Letters From a Bus
December 2007: Holiday Travels
4th entry for December
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Visiting Jewel & Dan in Phoenix

Sun City, AZ, Day Three at Paradise RV Resort, Site: 2535 25th Ave.

Solstice, Saturday, December 22, 2007 — Seven Months

On Monday, December 17th at 10:00 AM we left Deming and drove 212 miles to Tucson, AZ.  We arrived at Beaudry RV Resort less than four hours later at 1:45 PM.  During our drive west on I-10, we left the Chihuahua Desert just east of Tucson and entered the Sonoran Desert.  The change was immediately apparent.  We left the level areas of sparse chaparral and began to see Saguaro cacti and taller shrubs.

Arizona presented another big change from New Mexico — the sky.  We lost our beautiful blue sky with the marvelous white clouds.  In it’s place I saw the southern California sky of my Los Angeles childhood.  It was brassy and pale and hazy.  This became more and more noticeable as we approached Tucson and Phoenix where I recognized the sad accumulation of smog on the horizon.

Our destination was Phoenix where we planned to visit Dennis’s niece, Jewel and her husband, Dan Riley.  Tucson was an en-route stop.  Beaudry RV Resort turned out to be Beaudry RV Sales plus Camping World plus an RV park.  It was huge.  As soon as got situated in our site we went into culture shock.  There were orange trees everywhere.  (No orange trees in Deming — that I saw.)  Culture shock was also the enormous size of the RV Park.  We had to use a pass card at the gate to come and go.  There were so many lanes in the park that we got lost and couldn’t find our coach in the dark when we came back from dinner. 

Once in January of 1980, I spent a week in Tucson staying with friends — but I don’t remember where.  At that time I discovered the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is located 12 miles west of Tucson in the Tucson Mountains.  I fell in love with the location and the beautiful view of the empty valley below with all those lovely pastel colors.  I spent hours wandering along the paths of this wonderful natural history zoo and botanical gardens.  Dennis and I also passed through Tucson when we were traveling on vacation with Dennis’s sister, Marian and her husband, Joe Schwary.  They took us to the Old Tucson Studios (near the museum).  It is a wild west town — a visit to Hollywood’s version of the Old West.  It was lots of fun. 

From our location at Beaudry off of Country Club Rd., I recognized nothing of the city.  It has grown beyond recognition.  We were in South Tucson near I-10 and I-19.  Mapquest tells me we were 17 miles southeast of the museum.  I would have liked to re-visit both of these attractions and many other places, but we were in a hurry to visit Jewel and Dan before Christmas so we only stayed overnight and didn’t delay.  http://www.desertmuseum.org
http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/dec/stories/studio.html

The Sonoran Desert extends into Mexico down through Baja and along the eastern edge of the Gulf of Californa from Guaymas in the south to Nogales on the Arizona border.  It incorporates Tucson, Globe and Phoenix, AZ.  It reaches northwest up to Needles, CA and west of the Colorado River as far south as Indio, CA.  Yuma near the Gila River in Arizona is also in the Sonoran Desert.
http://www.blueplanetbiomes.org/sonoran_desert.htm
http://www.arizonensis.org/sonoran/

Enroute from Deming, NM to Tucson, AZ. We are approaching mountains with snow. There was water on the ground. It doesn't sink in. This is in NM 10-15 miles from the AZ border. 12/17/07 11:12 AM
Margot hops up and takes a nap. Now she doesn't stay awake — rigid and watchful. She goes to sleep — much more comfortable for me. 12/17/07 11:47 AM
Near this location Rudi suddenly woke and jumped up with a loud WOOF. Then he stood on his legs at the door and looked out the window. On his hind legs, he sniffed the air and kept this up for a minute or so until we passed the area. Clearly he smelled an unusual animal. Maybe it was a mountain lion! 12/17/07 12:34 PM
Beaudry RV Resort put us into culture shock. It's our first really big resort. The spaciousness and the amenities and the orange trees were all delightful to me. It was pretty and very pleasant. The orange trees and palm trees seemed amazing after our time spent in the Chihuahua Desert. And after Dream Catcher RV Park in Deming, the little cement pad with decorative little chairs and table seemed amazing also. (Of course it was more expensive.) 12/17/07 2:50 PM

