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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Finally, FLORIDA!

   Note:  I've been writing about our latest "Tour of America" since we hit the road in June.  In this blog, we're on the final leg, driving from Texas back to our home in Miami.

       Texas is bigger than half of the countries in the world, including Lithuania. We drove hours and hours across hot, flat land admiring the occasional tumbleweed.  In Mule Shoe I saw a smiling lawyer billboard that read, "Turn Your Wreck into a Check". 

    As the sun set we finally arrived in the hills of Austin, TX.  It's the home of great music, fantastic barbecue and most important, our son, Ian.

     He works on a GM team that develops programing to make our cars (I'm assuming your rig is a Corvette or Volt) more aerodynamic.  When he's not working, Ian is often biking, camping or swimming in one of the nearby springs.  
     On evening he took us to one of Austin's main tourist attractions, The Bat Bridge. 
     They say every evening over a million winged creatures fly out in huge shape-shifting cloud.   
     Hundreds of us gathered in the free bat viewing to see the show.  We saw the sun set, a darkening sky, and six sea gulls bats. We could hear them as they dangled under the bridge saying things in bat squeak like, "Screw the tourists" and "Let them eat guano!".        
   As we trudged back to our car a few blurs  passed through the street lights. They could have been moths. 
     Later we learned the mosquito  eaters occasionally sleep late leaving folks like us hangin.  Oh well, we had more important things to where to eat, Chicken Lollipop 


 or Biscuits & Groovy

     Ian took us on a bicycle tour along the city's Colorado River. This town is so bike friendly, way ahead of Miami.


We passed by the Ai Weiwei  sculpture composed of silver bicycles,


and stopped at a library where you can buy beer.

       We then learned -for the second time on this trip-  that there was a hurricane coming our way.  "Michael" was scheduled to reach the Florida panhandle at the same time as us.  Yikes, had we become hurricane magnets?
   We bade my son goodbye and headed east. Eight hours later we   hunkered down in New Orleans' comfy Okra Inn.

    Oh my, heading from one exciting city to another, that's my kind of travelin'!
                                    Above, Francesca with our host, Lindsey.           

    In the Big Easy we toured the town by bike and street car (there really is one named "Desire").

 We waltzed through a sculpture garden with Pi,
  stopped for gumbo & beignets, and drank beer from huge frosted steins. 
Enjoying a street serenade

We saw so many amazing things in New Orleans. This appeared to be a golf course than allowed people to enjoy it instead of golfers.  Brilliant!

    On our last night there we even joined an impromptu parade (they call them "second lines") marching joyfully through the French Quarter.   

     That's how we waited for Hurricane Michael to pass. Every Floridian should have it so lucky. We were enjoying perfect weather in an extraordinary city while Mike was trashing the Florida panhandle 300 miles away.  

    24 hours later I-10  re-opened and we could continue east.  
      Passing though Mississippi we stopped at the John Stennis Space center for a picnic lunch. This is spot in the swamp is where they tested monster moon rockets fifty years ago.  The waitress at the nearby Rice City Cafe told us she had to grow up with them, "Every time they'd test them they'd shake the house so bad, it seemed like the world was ending".  I imagine the alligators didn't have it any better.Moon rocket engine at rest

    We followed signs that took us down the Mississippi Blues Trail.  Our friends, the Weisbergs, had strongly suggested that we do this and we were not disappointed.  
This Gulfport beach was perfect, not touched by Michael.


I loved the way the state's logo intertwined its gaggle of S's.

     We soon entered Florida.  After passing Pensacola were started to see thousands of snapped trees suspecting the coastal area just 40 miles south ( Mexico Beach and Panama City) lay in ruins.  

      The day ended on a happier note, our arrival in Florida's delightful college town, Gainesville.  Our friends, Tina and Ward, welcomed us to their tree-surrounded home just up from Hogtown Creek.  After dinner we attended the "Woodstock Revisited" concert in Bo Diddley Plaza (Bo grew up nearby). 
     I had never seen so many old hippies (like me) in one place. When the band broke out Sly Stone's "Dance to the Music!" we got up and boogied.
In a city with just five percent of Miami's population, there is plenty of room for dancing, prancing, and everything else.

   The next day we visited the University's art and natural history museums.

Both are outstanding and function just as well -if not better- than Miami's mega-counterparts.  

