An Ozark Odyssey

by Bob Sparrow

First, I would wholeheartedly encourage you to go to Amazon and order Pat Miles’ & Suzanne’s book, Before All is Said and Done.  I have read it and it is truly something that I think every couple should read and follow.

Sunset at Top of the Rock

For this blog, the alcohol is bootleg moonshine, and the music is from the Dillards, my favorite bluegrass band from Salem, Missouri.

We got a taste, literally, of the Ozarks, on our way from the Springfield airport to Branson when we stopped for dinner at Lambert’s Café, an institution in the Ozarks since 1942, where you get your hot dinner rolls from the server standing on the other side of the dining room and throwing them to you!  A good thing we could catch, or part of our dinner would have ended up on the floor, maybe that would have been better, the food was not that great!

The ’Great Eight’s’ (the Budds, Sagers, VanBoxmeers and Sparrows) first full day in Branson brought us to the historic Table Top Golf Course – a par three course that one can only walk, no carts, and it has only 13 holes!  They surely didn’t run out of real estate, so I’m guessing no one was counting the holes when they were building the course.  After the round we stopped at the ‘14th hole’ for cocktails.  It was a perfect weather day and for some reason our scores were much lower!

Heading out on Table Top Lake

The next day was spent on a rented outboard pontoon boat, cruising Table Rock Lake and having lunch on the lake on another picturesque day.  I suppose the weather gods were making it up to me for that lousy Alaskan weather!

Day Three was back to The Top of the Rock for another round of golf at Ozarks National, the score doesn’t matter, it was another perfect weather day.  After golf we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening experiencing the picturesque golf cart tour which included a cave, with a drive-up bar in it, amazing rock and waterfall features and spectacular views of the valley and lake below.  That was followed by a beautiful sunset ceremony at Big Cedar Lodge including the firing of a cannon and the playing of bag pipes and a splendid dinner.  Oh yeah, the Table Top/Top of the Rock complex is the creation of Johnny Morris, a billionaire businessman, from Springfield, who started Bass Pro Shops and then created the golf complex here.  Linda ran into him on our visit and I’ve not seen her since!  I wasn’t aware that she even liked bass fishing!

Johnny Morris & Linda

Two more rounds of golf, one at Buffalo Ridge (our favorite) where there were actually buffalo on the ridge, and our last round at Branson Hills, both very good golf courses on very nice days.

One evening we saw The Baldknobbers show, funny name, but great show of singing (country, rock and gospel) and comedy.  It is the longest running show in Branson, it’s been playing for 63 years!  The grandson of the original creator of the show is now the lead singer.

My overall impression of Branson is very different than what I had imagined; I imagined a fairly small town with a main street lined with lots of theaters, like Andy Williams, Tony Orlando, Dick Clark, etc.  Those theaters are there, and there is a downtown area where you can buy tee shirts and coffee mugs, but the theaters are spread out all over the countryside.  And there are lots of things for kids to do from miniature golf to Ferris wheels to zip lines and much more.  While the food was generally just OK, the people were the nicest I’ve seen in the US, and I’ve been to Minnesota!

Great trip, but if I had to do it over, I’d play less golf and see more shows.  Oh yeah, I do kind of wonder what ever happened to Linda.




North to Alaska – Part 3: The Final Days and Some Observations

by Bob Sparrow

Another ‘no-photo’ of Mt. Denali

After our seventh day at sea, not seeing whales, dolphins or sea lions, we pull into Whittier, which is the port for Anchorage, for our three days on land where we won’t see moose, but will see a bear and some eagles.  Actually, I enjoyed the land portion of our trip more than our time at sea.  The three days on land gave us a real sense of what Alaska is all about.  The cruise part visited three coastal ports, Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway which are all fairly similar – tourist towns filled with bars and gift shops; and the rain in every port didn’t help! Perhaps being able to take the scenic train ride out of Skagway might have made a difference, but for now my YouTube train experience will have to do.

The two-day, 417-mile trip from Whittier to Fairbanks starts with a train ride to about the halfway point at McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge.  From there we take a bus on a four-hour ‘wilderness tour’ that the driver/guide made really interesting and informative.  This is where we saw a bear fairly close up as well as several caribou and a few bald eagles.  We stopped along the way and had a native Athabaskan give us a lecture on all the plants that surrounded us and how each was used for a different medicinal purpose.  The next day we were on a bus through Denali National Park, staying at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.  That evening we went to a dinner with a show that describes the climbing of Mt. Denali in song – it was quite good.

