Saturday, March 29, 2014

Three Days in LA

Actually we were in Pasadena and Arcadia. Visiting family and friends. What a grand time we had. Our visit started when we arrived at Arch's cousin's home in Arcadia at 11 am on Sat March 15. I told the story of Arch and his "lost" cousins lat year when we visited the  Florida Chisholms for Christmas and then returned to meet Tom and Carol Chisholm from California when they visited Florida last March. It was great to see Tom and Carole again in their home environment. We parked in their driveway for the night and sadly have no pictures of the Adventure Bus there. Arch thought I took a photo and he thought I did. *Sigh*.

Shortly after we arrived Maureen and Butch arrived. Butch is Tom and Jim's brother and we were thrilled to meet them.
Butch and Arch
I think Butch looks a lot like Arch's Dad. What do you think Grace?

And we headed to Santa Anita Raceway ( just around the corner from Tom and Carole's) for lunch and an afternoon at the races.

Front to back: Tom, Carole, Anne, Arch (with Carole's shamrock in his face) Butch and Maureen.
We celebrated St Patrick's Day a little early as you can see. Unfortunately, the luck of the Irish was not with us and there were no winners in this crew. But we had fun.

Then we headed back to Carole and Tom's for traditional corned beef and cabbage:

And Maureen's birthday:

All in all a great day.

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast, prepared by Tom, and then moved the Adventure Bus to the next town - Pasadena - to visit our college classmate and good friend Joanne and he husband Brett Lamberty for two days. Tom led the way so we would not get lost and very soon we were parked on the street in front of Joanne and Brett's home:

Joanne went to the City of Pasadena and got a permit so we could park there for two days. What a good friend. It was so convenient. We could sleep in our own bed and, most importantly, not leave Princess on her own, and still enjoy a wonderful visit with Joanne and Brett.

We spent the afternoon touring Pasadena and enjoying time in Huntington Gardens, where Joanne and Brett are members
This photo was taken in the Japanese Garden, one of about 6 on the estate.
Then Joanne made a wonderful "Chicago-style" deep dish pizza for supper ( Brett is from Chicago and Joanne lived there for a while). then it was off to bed.

The next morning Tom picked us up and we returned to Tom and Carole's to have brunch with them and Jim and Judy, the Florida Chisholms, who were visiting assorted family and friends in California, Arizona and Nevada for the week. It was great to see them again.
From left, Jim, Tom and Arch
Front Row, from left: Judy and Carole. Back row from left: Arch, Anne, Jim and Tom. Thanks for the photo, Tom
Then it was back to Joanne and Brett's just in time for a late afternoon nap before Joanne and Brett treated us to dinner out at a fun and funky Italian restaurant in Pasadena -I cannot believe we forgot to take a photo but we did :(

The next morning we enjoyed some of Joanne's homemade muffins and fruit for breakfast before saying good by for now (we will see them again at our 50th - 50, can you believe it classmates???!- reunion gathering of our class in Montreal in October). We left with a goody bag of muffins which were gone the next day.
Brett and Joanne in front of their lovely home in Pasadena
And we are off. Time to point the Adventure Bus north and head back to Canada. we will cross the border in BC around April 20. (Thanks for the photo, Joanne)
Thank you so much Tom and Carole and Joanne and Brett for making our visit to LA so memorable. And thanks to Butch and Maureen for driving an hour or more from their home to join us. And Jim and Judy - it was so great to see you again - looking forward to connecting in Florida next winter.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

More Art in the Desert

We were exploring Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California when suddenly some amazing metal sculptures loomed before us.

It turned out they were the work of Ricardo Breceda.

Born in Durango Mexico, Ricardo has lived in California for about 25 years. He has been creating his metal animal kingdom, since the release of the movie Jurassic Park III.

His daughter's enthusiasm over dinosaurs sparked his interest in the creation of these prehistoric beasts. What started as a hobby quickly became a passion to transform metal into incredible life like creations. Since then Ricardo has become a well known sculptor / designer.

