Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Day 59 -- Four-hour Watching Cruise

I set the motel alarm clock last night so I would be sure to get up in time to catch the early Whale Watch Cruise: check-in at 8:30AM. I woke up 9 minutes after the alarm should have sounded. Each alarm clock is different. This one apparently has a volume dial for the buzzer and it can be turned all the way down -- and it was. Who designs these things? Why in the world would someone want to set an alarm to wake them up and set the buzzer to be silent?

When I was washed and dressed I went to get breakfast in the motel front office and found the door locked. I could see that the breakfast items were set out, but no one was answering calls to open the door. Finally roused someone about 15 minutes later.

Drove downtown to one of the lower cost garages and walked the rest of the way to the wharf and got myself signed up for the 9AM cruise that was to last 4-5 hours. This is the longest one offered by any of the companies. It was very foggy at the motel, but blue sky was visible from the waterfront. There were only about 20 people signed up for the cruise, so there was plenty of room on the 70-foot boat that could hold about 60 passengers. And off we went.

The hat and scarf I bought in Flagstaff in anticipation of cold winds at the Grand Canyon sure came in handy. Some of the passengers spent all their time on the stern. (Engine fumes. Ugh.) Some spent a lot of time in the cabin. Some of them were sleeping, probably because they took Dramamine. A few looked like they wish they'd taken Dramamine. I stood practically the whole trip at the rail on the bow. I wanted to be the first to see a whale spouting water and shout, "Whale at 4 o'clock!"

I've been on a whale watch cruise at Cape Cod and another in Oregon. Both times we saw one or two whales -- and in Massachusetts the whale came next to the boat and sprayed us -- but I've never gotten to witness any dramatic whale activities like spy hopping or breaching. This time, with up to 5 hours on the boat, I was hoping to see some action. And plenty of whales. So I watched. And watched.

We saw all kinds of sea birds and more sea lions than you could count. Sea lions look much more athletic in the open water than they do hauled up on the jetty. (Ahrr. Ahrr. Ahrr.) In the harbor we saw a lone otter and around hour three I may have spotted a harbor seal or two. At one point the captain slowed the ship down so we could see a sunfish, a large, strange-looking deep-water fish that sometimes floats on its side near the surface. And some white-sided dolphins rode the bow wave of the ship briefly -- too briefly and quick to be able to get a picture.

And I continued to watch, but we never saw a hint of a whale. (One of the crew wondered whether it might have something to do with the earthquake.) After four hours, the whale-less watching cruise returned to port. I noticed that they had cancelled their 2PM cruise. We must be special because this doesn't happen very often, and this particular company guarantees a whale sighting or the next trip is free. So I left with a card for a free whale watching cruise. No expiration.

It wasn't a waste of time. I love boating, even when the water is a bit rough -- as long as I'm not getting drenched with cold water. I can't remember when I last spent that much time out on a boat. When I lived in Monterey I took sailing lessons in the bay. Private lessons. Just me, the instructor and a 19- or 21-foot boat. (Depending on which was available at the time of my weekly lesson.) Half of my final "exam" was to go out without the instructor (and come back). He recommended that I recruit a friend to accompany me, so I invited a guy named Steve who had no sailing experience. A few weeks after I was officially "certified" I got a group of friends together -- including Steve -- and we chartered a small sail boat for half a day. Since I was the only one who knew anything about sailing, it was all on my shoulders and it was pretty tiring. I haven't sailed since I left Monterey.

Anyway, now I have a reason to return to Monterey sometime -- to collect on the whales they owe me.

Once I was on dry ground again, I visited a nearby history museum for a quick look around. Then I headed off on a nostalgia walk through Cannery Row to Pacific Grove. Thirty years ago I used to spend my Saturdays walking down from the Presidio, along the waterfront to and through Pacific Grove and along the highway back up to the Presidio. I stopped along the way to read and munch on a sandwich. It was a 10-mile walk. I didn't do the whole walk today. I think I walked about two miles -- in one direction.

Much has changed in 30 years, and much has remained the same. Cannery Row is now a major destination with the giant aquarium and big luxury hotels. I spotted an orange building set away from the others and recognized it as a place that used to be called Tia Maria's and was one of the few night life hot spots in the area. (It's now called El Torito.) When I got past the new hotels and ritzy shops, everything started to look familiar. The public path hugs the coast. I saw places where you can walk out onto the rocks -- and where I used to sit and read. I heard a faint "Tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap." It was an otter floating on its back in the kelp, cracking a shellfish against a rock on its stomach. Maybe it was the grandchild of one of the otters I used to watch.

I turned around at the "gray building" -- whatever that was -- because I knew I had to walk all the way back. I don't remember how much further the coast walk continues, but I didn't have the time or the stamina to find out.

I'd hoped to drive to Carmel to take a quick look around. But it was getting late and I was too tired. Besides, I'll be coming back to see the whales, right?

Tomorrow will be a long driving day, around or through San Francisco and/or Silicon Valley. I'm debating whether to try to get home in two days (Friday night) instead of three. I think I'll skip Route 1. Gorgeous but slow. And I've already seen so much great scenery. Maybe I'll save it for another trip to Monterey.

Not sure that I'll get all hot and bothered about trying to find a motel room with internet access the next night or two. That means that this may -- or may not -- be the last blog post from the road.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day 58 -- Ah, Nature.

Got lots of exercise during four hours at Point Lobos State Reserve this afternoon. I don't know how far I walked, but I covered most of the pine needle carpeted trails along the north shore and the trail out to Sea Lion Point. Point Lobos is a gorgeous place. If I lived in Monterey I'm sure I'd spend plenty of time there. Hey. I did live in Monterey, but I never discovered Point Lobos until I visited 7 years ago.

The day had started out overcast, but by the time I arrived at Point Lobos the sun was shining. Still, a strong breeze was blowing and I was glad to find sunny spots where I could sit and get warm.

During my walk I saw only one sea otter, but there were plenty of birds, including herons, and seals and sea lions. ( Ahrr. Ahrr. Ahrr.) I spotted a heron in the bay a little ways from shore and wondered how shallow the water must be for it to be standing there. Later I saw one in the water close to the trail and realized they stand on rafts of seaweed and driftwood.

At one spot -- Bluefish Cove, I think -- there was a swarm of jelly fish. They appeared just as white spots below the surface of the water. I probably wouldn't have noticed them if someone hadn't pointed them out. With my binoculars I could see the individual jellies floating in the water.

I guess I'll have to set the alarm clock tonight. I plan to take a whale watching cruise tomorrow and the one I'm aiming for leaves early in the morning.

