Friday, February 28, 2014

It was a dark and stormy night

San Luis Obispo, CA – Throughout the night last night, rain lashed and the wind buffeted against the roof and sides of the RV.  When a grey and watery dawn arrived, the storm continued. We are beginning to feel like foul weather magnets in our travels!

The people of the central west coast are of two minds about this enormous weather system. On the one hand, it’s a long-awaited change from a drought that has a lot of them really worried.  In the short period that rain has been falling, we’ve seen grey, pinched hillsides with dusty soil turn a tender green with happy blades of grass.

On the other hand, the intensity of this deluge has prompted worries about floods and mudslides. In the next town from here, they’ve been handing out free sandbags for residents.  Low-lying portions of streets are turning into mini-lakes, and on the beaches, waves have increased from six to ten feet up to 20 feet high.

The weatherman showed us a radar picture of the storm on the news this evening, and it looks just like the swirl of hurricanes that attack the coast of the Gulf of Mexico every year.  However, he said not to be alarmed, because even if it looks like one, it isn’t.  The weather map pulled back from its west-coast focus to a full picture of the continent, and the storm that’s hitting us as rain right now is going to turn into snow and ice clear across to the east coast in the coming days!  So I guess people can say that March will come in like a lion.

We are currently on a section of the California coast that has a reputation for great natural beauty and scenic drives.  Seeing it under heavy clouds or shrouded with fog and rain is not ideal, so we are staying put for a couple more days before we continue. Besides, we’re not too keen on getting blown off a cliff into the ocean!

We did venture out for groceries this morning, and were pleased to find a Trader Joe’s store in Arroyo Grande, just south of here. Our friends Scott and Mary Jane told us about this grocery chain, but we’d never come across one before today.  The store is full of Trader Joe’s products – and no other brands – and everything is made with natural ingredients, with a focus on fresh and organic produce. We bought some huge, juicy California strawberries, a couple of fresh salads and other items we’re looking forward to sampling.

It was good to get out, despite having to run from the car to the store with hoods over our heads!  But it was also good to have relaxing time to read a good book and have a nap.  If you didn’t mind being rocked to sleep with gales of wind.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Castle in the air

San Luis Obispo, CA – In the late 1800s, a well-to-do mother took her 10-year-old son on a year’s trip to Europe, and exposed him to a world of art and literature and history that left an indelible imprint on his mind. Today, we visited the home that this son grew up to build, and it was amazing.

William Randolph Hearst was the boy, and, as a man, he built an empire of newspapers, magazines, films, and technology that still exists today. His father had been a miner with a knack for locating treasures from the ground – lead, copper, and silver – and his hard work and persistence sowed the seeds of affluence for his family’s future.

“The Ranch” was the name Hearst used for his home, but anyone who has been there would use the name it bears today, Hearst Castle.  Set high on a hill with a sweeping view of the surrounding hills and the ocean below, the Mediterranean style buildings are set off by terraces, fountains, gardens, pools, royal palms and tall cypress trees.

Inside the buildings are countless art objects from the collections of statues, paintings, tapestries, furniture, ceilings and carved wall panels Hearst had assembled over the years.  They are displayed in opulent rooms with windows overlooking the ocean or courtyards.

In its heyday, the castle was a venue for parties and social gatherings for high society, where film stars, business moguls and political icons rubbed shoulders on the tennis court or the paneled library.  When that era ended, Hearst donated the castle to the state of California so that everyone could come and enjoy its art and beauty – and they do by the thousands every year.

Our day of touring included the grand rooms on the ground floor as well as the upper level bedrooms, guestrooms, library and office, and the grounds which we were welcome to stroll through.  There was also an excellent movie telling the story of the castle and Hearst’s life that we enjoyed at the end.

Before leaving that section of the Pacific Coast, which was a 40-mile drive from our RV park, we had to stop and see the beach, just beyond the castle, where hundreds of elephant seals sojourn when their babies are being born, nursed and weaned.

Great shrieks, barks and yelps echoed up from the sandy shore below our viewing spot, where large brown and grey blobs were scattered about.  These were the seals, lolling about, sleeping, and galumphing from one spot to another. Some of the male seals – the only ones to grow the floppy proboscis that earns them the “elephant” name – weigh up to 5000 pounds and are more than 10 feet long!  We learned that, for the entire three months that they spend on the beach, they eat nothing, and their migration patterns cover a huge expanse of the ocean where they swim, solo, submerging sometimes for 20 minutes before coming up again for air.  Isn’t nature amazing?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On a wing and a wave

San Luis Obispo, CA – The light pitter-patter of raindrops on the RV roof started our day this morning, and although that wasn’t the greatest prospect for us tourists, the arrival of rain must have brought great rejoicing to a lot of Southern Californians. There has been no significant rain here since March 2011, to the point that some almond farmers here ripped out their desiccated almond trees to be chewed up for gardening mulch.

Despite the rain, we ventured out to the California Information Center to find out about local attractions, and Pat, the tourist advisor on duty, suggested we go to see the Monarch Butterfly Grove at Pismo Beach State Park before the weather scared them all away. She gave us some other tips as well, and armed us with another bagful of literature!

It was a short drive to the grove, just a cluster of tall trees near the beach, but it was a beautiful, peaceful place with plenty of interpretive signs from which to learn about the butterflies.  It took a bit of looking, but finally we caught sight of a fluttering high above our heads, and followed a few tiny orange flashes to the branches where their fellow fliers were nestled. Even once we’d discovered where they were, it was hard to see them, because they were so high up, but also because the backs of their folded wings are a non-descript grey.  The clusters just looked like dead leaves until you realized what they were. 

Apparently hundreds of thousands of monarchs come here every year for the winter.  When the weather up north warms up, they begin their migration.  Winter monarchs live six to eight months, but the summer ones lay eggs and die after only four to six weeks.  Their babies, and more than one generation after them, have equally short lives, but when winter comes again, that generation is able to find its way to this grove and survive the long months till it’s time to do the whole thing over again.  It was enchanting to see the fluttering creatures today and wonder at this phenomenon.

