It’s Alive!

When we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum yesterday, just a few minutes away from our campsite at Gilbert Ray, I expected to find a more traditional museum, filled with old dead stuff. It turned out to be more of a beautiful botanical garden, crossed with a zoo, crossed with desert hiking trails, crossed with caves, crossed with a museum. Possibly 90% of it is outside, and the place is very much alive!

I wasn’t initially planning to post about a museum tour, but ended up taking so many pictures that I wanted to share a little of this experience. From the many dozens of pictures taken – just a small fraction of the possibilities – I have chosen a few to add to this blog. I am hoping to learn how to add captions to pictures, but in the meantime will put a short note beside each.


As is typical in this area of southern Arizona, the views are spectacular.




I am posting 2 pictures of this prairie dog and lizard, looking in opposite directions, just so you can see that they are real. LOL







As mentioned in a prior post, there are apparently 850 species of cactus, and I think this park has all of them. Rather than posting 850 pictures, here are a couple of the photogenic plants.







Speaking of photogenic, here is a lush tropical scene. Ok, don’t take that lush the wrong way! LOL




There are also many variations of the agave plant, which capture light and shadow in a dramatic way. Here is one.


The park included a reptiles, invertebrates, and amphibians live exhibit, a cave and mineral gallery, a mountain woodland, desert grassland, desert loop trail, cat canyon, riparian corridor, walk-in aviary, art gallery, and hummingbird aviary, among other attractions. Here is one of the hummingbirds.


Overall, this find was a true, beautiful, live treasure. Of course I’m talking about the one in the hat. The park was nice too! LOL




As our kids, grandkids, and friends know, Betty doesn’t swear. But now every morning when she wakes up and looks out our bedroom window, she exclaims: “Those are some big frickken cactus!” LOL.




In the Tucson area of southern Arizona, the cactus is ubiquitous. Front yards, boulevards, license plates and whole mountains are covered in this unique plant. On the one hand it is readily identifiable by its covering in sharp spikes, but we have found that there are so many variations in our campground alone, that we had to stop by a downtown 4th Avenue bookstore after dinner last night to pick up a primer on the perfectly prickly plant.

So here are some of the variations in Gilbert Ray Campground, our current Reddoch Retreat Centre, as identified in Cacti, other Succulents, and Unusual Xerophytes of Southern Arizona:

(Disclaimer: OK, so I just opened the book and there are 96 pages of cacti, many looking very similar to the variations on the previous pages. Apparently there are 850 species of cactus. My bad if I don’t get the names right. Just don’t use this blog post on your next biology test. LOL)

The saguaro (cereus giganteus), or as Betty calls it “a big frickken cactus!” is
just outside our bedroom window, towering over us at about 20 feet. They can grow up to 50’, according to my handy book.


This is Betty in our backyard, surrounded by some of her prickly friends. They are obviously nothing like our good friends back in Manitoba. LOL



The palmer agave is a great plant to photograph, as the sun and shadows can make a dramatic rendering.



I think this is the pineapple cactus, but it’s bigger than any pineapple I’ve ever seen!





This is a closeup of something spikey, although I don’t think that’s the technical name.



The pancake prickly pear is a common plant, but I wouldn’t eat it with any amount of maple syrup!





This may be the ocotillo, or coach whip. Ouch!




This furry tree is also known as the jumping cholla





Flowers are just starting to appear on the tops of cacti.



The cacti add to some dramatic views from our campsite at sunset.


OK, that’s enough of our botany lesson for today. If you forget any of the official names, feel free to use Betty’s appropriate term: “That’s a big frickken cactus!” LOL


States 9 & 10…

At times we experience the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: serendipity. This week was one of those times.

After our departure from SPI, we passed through the Rio Grande Valley on our way to Big Bend National Park, at the other southern tip of Texas. Our first stop was a quiet night at a rural home in Zapata, Texas for our first Boondockers Welcome stay. As we sat outside for the evening, the warm air was filled with the beautiful fragrance of local trees, which we were never able to identify. A peaceful night.

As dusk approached the following evening, we entered the small town of Sanderson, Texas. Not wanting to drive through Big Bend Park at night, we decided to look for a rest area or truck stop for our next stay. The previous town we drove through appeared totally abandoned, with nearly all of the buildings falling down, or having been burned down – not an appealing campsite — so we didn’t know what to expect in Sanderson. As we entered the town we saw two motorhomes pulling into a vacant lot by the highway, across from a gas station. We pulled up beside them, and they confirmed that the gas station attendant had told them it was ok to park there, and they said we were welcome to join them.

It turned out that joining them was not simply a matter of sharing the same gravel lot. As I was washing the bugs off our windshield – a standard practice that gives us a clear view of our surroundings in the morning – our neighbour’s coach door opened and we were invited in for an evening meal of San Antonio chicken tortilla soup that had been simmering in their crockpot all day. It was a delicious part of this wonderful happenstance!

Both couples had just come from Big Bend, so they were able to tell us what to expect. But they also shared about White Sands National Monument, east of Las Cruces, New Mexico (State #9), which wasn’t on our itinerary, but we were assured was worth the divergence. Before departing in the morning, we exchanged future travel plans with the hope of reconnecting on the east coast this fall.

