Journey to the Valley of Death – Part 1 of 2 (hopefully)

by Bob Sparrow

Manson Family Death Valley Hideout

I’m writing this blog prior to heading to Death Valley with five couples from our ‘hood. I thought it would be important to provide a little history of this unique National Park as well as make sure I tell people where to look should our neighborhood safari not return – it is called Death Valley for a reason!

It actually got its name from a group of pioneers in Utah headed to California in search of gold in 1849. After listening to a guy who ‘thought’ he knew a short cut, but didn’t have a map (or too many living brain cells apparently), a group of pioneers split off from the main party (well, it really wasn’t much of a party) to take this ‘short cut’ to the California gold through what was to become Death Valley. After losing many weeks and members of the group, as they were leaving this valley, one of the pioneers looked back and said, “Goodbye ‘death’ valley.”

Death Valley’s underground city

Aside from the many gold-hungry pioneers that lost their lives taking the shortcut, the ‘valley’ has genuinely earned its macabre moniker. Mother Nature has played a role by taking lives with her cold winter nights with freezing winds, flash floods and of course the distinction of holding the record for the hottest place in the world – 134 degrees.

It is speculated that there is an underground city beneath Death Valley, where many people died digging and living in these subterranean tunnels. As late as 1996 a family of five visiting Death Valley from Germany disappeared, never to be seen again. But that’s not that unusual, there are many stories of people disappearing using their GPS to try and navigate the desert as there are many areas where cell reception is non-existent – it’s sort of like a black hole, the Bermuda Triangle and the Twilight Zone all rolled into one.

Borax Twenty-Mule Team

There’s more, California’s last lynching took place in Death Valley and there are several old mining ghost towns in Death Valley where ghosts still reside. The Armagosa Hotel and Opera House, once a hotel for the Pacific Coast Borax Company is now haunted. Close by, 100 pound rocks move across a dry lakebed by themselves, leaving a trail. Oh yeah and Death Valley was also a place that Charlie Manson’s gang hung out, so it’s got that going for it;

So why are we going to such a god-forsaken place of death? It’s a beautiful, interesting place; the colors of the rocks, sand, mountains and flowers are incredible this time of year; and we are staying in a four-diamond hotel and playing golf – so over the years there has been an effort to remove the ‘Death’ from Death Valley.

But still, if Suzanne’s next blog is about her missing brother, you’ll know where to start looking.

SNAKES IN THE GRASS

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Desert blooms…and pollen

 

Spring in Arizona means three things…wildflowers, allergies and snakes.  This past week our winter weather finally came to a close.  After record rainfall and freezing temperatures (including snow!) we can finally break out our sleeveless tops and Bermuda shorts.  Also top of mind is that we should have done more bicep curls and leg squats all winter, but that’s a topic for another day.  With April we find that patios are once again used for wine sipping and lounging.  Sounds great, right?  After all, this glorious weather is what brought us to Arizona to begin with.  But there are a lot of downsides to Spring in the desert.  While I know I won’t get any sympathy from those friends in the Midwest who are still digging out from blizzards and dirty, melting snow, we desert rats have our challenges too.  And it’s more than shoveling sunshine.

 

     The lovely, annoying Palo Verde tree

First, I have to say that the brightly colored flowers and blooming trees so ubiquitous this time of year are one of the true treasures of the Sonoran desert.  Every cactus seems to have it’s own unique flower, each more spectacular than the next.  The Palo Verde trees are a riot of yellow blooms that are gorgeous to view – from INSIDE the house.  Because these lovely works of nature’s bounty bring with them allergies of gargantuan proportions.  I don’t know anyone who isn’t using some sort of nasal spray or allergy tablet.  Even those who have taken dramatic steps to curb allergies can be found with Kleenex stuffed in every pocket and eyes that stream from morning ’til night.  The local Walgreens can barely keep the allergy meds in stock and our noses have begun to look like W.C. Fields on a bad day.  The experts are telling us it will be a bad allergy season because the heavy rainfall has caused an abundance of blooms.  From April until June we venture out of the house at our own risk…there is so much pollen in each tree now that on a windy day it can blow for several blocks.

