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Viva Las Vegas; the crass & glitzy excesses of humanity on display.

November 26, 2007

After ten days at Laguna Beach we were ready to hit the road again. The smoke had cleared from the bush fires and the roads were open. We headed for Las Vegas, which was to be our base for visits to the new Sky Walk on the west rim of the grand canyon and to Zion and Bryce canyons beyond Las Vegas in Utah.
A four hour drive from Los Angeles through sparsely treed mountains and arid plains brought us to Las Vegas, a shimmering metropolis rising out of the desert. We checked into our hotel room on the 16th floor of the sumptuous Monte Carlo Casino in the late afternoon (rooms are cheap to attract people to the Casinos), then ventured out onto Las Vegas Boulevard, (the ‘Strip’).

Disneyland dealt in childhood fantasies, the Las Vegas Strip was an adult Fantasia!

The ‘Strip’ was a crowded, dusty promenade with twenty thousand bleary-eyed tourists threading their way past street stalls selling cheap T-shirts and plastic memorabilia. Massive casinos overlooked the road, many that were part of the folklore of films and entertainment, – Caesars Palace, the Mirage, the Flamingo, Circus Circus, Harrahs, the Desert Inn, Bellagios. We crossed Frank Sinatra Boulevard and Dean Martin road.

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Dotted along the boulevard between the casinos were around twenty huge construction sites. The Strip is in a continual state of redevelopment, – the original 1000 room hotels were replaced with 3000 room hotels during the 1980’s and they are now being demolished to be replaced with 5000 room hotels. The revenue lost during the 2 year demolition and redevelopment phase is recouped in the first 2 years of operation of the new hotel/casino. The noise and dust from the construction sites, along with the spruikers who blocked our path every few meters promoting everything from restaurants to personal strip shows, added to the chaos. Anything that money could buy was on offer.

Tourists posed for photos in front of the Eiffel tower, the Trevi fountain, the Empire State Building, the canals of Venice, the fountains of Versialles, the Elvis Presley Wedding Chapel and the Ferraris and Lamborhgines parked on the pavement.

The Strip was hot, dusty and crowded. We returned to the Monte Carlo, wound our way through the acres of gambling tables and poker machines in the ground floor casino and retreated to our room. Las Vegas by day was not a pretty sight.

By night the Strip lit up, the construction sites were quiet and the dust had settled. One hundred thousand tourists fanned out into the casinos and clubs to enjoy the show-biz glitz. We walked in the fresh air, taking in the colourful night scene, bought tickets to a show the next evening, then returned to our hotel for a late meal.

For all that we disliked about Las Vegas, the next night we saw the best show of our lives at the Treasure Island Casino, – ‘Mystere’, with Cirque de Soliel. A truly spectacular performance in a beautiful theatre.

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The lights of Las Vegas.

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Our Southern Californian Odyssey

November 24, 2007

The rest of our stay in Southern California is documented in the section ‘Lounge Lizards at Laguna Beach’ which has been updated and can be retrieved from the October archives.

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Welcome to the Californian Freeways ….

November 23, 2007

On a wet coastal highway, cool wind in our hair.

Left the coast for the redwoods, rising up through the air,

Up ahead in the distance, a shimmering light,

We were both travel weary, so we stopped for the night.

We spent our first night in California in a small cabin nestled amongst the giant redwoods near Crescent Bay, the first town we reached after crossing from Oregon. . It was one of the most beautiful settings for a camp we had discovered and we spent the evening walking among these giants, spellbound by their grandeur.

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Welcome to roads of California! Such a lovely place…

and I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell!

Next morning the rain had eased and we headed south again along the coastal highway. We had a leisurely drive ahead of us, with 2 days to reach Santa Cruz, around 300 miles away. My memory of the Californian roads was of broad, sweeping highways, but I hadn’t traveled Highway 101 before and we soon discovered how perilous it could be. Thick fog blanketed the highway as it wound its way around the coastal cliffs and through the redwood forests. In places the road was a broad four laned speedway, but periodically it would suddenly change abruptly and almost without warning into a narrow twisting two laned byway flanked by towering trees or a precipitous drop into the ocean. The scenery we had been promised was lost to us as threaded our way through the fog which often reduced visibility to less than a few car lengths. The changing road conditions and the persistent fog made this one of the most arduous drives of our journey. Jules drove most of the way as my tremor surfaced when I was anxious and made driving difficult.