While in the White Sands visitor center, we met a woman who told us about an America The Beautiful annual park pass that we could purchase, with the receipt from Big Bend taking $25. off the $80. cost. We would not have to pay the $10. entrance fee at White Sands, nor the $35. entrance fee at the Grand Canyon, nor the fees for any of the other national parks we hope to visit in the next 13 months. Another serendipitous meeting!

Attached to this post are some pictures from Big Bend and White Sands, along with the spectacular views from our Oliver Lee Memorial State Park campsite in the Sacramento Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, adjacent to the Lincoln National Forest.

We have now arrived in Tucson, Arizona (State #10). Our first night was at the Pima County Fairgrounds on the eastern outskirts. Nothing more than a large, full-service gravel parking lot with excellent wifi, we stayed here so we could consider options in this unfamiliar city. This leads to our final serendipitous occurrence so far this week! We have found a fantastic site at the Gilbert Ray campground, in Tucson Mountain Park, overlooking the Sonoran desert and Brown Mountain. The park is also adjacent to Saguaro National Park. While we are not sure if we will have Internet or cell access for the next week, we hope to be able to post about this amazing landscape soon.

In the meantime, I thought I’d just share some of our serendipity-do-daw!


This 20′ high cactus is in our current campsite!  It was serendipitous that we got this site, as the park fills up fast on a first come basis. We will try to post additional views soon.

Gavin and Charlie are sad to go!

As Graham has so aptly posted it was very sad to leave the Island. The people we have met on the road have been amazing, friendly, and warm.

It is very hard to wrap my head around the fact that I am not returning to the lovely basement office I shared with the amazing Christine and Colleen. This is a very new experience for me and I’m not altogether  sure how I feel. On one hand I am so very happy to be retired but on the other hand I have so much to tell my friends back home about the adventure we have had and get back to the reality of women’s health. On the other hand I have no desire to return to the busyness. I’m sure that eventually I will be able to sort out these confusing feelings.  Never fear I am working just as hard on the relaxed life style as I did on practice guidelines!

So I will say goodbye for now. Charlie and Gavin are in the drivers seat and we are all set to go.

🎶 on the road again🎵  (Willie)


Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot…

This week we reached the end of an historic first chapter in the story of our overlandish odyssey. We said goodbye to our little piece of paradise on South Padre Island, and the wonderful friends we made while there. After leaving Winnipeg on Dec. 26, this was the first destination where we settled in for just over six weeks, representing a much longer period than the traditional vacation prior to retirement – the end of the beginning of our full-time adventure!

In the past we’ve always experienced a sadness in leaving the sun, sand, and
sea of SPI. But this time it was not to return to work, but to press on to new vistas in New Mexico and Arizona. What new encounters await?

All the same, saying goodbye elicited all the emotions normally evoked by Robert Burns’ poem “Auld Lang Syne”, which is often sung to bid farewell to the past year, and welcome the new. We said goodbye to the waves, the dunes, and the seagulls, although the sand was another matter – I think it will still be with us in our carpets, clothes, and car for many months to come! LOL

We attended our final church service at Chapel By The Sea, with another chuckle as a choir paraded to the front for another anthem. Yes, I had a-choir-ed a taste for that! LOL

We made our final trip across the Queen Isabella causeway, which as always was in the curb lane so that Betty could watch for dolphins in Laguna Madre, and I could watch out for pelicans landing on the bridge. At its highest point, the span always provides a wonderful view of either SPI, or Port Isabel.

We said goodbye with a final meal at Joe’s Oyster Bar in Port Isabel, with the bestest, freshest, most delicious seafood in the area! The flounder, shrimp, oysters, and stuffed crab cake are fabulous, as is the fresh cole slaw that accompanies “Joey’s Deluxe Seafood”. Can’t wait to go back there again!

But maybe the most conflicting emotions came in saying farewell to our new friends at Isla Blanca Park. We experienced a great sense of community in our section of the park, with neighbours reaching out to greet us on arrival, and bidding us safe travels as we closed our slideouts, lifted our levelers, and pulled out. And in between were many acts of kindness: From the fresh pecan pie brought over by a neighbor, to an invitation for Betty to join a crafters’ club while at SPI.

It turned out that some had not only been coming to Isla Blanca for the past 20 years, they have been coming to the same site, reserving it for the next year’s season with a $100. deposit on arrival. Many sites have been customized, including ours, with the addition of stone patios, indoor/ outdoor carpeting and flower beds. Neighbours were able to point to mature palm trees that had been planted by camper friends many years before, a unique tradition for a public park. (BTW, this was the final year for this tradition, as the park is about to undergo a complete upgrade.)

Before we made our day trip to Mexico, as mentioned in a prior post, one of our neighbours appeared at our door saying “If you leave your motorhome unlocked while you are away, I can take Charlie for walks and make sure he’s OK.” We had already observed that bikes and other possessions were left unlocked, not out of carelessness, but out of an awareness that people looked out for each other – a most wonderful characteristic. We returned to find that Charlie had enjoyed his day as much as we had!

