holiday carWe here at “A Bird’s Eye View” are taking a break for Christmas.  Actually, we consumed too much egg nog and can’t string two sentences together.  But fear not, we’ll be back next week with some inspiring drivel for the new year.

Merry Christmas to everyone and thank you so much for reading our blog each week.  We appreciate your “views” and comments.

Bob and Suzanne


by Bob Sparrow

holiday car    No, this isn’t the counterpoint to my last post on all that is good about air travel.  In fact one of the reasons I have such a positive attitude towards air travel is that I don’t travel during the holidays.  Whoever created the phrase, ‘holiday travel’ took the fun out of two of my favorite words.  I love the holidays and I love to travel, but together you’ve got the beginnings of ‘the nightmare before Christmas’.  If you’re trying to fly somewhere the nightmares feature things like delayed flight, missed connections, lost luggage, sitting on an airplane next to a guy with reindeer breath and practicing your ‘Just what I wanted’ expression when you get that battery operated recycled toilet paper dispenser.  If you’re driving, the nightmares are about jammed freeways, road rage, kids screaming “Are-we-there-yet?” and the practicing of, “They just fit” when trying on those new glow-in-the-dark plastic socks.

     Gone are the days when we could just go over the river and through the woods toover the river grandmother’s house and enjoy some of her homemade Chocolate Chip cookies.  Today grandma lives in a downtown, high-rise condo, six hours away where parking is limited and expensive – and the cookies are gluten-free.

     Holiday travel, indeed.  Shouldn’t there be a term for ruining two perfectly good words by juxtaposing them?  I’m sure there are lots of similar two-word combinations that shouldn’t be joined.  Here’s one that immediately comes to mind; the word ‘love’ is one of the best words around and ‘child’ is also a great word, but put them together and you’ve got . . . a bastard!  Shouldn’t there be a name for these kinds of words, I mean paired words like ‘Civil war’ or ‘jumbo shrimp’ are oxymorons, so maybe we name words like ‘love child’ and ‘holiday travel’ oxybastards.

     How could they do that to two such beautiful words?  Etymologically speaking, the word holiday is derived from the words ‘Holy Day’, so the term originally had religious connotations, but today it seems that the closest any holiday comes to religion is when Travelersomeone says, ‘Thank God I don’t have to go to work today” or “Can you believe this god-awful traffic?.”  Holiday actually is a . . . never mind, what I really wanted to talk about was ‘travel’, because today in the mail I received the National Geographic Traveler magazine featuring their 2nd Annual Best of the World – 20 Must-See Places for 2013 – great reading for a raining Sunday afternoon where I can reverse the aforementioned oxybastard and dream about and plan a ‘travel holiday’.  There now, doesn’t that sound much better?

     I rarely think of those two words, no matter what the order, and not think of Bob Hope traveling half way around the world every Christmas to entertain our troops.  He started during World War II when he island-hopped throughout the south Pacific in 1944 to the tune of some 30,000 miles while performing over 150 USO shows.  He travel to KoreaBob Hope troops during that war (Sorry, conflict) and did shows in Viet Nam every Christmas from 1964 to 1972.  He also did Christmas performances during Desert Storm (1990-91) for the troops in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.  Bob Hope was a ‘holiday traveler’ for 50 years, going wherever our troops were stationed.  Now it wasn’t all toil and drudgery, he typically traveled in a troupe that included the likes of Ursula Andress, Anne Margaret, Carroll Baker and Raquel Welch, which for those too young to remember those beauties, today it would be like  having to spend Christmas with Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry, Charlize Theron and Salma Hayek.  Hope was known to crack, “I bring them along to remind the boys what they’re fighting for.”

 christmas-afghanistan-2011    There is no place like home for the holidays, but those who will travel and perhaps experience ‘holiday travel’ nightmares before Christmas, might be well-served to remember when you’re flight is delayed or the traffic is backed up and even when you receive that re-gifted fruit cake, Bob Hope’s amazing sacrifice during a time when he most wanted to be home and today’s service men and women all over the world who will be home for the holiday only in their dreams.