Oh, and on the subject of nature: If this is California, that must have been an earthquake.
This evening around 8PM, just as I was about to sit down for a dinner of leftovers, the upstairs neighbor began doing somersaults. At least that's what I thought at first. Then I realized it was an earthquake. A short while later I looked it up online and found it was a 5.6 centered a little bit northeast of San Jose. Apparently, there have been numerous aftershocks, but I haven't felt anything since the first jolt.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Day 57 -- Driving in the clouds

The free continental breakfast at the Morro Bay motel never materialized. Maybe it was because there were only 3 or 4 rooms occupied. No big deal. I figured I would find something on the road. Route 1, to be exact.

Around Cambria I saw a little village-y looking street and decided to pull off and look for a bakery. There was an internet cafe with frou-frou coffee drinks and baked goods. Just what I needed. While I nursed a mocha and cranberry scone the proprietor and I chatted about the town and about my travels. A few locals came in, including a young woman wearing fairy wings. For Halloween.

As I headed north, I looked for the funky little motel I'd stayed in 7 years ago. I remembered that it was just past the place where the elephant seals gather. I couldn't remember the name of the area, but apparently it is Piedras Blancas. I found the elephant seal site, but didn't see any motel. Then further up the road I passed it, but it looked like it might be out of business as there was no sign out front. It was pretty run down back then.

Then it was on into Big Sur as clouds came down to meet the road. I can't afford to stay at the Ragged Point Inn -- at least, not on this trip -- but I was intent on stopping there again to enjoy the view and maybe a hot blueberry muffin. (Yeah, yeah, I know. I'd just had a scone.) When I stopped there 7 years ago, the sky was bright blue, but today I could only catch brief glimpses of the coastline through the fog. There were no hoards of hummingbirds this time, but a single one did come out to greet me and I could hear others in the trees.

You can probably drive from San Simeon to Monterey in about 2 hours, but you can also turn it into a full day trip by stopping at the many view points and exploring the beach access trails. Today I made a quicker trip of it than I had previously. For one thing, the views were restricted by the clouds, but also the few routes down to the water were closed due to extreme fire hazard. There wasn't going to be any sitting on the rocks watching the waves this time. So I put on a tape of nature sounds mixed with soft music, rolled down the window, turned on the heat and enjoyed the drive. Even when a light rain began to fall, I kept the window open. I made a few stops along the way to take pictures or just marvel at the view and arrived in Monterey around 3PM.

I immediately located the motel I had picked out and got a room. With so much time left in the day, I decided to walk (about a mile) towards Fisherman's Wharf.

When I lived in Monterey 30+ years ago while attending the Defense Language Institute (DLI), I didn't drive. I walked, took the bus, and caught rides with friends. It was a long time ago. I have only vague memories of how the streets connect, and many landmarks have changed. But I managed to find the waterfront, have dinner and get back to my room. I plan to stay for two more days. List of activities include time at Point Lobos State Reserve, a visit to the Presidio where DLI is located, and maybe a whale watch cruise. The weather is supposed to improve.

Oh. And while I was at dinner the waiter asked if I was here for the conference -- the librarian conference. (Do total strangers think I look like a librarian?) I suddenly remembered that the Internet Librarian conference is in Monterey in late October or early November. I've been wanting to get my job to send me for years but have never managed to coordinate it. Maybe I can get in to see the exhibitors hall. I'm sure I'll find vendor invitations on my desk when I return to work next week.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Day 56 -- Congestion!

No. I'm not coming down with a cold. Today I drove from Laguna Hills in Orange Country to Morro Bay just north of San Luis Obispo: I-5 to US101 and just a short jaunt on Route 1. The whole way I was in traffic. Some nice scenery but no open road. Congested roads for 269 miles.

I'm glad I arranged my visit to my brother's home to run through Saturday night. Traffic would have been even heavier on Friday or Saturday, and I would not have been able to get such a good deal on the nice motel room I found -- if I had been able to find a room at all.

But at 4PM on a Sunday, I had my pick of many economical lodgings. Once I got checked in I went for a walk on the waterfront, just two blocks away. I found an information center that explained the local geography. Then I got my exercise checking out all the eating options. Most of the offerings were fried food (e.g., fish & chips, calamari & chips, clam strips & chips) but since I'd had fish & chips the day before I opted for clam chowder and a salad. It was so-so. Sometimes it's hard to be good.

Tomorrow I'll spend the day driving through Big Sur. Last time I did that -- 7 years ago -- it was an overcast day, which made the views very dramatic. Not sure what's in store for tomorrow, but the scenery on this part of the coast is always great. I plan to spend the next 2-3 nights in Monterey.

I just discovered that there's a new Jane Goodall special tonight on Animal Planet -- and I have cable in my room! So now I'll stop writing and settle down for a night of TV.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Day 55 ... I think

I haven't driven my car since arriving at my brother's home in Laguna Hills on Wednesday. The car sits in the driveway with a light covering of ash. The So. Cal. fires appear to be mostly under control, but many people have lost their homes and some have lost their lives. The smokey skies of the past two days have been replaced by cloud cover. And it even sprinkled a little today. Very little. No. Wait a minute. As I look out the window I see actual rain falling. This is good news.

We haven't spent a lot of time outside because of all the smoke and ash in the air, although today seems better. Driving has been replaced by eating. On Thursday we went to a Belgian restaurant. Friday we had dim sum for lunch and then went to a Brazilian restaurant. Today we had fish and chips at Dana Point for lunch and will go to Sam Woo's (my favorite) for dinner. I may not need to eat again until I return home a week from today.

Tomorrow I'll hit the road again. Plan is to take I-5 north to US-101 and spend the night somewhere near the start of Big Sur.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Day 52 -- So what happened to Route 66?

The plan today was to drive straight through to Laguna Hills for a visit with my brother and his family. I decided to continue driving on Route 66 until I hit the California state line and then switch to I-40. Route 66 would take me through some small towns and up over a mountain pass. It didn't work out that way.

I followed Route 66 through Kingman and through what appeared to be some sort of industrial area. Suddenly I found myself passing under I-40 and then in front of the car was a sign for Route 66 with arrows pointing right and left. Strange. I would have thought I should go straight. I took the left turn to go west and found myself on the I-40 on-ramp. I really think I should have gone straight, but the arrows said "Take your pick: right or left." I never saw another sign for Route 66 until I got to the point where I would have joined the interstate at the state line. No wonder the old road died. Weird directional signs routed people away from it. Conspiracy?

The gas prices in California are out of this world. From $2.75 a gallon at the last place I saw in Arizona, I ended up at a bump-in-the-interstate place that was charging $3.55. I only got two gallons and then got a fill-up in Victorville at $3.02.

After driving for 3 hours I took at break at a rest area and finished off the salad I'd had for dinner. (Interestingly, many budget motel rooms I've been in lately have refrigerators and microwaves.) I saw some ravens flying around and wondered whether they would raid the trash for any lettuce I didn't eat. Or maybe some of the cheese. Yes. I know they are meat eaters, but if you're hungry you might eat what you can get.

