SoCal...So Close (to home)

As we head home to Lake Tahoe, we have many stops to make along the route and several of them are in Southern California. Since we were passing right through the darling mountain town of Julian, we paused for a short explore. After the American Civil War, in 1869, A.E. "Fred" Coleman, a former slave, was crossing over what is now known as Coleman Creek, just west of Julian. Seeing a glint of gold in the stream bed, he climbed down from his horse to investigate. Having had previous experience in the gold fields, he retrieved his frying pan and began panning the sands of the creek. What interesting beginnings.

While the town is famous for many things, the item that drew us in was the Apple Pie.

While strolling, we came upon this monument. I found it kind of cool and something different which fits what I look for in a town. The plaque reads:

Our camp spot was on a side street in Vista sharing a lovely evening with David & Karen. Karen is a crack up. She was armed with numerous "Road Trip" questions and over wine and a delicious Italian meal, we think we answered them thoroughly.
I'm calling this week the "SoCal Social" due to the numerous connections we will be making with family and friends. It has begun in a very fine way. The trip isn't over yet.

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Yuma Territorial Prison... So Cool!

While the thought of a prison isn't so cool, the history here was incredibly interesting.

The Yuma Territorial Prison operated for 33 years from 1876 to 1909. It was established mainly because all the county jails in the territory were very, very unsafe. It was easy for people to break out. There were more than 3,000 inmates, ranging in age from 14 to 88; a cross-section of who ever came to or through the Territory. Their crimes ranged from adultery, theft, polygamy and even to (my favorite) seduction with the promise of marriage.
The prison opened its doors on July 1, 1876. Its first seven inmates were the prisoners who built it. Constructed on and into a hard rock cliff, at the conjunction of the Gila and Colorado Rivers , the budding town of Yuma lay to the west and miles of barren, harsh desert to the south. A perfect location for a prison. The Yuma Territorial Prison was known by the local people in town as the Country Club on the Colorado River, and yet the convicts referred to it as a hellhole. By 1885, it had electricity and blowers that blew air into the east cell block area. They had a hospital, complete with dental care. The prisoners were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, Spanish, German, and music. And they even formed a band.
But once they were locked up in the evenings, there were six men to a cell, and one bucket that was their toilet. In addition, they lived with large sewer roaches, lice, bedbugs and all manner of dangerous reptiles. Definitely a hellhole not a Country Club.
That said, the prison had an unheard of progressive operating philosophy for the time, best stated by Superintendent Thomas Gates. "It is and has ever been my object to elevate rather than depress the men who have been thrown under my supervision, to inspire them with renewed hope and revive the tottering principles of true manhood. To this end, I have granted every liberty consistent with good prison government: privileges."

After a thorough and interesting guided tour of what's left of the prison, we explored the museum. Through its informational video and really well presented exhibit cases, we were even more amazed by this historic location.
I admired one superintendent's wife, Madora Ingalls, who worked to improve conditions and educational opportunities, and even set up a 2,000 book library.
There were 29 women sentenced to Yuma , including 16-year-old Maria Moreno, who shot her brother after he complained about the way she was dancing. They were kept separate from the men but their crimes were just as manly.
Of the 3,000 inmates, 111 died here with 104 of them being buried in the prison cemetery. The main cause of death was consumption (tuberculosis). Eight inmates were shot while trying to escape, two were killed by falling rocks, several committed suicide (including one superintendent) and a couple were bitten by rattlesnakes. Yikes.

By 1909, overcrowding at the prison forced its closure. The institution was closed, but its history was far from over. Over the decades, it would serve as the local high school, shelter for homeless during the depression, and even movie locations. Floods, theft, railroad expansion, and the building of the Ocean-to-Ocean highway (Route 8) destroyed sections of the prison. In 1939, some townspeople took notice and in 1941 a museum was opened and the rest is history!
And this is where we are camping for our first night, back in California. What a lovely spot on the shore of Lake Cuyamaca. We'll spend the next week in SoCal making connections with family and friends until we return to Lake Tahoe- three months and three days after we left. What a road trip!

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Cacti & Missiles: A Day in Arizona

After yesterday's almost 400 mile drive, we delighted in spending the night in the Sonoran Desert. When we awoke, we meandered through it and it was pretty magical.

We strolled a path of numerous species of cacti. My favorite was the Saguaro,  one of the defining plants of this Desert (they only grow here). These plants are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age, although some never grow arms. These arms generally bend upward and can number over 25. The arms are my favorite characteristic.
Interestingly, with the right growing conditions, it is estimated that Saguaros can live to be as much as 150-200 years old. Yet, they are very slow growing cactus. A 10 year old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall and can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall. When rain is plentiful and the Saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds.