Sled dog farm along the river

The next day we went on a riverboat, which was probably the highlight of the trip for me, as we stopped to visit a sled dog farm and heard from the trainer and watched a demonstration of the dogs pulling a sled on wheels – they are truly amazing dogs!! On land we stopped at an Athabaskan village where we heard a presentation about life amongst this native tribe – very interesting!

We then move on to Fairbanks and on our last night of the tour we are told that, if the clouds go away, the ‘Northern Lights’ would be visible around midnight, so we asked the front desk clerk to give us a call if they were visible . . . big surprise, no call.

Some observations

  • Princess ships are beautiful, the staff is gracious, the entertainment is great, but the quality of food, or lack thereof, will keep me from sailing on Princess again.
  • We discovered, too late, that in Alaska, August is considered ‘fall’ and the rainy season – we can definitely confirm that. I’d recommend traveling in late May to early June
  • In August the sun sets just before 10:00 pm, which for us meant that we got to actually see the rain until almost midnight
  • The highest mountain on the north American continent, Mt. McKinley, had its name changed to Mt. Denali in 2017, we

    We’re told this is what Mt. Denali looks like

    were hoping to catch a glimpse of it at some point, but we were to learn that only about 25-30% of people spending a week or two in Alaska, will see Mt. Denali. So here’s a photo, not taken by me, so we all can see what it really looks like.

  • I asked almost every one of our servers or workers that I came in contact with, where they came from and how long they’d been working in Alaska. People come from all over the world to work in Alaska for the summer, very few stay there through the winters, where temperatures can get to 60 to 70 below zero.
  • If you’re thinking about a similar trip to Alaska that we just did, I’d recommend doing it in reverse order – do the land portion first as I think it gives you a better sense of Alaska, then relax and do the cruise – preferably not on Princess, if you like food.

Some random photos

The bear we saw

The Pacellis, singer, Sarah Shelton, the Sparrows

Native Athabaskan dress

Iditarod dog in training

North to Alaska – Park 2: The Hits Just Keep on Comin’

by Bob Sparrow

Beautiful Skagway, Alaska

Skagway when we arrived

Next stop is Skagway and from the ship it’s hard to tell Skagway from Juneau or Ketchikan as the accompanying photos would indicate.   There is no deep-water port next to Skagway, so we must anchor off-shore and take ‘tenders’ into port.  Unfortunately, it’s windy and rainy and the seas are too rough to run the tenders the morning we arrive.  We are concerned about getting ashore, as we have a very cool excursion planned on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, which was established during the 1890s Yukon Gold Rush – the scenery is said to be spectacular!

As we wait in the morning mist and rain, the wind finally dies down and we get word that the tenders are now running.  We are excited and among the first to get ferried ashore.  We find the train and are escorted to our car and as we’re reading the brochure on what an awesome adventure we’re about to go on, the conductor comes on board and tells us that there has been a rockslide up ahead that has covered the track and that there will be no tour today!   The Alaska gods seem to not be shinning on us this trip!  I later watched the train trip on YouTube – looks fun!  I’ll never know!!  We walk the main street of town and have lunch at the Red Onion, a bar that was formerly a brothel (I think every bar was a brothel back in the day), and head back to the ship.

Glacier Bay on a good day

Glacier Bay for us

Our next two days are at sea as we cruise in Glacier Bay and College Fjord, working our way north to Whittier, the coastal port for Anchorage.   In spite of the low cloud cover and rain, we do see a number of glaciers and in fact, see a couple of calvings.  I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed, as I thought I would be surrounded by white and looking up at massive glaciers.  Our ship put us at eye-level or above the glacier and the glaciers lost some of their majesty, perhaps because the mist and clouds covered the surrounding mountains, it seemed less grand.  As I read the history of Glacier Bay, I discovered that in the 1700s the whole bay used to be a glacier.  So, looking at the where the glacier was in certain years, made it a bit sad, as it’s gradually receding and will eventually be gone!