No sooner had I deposited the plastic bag and styrofoam clam-shell take-out container in the trash than a raven came over and started digging around. He was taking bites of something -- maybe the leftover cheese -- but mostly was pecking holes in the styrofoam and trying to pull out the plastic bag using his beak and foot. He finally dumped the now-empty styrofoam container on the ground and tackled the next layer of trash: leftovers from a fast-food joint. That's what he was really after. Ravens and crows recognize food wrappers. Unfortunately for the raven there was nothing but crumbled up paper wrappers, which he tossed to the ground.

When people walked past, the raven would fly away until the coast was clear. One woman came and set some little cinnamon rolls of the edge of the trash receptacle. The raven ignored them. Apparently he was only interested in meat. When I went over to pick up the trash he'd flung about, I noticed that the lettuce from my salad was in the receptacle. He'd just dumped it out.

After Barstow I began to see smoke in the sky. As I travelled further west, the smoke got thicker. At a few places the ground was obviously charred, and at one point I passed through an area that was burned on both sides of the highway. The winds seem to have died down, so maybe the fires will soon be under control. Here in Laguna Hills it looks like a thunderstorm is imminent, but it's the smoke. They'd love to get a heavy rain.

Not sure what's in the works for the next few days. Maybe I'll have time to organize the photos I've taken.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day 51 -- Somtimes the drive is the destination

Glad I'd already decided not to get back up to the Grand Canyon for sunrise. I didn't feel motivated to get up and checked out of the motel in the dark. I got to the park in time for the 9AM ranger talk on fossils.

Ranger Paul, who works summers at the Grand Canyon, is a PhD student who is passionate about fossils. He told us how he got turned on to paleontology at the age of 9 when he found a trilobite fossil -- and pulled his treasured fossil out of his pocket and let us examine it. Then he took us on a walk to an area of the rim where fossils are at the surface, which was the bottom of a sea 270 million years ago.

He identified brachiopods, bivalves, horn corals, bryozoans, crinoids, and sponges. Then we strolled around looking for other examples. I found several, including a sponge fossil in the center of a concretion that had cracked open. Finally I find some fossils on my own and I can't take them home. Oh, well. At least I know I found them. And now maybe I'll be able to find some more at a place where I can keep them. It's not enough to know what a fossil looks like, you have to know where to look. Now I guess I'll have to study geology.

After the ranger talk, which lasted over an hour, I walked a bit along the rim and took more pictures. Looking down you could see little tiny people way down below on the trails. And little tiny people on little tiny mules. It looked like fun going down there -- but not so much fun hiking back up to the rim.

By about 12:30 I was leaving the park. An hour on US64 south to Williams and then west. I started out on I40, but when I stopped to get gas, I asked someone how much longer it would take to get to Kingman, AZ, if I got off the interstate and took historic route 66. The answer, just about 30 minutes more. I would be able to get there by around 5PM. So that's what I did.

Most of the way was rural. Scenic, but after the Grand Canyon any roadside landscape is going to be anticlimactic. One town looked like what you would expect, with lots of 1950s-looking motels and stores and vintage cars, but mostly it was just a pleasant drive. The only thing that really distinguished Route 66 from any other secondary road was the Burma-Shave signs. I arrived in Kingman just a few minutes after 5PM and quickly found a room that is both economical and more than adequate.

BTW, the weather is more comfortable. At the Grand Canyon the wind was down and the temperatures were up a little. Here in Kingman I may even need to turn on the air conditioning. In just a few days I went from sweaty and gritty to parched and chapped. My lips feel like crepe paper. What's next? Not smokey and ashen, I hope. As I plot the drive to Laguna Hills I'm keeping an eye on the state of the fires in California.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Day 50 -- Improvisation

The plan was to get going early so I could "do" the Grand Canyon in a day. But first I set out on foot to find a coffee shop I'd picked out of the phone book. It was just about two blocks away but by the time I got there, my eyes were all teared up from the cold and wind. I figured if it was this bad down in Flagstaff, it would be much worse up at the Grand Canyon. So I decided to take my time. I wouldn't be able to see much of anything through watery eyes, so why rush?

While I dawdled in my warm room I watched the morning news. Uh, oh. Wild fires in California north and south of my brother's home. The area immediately around his home looks okay, but how about the roads I need to travel to get there? And how about the roads to get from his place up to Big Sur? I'd thought I might drive through Malibu, but it's in flames. All of a sudden, all my plans were up in the air again.

It was about two hours to the Grand Canyon. As I drove through Flagstaff to get to US180, I spied out motels I might want to stay at if I decided to stay in the area another night. Then it was a pretty drive through a scenic ski area to US64, which goes up to the Grand Canyon -- and clear through it to the east. At the intersection of US180 and US64 -- an area not covered in any of my lodging guides -- there were several motels. More options.

Then I arrived in Tusayan, just 2 miles from the entrance to the national park. By this time I'd decided that I'd probably want to return to the park on Tuesday. I knew that I'd have to pay more than I usually do for a night's lodging, but I figured I would would mostly make up for it in drive time and gas saved. Around noon I finally entered the Grand Canyon National Park.

The place is overwhelming. And I don't mean just the size of it. There are so many options for what to do, what to see and how to get around, you could spend a half-day visit just trying to make up your mind. Then I started to feel a little woozy and mildly dispeptic. Figured it was the altitude, but it might have been the over-priced BLT I'd had in Tusayan. Or a combination of the two. I decided to spend today driving around the east side of the park -- 28 miles each direction -- and stopping at the various view points. I decided to hang around until sunset so I could see the changing colors of the canyon.

Good news is that it was not nearly as cold and windy as it had been down in Flagstaff. I never even had to put on my heavier coat, but the new warm hat was handy. And it's supposed to be a bit warmer Tuesday.

I'm glad I made the trip to the Grand Canyon, but it's probably not a place I'd go out of my way to visit again. Like the San Diego Zoo or Disney World, it's big and busy. Not restful. It was nowhere near as crowded as it would be in season, but there were plenty of visitors everywhere. At least half from other countries. And almost everywhere I stopped to take in the scenery, there were bunches of people talking -- loudly -- and always the smell of cigarette smoke. A ranger said that the real way to see the Grand Canyon is to hike into it but that only 5% of visitors ever get past the rim. But she also said that some of those trails get crowded.

I did see some wildlife. Lots of ravens in the air and on the ground. Toward the end of the day at each view point there was a raven strolling around the parking lot. I wondered if it might be the same one following me. There are also tufted-eared squirrels called Abert squirrels scampering about. Unfortunately, I think I ran over one. They don't seem to be too bright. The critter sat by the side of the road then ran out in front of my car. I heard a little "thunk" and when I looked in my rear-view mirror, I saw gray and white fur in the middle of the road. (I thought I hit a little rabbit one night in Alamogordo, but since I didn't hear or feel anything, maybe I missed it.) Oh well, at least the raven who was flying around nearby got dinner.

