How the west was won (by camera)

blogIMG_2677 (2)Arizona. When mentioning this state, my mind used to conjure up visions of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson, and then nothing of interest in between but desert and of course, the Grand Canyon.

Prior to our winter’s journey westward, I had never stepped foot in the state of Arizona. Papa had been to those Arizona cities a couple of times for annual sales meetings when he worked in the corporate world and he returned home with tales of palm trees, swimming pools, and golf courses.

But what a different Arizona we found on our trip. Sure, there were palm trees and swimming pools (one right in my sister’s back yard but it was too chilly to swim), and there were bright patches of almost abnormally green golf courses here and there, but there was so much more of interest to see in the part of the Sonoran Desert where we visited.

“Almost everyone in the world knows something about Arizona, and some of it is even true.”  ~Jim Turner, Arizona: A Celebration of the Grand Canyon State, 2011

I didn’t envision a beautiful body of water like Lake Havasu or the gigantic red rock gorges surrounding the Colorado River. Or that I’d cross the London Bridge in the desert.

I didn’t even imagine that folks would pull their RVs out into the expanse of the landscape with no one else in sight to go dry camping.

I never dreamed I’d get my kicks on Route 66. Or that I’d feed wild burros in an old former ghost town that was once the scene of a gold mine rush. 

Or that I’d relish the thrill of ATV riding on winding, hilly desert trails out in the middle of nowhere.

I didn’t expect to get my face a little sunburned even though I was dressed in a shirt, jeans, denim jacket, and knitted scarf around my neck because it was 56° F and downright windy enough to chill your ears.  

And I didn’t think I’d constantly be pulling my camera up to my eye. 

But I did.

I stuffed my eyes and my SD card full of Arizona and I’ve only shared a portion of my treasures. 

So to wind up this series on our trip to this southwestern state, here’s a look at some of the other photos I captured on our journey. 

You might say it was, for me, how the West was won….by the viewfinder of my DSLR camera.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder.” ~ Ray Bradbury

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Arizona day tripping

blogIMG_3274.jpgEach time we loaded up in my sister and brother-in-law’s vehicle, we were off on another Arizona adventure. Our week spent with them this past February was chock full of cherished family time with plenty of sightseeing excursions thrown in for good measure.

We headed out on a day trip southward from their home and drove through the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge. I honestly have to confess, I didn’t remember that there were actually rivers in Arizona. (My geography lessons in school failed me on this count!)


Bill Williams River


Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge


Campgrounds along the river


Rugged rock formations along the river

Again, the scenery we encountered was vastly different from what I expected. A unique aspect of the Bill Williams River is that it flows east to west for only 40 miles and then empties into the Colorado River at Lake Havasu.

The landscape surrounding the river varies from stands of trees along its banks to marshy grasslands to majestic and rugged rock formations. Folks can enjoy the great outdoors there hiking trails, watching for wildlife, hunting, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Plus there are several RV parks along the river for camping.

From that area, we traveled further south to a little town named Quartzsite, a winter haven for RVers and home to an enormous swap meet.  One can find a little bit of everything there but some of the main attractions are rocks and gems.  A rock hound’s paradise.

It was really nippy (at least for Arizona) and blustery the day we visited there, so it certainly wasn’t crowded. Some of the vendors had even closed up shop, but we still had fun and purchased a couple of things that had to come home with us in our suitcases.

We enjoyed a yummy lunch at a Mom and Pop kind of restaurant called the Mountain Quail Café then headed out to see more sights in the Quartzsite area including the Hi Jolly Monument memorializing a Syrian man nick-named Hi Jolly, who served as a camel driver for the US Army in the mid-1800’s, and a quiet retreat-like memorial garden.

We truly marveled at the famous Saguaro cacti throughout this region and I kept jumping out of the SUV to snap photos of these giants. They – just like Arizona – proved amazing.

blogIMG_3178We Northeasterners loved Arizona mostly because sweet family lives there now but also because we reveled in and appreciated each sight we got to experience.  However, this Mama who wilts when temperatures rise up the thermometer will only visit there again in the winter.  I don’t care if it’s only a dry heat, it’s still too hot there for me in the summer.

blogIMG_3326“We’ve had Eastern tenderfeet here before. And never was there a one of them who didn’t come to love Arizona.” ~Zane Grey, The Call of the Canyon, 1924




blogIMG_2984I’m not much of a cruiser.