The next tidbit of Pat’s which we decided to follow up on was to have lunch at the Splash CafĂ© in Pismo Beach.  It’s a tiny place with cartoon paintings of surfers on the stucco walls outside, and a long narrow counter in the front part of the restaurant where you line up to order.  Clam chowder was the specialty, served in a bowl made of sourdough bread, which Val ordered.  I went for a cup of the chowder and a half sandwich, but the soup was a real winner – thick, rich and creamy with delicious chunks of clam and potato.  Just right for a coolish, drizzly day.

The beach was just down the block and we still had time on our parking voucher, so we took a stroll to the boardwalk and then down to the sand.  Great turquoise rollers were washing in and seagulls were crying overhead.  A few brave surfers in wetsuits were heading out to try the waves on for size.  We watched for a while, but none of them provided a performance like the ones you see in the movies.  Maybe it’s not as easy as it looks!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bears, pea soup and windmills

San Luis Obispo, CA – Today’s journey has brought us further north along the California coast, to about the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The town’s name refers to Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse, and was founded in the late 1700s by the Spanish. Before their arrival, the native population of Chumash fished here, and hunted bears.

We saw quite a bit of the Pacific Ocean today as we traveled along State Highway 101. Early on, we could see the dim outline of oil rigs on the horizon as well as the ghostly shape of some of the Channel Islands – or maybe it was our imagination, fueled by the tourism literature I read as we drove along.  It was still hazy out there, so we couldn’t be exactly sure.

Lots of seaside homes with terra cotta roofs clustered on the hillsides of Santa Barbara, with tall palm trees swaying in the breeze. A few miles further on, we turned inland toward the towns of Buellton and Solvang. Our Pacific Coast Highway guidebook (kindly loaned to us by our friends Scott and Mary Jane) highlighted two restaurants in Buellton; one is called the Hitching Post, where scenes from the 2004 movie Sideways were filmed, but it was closed. 

The other, Andersen’s Pea Soup Restaurant, was open and had space nearby where we could park the RV and car, so we stopped there.  The soup was great, but the sandwich and salad less inspiring. We enjoyed the Scandinavian look of the place and it had a little gift shop where you could pick up Danish pastries and cheeses.

Denmark was the theme of the day in Solvang, a couple of miles further along.  The town was founded by Danish immigrants, who recreated the look of half-timbered cottages and windmills from their homeland. Driving through the main street was like being transported instantly to Europe.  There was even a reproduction of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid statue by the side of the road.

Rolling hills and valleys predom-inated for the rest of the trip, and we passed dozens of vineyards where rows of grape-vines striped the contours of the land.  There was evidence of the deep drought that has been plaguing California, too – dry, grey fields and trees that were either limp and wilted or dead.  Water is a precious resource here, and the crops respond visibly to its presence. There were strawberry fields and other vegetables growing in irrigated areas, but right next to them were brown, dry hillsides.

When we stopped to refuel, the woman at the cash was excited because she’d heard that rain was in the forecast for tomorrow.  Even on the TV weather reports, the announcers seem to apologize for sunny weather and express hope for wet weather – quite the reversal to our way of thinking!  It will be interesting to see whether those brown hills green up after a few inches of rain.

 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Taking to the hills

Santa Paula, CA – Some of our days on this great journey are packed to the gills with activities, mileage or both, and some are not.  Today was one of the lighter ones, but pleasant nonetheless.

We set out in our little car for a drive to Ojai, the next town over from this one.  (It’s pronounced “Ohio” without the final “o”.)  We followed Highway 150 north from our campground, along a winding two-lane road in the mountains that would be a dream for anyone on a motorcycle.  The serpentine route, well banked at each switchback, revealed new vistas at each turn.

Information about Santa Paula reveals that Steve McQueen, the movie actor from Bullitt, The Great Escape and Papillon, lived the last two years of his life here, riding his motorcycle and flying small planes from the local airport.  We could easily picture him on the road we traveled today.

On the slopes and in some of the flatter areas we passed groves of lemon and orange trees.  Santa Paula is known as the lemon capital of the US, and here was proof.  The oil industry is also active in this area, and as we descended into the valley, we passed a number of pump jacks nodding their heads by the roadside.

Ojai is a charming little town with a strong arts community, nice parks and tall trees.  One item on our agenda was to get the car washed, but around here it’s more involved than wheeling through a tunnel with jets of water and soap spraying the car.  We surrendered our keys and went to sit on a shaded porch while a team of attendants did the water and soap thing, but also vacuumed the inside, wiped off the water drops, cleaned the windows and mirrors, sprayed a sheen onto the tires and provided one’s choice of scents (we picked vanilla) for the interior! The Honda was practically smiling when the job was done!

After looping back along the coast highway and returning to the KOA, we sat out on our shaded patio to read and relax for a while.  Our attention was drawn a short time later by the arrival of the local peacock, strolling past with the missus!  She disappeared, but he came right over and wowed us with his iridescent head and neck and sweeping tail.  Val shared our rice cake snack with him, which he snatched up, and when we finally went inside to make dinner, he came to the door expectantly.  We ignored him, and then discovered later on that he had left a calling card on the mat before giving up and strutting away.  Guess there’s something to the expression ‘proud as a peacock’!


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Terrific Pacific

Santa Paula, CA – A magnificent peacock with a sweeping tail strutted past our RV site at this beautiful KOA camp-ground as we were getting ready for dinner. Just down the road is a citrus grove where trees laden with golden lemons flourish in mountain air. And in the town of Santa Paula, huge fields of strawberry plants are covered with juicy red berries. The bounty of California is all around us!

Another less appealing thing was all around us today too: smog. It’s invisible when you’re in the midst of it, but as soon as you get up high and look down, you can see the ugly brown shroud curling around the buildings and erasing the mountains on the horizon.  And you can feel it stinging your eyes till they leak, making your nose run and rasping at your throat.

We made our exit from Los Angeles early on this Sunday morning chiefly to avoid the heavy congestion on the freeways.  Our strategy worked, to our relief, and we got to Santa Monica, on the western end of the Interstate 10, without difficulty, turning north onto Highway 1 and following the Pacific Coast Highway.

The blue waves of the Pacific Ocean were on our left, and we caught glimpses of wide beaches and pounding surf from time to time.  Lots of surfers were carrying their boards to the beach, and quite a few of them were already in the water as we drove by.  Our view was obscured by peoples’ homes, packed one next to the other, when we got into the town of Santa Monica.