I was thinking about getting back to the park in time to see sunrise tomorrow, but I've changed my mind. I'll get there in time for the fossil talk at 9AM. Then I'll spend some time on the west side of the park. Maybe do part of the rim walk. Take the shuttle if the altitude gets to me. There are also some geology talks. Figure I will probably leave around noon, although I don't know where to.

Interestingly, Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day. You can come and go any time. There are even some evening programs. Also, there are no guard rails at many of the view points. There is nothing to stop someone from walking or falling over the edge. Happens several times a year. In fact, it happened earlier this month.

I'm glad I found a motel with internet access. I'm not getting a cell phone signal up here. And when I got to my room tonight I discovered there is no phone. I've looked at online maps of the California fires, and it looks like I may be doing some more improvising in the days ahead. Wildfires are nothing to be blase about.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Day 49 -- Isn't Arizona supposed to be hot?

I haven't been using an alarm clock since I left Oregon 7 weeks ago. Oh, I set the alarm to wake me up for mornings of the Chimpanzoo conference, but I always woke up well before the alarm sounded. Today I wanted to be sure to get up with plenty of time to arrive at the Petrified Forest National Park for the 10AM ranger talk, so I dug my alarm clock out of the suitcase. Dead battery. The room at the Reed Motor Lodge in Springerville had plenty of character: knotty pine wood paneling, lamps that were probably purchased in the 1950s, a strange counter at the back of the room. But no alarm clock. Oh, well. I woke up on my own.

It was a great drive to the national park. About 90 minutes. Changing landscape all along the way with fascinating rock formations. Makes me want to study geology so I can understand why the rocks are piled as they are. I arrived at my destination in time to see the video before the ranger talk. It was a good talk. Very informative. And the audience seemed very well informed, too. The Q&A got pretty detailed about how wood becomes petrified.

The ranger didn't say so, but the park is mis-named. There never was a forest at the site. It is an ancient flood plane where fallen trees collected after being washed downstream. But I guess Petrified Logjam National Park doesn't sound as good.

I followed the 28-mile route through the park and pulled off at most of the views. Some included short trails. I took plenty of pictures, but I'm not sure you can capture the views adequately with a camera. Chunks of petrified wood scattered across the landscape as far as you can see. Much of it is agatized and polished by nature. [Really, one of these days I will again post pictures to this blog. Maybe I'll go back and refresh. Or maybe I'll create a digital album. Someday.]

Before the area was made into a national monument and then park in the early part of the 20th century, people used to come and cart specimens away by the truckload. Some used dynamite to blow up petrified logs to get to crystals inside. Even today visitors pocket pieces, totaling tons every year. There is not a whole lot that can be done to stop someone who is intent on copping a souvenir despite all the signs -- and penalties. The film and the ranger both address the issue. With the receipt for your entrance fee, you get a bright green card to fill out if you see someone taking or defacing anything. And at each exit is a sign warning people to prepare to stop for a vehicle inspection. Apparently many people have second thoughts and send back the pieces they took. Some of the accompanying letters are featured in the film and in the visitor centers.

I wondered why we had a ranger talk and not a ranger walk. When I finally went outside to start exploring, I figured out why: cold wind. Whoa. Was it ever windy. Bright blue skies and relentless wind. Taking pictures was challenging because the wind made it hard to hold the camera steady. I'm expecting it to be even colder -- and maybe windier -- up at the Grand Canyon.

At 3PM I got on I-40 and headed toward Flagstaff. Plenty of traffic, including big trucks. Glad I was able to cover so much territory on secondary roads the few weeks. In Flagstaff I selected a motel on old Route 66. When I checked in the clerk offered me ear plugs. The railroad runs parallel to Route 66, and there is a nearby crossing. Toot, toot. Now I know why a few of the motels advertise "No train noise." I figure if I can (sort of) sleep through the sounds of partying chimps, train whistles shouldn't be much of a problem.

Stopped at a shopping mall just before closing and bought a hat for tomorrow. Something that will stay on my head AND keep my ears warm. I'll be pulling the heavier jacket out of the storage tub in the back seat, too. Hard to believe that not too long ago I was complaining about the heat and humidity.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Day 48 -- Great driving day ... with pie

Packed the car and then walked around the Alamogordo Save the Chimps facility saying goodbye to every primate I could find -- both human and non-human. Everyone was very gracious and thanked me for helping. I may see many of them again if I return to New Mexico in the next year or two or in Florida, where many will be going. Some names I can't remember and some I never got, but bye and thanks to Jen, Julene, Dr. B, Shari, Millie, Marlon, Dylan, Bernie, Sandra, Belinda, Cathy, Kelly, Danielle, Vince, Theresa, Pooh, Kiki, Vince, Clay, Cheetah, Mandy, and all the rest.

Then it was north on US54, backtracking about 60 miles that I drove to get to Alamogordo. Stopped at the Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves again to pick up a selection of treats for my brother, whom I am now planning to visit. (Since he doesn't read my blog, the pistachios will be a surprise.)

At Carrizozo I turned west onto US380 and immediately started seeing interesting scenery: black lava beds dotted with big yucca plants and other vegetation on both sides of the highway. The landscape kept changing all along the route, and it was all fascinating. Mountains. Rock formations. Vistas. The view in the rear view mirror sometimes competed with the view up ahead and on each side.

I only drove for 8 miles on an interstate (I25) as I jogged north to Socorro and then continued west. I saw some signs that said VLA 40 miles (or some other number). I wondered what "VLA" meant. Was it something about road conditions for the next so many miles? Why would they assume that travelers would know what "VLA" was?

Traveling these roads through central New Mexico, you really need to plan ahead. You gas up and take bio breaks at large towns -- whether you need to or not. You can't trust that any other towns will have any kind of services what so ever. One speck on the map was apparently a rock shop and a house where you could buy "miracle soap." Rest areas are turnouts with a covered picnic table and a trash can. That's it. And those are generally few and far between.

After one little town that actually had some shops, I started to notice some dish antennae in the distance. Real big ones. Scattered on both sides of the road. Then I saw the sign "Very Large Array (VLA) Radio Telescope." VLA!!! I stopped at a turnout and took some pictures, but I didn't drive the 4 miles to the visitor center. Too many miles to cover today -- and I figured I could find out about it on the web.

Sometimes the road was straight with gentle hills. Sometimes it was steep and curvy. A long stretch was smooth black top. Like driving in a car commercial. The speed limit varied from 65 to 25 (going through towns). Cruise control came in handy especially on long straight-aways because it was easy to go way over the speed limit without meaning to. Going up over the continental divide I got to use my overdrive override -- or whatever that thing is called.