The Papa in this empty nest has been expressing a desire to go on an ocean cruise for years. He just can’t convince this Mama to go.

It’s not that I don’t like the ocean. I do. I love sitting beach-side in the warm sand, sun kissing my face, the sound of waves crashing ashore, and the smell of salted sea water in the air. And I could sit for hours on a craggy shoreline enjoying cool ocean breezes.

There’s something mesmerizing about being by the sea.

But the thoughts of boarding a cruise ship and setting sail for the depths of that same ocean for several days causes me to hyperventilate.

Regardless of that trepidation, I’m not averse to taking short day cruises. And we’ve experienced plenty.

Ferries from Seattle across Puget Sound; across Delaware Bay from Cape May, New Jersey to Lewes, Delaware; and from lower Manhattan to Liberty Island and Ellis Island in New York City.

Riverboat rides on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.  A sightseeing cruise in Boston Harbor.  And once even out into the Pacific Ocean on a whale watching cruise off the coast of Oregon.

So I can enjoy a good day cruise and that’s what we did on our trip to Arizona. We experienced two river trips in Lake Havasu City. One was just a short ferry ride northward and across Lake Havasu, a 45-mile long body of water created by Parker Dam on the Colorado River, to the California side to enjoy a good dinner and back to Lake Havasu City.

But the other water trip we took was more scenic and quite the journey. We boarded a jet boat for a two and a half hour guided tour cruise up the Colorado to Topock Gorge, 25 miles away from Lake Havasu City.

blogIMG_3613We opted for the last afternoon cruise, boarding the jet boat at the London Bridge and returned there just as activity was winding down in that tourist area. While on the tour, we learned fascinating information about how the London Bridge came to the Arizona desert. If you missed that post, click here to read about it. 

The scenery on the tour was breathtaking and I kept hopping up and down from my seat to snap photos, finally succumbing to the lure of standing outside (it was a bit chilly for Arizona) on the boat deck to continue clicking away with my camera. For most of my deck-side stay I was alone. It almost made me feel like an explorer or an adventurer of sorts.

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We definitely would recommend the boat tour to anyone venturing to this area. It was well-worth the time and money spent, although not all the folks seemed to enjoy the trip. Two of the other passengers were teen-aged boys who appeared to be with grandparents.

When we purchased our tickets, we paid extra cash to get front row seats onboard and noticed the grandfather did the same for the four of them.  The boys’ attitude prior to leaving demonstrated their disinterest entirely. They seemed most unhappy to even be there. And once we boarded the boat and began the journey, they both fell asleep and stayed that way for practically the entire cruise.

Attitude. It’s something that can make you or break you and it affects the people around you as well. Those teen boys appeared bored beyond words and one could tell from their attitude that they were not appreciative of the time with their grandparents, at least on this excursion.

I found myself wanting to bop them on the head and admonish them by saying, “Wake up!  Enjoy the scenery and especially this boat ride with your grandparents because you won’t get this time back.”

Of course, I speak from an older person’s perspective. And if I had knocked them upside the head and spoken to them with a condescending tone, that would demonstrate a not-so-nice attitude on my part.

Instead I snapped a photo of the backs of their heads to remind myself that attitude makes a big difference in how you live each day, especially when traveling. I’d much rather have an attitude for adventure than one causing an ordeal. But perhaps that’s a lesson that comes with age?

Now if I could just figure out how to avoid an ordeal (my reluctance to board an ocean cruise ship), I’d surely give Papa the adventure he craves.

“Attitude is the difference between ordeal and adventure.” ~ Robert Lipkin


London Bridge is not falling down


London Bridge

Those of us of a certain age most likely know the old nursery school song, “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down; London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.”

But did you know the London Bridge didn’t fall down? That it stands erect and intact…right here in the USA? In Lake Havasu City, Arizona as a matter of fact.

Papa and I learned all about the London Bridge when we visited this attraction in Arizona and took a guided tour cruise up the Colorado River.

Technically, the original medieval London Bridge which spanned the River Thames in London, England, was replaced with a newer bridge way back in 1831.  But over time that new bridge started to sink about an inch every eight years or so, apparently because it wasn’t designed to accommodate automobiles.  

By the late 1960’s, London Bridge, which had withstood the London Blitz in World War II, (you can still view the shell marks on the bridge) was determined to be non-repairable and ill-suited for modern traffic.  Makes sense that an old narrow, sinking bridge couldn’t withstand all that traffic. 