Ricardo eventually encountered Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs. Dennis had the vision of using his land as an enormous outdoor gallery, home to Breceda's Artwork.

There are now roughly 130 Breceda sculptures in the Borrego Valley.

You can pick up a detailed map to the scuptures at many locations around town. The full story of how Borrego Springs became home to an extensive collection of outdoor art is told in the book "Ricardo Breceda: Accidental Artist."

The art is amazing. Here a just a few examples.

There was a field of horses. You can see more in the distance
The size and detail was amazing
So I couldn't show you just one
And this eagle with its prey is wonderful. So much detail.
I loved this one. Amazing how he captured the tenderness between mother and baby in metal.
Ohhhh Vicious!!
This wonderful dragon appeared in and out of the desert - even crossing the road.
It is hard to believe that this was made with some pieces of metal and a blow torch.
You can see many more images of these sculptures here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slab City

When we were at the top of Salvation Mountain (I took the back path up - it was not too steep) we could see a lot of RVs parked in the desert:
This in Slab City, or, as it is frequently called "The Slabs".
The back story of Slab City is this:

During the 2nd World War the US Air Force established a base here. At the end of the war the base was declared extra to their needs and they offered to return the land to the county for the sum of $2. But. as with all abandoned military properties, the land was contaminated with all sorts of unwanted stuff that would cost millions to clean up. So the county said "no thanks". As did the state. And so the Air Force simply removed their equipment and buildings and left. Leaving many vacant concrete slabs scattered around the desert.

Eventually boondocking snowbirds discovered this area with the slabs perfect to park on. And for many years it served as the winter home for many northerners escaping winter's fury. As well as free living hippies and other folks escaping a conventional life.

However, as with all areas that are occupied by many people with no controls, problems started to crop up. As no governing body would take responsibility for the area it has no services (electric, water, sewer, garbage disposal, etc) and is self governed with no law enforcement. The nearby police departments do not enter the area thus it is ruled by vigilante justice.

It is, at times, a scary place, so many snowbirds stopped returning and the rest moved away from the core area of the slabs and into the suburbs, so to speak. So now, as with many Canadian and American cities, the core has become run down and scattered with garbage. But there is a core group of interesting folks who are trying to "revitalize" the place - on their own terms.

As we drove into Slab City we passed an empty "Welcome Centre:
Lots of the garbage was collected by various people and turned into interesting pieces of art. I particularly liked this truck:
The folks at Salvation Mountain told us to go to the Internet Cafe and talk to Rob:
Internet Cafe
 The owner, Rob, was an interesting character who traded an old truck for the cafe. Rob does not sell coffee or internet service for money but barters for things that he needs. Including a lot of marijuana. He also has a donation box. Most of the tables and chairs are repurposed items and scattered around the property.

As we were leaving the cafe we bumped into a woman - Hazel- from Halifax. She saw out car licence plate. She lives next door to the cafe and dedicates her time to arranging for the many free-running dogs and cats to be spayed and neutered. She has an arrangement with a local vet to do the work for a very low price, which she funds by collecting cans and bottles. And, she also has a donation box. Once a month, she picks up the animals from their owners, takes them to the vet to be spayed or neutered and returns them to the owners that night. It is a good thing she does on two levels - firstly she removes a lot of garbage by collecting cans and bottles and secondly she is helping control the pet population.

After wishing Hazel good luck and good by we drove around Slab City having a look at the various establishments and home sites.
Night Club - lost of recycled items make up their patio
Artistic home 

Another home using recycled materials. Creative too.
In the suburbs - solar panels, awnings, etc. 
And as we were leaving I couldn't resist photographing this sign:
Slab City speed control
We did not stay in Slab City. Not because we were fearful but because boondocking in the desert is just not our thing. Much to dirty and we like our electricity.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Salvation Mountain

A visit to Salvation Mountain in south eastern California was a big bucket list item for us. And our first stop when we left Yuma headed towards the Pacific Coast.