Things Not Heard From Passengers After A Flight

by Bob Sparrow

  •  “I wish we could go through security on our way out of the airport too”
  • “I didn’t realize how comfortable those middle seats were”
  • “I just never seem to get tired of sitting on the tarmac”
  • “I wish that guy in the seat in front of me could tilt his chair back a little further”
  • “Yum, I’ve got to get this recipe”

      Most of the time I write about the destination, but this week it’s about getting there.  I’ve done a fair amount of air travel, both business and pleasure and I must confess that I’ve probably not uttered any of the above phrases.  But there is one thing that I utter after every flight – read on to find out.

     The truth is after 2,000,000-plus miles in the not-always-friendly skies, I still think air travel is amazing.  It still blows my mind to think that I can get on an airplane in California, sit in a chair traveling 600 miles an hour 35,000 feet above the ground, eat, drink, sleep, completely ignore a person sitting inches from me and within a few hours I can be in Connecticut.  I actually flew to Connecticut a couple of weeks ago attending a sorority meeting . . . don’t ask, I’m still trying to explain it to my wife.  Anyway, I may be fairly alone on this one, but I think airlines get a bad rap.

     I’m always amused by self-important business executives whose flight has been delayed and they are demanding some answers.  These are the same people who haven’t started one of their own meetings on time – ever.  The reality is that as a society our punctuality bar has drifted fairly low and actually I think the airlines do a better job than most at being on time.

     Admittedly, I love to travel, so I don’t see airplanes and airports a necessary evils – I see them as parts of the process – it’s probably that ‘life’s a journey not a destination’ thing that helps explains my lack of disdain for the airline industry.  Yes, I know you’ve read stories about passengers being held on tarmacs for hours without peanuts or vodka, or someone being violated during a pat down, but the reason you’re reading about them is that they are news – they are very rare occasions given the fact that there are somewhere between 85,000 – 90,000 flights in the world PER DAY!

    I actually enjoy being in an airport, because if I’m in an airport it means I’m going somewhere, and I love to go somewhere; with the possible exceptions of the dentist and back to Home Depot for the fourth time to get the part that actually fits.  Most airports today are full-service – you can get a haircut, practice your golf swing, and a ‘friend of mine’ told me that you can even get a massage with a happy . . . meal.  I’ve even heard of people who, if they have a few hours between flights and there is an International terminal, will go there just to eat something foreign and to listen to different foreign languages – OK, that was me on my last trip.

     Of course when I was traveling a lot and was up-graded to first class most of the time that chair was a Bark-A-Lounger with a personal valet, but I ride in ‘steerage’ now and still enjoy the ride.  I always get a window seat because:

  • I love the view – I’ve seen great aerial shots of Yosemite, the Rockies, the Mississippi River, the Alps, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, the Statue of Liberty, even the North Pole.
  • I have a good bladder and don’t typically need to get up during a cross-country flight and sitting in the window seat keeps me from getting up for those with a bladder that is not as flight-friendly as mine.
  • I can lean up against, sleep or drool on the window instead of the person next to me.
  • My knees and elbows are still healing from the beverage carts that have banged into me when I used to sit in an aisle seat.

      Additionally, I know when I’m in my seat, I will not get a phone call, I will not be asked to take out the garbage or fix that leaky sink – in short, I will not be bothered.  And instead of those dogged eared Sky Malls to leaf through and magazines where the crossword puzzle is already partly done (incorrectly), today we have ‘Apple gadgets’.  I don’t need to carry books or magazines with me, just my iPad, and of course, I have my computer for . . . computing, but the most important electronic accoutrement I carry is my iPod.  Not just because it affords me a rare opportunity to just sit and listen to some of the 12,000 songs on it, but it allows me ignore my neighbor.  I know that doesn’t sound very . . .well, neighborly, but I’m sure you’ve all experienced the person who sits next to you and says, “How you doing?” and before you could answer they’re telling you how they’re doing, where they’ve been, where they’re going and who’s supposed to meet them when we land. So when I sit down I put in my iPod earplug my neighbor assumes I’m busy – sometimes the iPod isn’t even on.

   So, what do I always say after a flight?  As I pass the cockpit on my way out . . . I always say “Thank you”.  Because if I’m saying thank you it means that my perfect record of number of landings equaling the number of take offs is still intact, and I have the pilot to thank for that.  I’ll admit that flying isn’t always peaches and peanuts, but even if I’ve had a bad experience I’m still amazed by that chair that goes 600 miles per hour 35,000 feet above the earth.