More seaside vistas awaited once we got out of the urban area, and on our right the mountains rose from the edge of the highway upward with brown craggy cliffs and caution signs warning of falling rocks.  We turned away from the coast toward the town of Oxnard, where a California visitor center was located.  It’s always good to explore new places armed with information, so we plugged the address from the brochure we had picked up into the GPS and before long, we were pulling in to the parking lot.

I had called ahead to be sure they were open on a Sunday morning, and they said they were, so we were puzzled at the empty parking lot and lack of identifying signs.  A security guard told me the office was closed.  Then he remembered that the visitor center had moved recently!  So I called the number again, got the new address, and we found it a few blocks away.

The visit was well worthwhile.  Henry, a volunteer at the center, answered all our questions about the coastal highway and other interesting places to see in the days ahead, and sent us off with a shopping bag full of brochures, magazines and maps.

We were soon heading on to Santa Paula, just a few miles further inland.  On the way we passed vast acres of crops, mostly strawberries but also leafy vegetables and groves of orange and lemon trees.  The road took us into the mountains, and the RV park is nestled in a small valley.  We have one of the deluxe sites, including a six-chair patio set, fire pit and enough room for three of our motorhomes plus the car!  But we are not complaining.  Not only that, but the sting has gone from my eyes!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tale of a tub and flub of a tale

Pomona, CA – Today was one of those days for doing laundry, picking up groceries and resting.  Even in California, with perfect temperatures and beautiful sunshine, one has to address the mundane from time to time.

You never know what you’re going to find upon entering the laundry room of an RV park. The one here was clean and had plenty of machines, with only a couple labeled ‘out of order’.  It’s always nice to lift the lid and see that the tub is big enough for your entire load, and to find it requires fewer, rather than more, quarters to run it.

Another plus is if the dryer cycle is long enough to remove the moisture from the clothes without frying them to a crisp – and that the previous user has cleaned out the lint trap.  This laundry room had a nice folding counter at a good height, but it lacked rolling baskets to get the load from the dryer on one side of the room to the counter on the other – necessitating multiple trips with hot armloads of clothes, and the inevitable sock or towel landing on the floor in transit.

I have mentioned previously the fun of grocery shopping in a strange store, with products one doesn’t find at home.  It lengthens the exercise when one has to read labels and roam about trying to figure out where the raisins are, too.  There are upsides – such as discovering new products or lower prices.

With the chores out of the way, we decided to go see a movie.  The Monuments Men was the only one on our list that seemed to be still in local theatres, so it was an easy choice.  Unfortunately, we were disappointed.  Although it was based on a true story that is extraordinary – a team of American art experts sent into wartime Europe to locate and return precious works of art stolen and hidden by the Nazis – the writing and narrative flow of the movie was not very good.  There were some redeeming scenes and moments, but Oscar material it was not.

So that was our day, but since I have a bit of space, I can add a bit about yesterday that there wasn’t room to include (I try to keep these blog entries to one page): For dinner last night, following the tour of Sony Pictures Studios, we met our friend Sam and her boyfriend Jon at Ford’s Filling Station in Culver City, just a couple of blocks from the studios. “Ford”, it turns out, is restaurant owner Ben Ford, the brother of actor Harrison Ford of Indiana Jones fame.  I kept looking at the staff to see who might be Ben, and finally I caught sight of him – the family resemblance was unmistakable! It was kind of a treat to have another close brush with Hollywood personalities.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The stuff that dreams are made of

Pomona, CA – Humphrey Bogart uses that phrase in The Maltese Falcon, but his words could apply to motion pictures, where illusions become reality on the silver screen.  Today we got a glimpse into the many ways that this happens at two different movie studios.

Our tours of the Warner Brothers Studios and Sony Pictures Studios complemented each other really well.  Both were led by young men with lots of enthusiasm for the craft and a wealth of anecdotes about what we were seeing.

One studio was in Burbank and the other in Culver City, so we left the RV park with a very generous cushion of time, just to be sure. We arrived at the WB studio in such good time that they let us in to the 9:45 tour instead of our scheduled 10:45 tour.

Ryan, our guide, drove us through the back lots of the Warner Brothers Studios, pointing out the stages where they had filmed Casablanca and My Fair Lady. We filed in to the studio where the TV talk show Ellen DeGeneris is taped and saw all the off-screen equipment, including the audience mikes that the sound engineers can mute if someone has an obnoxious laugh, for example, so it won’t be a distraction.

A museum of famous vehicles included Batman’s collection of Batmobiles, as well as Mike Myers’ Union Jack roadster and other unique models.  Costumes were on display in another area, where we saw the peach coloured outfit Audrey Hepburn wore as Eliza Doolittle, and Harry Potter’s school uniform.  They also had the original piano where Sam played “As Time Goes By” in Casablanca.

Green screen effects were demonstrated using segments from adventure movies, showing the actors in front of a green background, and then the final picture where explosions or monsters were incorporated seamlessly into the scene.

Outside each stage building was a plaque with the films and TV shows that had been recorded in them, dating back into the 1930s. We also drove through streetscapes with stores and offices that crews could dress up to fit any scenario.  Huge warehouses stored light fixtures, props and furniture of every style and description.

After our morning tour and lunch, we headed for the Sony Studios, only a short distance away.  Despite the traffic, we made it just in time, and were glad of the valet parking offered on our arrival.

At a sound stage, one tour participant belted out a couple of lines from “Somewhere over the Rainbow” for us, and we saw the special recording room built for Barbra Streisand’s exclusive use.  We also saw a room full of junk that sound effects technicians use to simulate rustling leaves or dishes breaking, and a huge stage with a removable floor that covered an enormous tank of water for scenes such as those in A Perfect Storm.

We even had a star sighting, when Jack Black walked past with a smile and a quick wave. And, in the Jeopardy stage, we saw Alex Trebec’s own Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey on display next to a case full of Golden Globe awards. For this pair of movie lovers, it was a most rewarding day.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Our tour of Tinseltown


Pomona, CA – A sidewalk full of stars, huge white letters on a California hillside, mansions hidden behind tall hedges – we saw it all on the Hollywood Studios Grand Tour today.  And we did it in style – a driver picked us up at our RV park and brought us back again at the end of the day.  Isn’t that what they do for movie stars?