Mt. Denali

Mt. Denali is rumored to be there

Once in Whittier, we board a train and head to Denali National Park in hopes of seeing Mt. Denali.  If Mt. Denali sounds foreign to you, you may remember this mountain as Mt. McKinley.  It is the tallest mountain on the north American continent at 20,310 feet in altitude.  The name was changed by President Obama who asserted that the name should go back to its original Athabaskan name meaning ‘the great one’.  But none of the local refer to it as either Denali or McKinley, they just refer to it as ‘The Mountain’.   Of course, it was never visible to us at any point during our trip, as we find out that only about 25-30% of tourists get to see it, the rest of us see nothing but clouds.

Christmas in August

One of the first things we notice when we check into the Denali Wilderness Lodge is a Christmas tree in the foyer – fully decorated and other yule time trimmings around the hotel.  Those of you who have traveled to a National Park in August, know why the tree is there.  For those who haven’t, and previous to this, I was one of them, I’ll explain.

On August 24th, 1912, a sudden, unexpected snowstorm stranded a group of travelers in Yellowstone National Park. The travelers, making the best of the situation, decided to celebrate Christmas by singing carols and preparing a sumptuous Christmas feast. They enjoyed the celebration so much that a tradition was born.

Next time: North to Alaska Part 3: The Final Days and Some Alaska Dos and Don’ts

North to Alaska!

by Bob Sparrow

Part 1 – Nowadays Getting There is Not Half the Fun!

At a time when Covid is still dictating travel protocols, we chose to further complicate our cruise to Alaska by picking up our ship in Vancouver, Canada; thus making us enter a foreign country in order to get on a ship to sail to the United States!  So, we ran the risk of not only having to be Covid-free to enter Canada and Covid-free to re-enter the United States, but having to be Covid-free to get on board the ship.  Fortunately, the four of us, Bob & Jeannie Pacelli and Linda and I, studied diligently and passed all our requisite tests.

The travelers

We spent the night in Vancouver and had an easy 15-minute walk to the ship the next day.  It was a pleasant day, as it turned out one of the few days of our trip where rain was not a factor.  On board, we spend those first several hours exploring our magnificent ship, the Majestic Princess, with a capacity of 3,560 passengers.  Alaska is often referred to as the “Land of the Midnight Sun” because it can get up to 22 hours of sunlight a day, however, as we were to learn, sometimes it gets no sun at all – like our first full day at sea – we got liquid sunshine, the kind for which this part of the world is known.  I’ve attached a photo from our first full day at sea that shows the visibility from our balcony – about 100 yards.  But we weren’t worried . . . yet; we had seven days on board and another three day of land tours, so we figured the clouds, fog and rain would eventually move along and we’d be able to take in those amazing views that matched all the photos in the brochure.  And besides, we had a whole ship to explore.

So, while sailing to our first stop, Ketchikan, we found lots of things to do, lots of shows, lots of interesting lectures, lots of games, both in the casino and out, and fortunately, lots of bars to ensure we got our money’s worth on our ‘unlimited drink package’ – a perk we thought we’d be denied based on our predilection for alcohol consumption on previous cruises!

Chamber of Commerce photo of Ketchikan

Ketchikan the day we arrived

We woke up on Sunday morning docked in Ketchikan, a town of 13,000 that can only be reached by sea or air, no roads coming in or out.  We schedule a morning tour of the city, which was quite interesting.  Our guide was a young lady who was a native Alaskan of the Tlingit tribe, she was born and raised in Ketchikan and did a great job of walking us through the small downtown area and explaining everything we saw from the totem poles to the brothels.  After our walk we stopped and had a beer at a local pub on the water and ran into the lead female singer from the show we saw on the boat the previous night.  She sat and had a couple of beers with us and was most delightful.  A mid-afternoon departure dictated that we get back on board early, so back on board we went and embarked for Juneau.