Catalina, 26 Miles, The Four Preps and Earworms

by Bob Sparrow

    My most recent ‘road trip’ took me off the road and on the water, to Santa Catalina Island.  It is a very interesting island, to say the least.

  • It has a casino where gambling is banned
  • It has a herd of Bison left behind after a film was shot
  • The main town, Avalon has a 3rd Street, but no 1st or 2nd  Street
  • The local post office doesn’t deliver the mail
  • But the local cabs deliver pizzas

      You may know the island from the song ’26 Miles’, made famous by the Four Preps in 1958.  I’m warning you right now, if you remember the song and you go to Catalina, that song will be playing in your head – THE WHOLE TIME YOU’RE THERE!  I believe that’s called an ‘earworm’ – it felt more like ringworm.  Like most people my age, I remember some of the lyrics to the song, but not all of them, so I ended up humming the words I didn’t know.  Out of frustration of this song being on ‘replay’ in my head for three days, I decided to look up the real lyrics.  It is said that the cure for earworm is to finish the song and I couldn’t finish the song until I looked up the actual lyrics.  So I did.  I was not surprised to find that these 1950 classically banal lyrics were . . . well, classically banal as well as factually inaccurate, starting with the title.

Catalina Island is 22 miles from Los Angeles, 33 miles from Long Beach and 34 miles from Newport Beach – it is not 26 miles from any port.

Water all around it everywhere’ – Isn’t this a little superfluous?  Isn’t an island, by definition, a land mass that has water all around it – everywhere?

‘I’d swim with just some water wings and my guitar’ – The song was written by Four Prep members, Bruce Belland and Glen Larson, two mature Southern California young men.  I think we get a clue to their desperation when they suggest that they’ll swim 26 miles (or whatever) to find romance and that they’ll use water wings to do so.  Two men swimming to Catalina with water wings really doesn’t call up an image of the kind of men women would be looking to hook up with, even in the 50s.  But if for some reason they were not able to navigate the 26 miles in water wings . . .

I can leave the wings but I’ll need the guitar for romance.  This seems to suggest that if their little sister had borrowed their water wings for the weekend, they could leave them and use a guitar to get over to the island.  Acoustical guitars are made of wood and can be fairly buoyant, and perhaps even act as a floatation device, but the guitar would have been rendered unplayable after upwards of 8-10 hours in salt water.  So these ‘Preps’, who apparently were striking out with women at home, were probably not going to have much better luck on Catalina.

I’d work for anyone even the Navy, who would float me to my island dream . . .   This plan seems a bit half-baked and completely irrational, but that really doesn’t surprise us at this point, does it?  Joining the navy would probably mean a four-year commitment and training who knows where.  After basic training their chances of getting deployed to Catalina would have been non-existent.

Forty kilometers in a leaky old boat, any old thing that will stay afloat   Finally the boys have the right idea here by looking into a boat; the fact that they’d settle for one that is old and leaky speaks volumes about their nautical acumen.  Why they’ve switched to the metric system for measurement here I’m not sure, but forty kilometers is equal to a little more than 24 miles, still leaving them far short of their chosen destination.

While looking at the logic of the lyrics was a bit unsettling, finishing the song did indeed rid me of my earworm.  How was Catalina?  Very enjoyable, so enjoyable in fact that I’m headed back there to spend the New Year’s weekend – at that time I’ll try to give you more of a flavor for the island itself, assuming I can get that damn song out of my head.

 PS: I actually like the song and The Four Preps


by Suzanne Sparrow Watson

     Every time I pick up a newspaper or a magazine lately it seems there’s an article about someone working on their “bucket list”.  Boomers everywhere are compiling lists of things to do before they die: climb Mt. Everest, sail around the world or buy a red Corvette.  My brother has done an admirable job of checking off his “to do” list; most of his feats require a lot of conditioning and some derring-do.  Except seeing the General Patton Museum – that just took a high tolerance for boredom.