When I was studying the map last night I noticed that I would be passing a little place called Pie Town right on the other side of the continental divide. I wondered whether it really had anything to do with pies. Just outside Socorro -- and 100 miles before the divide -- I saw a sign about Pie Town and pies. Decided I would have to stop there for a snack.

Pie Town is just a kink in the road, but there are actually two restaurants that sell pies. I stopped at Daily Pie, the one on the billboards I'd seen. I was lucky to get there just 20 minutes before they were set to close for the weekend. I had my pie -- a cherry, blueberry, raspberry, blackberry concoction called Mayberry pie -- and chatted with the people behind the counter about how the town got its name. You can read about that on the town website -- although I was told there are several versions.

It wasn't much farther to Springerville, AZ, where I'd decided to stop for the night. Had to shop around a bit for a motel because the town is not covered in AAA or in the discount booklets. But it was the closest place west of the Petrified Forest National Park with several motels. I took advantage of the hour I'd gained crossing into Arizona and drove just out of town to a wildlife area and walked the trail. Didn't see much besides ducks and a lot of grasshopper-like insects, but I needed the exercise.

Now I really must get to bed early. It's about 90 minutes to the park and I want to get there before 10AM when there will be a ranger talk/walk about the geology.

[The rooms on both sides of me have been empty, but I just heard some people enter the room that has an adjoining door. And I just heard a dog bark. Yeesh. The walls at this place are not very thick.]

Friday, October 19, 2007

Day 47 – Beginning of the end

Spent last night online figuring out routes. I want to be home no later than two weeks from tomorrow, but there’s still plenty to see and do. Petrified Forest National Park. Grand Canyon. The California Coast, including Big Sur. My brother?

Got to bed later than I should have and didn’t sleep very soundly. For some reason the chimps were making a racket much of the night. In addition to the vocalizations (screaming), they were beating on the metal doors, each one trying to out do the other in volume.

Today was my last day of volunteering on the trip. More laundry. More raisin boards. And I filled bottles with a mixture of apple sauce and raisins by hand – literally. How often do you get to dip your hand into a big bowl of applesauce? And tomorrow will be the last of the chimps until I get back to Oregon.

Tonight I will double check some routes and mileage for the next few days, and then I need to repack some of my boxes/suitcases. Don’t know when I’ll get online again. Maybe tomorrow. maybe not.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Day 46 – More laundry and lots of pistachios

Hung lots of laundry this morning. My shoulders are aching. A big yellow dog named Simba has been accompanying me on my rounds. There are lots of dogs here: Maxie, Sugar, Rocky, Luna, and a few others whose names I don’t know.

Before noon I started making raisin boards, which involves using a chop stick to stuff raisins into holes that have been drilled into blocks of plastic lumber. The secret is to have a bowl of water handy to keep your fingers wet so you don’t end up with raisins stuck to your hands instead of the block. If you get good at it, you can stuff a raisin board in less time than it takes a chimp to empty it out.

I decided I should take a break today, get away for lunch or something. Hey, I could visit the Eagle Ranch Pistachio Grove. I’d been there on a previous trip to Alamogordo but missed the tour, which is at 1:30. Today I got there in plenty of time to sample the goodies before the tour started. The pistachio-cranberry biscotti are especially good. Oh, and the dark chocolate pistachio bark.

The tour lasts 45 minutes and is very informative. I learned about male and female pistachio trees, which are really bushes, and how pistachio shells crack naturally as part of the growth process, not as a result of roasting. There are only a few places that have the kind of climate where pistachios can grow. Almost all pistachios in the world (99%) are grown in Iran (I’d heard something like that before) and most pistachios grown in the US are from California.

We visited the building where the nuts are sorted – initially by machine but also by humans, multiple times. We also visited the roasting building where the crew was preparing green chili nut meats. We also saw the room where the nuts are measured and packaged.

There were bins and bins -- massive bins -- of pistachios. I’ve never seen so many pistachios. I couldn’t help thinking how much my dad would have enjoyed the tour. He loved pistachios and liked learning how things are made. He would have been repeating pistachio factoids for years afterwards.

Back at Save the Chimps I took down laundry, but now (4PM) it looks like work is done. Not sure what I’ll do tonight. TV? Read? I do need to start plotting the drive west, and I need to decide where I’ll go in California: to San Luis Obispo and up the coast or stop to see family in Orange County and then to the coast.

Oh, and nice surprise. I checked my home voice mail and learned that I’d won a getaway to the Oregon coast. It was one of just a few prizes in the Oregon Zoo volunteer annual fundraiser. So as I drive up the Oregon coast on the last day(s) of this trip, I can feel good knowing that I will be back in a few months.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 44 & 45 – Volunteering

For the past two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) I’ve only used my car keys to get stuff out of the trunk. Haven’t left the grounds of Save the Chimps. In the morning I make the rounds of the five buildings checking for freshly laundered blankets to hang on the line or for really dirty blankets to put in the wash. Later in the day I make the same rounds to take down the blankets that have been dried by the sun and the wind (lots of wind today) and fold them.

I also go into the kitchen to count and bag chow or to help make treats. This afternoon I made an ice treat for each of the 150 or so chimps who currently live at this facility. The laundry work seems a bit lighter than last time I was here two years ago.

I spent some time today chatting with different people on the staff. I went to the workshop and looked at how various enrichment devices are made. It’s quite a challenge to create something that will occupy the chimps’ time and also withstand their strength so it can be reused – and then make dozens or a hundred or more of them.

When I’m making my rounds and at the end of the day I walk around the outside of the buildings and say ‘hi’ to the chimps. There are so many here that it’s hard to know who is who, but I’ve found a couple I know from past visits. Some appear curious about the stranger strolling around and a few seem to like the attention when I stop to talk to them. I wonder if anyone recognizes me from before.

The first time I came here to volunteer three and a half years ago, it felt a bit awkward. It wasn’t the really, really dirty laundry or the mouse in the washing machine. It was the fact that almost no one spoke to me. After an initial tour of the facility I set to work, and except for two other volunteers who were here the first day, all the caretakers pretty much ignored me. Eventually – after a few days -- a few of the more outgoing people began thanking me for my help and made me feel welcome.

This time has been very different. The folks I know from my previous visits have, of course, been very welcoming, but even the newer people seem happy to have a strange volunteer lending a hand – even if it disrupts their routine.

I’ll probably work through Friday and then set out on Saturday to continue the drive west and north. I’m thinking Petrified Forest National Park, Grand Canyon, and California Coast up to Oregon. The last part of the trip I’ll be making up as I go along.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Day 43 – Back with the chimps

This will be just a short entry. Here at Save the Chimps (Alamogordo) I don’t have broadband access, so I’ll be dialing in. (I’m writing this offline for posting later.)