As we arrived, after a drive through California's Imperial Valley agriculture area and a long stretch through the desert, we were greeted by this sign:
And then this:
Salvation Mountain
It was really something to see all this appear out of the desert.

It is one man's tribute to God and his gift to the world. And an amazing work of art.  This kiosk told us the story:

Reading these info boards will be easier if you click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Sadly, Leonard died last February. But a group of hardworking and caring people work to maintain his masterpiece and explain it to visitors. We were greeted by this man who was touching up paint on the mountain and acting as the docent for the day:
He was very pleasant and helpful and explained the various activities around the site.

Before we visited we were talking to fellow RVers who visited recently. They told us of Leonard's death and suggested we not to bring paint as he was no longer there to use it. That was wrong - they are desperate for paint - latex base only - so if you visit take a can. Yellow preferred at the moment. They paint a yellow brick road for visitors to follow while exploring the mountain and the paint wears off quickly with all the traffic. There is a donation box for people like us who come paint-less.

Some pictures from our visit:
At the base of the mountain. I am standing on the yellow brick road.

Arch climbed the mountain. The path was too steep and narrow for me.
This picture will give you an idea of the size of Salvation Mountain. Arch is standing beside the base of the cross on top.
Leonard Knight lived in this truck most of the year. In the hot summer months he moved to a grotto inside Salvation Mountain.
Inside Leonard's home.

The guest house
Inside the guest house
Even the porch (desert) swing was a work of art.
So if you are in the area of the Imperial Valley or the Salton Sea in California be sure to stop at Salvation Mountain. Simply turn east at the grocery store in Niland and you will find it. And bring a can of paint.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dates Shakes Everywhere

Date Shakes are very popular in Yuma. Why, you ask? Because Yuma is the home of many date farms or Date Gardens, as they are called.
Date Garden
We visited three and became experts on date shakes if not growing dates. Two of the date gardens we visited were very commercial in nature and mostly featured shops where you could buy their products:

Martha's Garden
The shop at Martha's Garden was very beautiful and they did offer tours - it was necessary to book the tour in advance, which we did, then I managed to be sick on the date we were scheduled to go. So we missed it. If you are interested I would recommend you book this tour as it looked very complete and this appeared to be a very well run operation.

Then one day we were out exploring the area around Yuma and happened upon this place:
Not very fancy looking but it was run by a woman who was very knowledgeable about date farming and gave us a complete description of the process. A very labour intensive business.

It takes 7 to 10 years after planting for date palms to yield a crop of dates suitable for commercial harvest. Mature date palms can produce 175–260 lb of dates per harvest season, although they do not all ripen at the same time so several harvests are required. In order to get fruit of marketable quality, the bunches of dates must be thinned and bagged or covered before ripening so that the remaining fruits grow larger and are protected from weather and pests such as birds. 

It is necessary to grow both male and female date palms and all pollination is done manually.
Female Date Palm
The yellow frond-like flowers you see at the base of the palm fronds are actually date flower buds. Workers first must remove two buds in every three to allow space for the fruit to grow. Then they use an eye-dropper type instrument to pollinate the remaining buds. This all happens in the spring. As the dates start to form in the summer months they are covered with muslin bags to protect them from the birds. In the fall the ripened dates are harvested by hand by people standing on a cherry-picker. The dates are then delivered to an area where they are, sorted, graded, packed, etc.

If you are interested in learning more about date farming check out this website.

Date Shakes are great but are more like date ice cream than a shake. If you are interested in trying one here is the recipe:

Date Shake

1/2 cup (approximately 4 to 5 dates) pitted Medjool dates, coarsely chopped*
1/2 cup cold milk
1 cup good-quality vanilla ice cream
Whipped Cream

In a blender, process the dates and 1/4 cup milk at high speed until smooth. Add remaining 1/4 cup milk, vanilla ice cream, and nutmeg; blending at low speed until well mixed. The goal is to achieve a paste-like texture with minimal chunks.