     I used to have a bucket list.  Actually, it wasn’t so much a list as an item.  I only had one thing I wanted to do – hang glide.  For thirty years I’ve watched hang-gliders with admiration. I was in awe of their fearlessness and their obvious gold standard medical plan.  But in the last year or so I’ve finally come to the realization that I won’t be jumping off a cliff anytime soon.  For a while I thought I might take a page from George H.W. Bush’s skydiving book and go tandem.  Now I’ve decided that unless I get that same cute Army Ranger to hang on to, it’s just not going to happen.

     So earlier this year I decided to flip things around.  Instead of a bucket list, I started to compile a list of the 10 best events that I have already experienced.  In other words, I started an Upside Down Bucket List.  My only rule was that nothing on the list could be “obvious” – like a wedding day.  Given that I have a hard time remembering what I had for dinner last night, it has taken me months to recall 10 events worthy of the list.

     I started off with five items that were major moments.  Those were easy.  The next five took more thought and retrospection.  I was surprised when something as mundane as a movie or listening to someone else’s adventures would spark a memory of something I’d long forgotten.  I would jot down events as I thought of them and then mull over whether they were worthy of the final five slots.  It was lost on me that no one else was ever going to see this list – my obsessive/compulsive nature took over and I needed it to be perfect.  Perhaps one of my activities should have been to visit a good shrink.

     Of course, dredging up memories causes some not so great days to be recalled too.  Like the time I fell down an entire flight of escalators at a BART station (everything in tact except my dignity) or when I walked in late to a wedding and realized after 10 minutes that it wasn’t my friends’ wedding (ever tried to skulk out of church quietly?).  Those days definitely did not make the list but for a moment I did think about compiling a list of my 10 most embarrassing days.

     After months of thinking and reminiscing, I have finalized my Upside Down Bucket List.  Final for now anyway; I’ve reserved the right to add and delete as my memory allows.  It’s interesting to take a step back and review it.  I’m not sure exactly what it says about me, but my list divides into three categories:  Adventure, Family, and Personal Achievements. I won’t bore you with the list but I can assure you that each item brings back great memories – whether it was challenging myself physically, a great conversation with my dad, or an unexpected success.

     It’s been a fun experience.  It was harder than I thought it would be but it also more rewarding.  Each time I look at the list it brings a smile to my face or a boost to my confidence.  So I’d encourage you to do it – it’s a great way to remember the good times.  And a lot safer than leaping into thin air with some flimsy wings strapped on your back.

Death Valley – Why?

by Bob Sparrow

    When I told people that I wanted to go to Death Valley, they asked why?   I wasn’t really sure.  I had heard that it had recently reclaimed the honor of the hottest place IN THE WORLD, wresting the title from Libya – 134 degrees!  As I prepared to make the trip I knew from watching the temperatures that it wasn’t going to be that hot, but I wondered what life in Death Valley under such extreme temperatures was like.  I thought it would be interesting to write about the extreme heat and how the flora, fauna and humans survived it.  I thought I’d be using the term ‘buzzard hot’ many times.  I was even going to bring an egg along to fry on a sidewalk.  To be honest, I thought I would mostly make fun, or at least make a number of ‘hot jokes’ about this seemingly god-forsaken place.  Those who have been there know the reality I was about to learn.

     I hit the road at 5:00 a.m. and got into Baker at 7:30.  I used to think that Baker was in the middle of nowhere, until I turned onto Highway 127 and headed north – Baker became a thriving metropolis.  After driving less than an hour, I thought I was in that giant warehouse in New Mexico where they filmed the ‘fake moon landing’.  There was nothing in the distance but Mojave Desert for as far as the eyes could see – no other cars, no road signs, not even a shoulder on the road, just a narrow two-lane road winding through the desert.  It’s a place where you really have to trust your car not to break down.

     I soon came upon Dumont Dunes (left) – real live sand dunes, just like you see in the movies, but without the camels.  My car is not an All-Terrain Vehicle, but I pretended that it was and drove off the road to get a better look at the dunes. (photo below, yes that little speck is my car).  At the junction of Highway 127 and Highway 190, I arrive at the bustling burg of Shoshone, population 31, I didn’t see one of them.  I was hoping to get gas here, but as you can see from the picture below, the car in front of me was taking quite a while to fill up, so I moved on .