I enjoyed my luxurious room in Santa Rosa until almost 10AM. Nice breakfast, too. Then I set off for Alamogordo. Great driving. Wide open roads with very little traffic. Beautiful landscape most of the way. Many different shades of green, from gray-green to chartreuse to almost-black green. Lots of exposed rock. To the south the plateaus turned into mountains and the land seemed to dry out. To the west I could see a line of white, which I think was the edge of the White Sands National Monument (and nearby geography).

Arrived in Alamogordo before 2PM. I know my way around town from previous volunteer stints here, but I wasn’t sure where I would be entering town. No problem. As soon as I saw the pistachio stores, I knew where I was and quickly found my way to Save the Chimps.

I walked around a bit to see the chimps in the various buildings. Ran into a few of the staff I remember from previous visits. Then I helped briefly in the kitchen before driving back into town to stock up on food for the next few days.

Tomorrow I’ll be doing laundry. Lots of dirty blankets. No dryers, though. We hang the blankets on lines. Good exercise. Later in the day I’ll be helping in the kitchen making enrichment snacks.

My room this time is on the other end of the administration building form where I’ve stayed in the past. A little further from building 300 where chimps sometimes party all night. Maybe I’ll get to sleep through the night.

It’s hard to believe that seven years ago, on my previous sabbatical trip, I passed through Alamogordo and actually stopped here when it was the notorious Coulsten Foundation. Save the Chimps acquired the property and took custody of ~260 chimps a few years later. Now many of the chimps, who were being used in biomedical research, have been transferred to the Florida facility where they can live outside in the sun. The ones who are still here – about 150 -- are still housed in concrete and metal buildings, but they have sun porches and get much better care as they wait for their trip to Florida.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Day 42 -- Cutting corners

Sunday's drive took me from Liberal, Kansas, across the western corners of Oklahoma and Texas and into New Mexico. Four states, two panhandles, and two time zones in one day.

I had a hard time getting psyched into the drive. I don't know what it was. The weather? (Low, gray clouds.) The sameness of the scenery from Kansas into Oklahoma? The fact that I've been on the road for six weeks and have maybe three weeks to go? I started wondering whether I was getting tired of living out of my car and might want to cut the trip short after my volunteer stint at Save the Chimps in Alamogordo.

I was back to a part of the country where towns are few and far between. I was traveling off the interstate, so I had to study the map to try to figure out where I might be able to stop for a rest or bio break. Most of the small towns had nothing to offer a weary traveler, especially on a Sunday. I decided to stop for lunch in Dalhart, Texas, which appears on the map to be a substantial town that might have a few eating options. The next possibility was 75 miles further on.

I arrived in Dalhart and decided to drive around to check out the different dining options. When I made up my mind, I had to backtrack through an intersection where guys in day-glo orange vests were directing traffic. I wondered what that was about. I soon found out. Power was out. The local eatery I had selected was only able to serve cold sandwiches -- in the dark. So I went down a different street and found a restaurant further away. Same problem. One of the people there advised me that I wouldn't find anything until Tucumcari, NM. I decided to graze from their salad bar. No sooner had I filled up my plate than the lights came on. By the time I left, customers were streaming in and business was booming.

It's a good thing the power was back on. I had a little less than half of a tank of gas left and probably could have made it the 75 miles, but ....

After Dalhart, the scenery began getting more interesting. First there were the giant feedlots -- one on each side of US54. Cows, cows, cows as far as the eye can see. And the vegetation along the side of the road became more interesting. Were those yucca plants I was seeing?

As I crossed into New Mexico -- and the Mountain Time Zone -- the scenery got even better. Off in the distance I could see giant plateaus, and the rough, reddish landscape was dotted with dark green trees or shrubs. I had forgotten my earlier mood and was thoroughly enjoying the trip again. I aimed to stop in Santa Rosa, even though it would only be about 3:30PM. I figured it would be nice to have some down time. The room I got is quite luxurious, so I'm glad I have time to enjoy it. Think I'll lounge about in the AM, too. It's only 3-4 hours to Alamogordo.

Oh, and I didn't get to visit the Land of Oz in Liberal. On Sundays it doesn't open until 1PM. Bummer.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Day 41 -- The road to Liberal

The on ramp to US 54 was just a quick turn from my Wichita motel, and US54 will take me all the way to Alamogordo. Today it got me as far as Liberal, Kansas.

Part of the route has been four-lane divided highway (70MPH) and much of it is two-lane undivided (65MPH). Of course, going through populated areas, the limit goes down -- way down. Few rest areas along the way, and some of the towns are minuscule, so you have to select your stops carefully. I zipped past one town figuring I'd stop for a snack and a bio break in the next town, Greensburg. Oops. As I arrived I spotted a Dillon's (supermarket) that was nothing but a shell. I looked around and saw piles of rubble. The few trees I saw were very stubby and strange looking. Then it dawned on me: The town had been hit by a tornado. The hospital was a row of quonset hut-shaped tents -- like a M.A.S.H. unit. There were quite a few trailers. Apparently, the town was wiped out just last May. I was tempted to stop and take pictures, but I don't like treating some else's misfortune as a tourism opportunity.

I pushed myself to get to Liberal, the last town before the state line, because it seemed to have the most motel options -- and it's the home of Dorothy and the Yellow Brick Road. The Land of Oz Exhibit is right across the street from my motel. I understand that some of the original Munchkins were visiting today. Someone told me they may still be around tomorrow. Since I made it so far today, I figure I can spare a little time to visit tomorrow. And maybe have a pancake breakfast, too.

[Weather on the road was clear and warm. Needed air conditioning in the car. Just as I got to Liberal, high clouds started to fill the sky. It's night now. As I went to check on my laundry, flashes of lightening lit up the sky.]

Oh. About the end of the conference: The featured speaker was Penny Patterson, who works with Koko (the signing gorilla). She spoke, of course, about ape language skills using examples from Koko. One of the last slides of her presentation included a black&white photo of a tiny chimp pointing. (Many people say apes can't point referentially.) She said, "This is a little chimp named Charlie ... from the Portland Zoo." Later I told Penny I was a "friend of Charlie" and asked whether I could get a copy of that slide. She said she could send me a whole pamphlet. She said she has been working with a woman who worked with him in the early days. I wonder if that is the person who is supposed to come and address the A.P.E. meeting at the Oregon Zoo.

And one more Oregon Zoo connection. I mentioned already that our orangutan Kutai was born in Wichita and his father was born in Oregon. I got photos of his mom, Blonda, and half brother, Panji, who are still at the Sedgwick County Zoo. Someone else at the conference kept referring to Panji as the half brother of Robby at Rolling Hills in Salina, KS. (I've met Robby twice during past visits to Kansas.) We finally got it figured out, Robby and Kutai are full brothers. We're going to exchange pictures.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Day 40 -- Roots & Shoots, zoo day and rain

No rush to get to Sedgwick County Zoo today since there would be no papers until after lunch. That gave me time to find the AAA office and pick up some maps and guidebooks for the last part of the trip. Figure I will be traveling through Nevada and California.