    Just outside Gainesville's Butterfly Festival was taking wing.  We enjoyed that too but after four months on the road, it was time to wing it back to Miami.  

    Six hours later we were finally home. It was good to be in the tropics once more where peacocks play, palms fronds hang down to greet you, and every  sunrise seems spectacular.

In the Grove again __________________________________________

SOONER THAN PLANNED, Charles R. Corda, 1952-2018

        My neighbor, Charles Corda, lived with his 95 year-old mother across the street from us. Enjoying her dementia, Mae Corda would sing popular songs from the 1940's behind their French blue gate to anyone passing by.  She had an exceptional  voice. 

We found her delightful and Charles would smile, growling in his thick Bronx accent, "She may be nuts but she's happy, and, strong as an ox.  She'll probably outlive me."

       She did. Yesterday Charles, 66, died of an apparent heart attack on his back porch. His mother was not present as she had moved to a nursing facility two years ago. Mr. C is survived by his mother, a sister,  daughters Marissa and Samantha, and his faithful Basset hound, "Chuck".


      Last week the retired architect/interior designer told me he was moving to Utah, "Someone's offering me 'one point four' and I'm ready to go."  I didn't like hearing this because he had helped us fight monster projects, like Grove Bay, that threaten what we love about Coconut Grove.

       Charles then invited me into his house, "Come on in. You may want my horse barn" (which he pronounced, "bon").  I toured the yellow, 1940's house filled with packed boxes and bunched paintings.  It looked like he was going somewhere.

    He offered me a few of his art works including the meticulously crafted horse stable. It was complete with ten horse statuettes and equestrian hurdles. He had made this incredible tableau for Samantha, the youngest of his daughters.  Taking up an entire six-foot table, it was not meant for me.  
    I did accept a wooden manikin which I promptly named, "Charles".

       My neighbor had a large camper and big plans, "I'm moving to Springdale, Utah, next to Zion National Park. It's perfect there". He added, "I'll buy a little house and spend the rest of my days in God's own country".
      He did move but sooner than expected. They rolled his body into a large white van last night.  Hopefully he did make it to God's country.

  There was be a memorial gathering for Charles on Saturday, November 17, at a local art gallery.  Thirty people gathered to share his passing with his two daughters.  His paintings and photographs decorated the walls.

I will miss him.  As a local activist, he was great at doing research and making complicated problems (and crimes) easy to understand.
And yes, Charles spoke truth to power. 

Peter R. Ehrlich, Jr.

Lemon City,
Miami, Florida

Monday, November 5, 2018


      It's hard to leave Utah's spectacular Canyonlands. You're exiting God's version  Disneyworld knowing everything beyond will be a little less amazing. 

     Winding down from a sprawling mesa we camped in a park we'd never heard of "Hovenweep". 

 It was next to a small canyon that the natives had ringed with dwellings hundreds of years ago.
   In the distance we could see what looked like an Indian, four miles long, protected by a puffy gray blanket.

              In the morning we passed this metal recycling facility in Blanding, Utah, strictly for the birds.

    Driving south towards New Mexico we passed Mesa Verde, Four Corners and the cowboy movie main stay, Ship Rock. Perched on flatness, you can see it looming large for an hour before you pass.

     I had never been to Cuba until this adventure. Funny, the folks inside never heard of cafe con leche.
Camping in the hills outside of Cuba, New Mexico, we happened upon a group of camouflaged hunters.  They blew mating calls on their elk horns, practicing for the beginning of elk season just hours away.  The men were very friendly as they explained that they might be killing bear and mountain lions too.
    As we set up to camp nearby, they warned us to keep a tree or two between us and any mother elk as "they are very protective of their young". 
     We had a 400-mile drive to Texas the next day.  We headed out very early to avoid  the mother elk and the bullets chasing their husbands. 
     Towards the end of our drive, outside of Fort Sumner, NM, I saw a sign directing me to the grave of Billy the Kid.  Francesca was asleep so I figured, "What the heck".
   A few minutes later, heading down the side road I thought, "What am doing? Looking for the grave of some punk who killed 8 people 130 years ago".
    Then I saw the metallic teepee, a  memorial to the 10,000 Navajo Indians who were force to walk 400 miles from their Colorado home to this desert dump. After 3000 of them died on "The Great Walk"and their subsequent incarceration at Fort Sumner, the U.S. Calvary herded them off to another, less-horrid, reservation.  
     Why gangsta' Billy gets all the attention is a good lesson in American revisionist history.
I later learned his gravestone has been stolen twice.  Note: Should you steal it again, please don't put it in our backyard.