     As I got closer to Death Valley the names of the towns and points of interest reminded me of just how hot it was getting outside – Furnace Creek, Hell’s Gate, Dante’s View, Stovepipe Wells, Charcoal Kilns, Burning Wagon Point.  I arrive at the Death Valley Visitor Center to get recommendations for what I should see and do.  At the top of the list was Scotty’s Castle (top photo) – another 50 miles to the north.  I got back in the car and got back on the road – it was 11:00 and the temperature just broke 100.

     The story surrounding the building of Scotty’s Castle in the middle of nowhere is a fascinating one.  Built in the 1920s, this architectural wonder featured a one million gallon swimming pool, an elaborate heating and air conditioning system which was way ahead of its time, an innovative hydro-electric power system driven by a desert spring that still delivers 300 gallons of water per minute, AND a solar panel, yes a solar panel built in the 20s!  Just as interesting as the house itself is the story of the two key characters responsible for its construction – Albert Johnson, the wealthy, Cornell educated engineer who longed to be a ‘cowboy’ and Walter Scott (Scotty), a con man who left home at the age of 11, moved to the desert as a teenager and eventually started selling shares of bogus gold mines to wealthy easterners, Johnson being one of them.  How they formed a life-long friendship is something you’ll have to read on your own.

      After Scotty’s Castle I had to get to Badwater; it’s just a field of encrusted salt, but it’s the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere – 282 feet below sea level.  Part of the reason I wanted to get to this historical location was just to breathe the air; I thought if high altitude creates thin air which is hard to breathe, then low altitudes must create ‘thick’ air – which logically would be easier to breathe.  I’m here to tell you I couldn’t tell the difference between sea level air and below sea level air.

     My most memorable drive was coming back from Badwater; a loop off the main road appropriately called Artists Palette, it is a narrow, one-way drive cut through the mountain that shows colors you’ve never seen before – it is surreal.  It underscored to me the most surprising part of my desert experience – the sheer beauty of the place, and I was told that the springtime is really beautiful.  Everywhere I drove there were beautifully colored mountains on each side of me – chocolate brown to cream-colored, cobalt blue, sage green, every shade of red and orange.  And they all changed hues from sunrise to sunset.

      I then drove out to Zabriskie Point just before sundown and my photos just don’t capture what one feels when taking in everything that nature has done to this terrain.

     Death Valley – why?  The shapes, the textures, the colors can be seen nowhere else on the planet; it should be renamed the Painted Desert – it is truly magnificent.

The Ascent of Half Dome – Not Your Average Walk in a National Park

The literature on the Half Dome hike reads as follows:

Difficulty:  Extreme. It’s long, steep at the beginning and end, and more dangerous than most Yosemite hikes. It’s probably the most difficult of all Yosemite day hikes. On the traditional 1 to 10 scale, this one rates an 11.

Insanity Factor: 9 out of 10.  Wait ’til you get to the cables, and you’ll see.

     I lie motionless in my sleeping bag in the still night air listening to the climbers miles away on El Capitan shouting back and forth to each other as they are suspended thousands of feet up on the face where they have clamped their ‘bat hammock’ into the granite face for the night.  My alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m., but I’m already awake.    Although we all went to bed very early, none of us slept very well – we knew we had a big day ahead of us.

      We were on the trailhead at 4:00 a.m.; we gazed in awe at the black sky filled with billions of stars – it is an awesome sight, one we don’t get to see back home.  With miner-like hiking lights attached to our hats, we begin out journey.

      It’s a little over a mile’s hike from where we parked to the trailhead, from there it’s 6.2 miles to the top of Half Dome, our destination.  I attempted this same hike just last year, but because of the late and heavy winter, the infamous cables that must be used to climb the last several hundred feet to the summit, were down, so I could not get to the top.  The bucket list went unchecked, so I returned.

     Early in the hike we get to the extremely vertical granite ‘steps’ of Mist Trail along side Vernal Falls, one of the toughest part of the hike, compounded by the fact that our packs are heaviest with the 3-4 liters of water we are carrying, as there is no potable water along the way.  We reach the top of Vernal Falls and it’s still dark as we head towards the base of Nevada Falls, but after about 20 minutes, we realize we’ve lost the trail.  Scott has a GPS and gets us back on course.