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After several hours of nail biting driving the road left the coastal forests and fog behind. The highway widened and we emerged onto a broad coastal plain and we stopped and walked on a Californian beach for the first time.
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The coastline, as in Oregon, was was fringed by towering cliffs and rock formations. On one incursion inland the road passed through a lightly forested grassland where we encountered a herd of elk.

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The worst of the weather and road conditions behind us, we decided to leave highway 101 where it turned inland at a small town called Leggett, and to follow the coast road to Fort Bragg to enjoy the scenery without the fog.

Big mistake!

The road to Fort Bragg was the most treacherous we had encountered, with hairpin bends and precipitous drops for all 40 miles. There were stretches of the road so tortuous that Dodgy was looking up his own exhaust pipe! To add to our woes, patchy coastal fog descended again as we gained altitude, reducing visibility to 10 – 15 metres. The locals in their pick up trucks showed no fear of the the road or conditions and we were soon being either hunted up the road by impatient locals or avoiding head on collisions as they swept out of the mist on hairpin bends. Jules stuck grimly to the task of staying on the road and it was with great relief that we reached the outskirts of Fort Bragg, exhausted after two hours of torture. The road straightened as we continued down the coast to our overnight stop (another cabin) at Manchester.

Next morning we left the coastal road and rejoined highway 101, now a sweeping 6 lane highway, to San Francisco and beyond to Santa Cruz, undaunted by anything the Californian road system could throw at us. As we went further south stands of eucalypts became common. They grow into magnificent trees in California with none of the natural parasites or diseases which stunt their growth in Oz and are spread widely through the landscape. They also fuel the wildfires that ravage California each summer, a terror that we were soon to witness during our stay near Los Angeles.

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In Santa Cruz we caught up with old friend, John Carr and his mother Pat,a remarkably fit 79 year old. John is a graduate of the Vet course at Murdoch in the early years of the school. He has just sold a practice he owned in Santa Cruz and has retired to a farm in Bend, Oregon. He hasn’t changed, still witty, relaxed and fond of his memories of Oz.

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Travelling South through Washington State and down the Oregon coast.

November 21, 2007

After a lazy departure from our oceanside apartment we wound our way alongside Puget sound, catching occasional glimpses of the Canadian shoreline as the mist lifted, then turned away from the coast to join highway 101. The decision to leave the coast was pragmatic, the highway offered a far easier and faster drive to our destination, Port Angeles, but as it turned out this route wound around the edge of Lake Aldwell, with stunning vistas that topped even the verdent rain forest on the coast.

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Dodgy was giving the odd shudder so we had an enforced stop over while some very friendly mechanics checked him out. Next morning, $600 poorer we set out in dodgy again, still shuddering but with lots of new hoses, filters, bearings and other bits. “The shuddering’s nothing to worry about, — lucky we spotted those other problems,” said the friendly mechanic as he took our cheque.

We coursed our way south past Seattle, which lay across the Sound then joined [I]5 and for a few hours endured the tension and aggression of what was probably the worst drive in all our travels. We finally crossed the Columbia River into Portland, Oregon, unfortunately in the middle of rush hour. The freeways were chaotic and slow, and an hour and 10 kilometers later we headed out of the city, west to Lincoln City on the coast. We had discovered a chain of campgrounds that had small log cabins available at a moderate cost. They were fairly bare, but were heated and we could move in our mattress from the car and use our camping gear. Best of all the were warm and dry and offered free internet access through their wireless network, so we could catch up with our emails. We rolled into the campground in at dusk in steady rain, thankful that we were not tenting it.

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Next morning we toured beachside Lincoln City before heading south along the spectacularly rugged Oregon coastline.