The tour included a trip through the plush neighbourhoods where celebrities hang out. Tom, our driver, pointed out the homes of Lucille Ball, Lawrence Fishburne, Edward G. Robinson and other greats.  We saw gardeners, dog walkers, air conditioning repairmen and other service personnel, but for some reason all the celebrities were too busy to come out and say hi.

Tom pointed out the church where Whoopi Goldberg played a nun in Sister Act and the hotel where Whitney Houston was found dead after the Golden Globe Awards.  We saw the Laugh Factory, the comedy nightclub where Jim Carey got his start, and the Rainbow Grill where Marilyn Monroe met Joe DiMaggio.  We drove down Rodeo Drive, where rich people go to shop at exclusive stores like Armani, Chanel and Rolex.

In our small passenger van, we headed to the coast north of Los Angeles to the area known as The Beaches, passing through Venice, a town where canals alternated with streets so that all the homes had waterfront properties (although the drought had dried up a lot of the canal water).

Some 6,000 pleasure craft are docked at Marina del Rey, leading out to the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean.  Curls of turquoise surf pounded on the sandy shores near Santa Monica Beach, and along the walkways we saw all types of locals enjoying the warm sunshine.  We paused for a few minutes to watch skateboarders plunge into scooped out concrete pits and up the sides at breathtaking speed.

One stop gave us a good photo angle on the huge “Hollywood” sign on the hillside above the city, and later on we got closer as we climbed the hills for a panoramic view of the city below.  The smog wasn’t too bad, so it was possible to see the skyscrapers and freeways spread out before us, with the ocean on our right.  We learned that the huge letters of the sign had deteriorated to the point that they were considering pulling them down, but in 1978 community groups raised the $27,000 per letter to get them repaired.  Tom told us it took 100 gallons of paint to cover each letter!

Our last stop of the day was at the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where stars are embedded in the sidewalks, bearing names such as Clint Eastwood and Big Bird, and noting which entertainment category they fit into, such as radio, motion pictures, recording, television and live performance.  Gene Autry’s star had a plaque saying that he was the only one on the entire walk to be cited in all five categories.

We also saw the Chinese Theatre where Oscar night used to be held, and the Dolby Theatre where the event now takes place.  The barricades were already being set up for the Academy Awards presentation coming at the beginning of March.  It was a treat to be able to see all the places we’ve heard about, and to look forward to recognizing them when we watch movies in the future.

 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The land where dreams come true

Pomona, CA – Today a six-year-old in a senior citizen’s body went to Disney-land.  She waved at Donald Duck, rode on a choo-choo train, licked an ice-cream cone, explored a pirate’s den and had a whale of a day!

Disneyland was always a totally magical place beyond my wildest imagining when I watched pictures of it as a kid, whenever the Mickey Mouse Show aired on television. Adventureland! Frontierland! Tomorrowland!  And my favourite, Fantasyland!

Today I explored them all, with the most patient and indulging companion in the world, my dear husband Val. “What would you like to do next?” was his encouraging refrain, as we consulted the map and the day’s schedule of events.

Crowds? Lineups? Not a problem. We encountered a bit of both, but we were in no rush and we had no one to take care of or worry about, so it hardly mattered. Having been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida last year, we had a bit of an idea of what it would be like. 

Last year we made the mistake of going on the Presidents’ Day weekend, along with the entire population of the eastern seaboard, but this year we were past that holiday.  When we arrived in the morning, there were lots of spaces left to fill in the parking garage, but we still had to share the tram in to the theme park with a lot of other people.

That, however, was part of the charm.  It was lovely to see families with little kids, grandparents and everyone in between enjoying the day.  So many people of all ages came to the park all decked out in Mickey Mouse ears, Donald Duck t-shirts, fairy princess tiaras, Goofy hats, sparkly shoes, wookie backpacks and every other type of gear you could imagine.  The people-watching was so entertaining!

Speaking of entertainment, we were serenaded by a honky-tonk piano player while we ate our lunch, and enjoyed New Orleans jazz later in the afternoon, followed by a quartet of pirates singing sea shanties, and a mechanical tune machine in the Candy Shoppe as we watched cast members dip apples in caramel.  Everywhere we went, sound systems played cheerful melodies.

The grounds were beautiful, with blossoming fruit trees, cactus gardens, and colourful flowerbeds everywhere. Ground staff scooped up trash the moment it appeared, and the different sets were so colourful and imaginative.  It was such fun to see the looks of enchantment on children’s faces as a Disney character came by with a wave and a hug.

Yes, I would say a dream came true for this Mousketeer today. That’s what happens when you wish upon a star.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

City of Angels


Ponoma, CA – We’ve had a relaxing day today, covering the 100-odd miles between the Palm Springs area and our KOA campground in this suburb of Los Angeles before lunch.  We took the afternoon off to read, nap, and give Val a haircut with my handy-dandy haircutting kit!

It was already heating up when we pulled in our slides and prepared to leave Cathedral City this morning.  Val took a break from his outside duties to have a chat with our new neighbour, who pulled in last night. It turns out that our neighbour’s father-in-law had been a member of the RCMP and Val had worked with him.  Small world.

We headed north from our RV park to the Interstate 10 and found it was not completely grid-locked as it had been yesterday afternoon, to our relief!  We turned westward and soon drove past the huge wind turbine farm once again, where hundreds of the enormous blades were churning away in the wind.  There was also a great expanse of solar panels absorbing energy from the blue skies above.

Very little of our journey today was through territory one could call rural.  It did thin out a little after we left the Coachella Valley, but before long we were passing one small community after another – Banning, Beaumont, Yucalpa, Redlands, Loma Linda, Colton and Ontario. The terrain was mountainous to begin with, then simply hilly, and we could see the colour of the soil take on a reddish hue (hence the town name of Redlands, we presumed).

From a height of land as we approached the truly metropolitan area, we could see buildings on every contour ahead of us, except for the lowest section, which was shrouded in a brown cloud of smog.  It looked so thick we thought it might be smoke from the California wildfires we have heard about, but when we inquired at the RV park office, the host said no – there were no fires in the area “yet”. 

Los Angeles is the second largest city in the US after New York, with about 3 million in the city proper and 16 million in the greater metropolitan area.  It is a leader in so many areas, including entertainment, fashion, industry, and medicine.  We will be learning more in the days ahead!