Sometimes — often? I have planning lapses.  In terms of where to stay in Phoenix, we were advised by several RVers to avoid the parks in Phoenix and go to the outskirts.  Specifically, we were told to stay in Apache Junction.  What with Snowbirds and the holidays I was worried about finding a place to stay in an RV park.  Did I check the address of Jewel and Dan to find out in what part of Phoenix they live?  No.  I made reservations and the next day we headed for Happy Days RV Park in Apache Junction.  As it turned out Jewel and Dan live in southwest Phoenix — west of Glendale and south of Sun City off of AZ-95.  They were more than sixty miles away from Apache Junction. 

I began to get an inkling that this wasn’t going to work out as we approached Phoenix from Tucson.  After traveling 90 miles northwest on I-10 W, we veered off on a 35 mile detour eastward.  We had to take AZ-587 N toward Chandler/Gilbert, which, became S Arizona Ave AZ-87 N.  Then we got back on a freeway called the AZ-202 Loop and drove east until we merged onto US-60 E toward Globe.  This brought us to Signal Butte Rd in Apache Junction.  The entire trip was 125 miles and took us 3.5 hours.

Happy Days RV Park was a “trip” in itself.  It was an adult park (over 55) and quite small.  Many of the residents were in mobile homes and most of the RVs were permanently anchored for the winter.  It was a tight knit community where people renewed friendships from year to year.  The hosts were very friendly but we were definitely strangers in a strange land.  The hosts were busy planning a Christmas dinner for the entire park.  They were decorating the dining room and cooking and making party favors or little gifts.  They were very excited about it and it was really very sweet.  They helped us back into a very tight spot and then got back to their preparations.  It wasn’t a dog friendly park.  We were asked to walk the dogs out front on Meridian Rd, a busy highway.  Not a pleasant walk. 

If we were snowbirds looking for a permanent winter sanctuary, then the advice to stay in Apache Junction rather than in Phoenix would have been good because there is less traffic and it is less expensive.  As it was, we went out of our way for nothing.  The senior community atmosphere at Happy Days made us feel out of place and we were not sorry to leave.

We left Beaudry RV Resort in Tucson and arrived at Happy Days RV Park in Apache Junction three and a half hours later. There was quite a big difference between the two. 12/18/07

The next day we left Apache Junction and drove 63 miles to Paradise RV Resort on Union Hills Dr. in Sun City.  It took an hour and five minutes to move across the city on amazingly new freeways.  From there US-60 took us west toward the heart of the city and then AZ-101 Loop took us north and around to the west side of the city.  We took exit 15 to drive west on Union Hills Dr. into Sun City.  This put us within twenty minutes of Jewel and Dan. 

Phoenix reminds me of my home city, LA.  They have plenty of flat land in which to spread out and they are spreading fast.  The good part is that they anticipated growth by installing freeway loops that make Olympic-like rings around the center of the city.  AZ-202 Loop brought us to the eastern suburb of Apache Junction.  AZ-303 Loop straddles the western side of the city.  I-10 W goes due north into the heart of Phoenix and makes a hard left to head west.  I would suppose it is very congested during rush hour and these loops help traffic to skirt the downtown mess.  As a former Los Angelean I tend to admire excellent freeways and these were excellent with long, well planned exit and entrance roads.  The walls were beautifully decorated with what looked like colored stucco used to paint big cactus plants and the like.  The bridges were also beautiful.  Landscaping featured different colors of gravel with a great deal of red bougainvilleas and other shrubs. 

The bad part about Phoenix is also the same as LA.  They are spreading across the land without an overall city plan.  From the point of view of this visitor, the scenario seems to be this:  A developer buys land to build a sub-division and then invites Wal*Mart to put up a store in a central mall.  Fast food and other chains fill in.  Highways are extended and the sub-division is built.  Voila!  A new suburb of Phoenix is born.  They are all alike and none are pretty. 