The urgency of the tsunami warning signs scattered at intervals along the fore shore seemed to have little resonance with the real estate developers, with new estates perched on sandbars perhaps a metre above high tide level.

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The rest of the day we travelled along the beautiful, rugged Pacific coast. The scenery speaks for itself, so other than to mention the whales at Waldport (look closely at the blue seascape) and the fascination Oregon seems to have with arched bridges, I will let the photographs tell the story.
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Oh, and the pumpkins, thats another story , Halloween.

We finally crossed into Northern California in the late afternoon.

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The Olympic Peninsular; home to the Quinault and Makah nations

November 17, 2007

We left Yakimar in steady rain, heading for the Olympic Peninsular at the north-west tip of mainland USA; home to the coast dwelling Quinault and Makah people. Jules was driving as I was still suffering the aftershocks of the medicine dance.

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The leaden skies persisted as we climbed into the mountains at the base of Mount Ranier, at over 14000 ft, the highest peak in Washinton State. Persistent rain and patches of heavy mist limited visibility and slowed our progress. The volcano itself was invisible, in the mist despite the promise of several viewing points along the road. The winding mountain road and inclement weather made driving quite difficult and the massive logging trucks which periodically lurched out of the mist added to the adrenaline rush. Occasionally the mist lifted and revealed beautiful valleys and forested mountain slopes.

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We crested White Pass, at 4500 feet, and descended to Packwood, a small tourist and logging community, where we looked at a motel room for the night. There are no trains passing through Packwood, just logging trucks which roared past our window at 10 minute intervals throughout the night.

Next morning’s journey took us across the northern edge of the Mount St Helens’s National Monument reserve, but thick mist again obscured the mountain. A 30 mile drive in the chaotic traffic on [I]5 the(the major route between Seattle and Portland, Oregon)made the timber trucks seem like child’s play and we were pleased to exit the interstate and head west again towards our coastal destination at Ocean Shores, a coastal resort town close to the Quinault nation. By chance we came into town some days after the official holiday season had finished and we were able to rent a small condominium overlooking the beach (about 100 yards away) for a similar price to the motel rooms we had been staying in.

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We soon discovered that the national kite flying pageant was in town that week and hundreds of kites filled the sky about 200 m down the beach. We walked along the beach and were treated to a spectacular display of kite flying. The star performaner was ‘Chaz’, 78 years old and deaf, controlling 3 stunt kites in a stunning display of synchronized aerobatics, control lines of two of the kites in his hands, the third kite’s lines strapped to his thigh.

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Over the next few days Julie drove the 20 miles of winding coastal roads through some of the most beautiful rainforest we have seen, to visit the health service clinics in Taholah, the capital of the Quinault nation. I was content to sit by the beach and go for occasional walks, but she finally persuaded me to travel with her on the third day.

“You just have to see the rainforest! Its some of the most beautiful forest I’ve ever seen,” she exclaimed. “Its amazing!” A little skeptical but curious, I headed out with her the next morning in steady rain and mist. The narrow road wound its way along the coastline with sudden dips and curves adding to my feeling of imminent doom, but Jules was undaunted at the wheel and Dodgy clung grimly to the wet bitumen. I finally wrenched my eyes from the road and found that we were indeed surrounded by the most beautiful rain forest I had ever seen. The awesome scenery distracted me and we soon descended into Tahola, where the Quinault River opens to the sea.

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The Quinault people are seafarers, and for centuries have built large canoes to navigate the coastal and river fishing and hunting grounds of their nation. Unlike most of the desert and plains Indians they were not displaced from their homelands and have had continuous occupancy of their lands for thousands of years.

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The opening paragraph of their website provides a description of the people and their activities;

 

“We are among the small number of Americans who can walk the same beaches, paddle the same waters, and hunt the same lands our ancestors did centuries ago. The Quinault Indian Nation (QIN) consists of the Quinault and Queets tribes and descendants of five other coastal tribes: Quileute, Hoh, Chehalis, Chinook, and Cowlitz.”

 

Neah Bay and the Makah Nation.