We have a nice spot in the park, which is attractively shaded with live oaks next to each site, and the temperature is quite a bit cooler than we’ve had the last couple of days. With the spare time we had, we researched places to see and what tours are available to make the best of our time here.  It is so good to have lots of resources, including notes and tips from friends who’ve been here, brochures from the park office and websites galore through our Wi-Fi connection.

Having some down time to rest and do some reading is also good, after our busy time in the Palm Springs area.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Now you sea it, now you don't

Cathedral City, CA – We had our challenges touring about today, but it was a good day.  Our destination was the Salton Sea, a large salt-water lake at the southern end of the Coachella Valley, about an hour’s drive from here.  Well, an hour on a good day.

We were well on our way, traveling south on Highway 111, when we saw red brake lights of cars up ahead coming to a stop.  We realized the road was closed because today was Presidents’ Day and opening day of the International Date Festival at Indio, where we had just arrived.

On the side street where we’d been directed to go, cars were parked solidly down both sides and crowds of people with kids in tow were excitedly heading to the fair.  We, on the other hand, were scrambling to find our way around the tie-up.  Finally, we got back on track, leaving the city behind.

Orderly rows of date palms stood by the highway, filling acres of land that, but for an irrigation system, would be sandy desert.  Further along the road, huge fields of green vegetables flourished under the strong California sun, while nearby more barren tracts provided a stark contrast.

Finally, I caught sight of the glitter of water as the Salton Sea came into view.  Thousands of years ago, this land basin filled with water from the Bay of California.  More recently, it became a freshwater lake that supported the Cahuilla Indians for many generations.  In time, its waters receded and reduced the size of the lake by two thirds.

In the early 1900s, a couple of entrepreneurs decided to help Mother Nature by building canals off the Colorado River to divert water into the Salton Sea.  Then they snuck into Mexico to build another branch for even more inflow.  In 1905 the Colorado flooded and water kept flowing in to the sea for 16 months! It washed out roads and railways in its path as well.

By the 1950s the Salton Sea had become a huge tourist mecca.  However, in the years since then, evaporation has reduced its size, and run off from agriculture to the north has increased its salinity to the point that fish are dying off and migratory birds are less able to find sustenance in its waters.

When we arrived at the state recreation area, we could see that its heyday was past. Large parking areas only held a few cars, even on a holiday Monday, and a strong odour of rotting fish and vegetation hung in the air.  To the eye, it was an attractive place, but not so much to the other senses.  Still it was interesting to learn about this region and the many phases it has passed through.  Whether there will be a sea in future generations is a difficult question.

After our picnic lunch, we continued our drive around the sea, passing more desert, irrigated fields, date groves, feed lots with thousands of cattle (and another type of country fragrance!) and a couple of small towns.  On the homeward stretch, northward on the I10, traffic slowed to a crawl for about 45 minutes as we inched our way to an exit. Later we learned this was standard congestion with people heading back to the big city following a long weekend. We were fairly certain they hadn’t been to the seaside.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A tree called Joshua

Cathedral City, CA – Today we experienced landscapes unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, as we toured Joshua Tree National Park in California’s Mojave Desert. The park is about an hour’s drive from our RV park here in the Coachella Valley, and we did a lot of climbing, in the car and on foot, achieving a high point at 5,185 feet.

Our reward was a sweeping vista of the valley and surrounding mountain ranges, and a refreshing cool breeze at the top. But there were more treats in store!

Actually, the first treat, at least for the unexpected crowds we encountered at the visitor center at the park entrance, was free admission; since this is Presidents’ Day weekend, the fees were waived. We had purchased an annual pass back in Mississippi for all US national parks we plan to visit, so it didn’t really mean a lot to us.

Keys View was the name of the observation point we stopped at; it’s named after Bill Keys, a homesteader who came to the area in the 1930s to work in the nearby mines.  He built a ranch, married and had seven children, scratching out his living from the desert.  Before his time, World War I veterans established the town of Twentynine Palms, at the edge of the park, when they discovered that the dry climate helped those whose lungs were damaged by poison gas.

The Joshua Tree, actually a type of yucca plant, got its name from Mormon pioneers who thought they resembled the biblical prophet raising his arms in supplication to God.  There are thousands of Joshua trees in the park, sometimes in forests and sometimes standing alone, with twisting, spiky arms snaking out in all directions.  They grow about an inch a year, so it takes a long time for them to reach their maximum height of around 40 feet.  Some of them look like they were designed by Dr. Seuss!

The road through the park is a biker’s dream with serpentine ups and downs, and there are plenty of pullouts where you can stop for a closer look at the terrain and read a plaque with explanatory material.  From flat, sandy plains with a few isolated trees, to panoramic vistas and amazing rock formations, the park offers something for everyone.  We marveled at tiny figures of people climbing high atop some of the rocks, and were startled at one point when a tiny kangaroo rat scampered across the road in front of us.  Aside from a lone hawk overhead, it was the only wildlife we saw.

Another highlight of our visit was the Cholla Cactus Garden (pronounced “choya”) – a huge expanse of these twisted, spiky cacti which look soft and fuzzy from a distance but can inflict extremely painful wounds with their needle-like spines. The newer growth at the top is whitish, but the older parts near the ground almost look burnt because they are so dark.  They set forth small yellow cups at the tips of the branches that look flower-like.  A self-guided tour helped us recognize creosote trees and jojoba shrubs among the chollas, and to learn more about how these plants survive in such arid conditions.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Please feed the animals

Cathedral City, CA – When we lined up for the 10 am giraffe feeding at the Living Desert zoo and botanical garden this morning, we didn’t realize that WE were going to do the feeding!  As we filed closer to the two giraffes waiting on the other side of the enclosure, we were each handed a small branch of acacia tree with instructions to hold the sprig high up and allow the giraffe to grasp it with its 18-inch long tongue.

It was quite a feeling to see that great head dip toward my hand, and to feel the tip of the giraffe’s black tongue brush my fingers as I released his leafy treat!  Zoo staff told us we should only approach in groups of four, and not to make any jerky movements or sudden exclamations. It was a special moment.