Paradise RV Resort is really, really a resort.  It is gorgeous.  Mostly mobile homes, they leave a few spaces for RVs on a side road and then squeeze a few between the mobile homes.  Backing into our site from a narrow street between mobile homes was the most difficult challenge Dennis has faced so far.  The man who led us to our site in a golf cart was a professional.  He stood within arms length of the windshield looking directly at Dennis and then waved his forearm in clockwise or counter-clockwise circles to tell him how much to turn his wheels as he maneuvered forwards and backwards.  He squeezed him in very efficiently. 

Tight quarters at Happy Days RV Park. 12/18/07
AZ-101 Loop looks like a brand new freeway. 12/19/07 Backing into this space was a tight squeeze. 12/19/07
Rev. Elsa just married Dan & Jewel Riley on the winter solstice. 12/21/03 Jewel and Dan drove from Phoenix to Los Altos to help us celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. I was very touched that they made this effort for us. Dennis and I were married on the summer solstice. 6/21/06
We rested awhile after our arrival and then Jewel and Dan arrived.  They are some of my favorite people.  I just love this young couple.  Jewel is the granddaughter of Dennis's sister, Marian Schwary, so she is Dennis's grandniece.  I met them in the fall of 2001 in Seattle when we vacationing with the Schwarys.  At the time Dan and Jewel were students at UW.  Jewel and I struck up a correspondence.  We are both long letter writers. 

Then the couple called me in the summer of 2003 and asked if I would marry them.  I was very flattered.  I became a Universal Life Minister and together the three of us put together a lovely ceremony based around the theme of the winter solstice.  Dennis and I flew up to Washington and I married them on December twenty-first at a Vancouver Country Club.  So here we are in town in time to share the Yule season and their fourth anniversary with them. 

Rudi greets Jewel and Dan on our bus. 12/19/07

Dan drove us to Westgate in nearby Glendale and we headed into one of our standbys — Gordon Biersch Restaurant.  They hadn’t been there and we haven’t in awhile.  Dennis and I discovered this restaurant in Palo Alto years ago.  It was our first microbrewery and we loved their Marzen.  We chose the restaurant frequently when we stayed in Burbank.  But it has changed over the years.  I think the guiding chef and menu used to be better.  It’s something of a sports bar but I am fond of the casual yet modern and elegant atmosphere.  Their dinners have an Asian slant to them. However, the Riley’s are vegetarians and there were not many choices for them.  They made do and we had a wonderful time catching up on news. 

It always amazes me how much I have in common with this young couple.  They were both English Lit majors like me and we all share the same taste in books and in our positions about politics, religion, ethics or philosophy.  It is a wonderful outlet for me and we all yak away non-stop when we are together.  Jewel has an MA in English Lit and currently works as a manager at Wells Fargo.  Dan is finishing up his law degree.  He is about to start the arduous job of studying for the bar.  Then they will move from Phoenix, perhaps back to the northwest, depending on where Dan finds a job. 

On Thursday morning Dennis and I took the dogs for a walk and set out to explore Paradise.  I was impressed with Beaudry — but that was nothing compared to this resort.  It is actually a neighborhood community with streets and houses, yards, gardens, lawns and trees.  It’s been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of living around something other than concrete or gravel.  It is limited to adults over 55 and mostly they are golfers.  In any case, everyone drives golf carts to get around.  The yards were all decorated with Christmas lights.  Entire lighted scenarios were popular.  It was fascinating to see and very beautiful at night. 

Towards noon we drove to the Riley's condominium to see their home.  They’ve done a wonderful job of decorating.  Already it is filled with paintings and lovely objects d’art.  They have a large library of books with some that I gave them or that they bought at my sales.  It was wonderful to know my old book friends have found a good home and lots of companions. 