This morning was dedicated to Roots & Shoots, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute. Kids from Roots & Shoots groups around the Wichita area gathered to show their projects and to hear Jane Goodall. Chimpanzoo attendees were encouraged to attend.

I liked the project about spiders. There was a display with information about spiders, and the little kids strolled around the zoo with signs encouraging people to "Be kind to spiders." Got my attention.

After lunch there were a couple of presentations and then we got to go on behind-the-scenes tours of the chimp/orang and gorilla areas. The group I joined started with the former and ended up at the latter. The tours were of the holding facilities and not a opportunity for any up-close meeting with the residents, but when the thunder and lightening started and gorillas were brought in, we were right there -- and so were they. Gorillas have a very distinctive -- and strong -- smell. It stayed with me for an hour.

The evening event was to be a coffee and dessert tasting at the plaza near the gorilla exhibit. Because of the rain storm, the event was moved to the learning center where the conference was being held. By the time it got going, the sun was shining again. Oh, well.

So dinner was chocolate cake(s) and fruit and other sweets. I guess that means that dessert was the leftover soup I just polished off.

A note: The online agenda for the Chimpanzoo Conference indicates that one of today's speakers would be Wallace (Wally) Swett of Primarily Primates. His name didn't show up in the printed program, which probably went to press several weeks ago. Over the past year or so there has been A LOT of controversy about PPI and it would be interesting to hear what Swett had to say, but it was likely that he would not get a warm and fuzzy reception from many of the attendees. There was no public discussion about his appearance on the online agenda or about his ultimate deletion from the conference. Could have been an interesting discussion -- ugly but interesting.

Tomorrow morning I will repack the car and check out of the motel. After the conference ends around noon, I'll hit the road for the next leg of the trip. It's been fun seeing old friends and acquaintances and meeting new people, but it's back to my solo adventure. Don't know yet where I'll sleep tomorrow night, but I expect to get to Alamogordo by Monday.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day 39 -- The conference continues and Jane arrives

A full day of conference proceedings today. Some really interesting presentations, including two discussions about interspecies communication and the evolution of language and two sessions about behavioral enrichment.

Today was the day of the silent auction to raise money for ChimpanZoo. The booty included paintings by various residents of the Sedgwick County Zoo. I particularly liked the small canvas done by the hissing cockroaches, but the one by Panji the orangutan gave me an idea. I talked to the ape keeper about getting a Panji painting donated to the Oregon Zoo for the fund-raising auction that's planned for the new orangutan exhibit. A phone call later and we had a deal to exchange Kutai's hand print for an original painting by his half brother. And by the time the silent auction ended, I was the proud owner of another chimp doll to accompany me on my trip.

Jane Goodall made her first appearance this evening just after the silent auction ended. Even if you don't see her arrival (I didn't) you can figure out that she is in the vicinity. Background sounds change as people stop conversations in mid-sentence or start whispering ("She's here!"), and eyes turn toward the door. Jane is a rock star, but no one screams and (this time) no one rushed her. She began making the rounds of the room, stopping to say hello to each group of people. Tomorrow she will be at the zoo much of the day for Roots & Shoots activities and, in the evening, for a gathering near the gorilla exhibit.

Tonight I've been studying my maps and guidebooks. Need to decide whether I will leave midday Saturday or Sunday morning. The conference ends at noon Saturday, and I was planning to hit the road after lunch. I could stay and volunteer to usher at Jane Goodall's public lecture Saturday afternoon. I guess I'll decide tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Day 38 -- Chimpanzoo conference Day One

Spent the whole day today at the Chimpanzoo conference being held at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita. Didn't actually get out onto the zoo grounds until just before closing at 5PM. That's when the conference ice breaker (with munchies) was held at the chimp/orang exhibit.

The orangs at the zoo include our Kutai's mother and half brother. No resemblence with the mom, but the brother, Panji, looks a lot like Kutai did about 2-3 years ago. The two share the same dad (Inji's son). Panji is just starting to get his cheekpads. It's a little late in life, but until a year or so ago he was housed with a dominant male and that supressed his blossoming into a "cheekpadder." I'll get some photos when I can see him in the daylight.

That's it for now.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Day 37 -- One more zoo before the conference

I woke up early this morning. Really early. Don't know why. But for several days I've been debating with myself (read: dithering) about cancelling my motel reservations in Wichita and switching to a slightly more expensive place. So in the wee hours I did some more research and decided to cancel the room at Motel 6 and reserve a room at a place in the same area that offers breakfast, internet access, and a microwave and fridge in the room. I've been getting kind of spoiled and besides, those amenities should help me defray some costs of meals. (Well, not the internet access.)

Got to the Oklahoma City Zoo around 9:30. It's really big, and the ape area is far from the entrance. It's kind of neat roaming such a big zoo on a weekday when there are few visitors.

I headed to the Great EscAPE area hoping I might run into one of the keepers who could point out Chloe, the young female who had recently been transferred from Dallas. She is purportedly the grand daughter of our Coco and Charlie. When I finally reached the chimp exhibit, I could spot only one male, so I made use of the phone number the Little Rock keepers had given me. (Turns out the young male was the one from Little Rock I was supposed to say 'hi' to.)

Keeper Jennifer came to the phone and graciously agreed to show me around. She identified Chloe for me and I managed to get a few good pictures. At a distance, but better than the ones I took 7 years ago in Dallas through steel mesh. With Chloe and the young male from Little Rock, there are now 6 chimps. They will be getting 3 more from Jacksonville and plan to integrate them into a single group with 4 males and 5 females. Chloe has been recommended for breeding.

Of the ape facilities I've seen at the zoos I've visited so far on this trip, I think Oklahoma City's is the best all around -- for the apes and for the visitors. Their outdoor island is spacious and gives them lots of places to get away from each other or the public, but the viewing areas allow for close looks. Jennifer told me that they rotate the chimps and gorillas (and the orangutan?) in the different yards, which gives them the opportunity to explore new places.

I spent another 90 minutes exploring much of the rest of the zoo. Saw some animals I'd never seen before -- bush dogs from South America, black-footed cat (small as a kitten) -- and some that we will soon have at Oregon Zoo -- caracals, wild dogs, cheetahs. I followed the sign to the okapi to see whether I might be able to get a decent picture. I've seen a few okapi in zoos, but they are always in dark woody habitats. As I turned a corner I spotted three okapi -- more than I've ever seen together before -- and two were posing nicely for photos. I snapped away.

After an ice cream to ease my hunger pangs, I set off for Wichita. It took a bit longer than I expected. Several slow downs for road work, and I was getting tired and needed to pull off at rest stops to refresh.