We took the shuttle ride through the whole facility at the beginning of our visit, to get an idea of what we could see in closer detail later on.  The Living Desert is divided into an African section, with flora and fauna from that region, as well as a small African village, and a North American section that included an extensive botanical display of cacti, butterfly- and hummingbird-friendly plants.

In addition to giraffes, zebras, camels, cheetahs and gazelles, we saw cattle-like animals called addax, with beautiful spiral horns, as well as a lot of exotic birds.  The grounds were well laid out with looped pathways, landscaped with a huge variety of desert plants, many of which were labeled, which I appreciated.  There was even a section where these plants were for sale in case visitors wanted some in their home gardens.

Toward the end of our visit we came across an aviary filled with Australian birds, making the most raucous noise!  For two dollars each, we were allowed to enter through double doors (to keep the birds from flying out) and walk among them.  Our admission included a popsicle stick with a cluster of bird seed attached to one end, so we could hold it out and watch the birds light on the stick and peck away at the seeds. I was surprised at the weight of the small budgie-type bird that landed on my stick.  It was delightful having such a close look at the bird’s colourful feathers as it worked away at the seed cluster.

When we were riding on the shuttle, we chatted with another couple of seniors, Brian and Carole, who were in town for a high school reunion.  Brian went to school in the area and one of his classmates was Frank Sinatra, Jr., and they were going to attend a concert by him in the evening.  Our reading about Palm Springs revealed how many scores of movie stars, musicians, producers and directors have lived or live in this area.  In earlier times, it allowed them to comply with Hollywood contracts that required them to be within two hours’ travel distance, in case movie scenes needed to be re-shot, for example.

The whole area reminds us of these residents – we drove along Bob Hope Drive, Dinah Shore Drive, Gene Autry Trail and many other streets with celebrities’ names. The beauty and climate make their choices completely understandable.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A peak experience

Cathedral City, CA – What better place to be on Valen-tine’s Day but on top of the world? That’s what it felt like when Val and I took the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of the San Jacinto mountains, at 8,516 feet of elevation. 

We had already risen to 2,613 feet when we got to the tramway parking lot, and then had to climb a couple more staircases to the “Valley” Station.  It wasn’t until we were actually aboard the tram car that we learned that the floor beneath us would rotate 360 degrees twice on the ride up so everyone could see every vantage point of the ascent!

It was a delightful discovery for me, but an additional challenge for Val, who is less enamoured of soaring heights.  Fortunately, there was a sturdy handrail near his spot in the car so that, even as we revolved, he had a firm grip on something solid.  He may have had less of a grip on his imagination, but he didn’t give any evidence of it. He’s my hero.

As the car rose the steep incline, we could see the valley drop away below and sharp, craggy rocks above.  From Sonoran sand and cacti at the bottom, the vegetation took on an alpine appearance as we rose.  We could easily have been on a Canadian mountain by the time we reached the Mountain Station.

The tram car lurched and swayed gently at each of the five towers it passed, eliciting groans and gasps from the height-sensitive members of the group (mentioning no names), and giggles of delight from the daredevil side of the crowd (ditto).

We learned that the tramway was the brainchild of Frank Crocker, a Palm Springs resident who began dreaming of it in the 1930s, and saw it become a reality in 1961.  The current revolving-floor tram cars were introduced in 2000, and there are only two others like it in the world (Switzerland and South Africa) but this one covers the greatest height.

Cool, fresh air blew through the open windows of the tram as our altitude increased, and visitors pulled on sweaters and jackets in the 60-degree temperature at the top when we disembarked.  A spectacular view awaited us – the entire Coachella Valley spread out below, with a carpet of squared-off streets and gardens in the civilized parts, and sandy desert surrounding it.

Far off to the south we could see, near the misty horizon, Salton Sea, a large salt-water lake formed in 1905 when the Colorado River flooded the valley and filled the deep saucer-shaped crater with water.  Run-off from agricultural lands around it and minerals in the ground brought about the saltiness.

The swath of valley below us was, in fact, the San Andreas Fault – that famous whipping boy for every earthquake California has experienced for hundreds of years.  It looked stable and peaceful enough to us!  We had a delightful visit and picnic lunch in the cool mountains before returning to the 91-degree heat in our RV.  Thankfully, the restaurant where we’re going for Valentine’s dinner will have AC!

Serpentine, serpentine!

Cathedral City, CA – This is one of 13 separate cities in the Palm Springs area, each with its own mayor, fire department and police force.  To the outsider, however, Cathedral City, Thousand Palms, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and all the other nine cities look like one community with no discernible break from one to the other!

The contrast between this area and the road we followed today to reach it is extreme.  Once we were out of the San Diego metropolitan region and into the countryside, we were in desert-like terrain, with dry, rocky soil and low, scrub bushes, punctuated from time to time by a tree or two. 

We also changed from mild seaside hills to tall mountains, separated from one another by deep valleys.  Our route took us northward at first on the Interstate 15, with its multiple lanes and heavy traffic.  We then turned southeast to less-traveled, two-lane highways – Highway 79, then eastward on Highway 371, and then to Highway 74 and, lastly, Highway 111.  All of these provided a good look at the California countryside in a much less stressful environment than the interstates.

On a map, the route looks like an easy flat line.  Not so in reality! We got up to more than 4000 feet in altitude, and just before we reached our destination, we could see, from the mountain top, the dry, rocky peaks, a dark serpentine ribbon of highway with one switchback after another, and way down below, the green carpet of city.  It was quite a vista!

Once we had descended to the valley floor and entered the city streets, we passed stately palm trees in regimented rows on either side of wide avenues, a profusion of flowering shrubs, startlingly green carpets of lush, close-cropped grass on golf courses on either side of the road, and one well-groomed, gated community after another, each landscaped with desert plants, rocks and shrubs.

The other thing we noticed today was that it was hot!  As we set up the RV on our site, we actually broke out in a sweat for the first time this trip!  I think the thermometer inside said 91 degrees before we opened the windows and door.  I dug out my sandals from deep storage and put them on my gratefully bare feet, again for the first time this trip.