After almost a week in our beachside condominium it was time to travel up the Olympic Peninsula to the Makah nation at the north west tip of mainland USA. Our journey north again took us through beautiful rainforests and towering stands of western red cedar, with the occasional scar of clear felling to remind us of home. We left the Atlantic coast, crossing the peninsula and rejoining the sea at Puget Sound. Canada was just 20 km across the Sound as we travelled west along the torturous coastal road to the Makah nation.

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It was late afternoon when we reached Neah Bay and the sun was low behind the steep hills surrounding the settlement. The bay itself was protected by long sea walls and a flotilla of fishing boats was tied up in the large protected marina. Houses and shops were strung around the main road which followed the curve of the foreshore.

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After several enquiries we discovered that there was no accommodation available in town that night so we headed back on the coastal road to a group of lodges and motels we had seen just outside the Makar Nation boundary. Luck was again on our side, the only lodging where we got a response to our knocks a small motel on the edge of the beach and surprisingly low tariff. We were soon settling into our suite, with its own kitchen and spacious bedroom, but best of all, a panoramic view of Puget Sound through the large windows of the living area. We spent the next four days there between visits to Neah Bay, watching ships plying up and down the Sound and whales lazing in the shallows just off shore. On clear days Victoria Island could be seen on the Canadian side of the Sound.

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The culture and heritage of the Makah was fascinating. The highlights of our stay were seeing the Cultural Centre where the relics of the ancient village of Ozette are housed (see below), and walking the Cape Flattery Trail to the spectacular rocky headlands at the very north-west point of mainland USA

To provide some background on the people and culture of the Makah nation I have paraphrased a small section of their webpage;

‘The name “Makah”, was given to us by our neighboring tribes, means “Generous with food”. We call ourselves “Kwih-dich-chuh-ahtx” or “people who live by the rocks and since the beginning of time. For thousands of years we have hunted whales and seals, and fished in the great waters which cradle our home. Commercial fishing is one of the mainstays of our economy.

Throughout our history, the great Western Red Cedar tree has provided the material from which we have housed and clothed ourselves. Our people once flourished in a community of five permanent villages. The villages were Bahaada, Deah (present day Neah Bay), Waatch, Sooes and Ozette.

In 1970 tidal erosion at Ozette, 20 miles south of Neah Bay, uncovered an ancient whaling village which had been covered by a mud slide hundreds of years ago. The artifacts which were recovered are between 300-500 years old and are now housed in a nationally recognized museum, the Makah Cultural and Research Center. Exhibits include full scale replicas of cedar long houses as well as whaling, sealing and fishing canoes.’

(www.makah.com/ -)

The walk along the Cape Flattery Trail took us through thick rainforests, sometimes in ankle deep mud and occasionally on stepping stones over flowing water. We eventually emerged at a rugged headland with spectacular views of the ocean and nearby islands, with massive waves pounding against the rocks below us and whales cruising offshore in the calmer waters.

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A visit to the Yakama Nation; Julie sweats and Pete is blessed.

November 13, 2007

Replete from our breakfast at Denny’s and with the left-overs stored in the cooler, Julie eased Dodgy back into the east bound traffic on [I]90. We were on our way to Issaquah to rendezvous with HollyAnna from the Yakama tribe, whom Julie had met several days before in Seattle. She had invited us to her reservation for the weekend, to participate in a sweat lodge and medicine dance.

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The road from Seattle.

We arrived at the rendezvous a few minutes ahead of time and waited.

An hour passed and steady rain began to fall. There was no sign of HollyAnna.

Julie’s spirits slumped. Both of these traditional ceremonies were high on her “to do” list and she had been excited by the promise the weekend held. I had some reservations about the sweat lodge, two weeks in Phoenix with temperatures hovering around 112F to 115F had curbed my enthusiasm for sweating, but the medicine dance sounded interesting.
“She was on crutches,” Julie said the despondently, “maybe her leg’s got worse.”