     This day was meant to get us to one to one of the coolest places in America, the home of rock n' roll legend Buddy Holly in Lubbock, Texas. 
The Cactus Theater in Lubbock where Buddy Holley and the Crickets once performed.

    Like Billy, Buddy died young. We knew the city had created a spanking new "music center" for his fans and we had to be there.

Air BnB lesson: check locations carefully, we ended up in Kendall-like suberb in Lubbock.  

Downtown Lubbock was
lots of fun. We strolled around, bought peppers and pumpkins at their farmers market, then headed to Buddy's museum the moment it opened.

                    Leaning on the museum's gigantic Buddy Glasses

The converted train station had all his guitars and memorabilia. Next door we toured the house where he wrote "Peggy Sue".  We saw it all including a somber glass showcase. Inside, perched on a pedestal, were Buddy's glasses recovered from the 1959 plane crash site. 

     After a couple of hours we headed south, staying ahead of a looming storm, to make our way to another great Texas music city, Austin.
Preferring coffee to Coke

Saturday, October 27, 2018


                         Where's Waldo?  Where's our camper?  Lingering next to the Dirty Devil.

    They call it "The Big Five".  People come from all over the world to see southern Utah's five most mind-boggling parks.  They begin with the Grand Canyon,

  its depth so vast on first sight, it makes you cry.
     But there is much more nearby starting with the Grand's "opposite",  Zion National Park.  Think of it this way, when you go to the Grand Canyon you're looking down into an incredible, colorful canyon, too big to fully comprehend. When you visit  Zion, 100 miles northwest, it's the other way around. You're at the bottom of another fantastic canyon, looking up.
    I suppose the 900-foot spires rising all around gave it its heavenly name. On our third visit there, earlier this month, we were again inspired by Zion.

  INSPIRED      Painting in  the visitor's center.

    Francesca and I hiked a bit then jumped on our bikes to coast down the canyon road.
 Francesca served dinner under the eye of Watchman Tower.  Later, we spoke to a ranger about short hikes (Pi wasn't allowed on trails) and she told us, "Don't hike up into any narrow canyons tomorrow.  The hurricane is coming and a flash flood could spoil your day".

   At first, we thought she was kidding, a hurricane in Utah?  But she was right. Hurricane Rosa had made landfall in Mexico and was headed our way.
Being South Florida storm vets, we knew this would be like a 'cane drifting up into Kentucky to bring rain and possible flooding without the crazy wind.  
We were okay with that. The next morning we hiked up the river but not too far.

   You exit Zion to the east by driving through a mile-long tunnel punched through a canyon wall. On the other  side there's another version of Utah splendor complete with mountain goats grazing.

     Heading north we passed the incredible rock
towers ("hoodoos") that pop up at Bryce Canyon NP. 

It seemed strange not to stop  but we had visited twice before.  Our plan was pass up this -and- the Grand Canyon, so we could see other nearby national parks for the first time.

   We got to Escalante NP's visitor's center just before the hurricane. Park service employee Shannon Holt showed us the life-size paper-mache Diabloceratops her crew made for the 2018 Pioneer Day Parade. "It's Utah's biggest event", she exclaimed, "bigger than the Fourth of July!".  It celebrates the day Brigham Young, his 8 wives and 54 children, came to Salt Lake Valley for the first time and he said famously, "This is the place!".  I imagine the full text was, "This is the place that can accommodate  me, my 8 wives and 54 children!"
    While Diabloceratops and Native Americans no longer living in the area, there are plenty of Mormons to take up the extra space. 

     We told the center's rangers we wanted to get away from people so they directed us to this slot canyon.
  Places like this are why we are drawn to Utah.

The rocks' spectrum of browns and oranges are due to its iron content. 

We needed to eat before the Rosa flood so we stopped by "Magnolia's" outside the Anasazi Indian Center. The museum was very good but the French fries even better.  I had gobbled half of them when the 'cane rain began. The locals were thrilled to be getting a hurricane as it had been such a dry summer.  How un-Miami.