But instead of demolishing it, the City of London decided to try to sell London Bridge. Can you imagine? Selling an old bridge? Who in the world would buy such a thing?

That’s when the founder of Lake Havasu City, Arizona came along.


London Bridge at sunset

Millionaire Robert McCulloch, known for making his money from oil, motor, and chainsaw companies, had previously purchased thousands of acres of desert around a lake created by a dam on the Colorado River. He envisioned making the community he founded there a resort for tourists. Other than the lake, he needed some other kind of attraction to entice visitors to Lake Havasu City.

So why not the London Bridge? McCulloch won the bid for the bridge in 1968 at the tune of $2.46 million. Our tour guide disclosed that to arrive at the winning bid McCulloch doubled the estimated $1.2 million cost of dismantling the bridge in England to $2.4 million and then added $60,000 more, which he determined was a thousand dollars for each year of his age by the time the bridge would be reconstructed in Lake Havasu City.

So how do you move an entire 1000-foot span from one continent to another across an ocean? Prior to dismantling, each granite block of the bridge was numbered with arch span, row number, and position noted.

Once disassembled and packed in shipping crates, the bridge journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal, and northward on the Pacific Ocean arriving in California. It was then trucked to Lake Havasu City in Arizona.

By the time the bridge was assembled, reinforced to accommodate traffic, and dedicated in 1971, the cost ended up being close to $7 million.  That was one expensive tourist attraction!

blogIMG_2706McCulloch was considered a bit crazy to undergo such an expense, but it paid off. Today, London Bridge and Lake Havasu City is a well-known tourist spot in this area of Arizona. The town itself has grown tremendously and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit there.

Strolling along the bridge, visiting the shops in the “English Village” situated alongside the water, taking a ferry across the Colorado River to the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation in California for a delicious dinner, and taking a two and a half hour cruise up the river to view some fantastic scenery were some of the highlights in this desert town.




blogIMG_3017We never would have suspected a whole new world right there in the middle of the desert. And we were so grateful to have taken our southwest trip with a little bit of British influence added in. Of course, the best aspect was sightseeing with family members we dearly love.

Our venture into the desert proved to be an exciting way to leave our drab and long wintry world back in February for a completely different one. Transformation and adventure complete. (I’ll share more photos from this part of our trip this week.)

“Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure.” ~Irving Wallace



More kicks


Decal on pickup truck

Can you tell by my last two posts this week (if you missed them, go back and take a look) that Papa and I really did get our kicks on old Route 66 in Arizona back in February?

During that trip, I took a number of photos on a day excursion from my sister and brother-in-law’s home to Oatman, Arizona.

I decided to offer up a few more of my captures for readers to view in the form of a slide show. All of the following pictures were taken in Oatman and on the way back from there along Route 66.

Next week, I’ll chronicle a few other sightseeing excursions we got a kick out of on during our time in the southwestern desert.  It’s a location where I’d never been before and I found it fascinating.  Now I’d like to return but definitely only in the winter time.  This ol’ Mama can’t take the heat.

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” ~ Anonymous

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Kicks…in more ways than one


If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way
Take the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

~ lyrics by Bobby Troup, American songwriter

That’s exactly what we did – we got our kicks by traveling on Route 66 to a little old town in the Black Mountains of Arizona that used to be a booming gold mining camp after a couple of prospectors struck gold in a big way – $10 million – back in 1915.

Oatman, Arizona, rapidly turned into a town but after fire destroyed some buildings and eventually the gold mine shut down, it deteriorated into a ghost town of sorts until it was transformed into a tourist attraction sitting along the famous old American highway, Route 66.

And just for kicks, my sister and brother-in-law took us there to see the wild burros. Fortunately, we didn’t actually get kicked by any of the burros, but one did try to steal my newly purchased bag of cashews right out of my hand.

The burros, apparently descended by pack mules that were once owned by gold prospectors, are truly wild. They live in the area and every day around 11 am, they saunter into the town of Oatman.


Looking for a handout

There they waltz down the street and willingly approach humans in search of a hand-out. Carrots once were the food of choice, but now that the wild burros are protected by the US Department of the Interior, tourists must purchase paper bags containing small hay cubes, or “burro chow,” to feed the animals. The baby burros have stickers on their heads informing you that you should not feed them anything as they are still nursing with their mamas.