 

Another 30 minutes passed and with dampened spirits we resolved to return to Seattle. Just as Dodgy roared into action (Jules told me to render praise to Dodgy, at least until we cleared the LA freeways) our mobile phone rang. It was HollyAnna, she was waiting at another gas station. Our spirits lifted as we headed for a new rendezvous.

We finally caught up with her at Ellensberg, after twice overshooting our new meeting points. Thank god (or Richard Branston) for our mobile phone. Julie greeted HollyAnna, her fiancé Glenn and brother Miles, introduced me, and we were soon following their car south through a scenic canyon beside the turbulent waters of the Yakima River.

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The southern end of the canyon opened into a heavily farmed valley. Orchards with long rows of fruit trees and large acre vegetable and hops farms reached out to the mountains which ringed the valley. Farmland soon gave way to packing sheds and roadside stalls as we approached the outskirts of Yakima, the regional centre. After a brief stop at Wal-Mart to replenish our food supplies, we headed south again to the Yakama Indian Reservation, ten miles from Yakima. (The tribal name was officially changed to Yakamar in 1992 to reflect the Native American pronounciation).

In 1855, the Yakamar tribes signed a treaty which ceded 11.5 million acres to the United States in return for housing, schools and funds to re-establish their communities on the 1.2 million-acre reservation allocated to them in central Washington. Intrusions by settlers sparked a war with the US from 1856 to 1859, when by brute force, the treaty was finally implemented by the government.

Once in the reserve the roads narrowed and we were soon on roughly surfaced gravel. Those who drafted the treaty had not anticipated the demands of the automobile. Dodgy rattled and groaned in protest; – he has developed a liking for downhill runs on the freeway where he is almost unstoppable.

 

After about 20 minutes we swung through a gateway leading to a wooden farmhouse, surrounded by the usual debris of generations of farming. Holly pulled up fifty metres from the house at a long, low shed constructed from logs and corrugated iron. As we climbed from our car several men emerged from the shed and moved towards us. “Time to meet Chief,” said Holly quietly and then in a louder voice as she stepped forward to introduce us, “I’d like you to meet my father.”

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Chief held out his hand. His silvery hair was braided in the tradition of his tribe and his rimless glasses framed eyes that reflected an ageless culture. “Holly told me you were coming – feel welcome as our special guests”. Others began to gather around us.

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HollyAnna, her fiance Glen and Julie; Chief with Julie and Peter

Most Native Americans whom we have met on our travels embraced Julie immediately for her Australian Aboriginal origins, whereas they stand off a little from me, polite but reserved until I have established my bona fides.

Julie’s presence again smoothed the way and we were soon discussing the conflict of cultures that younger people on the reservation were exposed to, on the one hand their traditional beliefs, on the other MTV. Chief described his role as a children’s advocate and Judge, working within the Native American justice system. “Many of our young people are caught between two cultures and are confused and angry. We are trying to give them a sense of belonging,” he said quietly. “My family and friends built this ‘short house’ as a centre for cultural gatherings,” he gestured towards the building beside us. “We cut and hauled hundreds of logs from the forest. It is our plan to involve younger members of the tribe in traditional ceremonies, to try to balance influence of the destructive outside influences.” The afternoon was spent discussing the problems facing young people in our respective communities.

Fortunately for me the sweat lodge for men was already underway when we arrived, so I was unable to join in. Jules joined the women in their ‘sweat’ and recounted to me later. “It was pitch black and unbelievably hot. I didn’t know I could sweat so much. I did lie back and for a while I was desperate for some light and fresh air. Then the prayers and chants began and continued through the whole sweat. That relaxed me and made the experience unreal, sort of ethereal”.

That evening we were guests at a Medicine Dance held to offer prayers for the recovery of a family member who had been close to death. Feasting began at 5.30 pm and at 6.30 we gathered in the ‘short house’ and the doors were shut and guarded. No one could leave until the Medicine Dance finished, at 4.30am next morning!. Around 60 people attended the ceremony, most in family groups. The majority of the Yakama people follow the Washat religion, (also called the Seven Drums or Longhouse) which is based in traditional beliefs and ceremonies. Songs and dances are the most solemn expression of this religion

I can‘t write in any detail about this sacred ceremony as, as outsiders, we were asked to respect the confidentiality of the proceedings. In addition, much of the ceremony is spoken and sung in the language of the Yakama and we understood neither the language nor the context of events. I will, however, make broad comment on our impressions of the ceremony and on our involvement.