     To me one of  the most beautiful parts of any hike is when you’ve hiked in the dark for several hours and then are able to experience the soft light of a sunrise filtering through the pines slowing bringing daylight to the mountains.  This soft morning light allows us to turn off our ‘head lights’ and enjoy the relatively flat part of the hike and then a gradual incline to the base of the ‘Subdome’.  The trail is relatively free of other hikers, in part because it’s after Labor Day and the tourists are gone, and in part because the recent hantavirus outbreak caused by rodents that infected eight visitors to the park this summer, killing three, has certainly discouraged some visitors.

     We’ve been on the trail for about five hours when we reach the base of the ‘subdome’; climbing the subdome is arguably the hardest part of the hike.  It is a series of very vertical granite switch back steps, the heat of the day is apparent as is the fact that you’re at around 8,000 feet and air is starting to get a little thin.  We take our time and finally reach the top of the subdome; from there it’s a short hike down to the saddle between the subdome and the bottom of the cables and your eyes are on the cables the whole way.  There are about 5-6 hikers spread out at various stages on the cables, which look much more vertical than I remembered.  Perhaps it’s because I know that this time I’m going to have to climb them.

     We don our gloves, which are necessary for gripping the cable and pulling yourself up, and begin the final phase of the climb.  Because of generally fewer people on the trail and our early start, there is no one coming down the cables while we were trying to go up.  They say the cables are at a 45 degree angle, it seems more like 90 degrees.  Under the two cables, which are about three feet high, are 2 x 4s on the granite about every ten feet, where you can stop and rest, which we do.  It’s an opportunity to turn and look down at where you’d end up if you slipped.  You don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on that, so you turn around, keep your head down and your hands on the cable.

     The top of Half Dome is spectacular; at 8,835 it’s not that high, it’s not even the highest point in Yosemite, but the view beats any I’ve seen from much higher summits.  The area on top is surprisingly large, I was told that there is room for 17 football fields up there.  Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to go out of bounds on any of them.  I did crawl on my hands and knees and then my stomach to the edge of the dome to looked over and immediately crawled back.  Patrick, Jeff, Greg and I spent about twenty minutes on top, ate a small lunch and then headed back down the cables – maybe scarier than going up; I tried going down forwards and backwards – it was scary both ways.

       Our return trip was high-lighted by seeing both Nevada and Vernal Falls in the light of day; the water levels were down, but still it’s amazing to just stand and look at these wonders of nature.  Eleven hours and 15 miles later we are exhausted and exhilarated . . . and home.

For those who haven’t seen the video I made of last year’s Half Dome hike, when the falls were spectacular, I’ve put the link below.

The General Patton Museum – Tanks, But No Tanks (Part II)

by Bob Sparrow

The Museum

     I turned off the freeway and headed for the museum and see a statue of General Patton and his trusty dog, William the Conqueror, atop the museum as well as an assortment of tanks off to the left side of the single story building. I learned that this is not the ‘official’ Patton Museum; that is in Fort Knox, Kentucky, but since I wasn’t headed in that direction anytime soon, I figured I’d check out this ‘memorial’ museum, which is built on the site of the former Desert Training Center, in beautiful Chirico Summit, CA.  The surrounding environment is very hostile, which is why this area was selected as a place to train our armored division for battles in Northern Africa during WWII.  At the time Patton said,

 “If you can work successfully here, in this country, it will be no difficulty at all to kill the assorted sons of bitches you meet in any other country.”

     Back in the day, the Desert Training Center was 18,000 square miles, making it the largest military installation in the world; it opened in 1942 and at any one time there were upwards of 190 thousand men and 27,000 tanks/halftracks training at this facility, which was lovingly referred to as, ‘the place God forgot’.

     The website says that there is a ‘suggested donation’ of $5.00, but the lady at the door requires that you ‘ pay your donation’ or you ain’t gettin’ in.  To me, the museum was singularly unspectacular.  It’s got Patton t-shirts, miniature plastic tanks and ball caps with Army stuff on them all for sale; you can see some old uniforms, shell casings, pictures and stories about Patton’s war heroics, as well as the story of the infamous ‘slapping incident’ and the details of his freakish accidental death as a result of a car accident.  But some of the items, like a room with Holocaust photos and the story of Desert Storm and other artifacts, seem unrelated and appear to be just filler.  Even the pictures of Patton were disappointing.  Of course my image of Patton is really the image of George C. Scott – well, check out the pictures of each, who would you more likely follow into battle?