Adding all this to our package of memories, we are convinced that these new auld acquaintances won’t soon be forgot, and never brought to mind!

“We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne…”


We Jammin’

“We jammin’
I wanna jam it with you
We jammin’
I hope you like jammin’ too…”

Today was another beautiful beach day on South Padre Island. With the roar of the waves in the background, Betty, Charlie & I relaxed on the sand in the afternoon sun. Bet had another book to read, Charlie had another big smile on his face as he watched the passers by commenting “Cute dog!”, and I had my favourite play list tickling my ears. We jammin’…!

As I sit back on the beach with Bob Marley’s songs soothing my head, I think about the play list that is keeping me mellow for the afternoon: There’s lots of Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Leon Russell, Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac, The Tragically Hip, Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen, and of course, Bob Marley in the over eight hour sound track. But there are also other lesser known artists that resonate, like Rodriguez, The Proclaimers, Savoy Brown, The Hooten Hallers, and The Jerry Cans, to name a few. The latter two made big impressions at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in past years, with unique talents that keep a smile on your face as you listen to their groove.

Created a couple of years ago now, I played the sound track during tedious renovations on our home; while shovelling mounds of snow from our walks, garage, and parking pad; and while mowing the lawn in summer. Each song takes me back to a memory of a far less relaxing time.

Now sitting on the sand with the sun warming my face, I can only say a big amen to Bob Marley:

“We jammin’, to think that jammin’ was a thing of the past
We jammin and I hope the jam is gonna last…”


Practice Makes Perfect

One of the hobbies I’ve taken up on the road is photography. Before we left
Winnipeg I picked up a decent Nikon digital SLR and some related equipment, and am happy with all the photogenic images we are seeing all around us on our adventure. BTW, I chose this brand of camera because of Paul Simon, and not for any other reason:

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my Kodachrome away”

Unfortunately, I am not at all happy with the quality of my photography, and am regularly flummoxed by the myriad of buttons and settings on the camera. While not a total Luddite, I tend to be intimidated by electronics, and easily frustrated when the “SnapBridge” app, for instance, doesn’t immediately transfer pictures to my iphone and MacBook. Prior to beginning this post, it took me so long to transfer all my recent pics that I have lost my train of thought…

Betty has known for some time now that I am losing my mind, but it’s still disconcerting when I see the thought train pull out of the station without me! LOL

Anyway, where was I? Yes, well you may not know this, but I tend to have perfectionist tendencies at times. So when the images I have recorded are not as exciting as the images my eyes are capturing, it makes me wonder whether I should change hobbies. Attached to this post are a number of my recent attempts, with none yet up to the standards to which I aspire. Hopefully, as our adventure continues, my photography will improve and we can all have a good laugh at these early attempts!


“Way down here you need a reason to move
Feel a fool running your stateside games
Lose your load, leave your mind behind, Baby James

Oh, Mexico
It sounds so simple I just got to go
The sun’s so hot I forgot to go home
Guess I’ll have to go now…”

“…Oh, down in Mexico
I never really been so I don’t really know
Oh, Mexico
I guess I’ll have to go…”

As James Taylor sang, there is a lure to visiting Mexico when you spend so much time on the other bank of the Rio Grande River in Texas. While Betty & I have stayed at a resort in Puerto Vallarta, we were a little more apprehensive about visiting a border town, especially with all the negative press about drugs, gang violence, and corruption in Mexico.

Here on South Padre Island, many visitors make the day trip to the other side, so we took up the offer of a nice couple from Sutton, Ontario, to go with them and their Clint Eastwood look-alike friend from Newmarket, Ontario, to Nuevo Progreso Mexico. While there are closer crossings, the hour and a half drive to Progeso, Texas took us through some of the farm country that borders the Rio Grande River, with the border fence curiously stopping and starting along the way, presumably to provide river access for the adjacent farmers.

Once in Progreso, we parked our vehicles and walked across the short bridge to Nuevo Progreso, joining hundreds of other North American tourists who filled the sidewalks of the border town. The Customs check was so minimal I don’t remember it, but before we knew it we were walking the streets of a very different land. On both sides were drug stores catering to anyone who wanted cheap pharmaceuticals which elsewhere are sold by prescription only, but are there sold over the counter at a fraction of the price. Interspersed were dentist offices (stores?) where one can receive everything from a cleaning to a root canal at a much lower price. And on every block, both sides of the crowded sidewalks were full of local vendors, selling everything you could imagine, along with some unimaginable items!! Now living in a motorhome with limited space, we had to take a disciplined approach, not picking up the many hand-carved and hand-painted keepsakes being sold at discount rates.

While we appreciated the industrious nature of the locals in Nuevo Progreso, the underlying poverty was extremely disconcerting, to the point where it has taken a few days to process the experience. Under the circumstances I felt uncomfortable taking pictures of any of the inhabitants, so there are no photographs connected to this post. Now we have been, I wish I could join James Taylor in singing:

“Oh, Mexico
I never really been but I’d sure like to go
Oh, Mexico
I guess I’ll have to go now.”