After a traditional meal of buffalo meat, soup, potatoes and bread the tables were cleared from the short house and we moved to benches against the walls. The central dance area was earth compacted by years of ceremonial dancing and covered with large carpets. Everyone received a wooden staff to beat out the rhythm for the dancing and singing which followed.

Chief, wearing traditional costume and feather headdress welcomed everyone and began the ceremony with solemn prayers and soulful singing. A succession of dancers and singers followed through the night, many dancing until they reached a trancelike state and were close to exhaustion. Individuals own their songs, which define both their spiritual and physical existence. Those of us seated on the wooden floor at the edge of the dance area thumped out a powerful rhythm with our staves. Gifts were given at intervals through the night and we were overwhelmed and a little embarrassed by the generosity of the people towards us – we received rugs, woven bags,and jackets and had brought no gifts to reciprocate.

Perhaps the most amazing event of the evening for us was to see HollyAnna’s transformation into Cougar Tracks (her tribal name), the Yakamar medicine woman. Wearing the traditional costume of a medicine woman she lead the singing with a rich and powerful voice, and danced with the grace and flow of a soaring bird, at first favouring her injured leg (she had partially ruptured her archiles tendon at a previous ceremony) then, raised to a state above pain, paying the injury no heed.

At 3.30am Chief approached me. “We would like to end the ceremony with a healing prayer for you“. He led me to the front of the hall and sat me down. Six of the ceremonial dancers sang and danced around me to the driving rhythm of the staves and clinking bells. Chief danced closer, swooping and diving with his outstretched right hand which held a ceremonial fan made from eagle feathers. The intensity of the drumming and singing increased, my scalp began to tingle and the tremor in my right arm began to increase, at it does when I am nervous or anxious. Chief came towards me, moving the shaking eagle feathers forcefully across my chest and arms, and then across my face and the top of my head. After several minutes I began to feel lightheaded and relaxed into the rhythm of the dance and song. The tremor in my left arm eased and I felt a wave of calm pass over me. I seemed to be an observer to the scene, rather than a participant. The prayers, dancing and song continued for what seemed like an hour (in fact around 15 minutes) and I was still in a state of separation from the scene when I was led back to my bench at the edge of the dance floor. I slowly descended to reality as the closing song and prayers were delivered.

We left the short house at the end of the Medicine Dance at 4:30 a.m., exhausted but with a sense of wonderment.

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By the Time we get to Phoenix

November 11, 2007

Well folks, we did it!! mickeyfans.jpg We went to Disneyland bet I’m the only grandmother to go there for her birthday without kids, cartoon-charact.jpgWe do have to admit it wasn’t as fun and you definitely have to take some screaming kids to do it properly. How do you like Mickey and us posing, we had to stand in line for about half and hour for that pose!!

We also finished our four month tour of the mid west, north west, west coast Los Vegas and canyons galore and arrived back in Phoenix yesterday. We are gradually unpacked Dodgy the car so that we can begin sorting what to pack in 8 weeks for our return to Oz. We’ve gathered so much information, gifts, memorabilia and junk that it’ll take us that long to do it.

Pete had two falls in two weeks where he missed the steps in the night, (he has been going at a fairly constant rate), so he is a little battered and his ego and elbow are bruised, but he will rest and recover for our ten day snow trip in December and our two day flight home.

I’ll go back to the ASU for work and lectures and Pete will write and rest.  We also plan to do a few small overnight trips to Sedona, Tuscon and the hinterlands around Phoenix. So even though we have stopped our tour as such, there should be heaps to read up on.  Pete will write up the remainder of the trip to keep you up dated, but basically we are in a nice warm resting place for a few weeks.

Take care and even though we have had a hard time with responding to emails, we do appreciate your comments and love hearing from you.