     So the real draw to the museum, I thought, must be the tanks.  I went outside into the oppressive heat and was first greeted by a friendly sign warning me of other ‘visitors’ who may be in the area – hope they paid their donation.

     There are 15 or so assorted tanks and halftracks sitting in the sand, mostly in disrepair, and looking like petrified dinosaurs stuck in the desert.  I thought it might be interesting to see the insides of a tank and perhaps sit in the driver’s seat – but the sign said ‘Do Not Climb On The Tanks!’  They were hot to the touch anyway and if it was 108 degrees in the shade, you could probably bake a turkey on the driver’s seat.


      There were also several ‘frames’ of tanks (see above right) which at first I thought were sort of like Jungle Jims that kids could play on, but there was a sign on them that said ‘Keep Off’ – so I guess they were just there to reserve a place for future tanks, not sure.

     Off in a fenced-in area there were more relics in severe disrepair, and I wasn’t sure if it was fenced off so they could charge extra to see these beauties or whether these would be on display at a later time, but as you can tell by the picture (right) it may not be worth another $5 to see them.

     So those of you who have seen the signs, wanted to turn off, but just kept driving, you and God were right, it is place that should be forgotten. Rent the Patton DVD and sit in your nice air-conditioned home and watch it. Great general, great movie, not-so-great museum.



The General Patton Museum – Tanks, But No Tanks (Part 1)

by Bob Sparrow

Interstate 10

   I was recently just leaving Arizona, where I had just learned that it is legal to carry a concealed or unconcealed weapon into a bar in that state – an experiment, I suppose, to see what happens when you mix fire arms and fire water.  That can’t have a good ending, but I digress.  Like many who have traveled Interstate 10 from Arizona to California, I have seen signs posted along the freeway for the General George S. Patton Museum, but never stopped.  Everyone I talked with who had driven that route said the same thing, saw the signs, never stopped.  So this time I decided to stop, but not before discovering some of the ‘treasures’ of the Mojave Desert along the way.

     Those who have driven Interstate 10 through this unpainted desert know that there is a lot of sand out there and not much else, but I discovered that if you’re really observant, you will see things that you won’t see anywhere else in the world.  For example, I noticed a sign along the freeway that read:  ‘Prison Near By – Do Not Pick Up Hitch Hikers’.  To me it really said: ‘Hey, we can’t be expected to keep our eyes on these crooks every second, so if one or two happen to escape and are looking for a ride out of here, don’t pick them up’.  Another amusing sign along the freeway asked me to turn off my air conditioning for the next ten miles to keep my car from overheating.  Are they kidding?!  It’s 108 degrees out there, what’s going to keep me from overheating?  Why don’t they just ask me to take off my dark glasses and stare into the sun?    Or maybe suggest that I stand out in the sun on the shoulder and help direct Armadillo across the freeway?

    The sights along the way, while they may be few and far between, are usually interesting and sometimes bazaar.  Pictured above, for example, is something you don’t see every day – a trunk hauling a ’54 Merc and . . . an airplane without any wings.  Where could they possibly be going?

     As I approached the ‘Agricultural Check Point’ coming into California – it’s where they check to make sure no fruits or nuts get into the state . . . Oops, I realized that I was eating grapes that I had purchased in Arizona and was now about to transport them illegally over state lines – a federal offense!  I couldn’t throw them out the window, that’s also illegal.  I approached to check point nervously.  When asked if I was carrying any agricultural items, I shifted the grapes to the side of my mouth and lied,”No sir”.  He waved me through.  I felt guilty, but I blame it on that hot desert sun – they say it makes you do crazy things, I believe them now.

     As I quickly drove away, constantly checking my rearview mirror, I saw a sign for the city of Desert Center, and thought I’d stop there, get gas, have something cold to drink, and get rid of the evidence.