The crowning event of the day was to head to Thousand Palms for dinner with our friends Ken and Linda, whom we had not seen for seven years.  They live in BC, but winter down here, and it was great to sit in their back yard and watch the sky turn pink while a silvery-white moon rose from the horizon and a cool breeze wafted in.  It was also great to get caught up on what has transpired over those years, and to determine that neither Ken nor Linda has changed a bit.  A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Skin and bones, fins and drones

San Diego, CA – Well, we tried to “do” all of San Diego in the few days we were here, but we only fell short by a few hundred attractions. We gave it our all, heading out again today for Balboa Park, San Diego’s headquarters for culture, history, botany, science, transportation, photography, et al.

I thought the first place we visited, the San Diego Museum of Man, was a church. It has a tall ornately decorated spire that stands next to a blue and gold painted dome. Bells chime the quarter hours from the spire, and provide a carillon concert every day at noon. The so-called California Building was never intended to be a church, although it was modeled on one when it was built as part of the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. It even has a chapel.

Mayan stela, or stone monuments, from Central America were reproduced in plaster for the ground floor exhibit, where their intricately carved faces, animals and decorations tell stories of gods and royalty. In a rather incongruous juxtaposition, they stand next to a display all about beer, from its earliest days in Chinese and Egyptian history to the present-day artisanal beers.  They even offer tasting events after hours – so drop in closer to St Paddy’s Day if you’re interested!

Man’s evolution from the apes makes up part of the second floor exhibits, as well as a section on the aboriginal peoples of Southern California, called the Kumeyaay (coo-me-yi), and one on ancient Egypt, complete with mummified human remains.

We declined the opportunity to spend an extra $15 each to visit the temporary exhibit, entitled Instruments of Torture.  We laughed when we read the brochure entry immediately following the description of that exhibit.  It said: “Ask about weddings in the chapel.”

The weather was perfect for the picnic lunch we brought, so we found a shady spot and ate while we watched tour groups, school kids, joggers and mothers with strollers enjoying the sunshine.

The Museum of Natural History, further along the park’s promenade, had a wonderful dinosaur display with question-and-answer panels to help visitors understand what dinosaur skeletons can tell us, and how they became extinct. We rested our feet in the theatre as we watched two 3-D movies about dinosaurs and animals of the Ice Age.

The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was our last stop.  Kids must love this museum! It has gadgets, levers, knobs, ropes and all kinds of hands-on displays to learn about magnets, optical illusions, gravity, tornadoes and much more.  There was an IMAX movie about coral reefs as well.

Val was fascinated by the display about UAVs – unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.  There were a couple of demo units, and we watched one, the size of a large pizza box, hovering above the ground and flitting around at the command of the operator. Using a drone instead of a helicopter to provide traffic reports is one example of the economies they offer.  I won’t hold my breath for a pizza delivery mode, however.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The home of the Binturang

San Diego, CA – Never heard of a Binturang?  How about a Guanaco, or a Takin?  We saw these and more at the San Diego Zoo today, and we also walked our feet off.  Despite buses, trains, trams suspended overhead and moving sidewalks, somehow we ended up covering the majority of the 100-acre zoo on our own two feet.

We did start the visit with a ride on the Skyfari, a small gondola suspended by cables far above the grounds.  It provided quite a view, but Val, not being a huge fan of heights, seemed more concerned about me shifting around to look down on the animals below than about the panorama before us.

Back on terra firma, we found ourselves in a less-crowded area of the zoo to start our explorations. When we arrived at Panda Canyon, we passed signs saying ‘if you are standing at this point, you have a 35 minute wait to see the pandas’, and sauntered on ahead with no lineup at all. 

So often, when visiting a zoo, you will pass an enclosure and not see any sign of life not matter how hard you look.  Or the animal will be holed up in a corner, fast asleep.  Today, pretty well every spot we visited provided a good look at the resident animal, and most of the time they were also active.

We saw pandas, monkeys, wart hogs, gazelles, needle-nosed alligators, rattlesnakes, flamingoes, orangutangs, hyraxes, turtles, grizzly bears, peacocks, giraffes, dromedaries, tapirs…you get the idea. There were standard zoo animals and others, like guanacos and takins, that we’d never heard of. 

The argus pheasant was the most extraordinary bird I have ever seen.  It was the size of a peacock, but its huge, two-pronged tail was even longer than the peacock’s and its feathers, though black and white, were covered with thousands of spots.

Another special thing about the San Diego Zoo was the landscaping. It was lush, varied and beautiful, with exotic palms and ferns, pools and waterfalls, rocks and trees.  Janice, one of the zoo volunteers, told us the plants here are, in some cases, more valuable than the animals.  Many of them are labeled, too, so you have an idea of what you are looking at.  The literature says there are 4,500 different plants in all.

We learned that this zoo was one of the first, back in the 1920s, to separate the animals with moats instead of cages with bars.  The zoo grew from the California-Panama Exposition in 1915 when an exotic animal display was set up for visitors. From 1925 to 1953, this zoo was the only one in the world to have a female zoo director, Belle Benchley.

It was fun to see all the people enjoying the park on this beautiful day today.  Little kids, grandparents and everyone in between were exploring the different sections and learning about everything from dung beetles to elephants.  We were glad to be among them!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Masterpieces of art and nature

San Diego, CA – More delights awaited us today at San Diego’s famous Balboa Park.  Originally established as the site for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, its Hispanic style palatial buildings now house 16 museums, and are surrounded by gardens and public spaces, two theatres, the San Diego Zoo and other attractions. 

The park takes up 1,200 acres in the centre of town, and there are several parking lots where you can leave the car, for free, and hop on a tram that takes you throughout the park, also for free. 

Our first stop was at the San Diego Museum of Art, which was a work of art in itself.  Ornately sculpted columns and decorations framed the front door, and inside was a tiled lobby with high arched ceiling and a sweeping Scarlett O’Hara type staircase with blue ceramic bannisters.

Modern American art was on display in one hall, and up those stairs we saw halls with priceless masterpieces by Rembrandt, Rodin, Picasso, Gaugin and more.  Val was particularly impressed that these works were displayed so a person could walk up and touch them.  Of course, each hall had surveillance cameras and there were docents, but it seemed inadequate given the value of the art.

The magnificent Botanical Building, made entirely of rosewood laths, was the highlight of our day.  One section was devoted to orchids of every size, colour and configuration, and another to ferns. Tall, exotic palm trees soared up to the arched ceiling, and gorgeous flowers and plants flourished everywhere.  We were enchanted!  As we strolled through, we could hear strains of music, coming from a saxophone player who provided an impromptu concert outside, next to the fishpond.