Juneau Chamber of Commerce photo

Juneau the day we arrived

‘Geared up’ for the Mendenhall float trip

We woke up Tuesday morning as we cruised into downtown Juneau.  We did a quick walk through town, to make sure we could locate the famous ‘Red Dog Saloon’ for a cold one after our day at Mendenhall Glacier.  We signed up for the Mendenhall Glacier float trip – assuming that we were going to ‘float’ up to, or at least in the vicinity of, Mendenhall Glacier.  Not so fast, we did, indeed, see Mendenhall Glacier across Mendenhall Lake, but we were then told to ‘gear up’ and get in our raft.  ‘Gearing up’ included putting on rain pants, rain boots, rain jacket, life preserver and getting in a rubber raft for 12 and float on Mendenhall Lake, AWAY from the Mendenhall Glacier to Mendenhall River and shoot the rapid (more of a float than a shoot) taking us further away from the Mendenhall Glacier.  The float trip lasted for 15 hours . . . or so it seemed, while we froze our Mendenhall’s off.  Travel tip: Don’t do the Mendenhall Glacier Float trip.

When we were mercifully finished, we went back into town and hit the ‘Red Dog Saloon’ and the ‘Lucky Lady’ Irish Pub, trying to wash the taste of that float ride from our minds.  Thankfully we find that a few cocktails have us laughing at our river rafting experience.  The only mediocre show in the ship’s theater we’ve seen, caps off our day to forget.

Next time: Part 2 – And the Hits Just Keep on Coming!

In Memorial – Namaste!

by Bob Sparrow

Patrick’s Memorial Hike

A week ago Sunday I had the pleasure of going on a ‘Memoria Hike’ for our dearly departed friend, Patrick Michael.  It was his birthday and he had passed a year ago April at 62; he is still missed every day, not just by his family, but by our entire neighborhood and a whole host of friends and co-workers.  The hike took place at Peter’s Canyon in Orange and was attended by 20+ neighbors and family, and several dogs!

Like I’m sure most of his friends think, my relationship with Patrick was special – he always had time for everyone, could make or fix anything, although sometimes it cost him a finger or two, lost via his table saw, and he always had a great attitude and a good sense of humor – especially the ability to laugh at himself.

Whitney hikers

After moving into the neighborhood, for years I didn’t really get to know him, or rather knew him as the guy who sang “There once was a man from Nantucket” on a co-ed party bus during the holidays.   At another neighborhood holiday party in 2007, Patrick told us that he had just returned from climbing Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the continental United States at 14,505 feet.  This intrigued several of us at the party, so we asked him if he was interested in helping us train and lead another assent of Whitney.  He, of course, agreed – and thus was born, The Trail Boss.

He trained us on local mountains, climbing Mt. San Antonio (Baldy) many times and Mt. San Jacinto out in the desert.  By June 2008 we were ready.

The night before our hike, we camped at Whitney Portal (altitude around 8,400 feet) at the trailhead to Whitney to get acclimated to the altitude. The next day about two-thirds of the way to the summit, one of our hikers, who is diabetic, could go no further due to a blood-sugar imbalanced, typical of Patrick, rather than continue the hike to the summit, he turned around to accompany the hiker back down the mountain, while the rest of us continued on.

Half Dome cables to the top

Me, Kirin, Dom, Patrick in Nepal

Patrick had reintroduced me to hiking and I loved it, so I wanted to do more.  We planned to hike Yosemite’s Half Dome, but the first time we tried, the cables that get you to the very top of the dome, were down, so our hike ended at the base of the final assent.  In 2012, we returned, and with the cables up, we were able to reach the top and take in that spectacular view. After hikes in Joshua Tree National Park and neighboring Ladder’s Canyon, in 2013, Linda had given me a 70th birthday present of a hike in the Himalayas in Nepal (I checked to see if it was a one-way ticket!)  The trip was for two and she thought that my brother, Jack would accompany me, but he was not really into hiking, so my obvious choice was to ask Patrick – I did and he happily agreed.  So, in June of 2014 I enjoyed my favorite hike of all time with one of my best friends of all time.  On that 12-day journey, Patrick and I enjoyed the people and the culture of the Himalayas and shared many amazing experiences.  It’s where we learned the meaning of the original Sanskrit greeting, Namaste – “The divine in me bows to the divine in you.”  As a reminder of Patrick, a Namaste plaque and Buddhist prayer flags from Kathmandu, hang in my patio. As an aside, I still stay in contact with, Dom Tamang, our Nepalese guide for that hike.

A year later, Patrick and I, and a childhood friend of Patrick and the friend’s son, did a four-day hike on the Inca Trail to

Patrick at my mirror

Machu Picchu – another spectacular experience that Patrick’s enthusiasm and curiosity made even more special.

