Friday, March 20, 2015


I'm trying very hard to pack LIGHT this time.  I'm tired of dragging a big heavy suitcase through the airport and even more tired of standing in a crowded baggage area waiting for the thing to appear on the carousel.  So this time, I am taking only two bags:  A messenger bag for under the seat and a carry-on for the overhead.  It's gonna be IN and OUT of both the Los Angeles and Tokyo airports in record time.  (I hope!!!)

I figure if I really go wild and crazy in Tokyo with shopping, I'll buy an extra bag.  I'm going solo this trip with no set itinerary.  I'll decide what to do when I get there.  Roam the neighborhoods via subway (if I can figure them out) or sign up for daily escorted tours.  Maybe a little of both.  All I know is that I'm going to begin this new decade with a challenge and a spirit of adventure.  I will turn 60 in Tokyo.  I intend to embrace this age with renewed vigor.  I intend to keep looking forward and never back.  Regrets are going to be erased.  The good memories will remain close to my heart and lots and lots of new ones will be added.  Beginning with Japan!

See you next month!


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Faces of Boulder Park

Enter at Your Own Risk

And so we did.

We entered a whimsical world and got lost within our own imaginations.  Boulders were carved into animal shapes and human faces, yet other rocks shapeshifted before our eyes.  The lines between nature and art were no longer separate.  And we were no longer separate from them.
This folk art site is one of the best in California.  Adjacent to the Desert View Tower in Jacumba, California, it is a wonderful place to stop if you're driving east on Interstate 8 from San Diego.

These rocks were carved in 1933 by Merle Ratcliff, an out-of-work engineer.  What a way to ride out the Great Depression!  I so admire these outsider artists who take a crazy dream and run with it.  


But enter at your own risk.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Desert View Tower

The stairs wind up the tower to the top deck where you have a panoramic view of the mountains and the desert beyond, in both California and Mexico.

This circular stone tower was built in the 1920's by Bert Vaughn, a real estate developer.  He wanted to commemorate the pioneers who built the first roads and railway in this lonely part of California, but I suspect it was really a desperate move to lure people here.  He had hoped Jacumba would become a major border crossing town but, alas, it was not to be.  Jacumba remains an "off-the-beaten" track sort of place.  If anyone crosses the border here, it's over or under that hideous fence.

If you love quirky architecture, though, and even quirkier gift shops, the Desert Tower is worth the detour.  The interior is part museum, part store.  It is filled with Indian pottery and baskets, folk art, blankets, saddles, books and postcards.  A big German Shepherd was asleep on an old worn leather sofa.
In addition to this crazy tower, there are several stone animals chiseled out of boulders next door (which I will write about later).  The two sites make up one of California's most unusual folk art installations and are Registered Historical Landmarks.

For the traveler who loves surreal scenery, the San Diego-Yuma route along Interstate 8 is a great road trip.  The Desert View Tower and adjacent Boulder Park are about half-way between, making it a perfect pit stop.

 I take it back.  Mr. Vaughn wasn't a failed visionary, after all.  He lured us here exactly as planned, didn't he?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Painted Rock Petroglyphs

"One of these days we'll get into a self-driving car, plug in a destination and just sit back and enjoy the ride," a friend recently speculated.  "Road signs will become a thing of the past."

I shuddered.  I already get testy when my travel buddy switches on the GPS every single time we get into the car.  "I like to know where I am," he says.

"Uh.  Look around you.  You know where you are."

What does this have to do with Painted Rock Petroglyphs, you may wonder?  Well . . . on the way back from Tucson, I put my foot down.  No GPS.  No Phone Apps.  No hotel reservation.  No Trip Adviser. We were going to look at a map, take a new route home and just explore.  We were going to READ Road Signs and if something looked interesting, we'd check it out.

And so we did.  We found this ancient historical site just west of Gila Bend, Arizona, on Interstate 8.  All because of a sign.
And we were blown away!

There are nearly 800 images on this crop of basalt boulders.  It is a veritable art gallery of Native American symbols; the earliest dating back to 7500 BCE. These include man's earliest attempt at art--the formation of geometric and abstract designs like circles and zigzags. As the centuries passed, so did man's artistic skill.  Human and animals forms were chiseled into the rocks.  An entire history of the region from the daily lives of the  Hohokam people to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors is all here.   Modern day graffiti, for better or for worse,  adds another layer to this fascinating timeline. 

There is a campground nearby and several picnic tables at the site.  Only a few people were here and we all walked the path around the outcrop in stunned silence.  There are posted signs warning of rattlesnakes (I suspect to keep people from climbing all over the rocks), but there are no fences or barriers.  We saw a chuckwalla, a common, but oh so distinguished lizard in this part of Arizona!

Another sign seemed almost apologetic for not knowing what all the symbols meant.  I couldn't help but see a parallel to our recent tiff.  Why do we always need to know everything?  Why do we need to know the longitude and latitude of our own two feet?  Isn't it enough to simply say: I am here. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum outside of Tuscon, Arizona, is the city's Number One Tourist Attraction.  Trip Advisor has included this outdoor museum in its Top Ten List of Best Museums in the country.  I'm thankful for my two cousins who insisted we go there because I'm not sure I would have paid the steep price otherwise:  $19.50 General Admission.  I'm more of a visual traveler; an aimless wanderer.  I'd rather hike in the actual desert than walk through a bunch of exhibits.   But, truth is, I learned so much from walking the two-mile path through the different areas.  It gave me a much better understanding and appreciation of the Sonoran Desert--a truly unique region of our country.
 The Sonoran Desert is one of the most biologically diverse deserts in the world.  It encompasses 100,000 square miles of land in the United States and Mexico.  What makes it so rich in plant and animal life is the moisture it receives from the nearby Sea of Cortez and rain from its two monsoonal seasons.  Four rivers, the Gila, the Colorado, Santa Cruz and San Pedro flow through its landscape, providing food and water for the animals that roam here.

The museum is open all year.  Allow a full half-day to explore the different areas.  Grab a map as you enter.  We didn't have time to cover the entire museum so we picked a few areas we were most interested in like Cat Canyon, the Reptile Exhibit, the aquarium and the walk-through aviary.  Beautiful desert plants, including the majestic saguaro line all the paths.  It is a delight for plant and animal lovers alike.

Money well spent!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

My Opera Coat

I confess:  When I buy a piece of clothing my active imagination concocts a fantasy to go with it.  I found this black satin-lined coat at a local vintage store many years ago.  Oh, the places this coat would take me!  Opera under the stars in Santa Fe.  The ballet in San Francisco.  The Academy Awards (Sure, why not?)  The L'Avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris.

The reality, I'm afraid, is much less glamorous.  This beautiful old opera coat has seen the inside of a Starbucks once or twice.  It's been to a Christmas party at the Yacht Club, but mostly it gets worn on a dusty trail in the foothills behind Santa Barbara (over a pair of jeans and hiking boots).  But, alas, it has never seen an opera.  And probably never will.

Does it matter?  No, not really.  Because . . . because . . . oh, the places this coat will take me!

Happy Trails to everyone at Patti's Visible Monday!