, which forced me back onto I-40.

One more day to come.

16 November 2014

Across the U.S., Day 41 - Phoenix (AZ)

For a (w)hole experience in Phoenix, I started with the Papago Park early this morning, located in the north-east of the city and full of hiking trails, biking paths and picnic areas. Also in this park are the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden. And the "Hole-in-the-Rock".

This hole in the conglomerate sandstone is thought to have been created by water erosion. It was used as calendar device by the prehistoric people of the Sonoran Desert. They were able to determine when the summer and winter solstice occurred by paying close attention to the sunlight shining through the hole and the position of the ray of sunlight on the floor.

(W)hole view onto Phoenix

However, I prefer the city view from a rock at another location in the park. It's a bit closer to the city and without the "get me as close as possible to the rock with the hole" parking lot in the way.

Phoenix, most populous state capital in the U.S.
with 1,445,632 people (US census 2010)

Phoenix and its surrounding communities such as Scottsdale, Mesa, Carefree and Anthem have a good coverage of Farmers Markets throughout the week, except on Mondays. I visited the Ahwatukee Farmers Market in the south-east of the city. It's an open-air market and in place since 5 years. They have fresh, locally grown produce, locally made salsas, bread, jellies, honey and also some arts and crafts.

I picked up some organic tomatoes and Pink Lady apples. "Jans baked goods" looked also very good to me. I got one Apricot bread and an Apple with Black Walnuts bread. No guaranties that they will survive all the way back to Sunnyvale!

Thinking about a new recipe?

Rick and I had a longer conversation about the pickled products he sells and the origin of the ingredients, but also about his German-Irish heritage, his Venezuelan fiancé and lifestyle in Venezuela vs. the United States. We easily came to the agreement that a healthy body has a lot to do with healthy eating and regular exercise. I really liked the pickled red bell peppers and spicy pickles!

Guess how old he is.
Hint: he looks much younger than
 the DOB on his ID says he is.

Phoenix has long, extremely hot summers and warm winters. A canal system, put in place by Hohokam people who lived in the Sonoran Desert, made the land arable. Parts of this irrigation system are still in use and make the long growing season in this area feasible. Arizona's hot climate and rich soil of the Sun Valley also provides the basis for the Queen Creek Olive Mill and the olive orchard of the Rea family.

Perry Rea, his wife Brenda and their five children run the orchard, which was established in 1998 and now has 7,500 olive trees on 120 acres (~ 48.5 hectare). Although olive trees are not native to the Americas, the olive business thrives well where the climate is similar to the Mediterranean. The Queen Creek Olive Mill seems to be very successful with their (extra) virgin olive oils, stuffed olives, spreads, soaps and lotions. They offer tours to provide an insight into the steps from olives to oil.

The olives get manually harvested with specific raking tools. The harvest date or maturity of the fruit and the olive variety have a large impact on the olive oil flavor and shelf life. The orchard has 16 different olive varieties. Olives harvested and processed in their green ripe stage will give the oil a more grassy flavor and longer shelf life, while oil from purple ripe olives tastes rather buttery, fruity to flat. Harvested olives get pressed within 24 hours to assure the highest possible oil quality. At this olive mill they only produce extra virgin or virgin olive oil. Hence, only mechanical means are used to extract the oil, but no heat or solvents.

The Queen Creek Olive Mill also has a large store for all their goodies. Today they had a harvest festival, including a band playing and kids who got all wild having fun.

Snapshot of Emily explaining their small olive milling device

Other than parks, Farmers Markets and olive mills, Phoenix has museums featuring arts, history, music instruments, the Phoenix police and many more. The city and especially Scottsdale in the north-east is also well known as a shopping mecca. But honestly, shopping rarely give me a reason to get out of bed. Some of the museums sound interesting though, on a rainy day.

Two more days to come.

15 November 2014

Across the U.S., Day 40 - Tucson (AZ) to Phoenix (AZ)

The distance between Tucson and Phoenix is only about 110 mi (~177 km) via I-10. The other option on the east side (US-77 and scenic route 177) adds twice as much driving time but only 40 mi (~65 km). Guess, which one I chose.

In the little town of Oracle, just north of Tucson, a Farmers Market sign caught my attention. It brought me to the courtyard of Sue and Jerry's Trading Post. The Farmers Market actually only takes place on Wednesday, which I had overlooked on the sign. Never mind, I checked out the little store instead. Nasty people would call it junk; let's call it collectibles or antiques. And indeed, I found something that I bought.