After returning from Machu Picchu, we discussed where our ‘next big hike’ should be; I suggested Kilimanjaro, which Patrick, for whatever reasons, wasn’t too keen on initially, but some time later he came to me and said, “Let’s do Kilimanjaro”.  Unfortunately, that box will remain unchecked.

I keep the program from Patrick’s memorial service next to my bathroom mirror, so I see him every morning and am reminded of three things, 1) I was fortunate to have Patrick in my life, 2) I should strive to be more like him, and 3) no one is guaranteed tomorrow – live life to the fullest.







We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

by Bob Sparrow

Sagers, Budds, VanBoxmeers, Sparrows

The sky was deep blue and the air was clean and thin, very thin – the mountains, still with some snow on their peaks, rose up beautifully before us.  I knew I wasn’t in Kansas or even in southern California anymore – it wasn’t air I could get my teeth into.  I was in the ski mecca of the mountain west, Park City, Utah.  But this time of year, the hills are not covered with “The Greatest Snow on Earth”, but rather we see green ski runs cut out of the mountains, with lift chairs spanning over them, and cutting through stands of pine, fir and quaking aspen.  Summer is indeed a great time of year to visit this magnificent place.

Canyons Golf driving range

The gift of a timeshare week brought the Budds, Sagers, VanBoxmeers and us to this home of the 2002 Winter Olympics, which has done nothing but grow since then.  Our main activity, other than eating and drinking, was playing golf – some good and some bad, both score-wise and course-wise.  We played four rounds of golf; we tried to get on a few private courses, but they must have been forewarned about our golf acumen, so all our rounds were on public courses.  Three of them were south of Park City in the Heber–Midway area, the best of which was Homestead, a good course that they say new ownership is going to make great!  The one I would not recommend is next to Olympic Village in Park City called Canyons Golf.  I see online that it got a 4 out of 5 rating, but trust me, all this course needed was a windmill and a couple of clowns’ mouths to putt into to make it a completely hideous experience.  There was one hole with a 250 yard drop in elevation from tee to green.  The gas, instead of electric, golf carts made it extra special.  See the photo of their driving range – we should have known before we started that this wasn’t going to be Pebble Beach.

Grappa Restaurant

So, my first ‘Don’t’ travel tip is don’t play Canyons Golf.  My second tip might be regarding Park City’s most famous restaurant, Grappa.  The setting is beautiful, an interesting building at the top of Main Street, with lots of deck space for outside dining, which is gorgeous on a summer’s evening . . .HOWEVER, high-priced food is one thing, over-priced, very average food is quite another, and that’s what we got.  So, nice setting, good service, but very average good for a very premium price.  Let’s move on to something more positive.

If you come to this area, I would highly recommend a visit to the Stein Erikson Lodge, which is just over the hill from Park City in Deer Valley.  Stein Erikson was a champion skier and Olympic gold medal winner from Norway, who moved to Park City and built the lodge in 1982 – it earned the prestigious Forbes Five-Star rating and has maintained this rating ever since and is still Utah’s only resort property to have a Forbes Five-Star status.

Alpenglobes on deck of Stein Erikson Lodge

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend staying there, as it is fairly pricey – regular rooms start around $700 a night and goes steeply up from there.  But we just went to look at the facility to see how the ‘rich people’ live – they live very nicely!  We did have a drink on the lodge deck imagining ourselves on a snowy winter evening in one of those ‘bubble tables’ that rotates and keeps you warm while sitting on the deck during snow season – I was to learn later that they are called Alpenglobes.

The other highlight for me was to visit my, and son Jeff’s, college alma mater in Salt Lake City, Westminster College – the campus was quiet, as it was a summer Sunday, but still looked magnificent.  The tour for the rest of the group was not quite as thrilling I’m sure, but they were able to see the brick at the Alumni House that shows the seal for the college that I created.  OK, it wasn’t just me; in my senior year I needed a couple of units in the arts, so I took an art class.  The college board had just come to the art teacher and asked if he could have his students create a new crest for the school.  Two nights before the assignment was due, I invited my football teammate and center, Bruce Takeno to the local pub, The Sugarbowl, to help me create something to turn in.  With the help of a few beers and the lions on the Coors beer bottles, we scratch something out on a bar napkin.  When we had a rough draft, Bruce, who had much greater artistic skills than I, and lived in Salt Lake, said that he would take it home and ‘make it pretty’.  What he handed me the next morning, slightly resembled what was on the napkin, but done

Westminster College crest

My old college girlfriend was still there!

in oil paint on stretched canvas – it looked spectacular!  I turned it in, and the school board voted it the winner.  I did confess to my art teacher that while I contributed to the overall design, Bruce was the artist in the group.  I passed the class!  It has since been replaced.