Dan drove us downtown to their favorite restaurant, My Florist Cafe, on E McDowell Rd. where we found delicious bread and marvelous sandwiches in a big airy warehouse that used to be owned by a florist.  Campy and fun with a bar, tables and a grand piano where jazz is played, this became my new favorite find.  Willo Baking Co. located next door, owns the restaurant and I nearly bought out the inventory.  It’s been so long since I’ve found a bakery with fresh baked bread and pastries.  I forgot to take a photo of the restaurant but you can see it on this webpage.  http://search.cityguide.aol.com/phoenix/restaurants/my-florist-cafe/v-114290278

Paradise Rd. divides two neighborhoods — non-pet and pet owners. The sign says "Pet Area". We approach the club house gardens. But you can't walk dogs here. 12/20/07
In the distance some men are lawn bowling. 12/20/07 The grounds are lovely and the green color is refreshing to the eye after being in the desert. 12/20/07
The buildings around the pool have rooms for every kind of activity — exercise, crafts, and a cafe. 12/20/07 The pool and surrounding buildings. I was particularly envious of the sewing, painting and pottery rooms.
Walking behind the cafe towards the front entrance. 12/20/07 The back of these mobile homes face a lawn alley — very pretty. 12/20/07
The streets look like a residential suburb. However, we felt uneasy walking the dogs there — even in the Pet Area. No one wants a dog to pee on their miniscule bit of lawn or on their Christmas decorations. Our walks with the dogs were not restful or fun. 12/20/07

Friday was the Riley’s fourth anniversary so we left them to their own devices and explored the area of Sun City a little bit.  The entire town of Sun City is confined to adults over 55.  Can you imagine?  Most of the houses are arranged around golf courses.  Of course there are a lot of mobile homes and RV parks also.  When you drive around Sun City or the neighboring town of Surprise it is as if the roads are crossing a series of islands — but the islands are golf courses.  I’ve seen crossing signs for deer, elk and cattle but Sun City is the only place I’ve ever been where the warning sign posted says “Golf Cart Crossing.”  We stopped at a Safeway and found parking spaces labeled, “Golf Cart Only.”  What a laugh.

Not so funny was the lack of public city parks.  The places where we could walk the dogs were limited to the Pet Area at Paradise and we didn’t feel very comfortable walking them there either.  Ours are very active dogs that run back and forth at the end of 20’ extended leashes.  Most people walk little old dogs that trail along side of their owner on a short leash.  Also Margot and Rudi are apt to bark at other dogs until they can run up to sniff noses (and other parts) and get acquainted.  In an adult park we feel the disapproval of the residents.  Also, I didn’t want them to pee indiscriminately on front lawns or on electric decorations.  So we decided to leave Paradise and find a quiet residential area or a small nearby city public park where we could walk our active and obstreperous dogs. 

But there were none.  We wondered over the border into the City of Surprise.  Surprise!  Signs in a residential area with sidewalks were clearly posted:  “No Pets.”  I plugged community parks into the GPS and we were led to the nearest one, Floyd Gaines Park on Nash St., a “Surprise Recreation Complex.”  The park was located in a regular neighborhood with houses and kids and vehicles that were not golf carts.  It was very poor.  The park was large with a baseball field and I think it was attached to a grade school.  For our purposes it was perfect.  The dogs remained on leash but they could range about the lawns and get some exercise.  Two large unconfined dogs lounged around the area but gave us no trouble.  A sign by the baseball park did give me pause:  “DRUG FREE ZONE; High Profile Enforcement Area.”  The phone number of Surprise Police was posted.

Later, on Google I discovered some regional parks — White Tank Mountain and McDowell Mountain but they are a good deal farther away. Although I love the luxury of Paradise, I think I would be uncomfortable living in a city that is solely for the elderly and does not provide lovely green parks the size of golf courses for the enjoyment of families and pets.  It doesn’t seem normal.  I don’t want to get selfish and isolated and divorced from the concerns and requirements of young families.  I don’t want us to end up being the equivalent of a little old lady or a cranky old man.