  Strange and inscrutable
      the desert lies
Austere its every mood;
Yet peace and beauty
      here abound
In solemn quietude.
~F.J. Worrall
I love to discover things of which I know nothing (it's not a huge stretch at times). While searching for treasures to seek on Interstate-10, I happened upon the best travel website- You just type in the road you happen to be on and it tells you all the awesome sights to see along the way. The Titan Missile Museum could not have been more incredible.
We walked around pretty blown away and very underground. So dang cool. Unknown to us, during the Cold War, 54 Titan II Missile Silos were constructed in three States (completed in only 36 months). Their purpose was to prevent a nuclear attack, just by "being". Needless-to-say, they worked. The payload in each was frightening. According to our guide, Tim, if you took all the bombs detonated in all the WWII battles, including the two which devastated Japan, put them all together and multiplied that amount by two, you would have the power of just one of these missiles. Chilling. 
"Duck and Cover!" Bomb shelters, the Berlin Wall, weekly tests of the Emergency Broadcast System, the piercing sounds of air raid sirens, and the Space Race. These are the hallmarks of the "Cold War" era. The Titan Missile Museum showcases the dramatic vestiges of the Cold War between the U.S. and former Soviet Union and provides a vivid education about the history of nuclear conflict-a history of keeping the peace.
This preserved Titan II missile site, officially known as complex 571-7, is all that remains of the 54 Titan II missile sites that were on alert across the United States from 1963 to 1987. The others were destroyed as part of the Arms Agreement with Russia.

What an incredible tour, too. We were able to stand on top of the silo viewing platform and observe the Titan II missile in the underground launch duct. Then, using the Access Portal, we descended 35 feet underground into the hardened missile complex. Once underground, we walked through the Blastlock Area on our way to the Launch Control center where I was asked to to be the Missile Combat Crew Commander. My job was to "turn the key" for a simulated launch of the missile.  Yikes. 

After our one hour, very informative guided tour, we were allowed to explore the grounds. This image is looking down at the missile from the surface. This was unbelievable.
What was once one of America's most top secret places is now a National Historic Landmark, fulfilling its new mission of bringing Cold War history to life for millions of visitors from around the world. This was an educational and fantastic detour.
In trying to understand this place better, I think President Reagan said it best, "The defense policy of the United States is based on a simple premise: The United States does not start fights. We will never be an aggressor. We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression -- to preserve freedom and peace."

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A Ghost Town and The Thing?

We love ghost towns so when I saw Stein's Railroad Ghost Town on the map (in New Mexico), we knew we would need to stop. In 1878, the Southern Pacific Railroad began to blast away at the rock bluffs of the area, developing a quarry and taking away tons of rock for a new railroad bed.

By 1880, the railway was completed and a station was built near what would become the town of Steins. It is estimated, at its high point in 1919, there were more than 1,000 residents. By this time, the town also had a boarding house, two bordellos, a dance hall, stores, saloons, and a hotel. But, for those early pioneers, life was tough in the desert region, as there was no source of water and it had to be brought into the area on the train, selling for as high as $1.00 per barrel.
For Steins, prosperity would be short lived. In 1925, the rock quarry closed putting dozens of men out of work, and at the end of World War II, the Southern Pacific Railroad discontinued its stop in Steins, giving the town notice that it would no longer deliver water and the station would be closed.
No water delivery spelled certain death for the town so the railway offered the residents free transportation to wherever they might like to go. The vast majority of its inhabitants took the offer, leaving many of their possessions behind. In time, the town was completely abandoned. The post office was discontinued in 1944. Twenty years later, a fire destroyed many of the historic deserted buildings.
It was a sad, little town whose "heyday" is so long gone. Ironically, the Southern Pacific locomotives go past daily, whistling away as a reminder of a more prominent time. What an interesting pause on I-10.
Before we pass a town, I look on for "Things to do". Believe it or not, for the town of Benson, #3 thing to do was The Thing? This is an Arizona roadside attraction hyped by many signs along Interstate 10 between El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona. These billboards entice travelers along this sparse stretch of desert highway to stop, just to find out what the mysterious Thing might be. The Thing? A Wonder of the Desert… The Thing? Mystery of Arizona …The Thing? Have You Seen It?… The Thing? Don't Miss It! It got us to stop!

I loved this description from
Within a handful of sheds, you'll discover a farrago of unrelated crap—old cash registers, bear traps, and disturbing driftwood sculptures. Over there, something labeled "piece of mammoth's front leg." Up front, a Rolls Royce "believed to have been used by Adolph Hitler," though admittedly "it can't be proved." As implied by the big blue question mark in the attraction's logo, indeterminate credibility is part of the gimmick. Finally—past hand-carved figures both miniature and life-size, past gold-dust scales and cracked pottery—you see it. Encased in cinder blocks and guarded by what can only be described as Emperor Bigfoot Horsehead, lies the end to your anticipation. The mystifying…the remarkable…the unknowable…THING. What is it? Is it real? Where did it come from?

What makes the entire thing so dang cool to me is the fact that this exhibit was created in the 1950s in Southern California and placed here in the early 60s. It is so vintage and was worth the $1 entrance fee. It really is a "wonder".
Night found us camping in the Sonoran Desert. We arrived just in time to see the sun set behind the Saguaros. Tomorrow promises to be very interesting.