      The rattlesnake, playing through

My second caution of the season is the annual awakening of the rattlesnakes.  This was brought home to me last week when playing the second hole of our golf course.  There, in the middle of the fairway, we came upon a huge rattlesnake.  Usually they are resting comfortably under bushes or rocks but this guy was in the grass sunning himself, probably critiquing our golf swing.  Our partners, who were looking into the distance and not at the ground, stopped right next to the snake.  As we shouted for them to move the cart, the snake began to coil and hiss.  Never a good sign.  No one was hurt but it was a sure sign that these vipers of the desert are out and we need to be cautious.  Their appearance is good news for the local golf stores as it means that no one with any common sense wanders into the brush to look for a lost ball.  I lost two on Tuesday and as far as I’m concerned the snakes can have them.

Rattlesnakes are scary, that’s for sure.  But Spring also brings our big golf tournaments and another snake in the grass – the Sandbagger.  So between pollen, snakes and cheaters, I’m glad I have some indoor hobbies to keep me occupied.  The good news is the pollen dries up and the winter visitors with their bogus handicaps go away in June.  The bad news? Living here will be equivalent to being in a microwave oven.  You can’t have everything.

The Timeshare Two-Step

by Bob Sparrow

It was 1993, the kids were young and we had no money, when we got a call from the Marriott Desert Springs Timeshare folks offering us a free weekend in the desert in exchange for a mere 90 minutes of our time to listen to a presentation on timeshares. Like everyone else, we had gotten of number of these calls over the last few years, but because we had no money and couldn’t buy a timeshare if we wanted, we decided to take them up on their offer of a free weekend in the desert.

“Trust me”

We arrived and were warmly greeted while our two children we’re quickly escorted off to a ‘fun zone’ to be entertained for the next 90 minutes while we were locked in a windowless room where sat a guy with bad hair, a mustache and dimples. Small talk and big smiles ensued while he extolled the virtues of the Marriott name and their foray into timeshares, bla, bla, bla. We finally regained consciousness when he told us that for a week every year, we only needed $18,000. We didn’t even know how to spell $18,000! We looked at each other knowingly and in unison said, “No thank you, we really can’t afford it” and started to get up. We were quickly told to sit down and that with a small down payment we could make payment over time, enough time that we accepted.

As it turned out, it was one of the best investments we ever made, or had made for us. We’ve spent a week every spring at our Marriott timeshare for the last 26 years. Our kids graduated from the kiddy pool, the teen pool, to Costas’, the nightclub on property, to bringing their kids out. They know every inch of that property.

If you like vacations and you like clubs, Marriott has got a deal for you . . . bring cash!

About five years ago Marriott timeshares went to a ‘point system’ and we were offered two rounds of golf to listen to the advantages of converting our ‘week’ into ‘points’ and joining the Marriott Vacation Club.  Who doesn’t want to be in a vacation club?!  When we asked the salesman if we converted our week into points, would we have enough points to come out for our week every year like we’ve been doing? When he was finished calculating he looked up with a long face and said “No, you’d be a little short” and he knew he lost a sale.

Last week while at the Marriott Desert Springs for our week in the desert, we were again offered two rounds of golf to listen to a presentation on trading our two weeks (we bought another week on the ‘black market’ a couple of years ago) for more ‘points’ in the new BONVOY program’. We were told the program has really changed, that we wouldn’t have to exchange our week for points. Our salesperson must have just come off his shift at an Indio used car lot. Big toothy smile, dyed hair and a too firm handshake. Lots of small talk until we asked for the bottom line. We were told we could turn in our two weeks, along with an additional $42,000 and we’d get . . . I didn’t even listen after I heard the $42,000. “But you can put it on a 10-year payment program, and . . . ” he said as we headed out the door for the golf course. We gave him a hardy “Bon Voyage”.

I feel like I’ve earned an MBA in ‘timeshare’ (although it’s taken me 26 years), so if you have questions about ‘weeks’ or ‘points’ or fast talking salesman with bad hair – give me a call.