    As we drove up into the 9000-foot mountains the rain got as thick as fog.  They say Escalante is filled with incredible canyons and pine forests but I could barely see the road with "Rosa" blowing through.  
     We proceeded slowly as windshield wipers waved furiously. At one point I asked my wife to roll down her window to take a picture of the mountains we could not see.  She refused (for good reason).  When the rain let up a bit, I saw cows by the road  and tried the same thing. So much water blew in I might have well stepped outside. 
     But I did get my picture,

           "Cows Enjoying the Fall Colors and Hurricane Rosa".

      We were able to drive past the hurricane and into Capitol Reef National Park.  Interestingly, there are no capitols or reefs there, just the burnt orange beauty of extended desert canyons, ancient petroglyphs, and what I remember most, fresh peach pie.
     The white guys (Mormons in this case but it could have been any Europeans with superior fire power) kicked out the Indians from the park's verdant valley in the late 1800's. They raised cattle, children, and planted orchards. Thirty years ago the area was declared a national park.  The U.S. government threatened to kick out the Mormons but they came to an agreement. Mormons were allowed to stay in their village (it's called "Fruita") as long as didn't mind the annual  swarm of park visitors.
     Now,  a few families remaining make a living working for the park or making pies and ice cream for people like us. Visitors are allowed allowed to wander into the orchards to pick apples, pears, or peaches. 
     After fattening ourselves we rose up out of the valley to return to rocks and desert. Rounding the last big hill before the flatness, we saw the most amazing sight,


   We were agog again. Francesca was nice enough to pose with what seemed like a mythical mountain-top fortress.

     We then took a right in Hanksville and headed down a piece of straight road called "The All-American Highway". We have no idea why they call it that but it led to one of our coolest camping spots, a National Forest campsite, -where there are no trees- next to the Dirty Devil River.
 Not too many people either.

 Room for twelve at our picnic table

     In the morning we scrambled down thirty feet, just past the "table", to play our version of
Hollywood Squares, "Utah Holes". 

      Tuckered out and hungry, I suggested that we go 100 mile back to Fruita for more pie.  Francesca, being the wiser of us two, fed me  home-made granola and hot coffee until I was ready to move on. In ten days we were supposed to be back in Miami.


                    Pi wondering where she will wake up next

Sunday, October 21, 2018


     After a 5000-mile trek across America we're back in Miami. Now I have time to tell you about canyons, coyotes and delicious frosted mugs of beer. Our crossing began on Monterey Bay and a few hours later we being humbled, once more, by Yosemite National Park.

    El Capitan was there to greet us. We marveled  that a young man had climbed its 3000-foot face, a few months earlier, using only his hands and feet  (no rope!). I tried ambling up a rock pile at its base but found it too difficult.

   Yosemite Valley is a crowded as the Coconut Grove art festival. We braved the traffic, took a quick look, then headed to the quieter eastern side.  

    You could almost hear a pine needle drop in Tuolome Meadow. The eastern half of Yosemite was almost a ghost park, more bears and elk than people. Perfect except the campgrounds were closed for the winter.

   We had to  go up 10,000 feet, just outside the park, to find a campsite above Saddlebag Lake. On late September nights the temperature falls below freezing. Morning ice on the windshield was a novelty,  something you don't often find in South Florida.

    On Sept. 29th we dropped down to visit Mono Lake. That's the one decimated by Los Angeles developers in the 1940's. Once a part of North America's inland sea, this salt water expanse had been fed by mountain streams for millions of years. Los Angeles diverted the lake's water supply for its own use (huge pipes -and gravity- take it 500 miles south now).

    What's left? A much smaller, saltier lake. 

It's lowered water level leave coral reef-like structures called "tufas" exposed. Only tiny shrimp and fly larvae can live in it. It's not the best place to snorkel.

    Visiting the two-mile pond was a strange, surreal experience. We hope the 40-year campaign to "save Mono Lake" eventually succeeds.

     After being so cold the night before we were looking forward to Beatty, Nevada's hot springs.
When we got there we learned it had been closed down by the health department (too many cooties).  We had to settle for hot showers at a nearly RV park.
     It's manager, "Gypsy Mike", told us he loves this desolate town which bills itself as "The Gateway to Death Valley".
    "We got no crime here", he said, "just 900 happy residents".  They also have two 24/7
casinos and a brothel, a string of old red trailers for "Angel's Ladies".

       What is it about a wrecked airplane that beckons the lonely?

(Next stop, Zion's National Park)