     I pulled into the gas station (pictured at right), but found it a little short on gas,  and everything else for that matter.  I started to go next door to the ‘Desert Center Cafe’ to get something to eat or drink, but found it closed – since 1987!  I drove over to one of the only other building ‘in town’ – it was an old school with an old tractor parked in the ‘Principal’s Parking Place’ (Below).

      It soon became abundantly clear to me that the best place to be in Desert Center was the center, because no matter which way you dove, you were leaving.

     Back on the freeway I did find one more interesting item on Interstate 10 before I finally got to the museum, it was a truckload of BIMBOS – headed for California.  

Thursday: The General Patton Museum – Tanks, But No Tanks (Part II)  I finally get there.

Stardate: 1968 – John Lennon and the Sawdust Festival

by Bob Sparrow

     My road trip last week utilized time travel and took me back to the 60s, not age-wise, I’m already back in the 60s age-wise, thank you; I’m talking time-wise, like in the 1960’s – you know hippies, free love, smoking banana peels and that kind of thing.  My time travel vehicle was the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival – not a celebration of sawdust as the name might imply, but rather the annual arts and crafts festival showing off the wares of artist from Laguna Beach.

     When it originally started in 1965 it featured things like macramé dream catchers, hand-crafted turquoise peace medallions, ceramic mushrooms, guys with long hair and sandals singing anti-war songs and art work from various mediums.  Today, it features macramé dream catchers, hand-crafted turquoise peace medallions, ceramic mushrooms (pictured below), . . .  Yep, pretty much the same stuff, but the exhibitors never intended it to be another stuffy art show.

     In fact they were originally part of that ‘stuffy art show’, the Laguna Festival of Arts, when they broke away in protest of something (remember protesting anything was very popular in those days) to form their own, not-so-stuffy festival, they wanted to make it, in the parlance of the day, a ‘happening’.  The media tagged this new exhibit ‘The Rejects Festival’.  Thank goodness they used sawdust to cover the mud and dust of their new home as it provided a less-negative, albeit somewhat obscure, name for their annual show of arts and crafts.  In spite of, or maybe because of, the name, it’s been going strong ever since.

    The festival grounds are in a Eucalyptus grove less than a mile from Laguna’s Main Beach, so the sea air, the stand of Eucalyptus and the various water features therein, provide a welcome cooling relief from the summer heat.  Stepping through the portal of this time warp, I am immediately hit with the smell of sawdust which permeates the entire three acre grounds; I can hear a lone, male singer in the distance (sounds like he’s wearing sandals), strumming his acoustical guitar and protesting something, and in front of me is something I don’t see every day – a place to purchase goblets and gourds.

     I strolled from booth to booth examining the various works of art and often stopped to talk with the artist who were more than willing to discuss their craft.  Have you ever looked at a piece of art and wondered, ‘What were they thinking?’ well here was the chance to ask them.  I watched glass being blown, I watched an artist paint a picture of a hamburger because she was hungry, I saw jewelry being shaped and welded, I saw clay pots being thrown – you know what I mean,  and I saw . . . wait a minute, was that John Lennon sitting in the booth making something?  I thought I could hear Give Peace a Chance playing in the distance.

      There’s always something playing in the distance at the Sawdust Festival, sometimes several acts at once playing at three different venues throughout the grounds.  If 60s rock is your thing then you’d enjoy the Flatland Mountain Rock Band; or try Acoustic Roots who are purveyors of Bohemian Surf music (didn’t even know that was a genre); or if you want your Ska Dub Roots vibe going try Worm & the Night Crawlers.  If you just want some good old country rock, then catch Sean Wiggins & the Lone Goat.  The Lone Goat?     And . . . wait is that John Lennon singing Woman, or is that a woman singing John Lennon?  Geez, for a guy who’s been dead for almost 32 years, he sure gets around.  I headed over to the field of ceramic mushrooms.

      I passed on the mushrooms, but I bought two prints and a pair of earrings for my wife, who tolerates my wanderlust, and headed for the exit as night was falling on the festival.  As I crossed the parking lot the unmistakable smell of cannabis rented the air and extended my ‘trip’ to the 60s a few minutes more.

      It was a most delightful afternoon; I sang Imagine in the car all the way home.