Do not feed the baby burros

But the mature wild things will try to eat anything you carry in your hands, so you have to be careful. I learned the hard way when a burro grabbed onto my bag of cashews and I had to “fight” him for it. They are pretty gentle animals unless you take away their food source. 

We enjoyed this day and we did get a kick out of strolling down the old original Route 66 through town, perusing the wares in the shops, and looking at all the beautiful natural gems for sale.

In addition to the burros, the other highlight of the day was visiting the Oatman Hotel, one of the original buildings that escaped the fire back in the day.

One of its claims to fame is that Hollywood legends Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon in the hotel and you can view the very room that served as their honeymoon suite upstairs.  Downstairs though is another major draw.


Yep, those are all dollar bills here…

The Oatman Hotel Restaurant has some of the yummiest hamburgers we’ve ever eaten. But the food isn’t the only attraction. Inside the restaurant, thousands of $1 bills are attached to everything – walls, ceilings, bandstand, the bar – everywhere you look folks have stapled the bills onto any open surface (except the dining tables and chairs). It’s a crazy and totally fun place to visit and we had a delicious lunch there.


…and here and just about everywhere you looked.

The day we visited, there was a Wild West “shootout” in the middle of town. Kind of hokey but still enjoyable and funny. But the best part was the unscripted action when one of the little burros wouldn’t leave a gunslinger alone. That day, the burro was the star. Of course, a hat was passed for monetary donations, but the money was collected for a good cause, a children’s charity.


Wild burro steals the scene!

It truly was a day full of kicks during our Arizona adventure on Route 66 and the sightseeing on the way to and from that little mountain town was amazing.  

“Towns are like people. Old ones often have character, the new ones are interchangeable.”  ~ Wallace Stegner


A whole new world


Just our footprints

Take two people. Watch them board an airplane in the city nearest them. Fly them from a land where there are four distinct changes of seasons to a place where the sun shines most of the time, the air is dry, and rain is something to be celebrated.

And call it their Arizona adventure.

That was Papa and this Mama when we flew from our wintry weather home this past February to the southwestern desert.

To quote Aladdin in the animated movie of the same name, it was “A whole new world, a new fantastic point of view.”

Our plane landed in the Las Vegas airport at night. My sister and brother-in-law greeted us there with huge smiles and warm hugs and once we secured our luggage, we hopped into their vehicle for the ride to their Arizona home.

Since it was night and our trip was through a relatively barren part of those two states, there wasn’t much to see….except the stars in the sky – so beautiful – and an occasional neon-lighted oasis (casino) en route.

The next morning we awakened to beautiful sunshine and got our first look at our relatives’ new hometown situated along the Colorado River. We took a morning walk around their neighborhood admiring the homes so different from ours back home and basking in the abundant sunshine which we had been lacking. 

It truly was like a whole new world for us.

Palm trees, cacti, and rocky mountains in the desert….the desert right there at the end of their street. Right there where the pavement ended and the desert stretched out ahead of us.

So different from what I imagined. I expected a flat landscape of sand, sand, and more sand much like how the desert is depicted in old movies where a bedraggled fellow is crawling along in the sand, seeing mirages of oases, and crying out “Water, water!”

I didn’t expect hilly terrain, large mountains of rock, stony ground that glittered in the sun, and a gorgeous lake fed by a river for boating and fishing. This desert was a surprise to me!


Desert view while ATV riding, looking into California on the other side of the Colorado River.

And I didn’t expect to enjoy ATV riding in that desert but I was game to try.  As we maneuvered along on trails that twisted and turned, went straight up and down over steep hillsides,  wound their way through rocky crevices and sections of washboard jarring the teeth in your head, both Papa and I found it exhilarating.

It was dusty and dirty and even chilly with the wind whipping around our helmets, but what a blast we had. And what sights we got to behold.  

For each jaunt into the desert by ATV, we packed lunches so we could stop, enjoy the scenery, and have a bite to eat. And unlike some, we were careful to contain our trash and make sure we brought it home with us instead of marring that wild, natural landscape of sand, rocks, cacti, and lizards. (And probably snakes too, although we didn’t see any, thank goodness.)

It did make me sad to see bits of trash here and there littering this unique and beautiful environment. And even surprised me to notice places where people often ride out into the terrain to build campfires and I guess (as evidenced in the photo below) enjoy a bit of rest and relaxation.


For us, we left only our footprints (and ATV tire tracks). And we took away many memories and scads of photos.

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” ~ Chief Seattle