We parked on a side street next to the park in a poor looking residential area. 12/21/07 Across from the baseball field were houses divided by a wash or dry creek. 12/21/07
"Drug Free Zone" is posted by the baseball field. 12/21/07 The park or school had a picnic area. Behind it there seems to be a small RV park or RV storage. 12/21/07
In the kids's playground, Rudi hops up the steps because he loves to go down slides. But I had him on a leash so he couldn't. 12/21/07 Between Sun City and Surprise, we crossed a wide dry river on W. Bell Rd. 12/21/07
Two dogs were loose and lounging around the park. This always scares me but they gave us no trouble. 12/21/07 It was cloudy and windy on Thursday. The sunsets every night are spectacular. 12/20/07 4:36 PM

On Saturday Jewel and Dan invited us over for lunch.  It turns out that Jewel loves to cook and she produced a wonderfully delicious vegetarian meal with beans and rice and something new to me — fried sweet potatoes.  We sat around their coffee table and admired their newly set up Christmas tree.  This was my only Christmas tree for the season and I was so glad to have a Christmas tree interlude.  We exchanged little gifts and talked and laughed.  They knew I have my little fake fir tree tree from Hallmark but that I couldn’t find a real mini tree — so they found one when they bought their tree and gave it to us.  I love it.  I put it on the shelf by the window in our bedroom and covered it with mini white lights.  It looks marvelous.

Being around a smart young couple is so valuable because I can gain a new and more modern perspective.  They showed me their ipods and how they work so that I could really understand what an ipod could do for me — over and above downloading music, which I’ve never felt moved to do.  I miss my local NPR radio programs on KQED such as Forum with Michael Krasny. Talk of the Nation with Ira Flatow, Fresh Air with Terry Grosse, Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal, and The California Report with Scott Shafer, as well as Morning Edition and All Things Considered.  I never listened to these programs from start to finish but I caught bits and pieces of them each day on my car radio when I did errands.  Some may be carried on satellite radio on our bus or car but our schedule is irregular and I never hear any of them anymore.  Apparently with an ipod I could get the program free and listen to it at will.  You plug it into a radio station and play it through your radio.  What a great idea!  I could catch up on them on days when we are driving.  (Now I want one.)

Jewel also put me onto a book that I began to read immediately.  It provoked some interesting discussions with the Riley’s the next time I saw them.  I put down Charlie Wilson’s War and began immediately to read Julie & Julia; my year of cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell.   “Nearing thirty and trapped in a dead-end secretarial job, Julie Powell resolved to reclaim her life by cooking, in the span of a single year, every one of 524 recipes in Julia Child’s legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Her unexpected reward: not just a newfound respect for calves’ livers and aspic, but a new life—lived with gusto.” 

I was very interested because her style of writing is immediate, emotional, honest and funny AND she posted a daily blog.  I thought that her blog was very daring and to tell the truth it shocked me.  But it also inspired me.  I was shocked because I felt that Julie took liberties with Julia and was disrespectful.  So we had a good discussion about this and I decided I could take a less careful and conservative attitude in my reports.  Jewel said I could start to do that right after I write about our visit with them!  Some of Julie’s blog remains although navigation is poor.  The Julie/Julia Project — Nobody here but us servantless American cooks….  Start on Sunday, August 25, 2002. http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/2002/08/25.html

We pass the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on the freeway near the Riley's exit. The Cardinals are due to play the Falcons there on Sunday and I think this is where the Super Bowl will be played this year. 12/22/07 We enjoyed lunch with dessert and took photos by the Christmas tree.. 12/22/07
After a very pleasant afternoon we came home to get ready for our drive to visit Tom and Dyanne Radke in Yuma, AZ.  Dyanne and I attended grade school together and we both graduated from Torrance HS in 1957. We haven't seen each other since. We correspond and now we are eager to see each other.
I decorated my little live fir tree from Jewel and Dan with little white lights and it looks so pretty at night in our bedroom. I bought the owls in Santa Fe and made a winter vignette with my antler candle holder and an acorn candle. This is by my desk and I love to look at. The little geode stone was a gift from the rock hounds in Deming. 12/22/07
Elsa Walton, Paradise RV Resort, Sun City, AZ, Saturday, December 22, 2007