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431 Miles on I-10 in Texas...

We cruised for hours today, and we are still in Texas on Interstate 10 (1959). This road is the major east–west Interstate Highway in the Southern United States. The longest segment is in Texas, at just under 880 miles. Interestingly, it is the longest continuous untolled freeway in North America that is operated by a single authority. I-10 is also the road that we will be on for most of our trek to Southern California.

There is a great deal to see, framed by our windshield.

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San Antonio History Lesson: The Alamo & So Much More

Our first visit to San Antonio was almost 20 years ago and we have always wanted to return. This time, our goal was to learn as much as we could. Excitedly, we began at The Alamo (a name that came later in the City's history). The actual founding of the city came in 1718 by Father Antonio Olivares when he established Mission San Antonio de Valero.
Most everyone "Remembers The Alamo" from their school days. It wasn't until we explored this place again that we understood what it really was all about. It helped that there was a living history demonstration, an incredibly thorough video and signage everywhere to help with the understanding of what the event of March 6, 1836 meant for Texas. It has come to symbolize so much. The Battle is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds- a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason, it remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

What I found hard to remember is that the Alamo was first a church. I thought this plaque, by the entrance door, emotional to read and also a reminder of that ultimate sacrifice. "Be silent friend. Here heroes died to blaze a trail for other men." Wow.

We also didn't remember that it is located right in the heart of San Antonio. 
A goal of the day was to dine along the famous River Walk (1941). Along the way we strolled and learned so much about The Father of the River Walk (Steve is in front of his office). Robert Hugman, the designer and architect said, "The river is one of nature's greatest gifts to San Antonio and should be appreciated and developed as such." His plan proposed a balance between commercial and park-like qualities while maintaining the river's natural character and preserving old world architecture.
Hugman was convinced that the ideal future of the Paseo del Rio rested in preserving the historic character, the flavor of the Spanish, Mexican, and Southwest traditions. He believed that the "little river" should be treated as a stage setting on which people are transported to the unusual; that the river's tempo must be jealously guarded, remaining slow and lazy, in complete contrast with the hustle and bustle of street-level modern city life. I think he captured it completely after we dined on its shores.

While this image is just one of the past, it provided us with yet another history lesson. San Antonio streetcar service began in 1878 and reached its peak at ninety miles of track in 1926. Sadly, the last car ran in 1933.
This city offers a variety of unique shopping places. That said, we tend to find ourselves at the Goodwill, whenever possible. This cool store was built as the La Feria department store in 1917.
There was something about this work of art that made me stop and admire it. Jesse Treviňo created the New Chapa Lion Mural on the side of the Goodwill building. The pride of lions is said to represent the growing community near El Mercado. The figures seen lifting the tile image in place represent the Goodwill’s mission, “To help change lives through the power of work.”
El Mercado or Market Square is a three-block outdoor plaza lined with shops, and restaurants right in downtown. Market Square is not only historic but the largest Mexican market in the United States.
And there was a great deal to see.
I mentioned O. Henry once before when we were in Asheville, N.C. in April when we visited his grave. Considered one of America's greatest short-story writers, William Porter (O. Henry) lived in this house in 1885. As editor of his newspaper The Rolling Stone, he used San Antonio as the setting of some of his most intriguing short stories.
This building is visible from all over the city. The Bexar County Courthouse, whose style is Romanesque Revival with the main material used being red sandstone, was fully completed in 1896. It is still an active government office building and truly beautiful to look at.

Our last shopping stop was at La Villita. This unique area was originally settled nearly 300 years ago as one of the city's first neighborhoods. In 1939, La Villita Historic Arts Village was established and the neighborhood was adapted into a center for teaching regional arts and crafts and to serve as an artists market.
Okay so this hotel actually helped to make the River Walk a success. Built in time for the San Antonio's World's Fair in 1968, it created new pedestrian traffic which brought the River Walk to life. Its success caused Robert Hugman to be recognized and honored in his last years for his creativity, persistence and foresight in designing what has become one of the world's most noted urban linear paths. 
And how totally incredible is this hotel? The Hilton Palacio del Rio, a 500-room, 21-story structure is notable for being a milestone in the use of Modular building construction techniques.

Traditional construction methods would not allow the hotel to be completed in the short time frame available before for the opening of the Fair so alternative methods were explored. The builder utilized traditional construction to build the first four floors. However, all guest rooms were constructed as modular units in a location 8 miles from the construction site. These modular units were built complete with plumbing fixtures, lighting, art work, furnishings and even ash trays. The structure was completed in a record 202 working days. I don't know if you can tell in this photo, but the builder and his wife were the first people to check-in to and "ride" their hotel room into the hotel. How very, very cool and so worth learning about.
While we didn't quite hit 150+ Fun Things to Do, we did do a lot. During our brief visit to San Antonio, our history lessons spanned 250 years. San Antonio is most likely the only Texan town we will thoroughly explore on our Westward migration. We chose well.

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