Another highlight was just walking Main Street in Park City – it is filled with gift shops, bars, restaurants and . . . more gift shops, bars and restaurants!  Great location, great friends, clean air, great trip!


Like a Rolling Stone . . .

by Bob Sparrow

I checked the bottom of my feet at the end of June and there was no moss gathering on them – it was, to say the least, a very busy month!  After returning from the Welk Resort at the end of May; June was filled with a Coach House concert by Desperado, a very good Eagles cover band, then a father-son fishing trip to Alaska, then our bands’, Monday Knights’, show at Yorba Linda Country Club, followed by our annual Margaritaville party at our home, with some 50 guests in attendance.  A fun, but exhausting month.  You’d think that it would be time for me to kick back and smell the coffee, but as you’re reading this, I’m in Park City, Utah looking for my golf ball in the Wasatch Mountains, visiting some old college haunts and trying to recover from our neighborhood July 4th celebration.

So, the rest of this blog is a pictorial of a hectic June.  I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with a report from deep within the Wasatch Mountains.

Desperado at the Coach House


Son, Jeff and the Old Man in the Sea

With my two beautiful daughters

One of the Soggy Bottom Boys











Willie, stoned at the mic

Parakeets Sarah, Kristin and Dana at Margaritaville

A Tale of Two Sittings – A Fish Story

by Bob Sparrow

Sitka, Alaska

I have readily admitted that I do not understand fishing, not because I’ve failed at it every time I’ve tried it, which I have, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.  I’m told that fishing is a sport, and if it is, it is one of the very few sports that does not require one to be in shape, unless you consider ‘round’ a shape.  While most athletes consume energy drinks or water during an athletic contest, the main beverage of fishing is beer.  At best, fishing is an activity, not a sport, and I am reluctant to even call it an activity, given that there is not much of that going on either.

It was my love of travel and a trip with my son that had me excited about visiting a place I’d never been before, Sitka, Alaska, even though I’d have to fish there!  Flying into Sitka is breathtaking; as the snow-capped mountain, thickly forested woodlands, and thousands of little islands in the Alaska archipelago unfold below you prior to landing.

So far, so good, maybe fishing here won’t be so bad after all.

Totem Square Hotel & Marina

Captain Mike meets us at the airport and says ‘Hey’ (We’ll learn later that that’s a long conversation for him), throws our gear in the back of his van, and we pile in and head to the Totem Square Hotel & Marina – right on the water.  A quick walk through the quaint little town of Sitka to get something to eat and then it’s early to bed for a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call.

As I crawled into bed it was still light outside, but, as I was to learned, it was always going to be light outside . . . it’s Alaska, in the summer!!  As I lye in bed, I  wondered why I was here.  I hate fishing, I’m no good at fishing, fishing is boring – it’s baiting a hook, dropping it in the water and then reeling it back in, mostly with nothing on it.  It’s really mostly sitting; sitting in the van to get to the boat, sitting in the boat for about an hour to get to where the captain thinks the fish are, sitting with your line in the water and sitting around complaining about why the fish aren’t biting.  So, you sit around and have a few beers.

Me, Capt. Mike and the cod I had to throw back because it was too big

Day 1: I understand that a big part of fishing is about the experience – our first day experience had most everyone sea sick, due to the rough seas on a cold and windy morning.  What am I doing here?!!  Some of us, including me, threw their breakfast into the ocean – and not in a good way.  It was extremely rough seas which was apparently occupied by only a few fish.  At one point, after endless rough seas and hours of catching nothing, I looked at my watch assuming that we’d be thankfully headed in shortly – it was 10:30!!!  I had made up my mind right then that I was going to take tomorrow off – I could not see me doing this three days in a row.  I wanted a day where I my breakfast would stay in my stomach.  To add insult to injury, the only fish I caught was a ling cod that was TOO BIG, yes, too big, and I had to throw it back!  So, I learned that there were things about fishing that I hated that I didn’t even know I hated.  Throwing back a fish that was too big was one of them!  At the end of the day, we were all a little green in the gills and had only a couple of fish in the cooler to show for our days’ torture.  A delicious dinner at Mangiare’s, a great Italian restaurant in town, somewhat soothed an otherwise dreadful day.  I was reminded how much I hate fishing!