Oh, I see and feel Guido frown when he reads this. ;-) Nothing to worry! I bought a beautiful 2015 wall calendar with wildlife photographs from the area, taken by a local photographer. And part of the earnings also support the local Women's Network group.

At Mammoth, another small community along US-77, "La Casita" and their "authentical Mexican food" looked inviting for lunch. If this were just one meal, I certainly would gain weight quickly! ... I saved half of it for dinner.

Rice & beans, beef burro and beef taco

Is it only me or do these Saguaros indeed grow more arms than their cousins closer to Tucson? It looks like they are not quite as tall but invest more energy in more arms, which means more flowers, seeds and in consequence, more reproduction. But this might simply be an impression. (BTW: Saguaros only reproduce from seed, not from cuttings like some other cacti.)

What a smart bird that built its nest in this nicely protected spot. Or - as a cat or squirrel - would you climb up there to steal the eggs?

Another nickname for Arizona is "The Copper State". At first, I had trouble to recognize what these strangely formed and colored mountains were. Then, I realized that this was an open-pit copper mine, operated by ASARCO (American Smelting And Refining Company).

Looking at the full picture, one can still imagine how the landscape had looked before human impact. I'm wondering what they do with the area when they are done turning it upside down and the resources are exhausted. Does it then get recultivated like most of the German open pit coal mine areas? Whatsoever, it will take a while - if at all - until it will be covered with Saguaros again.

All these prickly impressions the last two days reminded me of Backkom. Enjoy! :-)

More to come.

Across the U.S., Day 39 - Tucson (AZ)

Did I say I love the desert scenery of southern Arizona? That was probably an understatement. To me, the Sonoran Desert is simply fantastic and I spent several hours in the Tucson Mountain County Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum today.

Tucson living right next to the Tucson Mountain County Park

With a population somewhat over 520,000 (2010 United States Census), Tucson is the 2nd largest city in Arizona, after the state capital Phoenix and the oldest city, incorporated in 1877. One of its nicknames is "The Old Pueblo" and its Spanish, Mexican and Western heritage is quite evident.

St. Augustine Cathedral (founded 1776, Mexican baroque)

Side perspective of the Cathedral's right tower

Those who had a say on the city's planning were certainly not afraid of colors and playful elements.

Pima County Courthouse

La Placita, also houses the Visitor Center

While strolling through the historic downtown, I stopped by "Urban Fresh - a vegucational experience". Their mission is to provide delicious and healthy, plant-based food choices, made from locally produced, organic ingredients. They also offer cooking classes and educational events. I had their Ginger Snap smoothy with banana, cinnamon, nutmeg, dates, almond milk and of course, ginger. Very tasty and long-lasting indeed!

Furthermore, I noticed several food lectures in Oct/Nov, presented by the University of Arizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. All lectures are free and open to the public and topics are e.g., "Food for pleasure, vitality and health" and "We eat what we are". Specifically the last one would have been of interest; maybe they have some more material online?

The University of Arizona campus also houses the Center for Creative Photography. They exhibit the work of new photographers and renowned artists such as Ansel Adams, free of charge. At the entrance the visitors are warned that some photos might hurt their feelings. Yep, there were several naked male body parts on the photos. Do I feel hurt? I don't think so. But thanks for the warning.

When I got to the entrance of the Tucson Mountain County Park in the morning, there wasn't any other person. Yeah! I went on a short hike to get closer to the Saguaro cacti and other fascinating inhabitants of the area.

Saguaro (Carnegiae Gigantea) are native to this area and all the way further south across the Mexican boarder. They can grow over 70 ft (20 m) tall. They require over 100 years to grow to a significant height. By Arizona law it is illegal to vandalize a Saguaro. It gave me a good chuckle to read about an incident in 1982, when a young idiot was killed by a piece of a Saguaro that fell on him while he was destroying the cactus for fun.

Tip of a Saguaro arm

The Saguaro survives in the desert climate by hoarding rainwater. It literally expands and increases in diameter in wet season and shrinks again in dry season.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum really has a lot to offer. It is a botanical garden, natural history museum, zoo, aquarium, ... a worthwhile place to visit and learn about the Sonora Desert and the region's history. Visiting the hummingbird house felt like being home in Sunnyvale, with those wonderful little critters zooming around me. :-)

I was the last person to leave the museum and parking lot. Trying to capture that amazing sunset simply kept me busy.

More to come.