By this time, we were ready for lunch, so we stopped in at El Prado Restaurant, on the park grounds, for a delicious light meal, served on the patio under umbrellas while a small fountain trickled next to us.

On to the San Diego History Center, where we learned about the early years of Indian, Spanish and Mexican settlement and on to the humble beginnings of this American city, up to 1880.  They had a floor-sized map of San Diego County that you could walk on and that demonstrated the geographical features of the area.  We spoke with Michael, one of the volunteer guides, who told us quite a bit about the city he has called home all his life.

Aviation and space exploration were the theme of the Air and Space Museum.  A replica of the Spirit of St Louis was on display, to commemorate the original which was also built in San Diego and made the first trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris in 1927 with Charles Lindbergh at the helm.  Portraits of famous pilots, plane builders and astronauts lined the walls, and short films described the development of commercial flight and the role of planes in World War II.

By this time, our legs were giving out, so we headed back to the parking lot and home, armed with literature about Balboa Park for our next foray!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

America's Finest City

San Diego, CA – A perfect ending to a very full and interesting day!  A delicious seafood dinner at Anthony’s, on the San Diego harbour, as the sun descended behind the naval shipyard across the water in a glorious blaze of orange and crimson.

This morning we found an Episcopal church nearby, and were amused when the GPS took us on the freeway and Interstate to get to it, but through a peaceful residential neighbourhood – and in much less time – to get us back to the KOA!

Our afternoon brought us on a two-hour tour through all the highlights of the city, from top to bottom.  Hatch was the name of our driver and guide, and what a lively fellow he was!  His descriptions of buildings and streets, parks and personalities, history and anecdotes kept us listening with rapt attention from start to finish.  And whenever he found an appropriate moment, he’d switch on a sound track and get us to sing – “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as we passed the ballpark where the San Diego Padres play; “Anchors Aweigh” when we passed the naval base – you get the idea!

The tour began in Old Town which has been designated as a state park. Historic buildings, such as the school, newspaper office and courthouse, have been restored, while some have resumed their previous roles as candy stores and other mercantiles, with extensive inventories and lots of clients.

The harbour was familiar territory for us from yesterday, but we learned, as we passed some long white buildings next to the waterfront, that the woman who became known as Rosie the Riveter worked inside them in the mid-1940s building airplanes for the war effort.  Hatch also told us that bananas from Central America and cars from Asia were the number one and two commodities arriving at the local ports.

We were pleased to cross the San Diego Coronado Bridge to see the town on the other side of the bay – as well as get a bird’s eye view of the harbour from the bridge’s highest point. There were lots of beautiful gardens and parks in Coronado, and with the warm sun and flowers everywhere, it was a delight to the eye. At the magnificent Hotel Del Coronado, we learned, the future King Edward met and fell for Mrs. Simpson, and Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon filmed “Some Like it Hot”.

The Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy (a bit of a misnomer for a very large part of town) came next, after crossing back over the bridge, and then we went to Balboa Park, a huge sector where museums, cultural centers, gardens and even the San Diego Zoo are laid out for an appreciative public.  Since it was Sunday afternoon, and a sunny one at that, lots of families and little ones were out and about, enjoying the day.

After a great tour, we headed back to the car and set the GPS for the seafood restaurant. We were pleased to find a parking space right near Anthony’s, and to learn that on Sundays, parking is free!  It made our dinner all the more pleasant, as we enjoyed clam chowder, fresh warm buns, and a medley of shrimp, salmon and crab cakes, and watched the golden sun set on what is known as America’s finest city.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Of ships, skyscrapers and statues

San Diego, CA – Sunlight sparkled on the waters of San Diego Bay as we waited for the Lord Hornblower to pull in for our harbour cruise. We booked the two-hour cruise that would take us to both the northern and southern portions of the bay for a full picture of the city’s busy shoreline.

San Diego is an important centre for the US Navy.  Its naval yards not only host the active ships in the Pacific fleet, but they also repair, refurbish and recycle naval vessels, and build new ones as well. Right next to the pier where we caught our cruise boat was the USS Midway, a huge aircraft carrier with an illustrious war record in the Pacific, which is now a floating museum.

Monuments to naval heroes of World War II are placed along the park land next to the harbour. A huge reproduction of Unconditional Surrender stands in a park here – that iconic photo from the cover of Life magazine where a sailor grabs a nurse and bends her backward in a passionate embrace in Times Square when the end of the war is announced.  Couples by the thousands (including Val and me!) pose in front of the 25-foot statue and try to mimic their posture for the camera.

As we sailed around the harbour, we got a great view of the city’s skyline, and of the extensive naval yards with destroyers, frigates, aircraft carriers, supply ships and floating drydocks, not to mention huge cranes and storehouses.

On the southern loop we passed under the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge, a high, curving link between the mainland and the island of Coronado.  It’s two and a half miles long, and we were told the only reason for its curve was so the bridge would qualify for federal funding, which didn’t kick in until it passed the two-mile mark.

The northern loop of our cruise took us past the San Diego airport, and we watched as a big plane came from the east, where the mountains rise up behind the city, and swooped lower and lower over the skyscrapers, descending below the royal palm trees and disappearing onto the runway behind the buildings along the shore.  It was hard to see how it would find room to land from our vantage point, so that made it kind of spellbinding!

The more affluent homes could be seen along the shore of Coronado island, and lots of sailboats with colourful spinnakers glided along in the bay.  On some wooden docks we passed, a few dozen soporific sea lions were sprawled together, napping in the sun like great brown lumps.  Over our heads a few seagulls hovered, hoping for crumbs from the tourists.  Our captain had asked us to refrain from feeding them, so we were spared a bombardment of gulls!

We were delighted with our first peek at this beautiful city.  Back on shore, we went over for our kiss picture, and found nearby a tribute to Bob Hope, with a statue of him at a mike, surrounded by statues representing the many troops he entertained over the years. A looped sound track of his comical monologue entertained tourists who posed for pictures among the bronze statues.  This wasn’t his only tribute; the lead ship of a new class of vehicle cargo ships is called the USNS Bob Hope.