Day 2: Today we had calm seas, warm weather, little wind and thus a much smoother ocean, plus we all took Dramamine to start the day.  Fishing is really a great sport and I’ve discovered that I’m not that bad at it after all.   By early afternoon we had caught our limit of salmon and ling cod and had also bagged several halibut.  You know, when you feel at one with the ocean and you’re outsmarting the fish, you learn that there is a mental side to fishing.  And anyone who tells you that fishing is not physical, hasn’t spent 15-20 minutes with a fish fighting for its life on the line, trying to make sure you’re pulling and reeling at the right times to make sure you don’t lose him.  Fishing is mental, physical and you can have a beer.    I love fishing!

Day 3:  Day three was thankfully closer to Day 2 than Day 1, just not as fruitful.

Jeff with big salmon catch  and fishermen, Matt, Mark, Larry, Jeff & Chase


All in all this trip provided some great memories of spending time with son, Jeff and friends Mark, Chase, Larry and Matt, catching some great fish (we each brought home 27 lbs. of fileted salmon, halibut and ling cod) along with having a few beers and experiencing enough fish stories to last a lifetime.




Road to Utopia

by Bob Sparrow

Me at the Giggling Marlin

You might not have noticed, but over the past eleven years of writing about my experiences, you’ve not heard a lot of ‘fish stories’.  Just one in fact, which sort of sums up my fishing acumen – my trip to Cabo back in July 2012.  Here’s the link in case you’re in need of a good laugh!

Yes, that’s me hanging upside down at the Giggling Marlin in Cabo, the penalty for being ‘skunked’.  And in a ‘father-like-son’ moment, Jeff experienced the same fate.

Jeff at the Giggling Marlin

Now, 10 years later, we’re off to try fishing again, this time to Alaska with neighbors, Mark Johnson, Larry Affentranger and our three sons/sons-in-law, Jeff Sparrow, Chase Johnson and Matt Paul.  Mark and Larry are experienced fishermen, why they invited us along, I’m not sure – other than comic relief.  Or maybe they just didn’t believe how bad a fisherman we were and wanted to witness it firsthand.

When Jeff was growing up, I felt obligated to take him fishing. Isn’t that what dads and sons do?  So, I took him to Big Bear Lake – we caught a boot, Mammoth’s Lake Mary – we caught a lady’s undergarment, Lake Tahoe – we caught a cold.  We’ve NEVER caught a fish!  When I sent Jeff the flyer about this Alaska fishing trip which ‘GUARANTEED’ us to catch fish, he called me after he’d read the brochure and said, “They may have to change their guarantee after the Sparrow boys’ visit!”

We’re headed to Sitka, Alaska, which is on the ‘Alaskan Panhandle’ on the island of Baranof in the Gulf of Alaska between Juneau and Ketchikan– I’m not sure if we can see Russia from there or not.  I’ll let you know.  Sitka was actually under Russian rule from 1799 – 1867.  So, it may be on Russia’s list to re-take at some point – hopefully not this week!

While Sitka is the 5th largest city in Alaska, it has only a population of about 8,500.  If you want to get a real ‘feel’ for the city, you can watch the Sandra Bullock movie, The Proposal, which was shot there.

On my ‘check the box’ list, I can tell you that Alaska is one of only five of the United States that I’ve never visited.  Additionally, I’m getting another check the box – some of you more senior, seniors will remember the old Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour ‘Road movies’, which took them to various exotic locations around the world.  Even though, as my wife continually reminds me, the movies were shot in the back lot of Paramount Studios in Hollywood, I still credit them for giving me the ’travel lust’ that keeps we wanting to visit more and more places.  The seven ‘road movies’ included the following destinations: Singapore, Zanzibar, Morocco, Bali, Hong Kong, Rio and Utopia (Utopia in the movie is Alaska).  So, this will be the first ‘road movie’ destination that I’ve visited.  I want to visit them all and I’m not getting any younger!