Pour into a tall, chilled glass, top with whipped cream, and serve immediately. It will be very thick and you will need to serve it with a spoon.

Or, if you like to bake, here is a recipe for the best date squares you will ever taste. Incidentally they are called date squares in Central and Eastern Canada and matrimonial squares in Western Canada. I don't know why. I have not seen them for sale or served anywhere we visited in the USA.

Date Squares (Matrimonial Cake)

1 1/2 cups flour
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups oatmeal (Old fashioned not instant)
1 cup softened butter
1 lb pitted dates
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 t. grated lemon peel
1/2 cup white sugar

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar and oatmeal. Add butter and mix until crumbled together. Put one half of this mixture in a buttered 9' x 9' pan. Pat down and into the corners.
Prepare the filling by combining the remaining ingredients in a pot over low heat. Cook and stir until very smooth. Spread over the oatmeal mixture in the pan. Top with the remaining oatmeal mixture and spread to cover the date mixture.
Bake in a preheated 350F oven 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool well before cutting in squares.


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Sunday, March 9, 2014

America's Salad Bowl

The drive from Quartzsite to Yuma is a straight run through the desert. Not even a turn in the road for about 80 miles:
Then suddenly, up ahead, the road bends and goes through a mountain pass and, on the other side, we are greeted by this:
Miles and miles of green with huge expanses of tilled fields between. We knew that Yuma was a farming community but the size of the farms, and everything related to them, was amazing.

So, after we settled in to our RV park, we decided to learn more about farming in the area. At the tourist information bureau I found a flyer advertising a farm tour at the University of California Agricultural Research Farm in El Centro, California, about 50 miles from Yuma.

Becky, Steve and Kay, who were staying in the same park as we were, were also interested so we reserved space and off we went. What a great day we had.

We arrived, checked in and then gathered in a beautiful shaded area to listen to an introduction to the tour and receive our marching orders:
One of the major crops in this area is chick peas - who knew! - and part of the introduction was a demo of how to make hummus. Which is a big favourite in our house:
Hummus and ingredients
We were able to taste a sample of the hummus which was presented in small tasting cups wit a few pita chips:
They also gave us the recipe but I thought the hummus was pretty boring and lacked flavour so here is my recipe instead:

5 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 T olive oil
1 (15 oz. can) garbanzo beans (chick peas) - drained
1/2 C tahini ( or you can use peanut butter)
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. salt
1 T good olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450F. Place the garlic cloves in a little pile on a sheet of heavy foil. Drizzle with the tablespoon of olive oil, wrap the foil tightly around them and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

While garlic is roasting combine the remaining ingredients in a food processor and process until very smooth and creamy.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle squeeze it from the peels into the hummus and process until well blended.

Place in a serving bowl and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Serve with pita, crackers or raw veggies.

Back to the farm tour.

After the introduction we were off to a large room where our tour organizer went through a very complete description of how all the different vegetables are grown and harvested. Then back to the gathering area for a salad bowl lunch:
That is Kay beside Arch
And then we all hopped on tractor pulled wagons for a tour of the farm:
Steve, Kay, Becky and Arch
There were 3 wagon loads of people and each wagon had its own tour guide who knew the farm operation well and gave excellent descriptions of everything we saw:
At one point we passed some burrowing owls:
They were very tiny and far away - can you see them peeking out at us? The red "x" mark the spot
At the beginning of the day we each received a large produce bag. And at the end of the wagon tour we stopped at a large veggie garden where we could pick as much as we wanted to fill the bag:
Everyone quickly fanned out through the field to fill heir orange bags. We picked swiss chard, beets, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and cilantro.

And then, to top off the day it was back to the gathering area for ice cream:
Arch's favourite part of the day
So, if you are in the Yuma/El Centro area and the farm tour is available - go - you will have a great time and learn a lot to boot.

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