Sitka, Alaska

Back to Alaska, the plan is to fly up there on Saturday, fish on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and fly back on Wednesday.  I’m sure Mark, Chase, Larry and Matt will be bringing back large packages of flash-frozen Halibut, Salmon and whatever else is swimming around up there.  Jeff’s and my bag will be filled with dirty laundry, Band-Aids to cover hook gashes and soggy shoes.  The weather prediction as of now is ‘rain’ every day!   So, it will be cold, wet and probably fishless, but I’m still guessing we will have a good time!

I’ll let you know.


The Bubble Machine is Still Wondaful ah Wonderful

by Bob Sparrow

The name Lawrence Welk calls up one of two thoughts:  If you’re of a certain age, you’re thinking, bandleader, who had an accent, a TV variety show, a ‘bubble machine’ and played ‘champagne’ music (Because his music was smooth yet bubbly, like champagne); and everything was always “Wondaful ah Wondaful”.  If you’re not of a certain age, you’re thinking, “Who the heck is Lawrence Welk, and why are we even talking about him?”

Because Linda and I spent last week at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido, CA, now, just called the Welk Resort, as Lawrence has passed, but not without living the quintessential American dream.  He was born in the German-speaking community of Strasburg, North Dakota, to parents who had emigrated from Odessa, Ukraine.  He left school while a 4th grader, to help work on the family farm and did not learn to speak English until he was 21.  He loved music from an early age and convinced his parents to buy him an accordion for what would be today between $5 – $6,000!  His love of music, business acumen and focused drive, got him on the radio, then television, then into creating resort destinations – the one in Escondido, his first.  In all, he ended up creating eight, up-scale resorts in places like Lake Tahoe, Cabo San Lucas, Palm Springs and Branson, Missouri.  He ultimately sold them to Marriott for $430,000,000.  Not bad for a guy with less than a 4th-grade grade education!

After checking into the Welk Resort on Saturday, I took Linda up to the Temecula Creek Inn on Sunday, to meet up with daughters, Stephanie and Dana to do a wine tasting that they had given her for Mother’s Day.  Dana brought daughter, Addison, with her so I could babysit her for the next 24 hours.

Addison and I drove directly from the Temecula Creek Inn to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (the old Lion Country Safari), which I hadn’t been to in many, many years, and was pleasantly surprised at what a great facility it had turned into.  But before we could see the elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffes, apes, birds, etc., Addison had to have her face painted and visit a few of the gift shops.  After 3-4 very fun hours with the animals, we then went back to the Welk and found the pool with the giant water slide that Addison showed no fear in going down – feet first and head first!  After a full day of zoo and pool, we drove to the city of Vista for Addison’s favorite dinner – sushi!  And on the way home we saw the ‘Blood Moon’ and I explained to Addison what an eclipse was.  I asked her the next morning if she remembered what it was and she told me that this was a lunar eclipse where the earth passed between the sun and the moon – so the lesson was learned, as I imagined it would be!  We met the girls in the morning for breakfast back at the Temecula Creek Inn – as I gave Addison back to Dana, I told her it wasn’t really like babysitting, it was like hanging out with a very fun young lady!

For the next several days, Linda and I played three rounds of golf, two on the Welks property, one at the Oaks Course, a short par 3 course (not recommended), one at the Welks Fountains Executive Course (recommended), and one round about 30 minutes away at Mt. Woodson, or what I’ve renamed it, “Mt. Bring-A-Lot-Of-Balls”.  It’s a beautiful course in the hills of Ramona and I would highly recommend this one – just bring plenty of balls!  On our way home from Mt. Woodson, we just happened to go by Harrah’s Casino (I should have known that if I left the navigating to Linda that we’d end up at a casino!)  We had a great dinner in the casino at Fieri’s Steak House and felt good about the contributions we gave to our Native American friends at the casino.

The night before we checked out, we went to the great little theatre (seats about 350) on the Welk property to see a performance by Fortunate Son, a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band – great songs, great show!!

Excellent facility, fun time, and close by – good enough that it could be on our ‘annual trip’ list.  Perhaps Addison will want to join us for a day or two!!