I didn't see the signs that said "you are now entering Kansas," but I knew I had arrived when the rough pavement suddenly became smooth. I-35 soon became the Kansas Turnpike. It didn't look any different, and the speed limit was still 70MPH, but there were toll booths and fewer off ramps. I made the obligatory stop at the welcome center and got some useful tips for getting around Wichita and parts west (where I will eventually be heading).

Found my motel with no trouble and went out to stock up for a few in-room meals and snacks. Tonight I will set my alarm clock for the first time in over five weeks. Conference registration begins at 8AM.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Day 36 -- And the rains came

Set out this morning for Oklahoma. As I crossed the state line from Arkansas, I noted how pretty the blue sky was, but as I approached the welcome center/rest area a few miles into the state I saw the sky getting low and dark in the direction I was heading. Just a few minutes after I left the welcome center the sky fell in. A downpour. The big truck in front of me disappeared, tail lights and all. I slowed down and turned on my hazard lights. Unlike the brief squalls I ran into in Florida, this didn't want to quit. It would ease up a bit and then come down hard again.

I wanted to get gas and a bite to eat before I reached the turnpike so I took one of the off ramps and parked at a MacDonalds to wait out the rain. I used the time to study the discount books I'd just picked up. The driving rain turned into just a steady rain, so I drove to a gas station in the area and then to an ice cream place across the street. After a scoop of cappuccino chip frozen yogurt I was ready to proceed.

The darkest part of the sky seemed to have passed, but as I joined the turnpike the sky fell in again. No choice but to go on, despite all the standing water on the road. I don't know how long it kept up, but eventually the worst was over, and as I continued northwest I could see a strip of blue sky on the horizon. By the time I arrived in Tulsa, rain seemed like just a remote threat (40% chance, they said).

At the Tulsa Zoo I asked if I could speak to one of the ape keepers. The regular chimp keeper was on her day off, but the back-up keeper, Kristen, agreed to meet me. She gave me lots of background about the chimps, including the two babies, a little girl born early in the year and a boy born in June. There's also an older female (in her 30s) who suffered a stroke about a year ago. After months of recuperation she is back with the group. Her left arm and leg show the effects of the stroke, but she gets around.

I snapped lots of photos of the older baby in the inside exhibit -- and some of them came out well. After touring the rest of the zoo I stopped again at the chimp exhibit to get some photos of the outdoor area, a low island with lots of shrubs and grass. Just as I pulled out my camera, mom and baby appeared from the bushes. Mom went to the edge of the moat to get a drink. I couldn't tell for sure which baby it was, but I think it was the younger of the two. Lots more photos. And it looked like mom was posing. She kept looking at me as if to say, "Have you gotten enough pictures? Want to try a few more?"

Couldn't stay too long. Needed to leave by 3PM so I could get to Oklahoma City and find a place to spend the night. I navigated the twisty expressways around downtown Tulsa to get to another turnpike. Quite a bit more traffic than I would expect to find on a toll road. And the road surface was not as smooth as I anticipated. I expected the turnpike to be better driving than your average highway. I guess people are paying for the right to drive 75MPH -- on a rough, crowded highway.

Managed to find the motel I had targeted. Same side of town as the zoo. Had grilled trout for dinner. Carry-out from the near-by Cracker Barrel. Big food. Fish was good. Surprisingly the biscuit and corn muffin were disappointing.

Tomorrow night -- and the next several days -- in Wichita, Kansas, where I will be attending the 2007 Chimpanzoo Conference. Not sure whether where I will find internet access. Maybe not at my budget motel.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Day 35 -- Follow the dotted line

Since I spent last night at a Motel 6, I had to find my own breakfast this morning. (I've been getting spoiled with the Super 8 and Days Inn breakfasts.) Wasn't very successful. Strangely, there were no coffee shops to be found in the miles between the motel and the zoo. I thought it was a university area, but maybe it's just the location of the stadium and isn't home to mobs of students except when there's a game. I ended up going to the Little Rock Zoo cafe and had some mocha-colored hot water and a packaged danish.

I had an hour or so to tour the zoo before meeting great ape keepers Daphne and Kristen. It's a pretty old looking zoo with lots of old-fashioned, grotto-like exhibits. The great ape area, however, looks inviting. You look down at the gorillas, orangutans and chimps when they're not on their climbing structures, but they have a decent amount of room. And each area is nicely overgrown with shrubs and weeds, giving them shady spots where they can lounge and hide.

Daphne and Kristen spent an hour with me discussing their apes. For much of the time we stood at one of the two gorilla areas where the resident male Brutus came out to see us. Unlike most adult male gorillas, Brutus is quite interested in people and looks you right in the eye. He stayed there pretty much the whole time we were there, posing and giving us various looks. Strange (in a nice way) to spend so much time looking into the eyes of a gorilla.

I mentioned that I planned to stop at the Oklahoma City Zoo on my way to Wichita, KS. They suggested that I also visit the Tulsa Zoo for its great chimp area. I did some quick calculations in my head and figured that I could work that into my itinerary. Funny how my three extra days have been so easily filled. They gave me some contact information for keepers at the two zoos, and then we parted. It was really nice of them to spend so much time with me.

After visiting a few more exhibits I had to hit the road. I figured I could still manage a scenic drive on my way toward Oklahoma, but I would need to do the shorter version in order to get far enough west to make Tulsa do-able. AAA maps and some of the state maps mark scenic routes with a line of dots, but different maps don't always reflect exactly the same routes. I decided to follow the AAA route, which is a combination of back roads and interstate. I backtracked to the south of Little Rock and then started heading west and north through Hot Springs ("Boyhood Home of President Bill Clinton"), the Hot Springs National Forest and the Ouachita (WASH-i-ta) Mountains. It was a fun drive on the twisty, up-and-down road. Covered a lot of miles, but not so much as-the-crow-flies distance.

It was almost 5PM by the time I arrived at I-40 with 76 miles to go to Fort Smith/Van Buren. I usually try to wind down the day and find a motel by about 5PM, but sometimes I push it until 6PM. I decided to go for it. At 70-ish MPH I could be there in an hour, and I already had some budget motels picked out.

About 40 miles from my goal I reached Ozark, which I had considered as a landing spot. The tiny town has a couple of AAA-recommended motels with low rates. The scenery was nice. What the hell. I would only need to make up half an hour, and it would be nice to stay someplace that was not in the usual off-ramp universe. I left the interstate and drove the three miles to Ozark and picked out one of the motels: The Ozark Inn. It's a very 1950s-looking motel, but not as in the movie Psycho. One story, with a parking spot in front of each door. The lady at the reception desk was so friendly, I didn't even ask to see the room before registering. (I usually do with off-brand motels.) Wasn't sure what to expect, but it was even nicer than I could have imagined. Clean and bright. Hand-made (in China, but hand-made) quilt on the king bed. An arm chair. A little fridge and a microwave. Real coffee mugs (not the cheesy styrofoam cups). Wireless internet access that works! Great TV reception. And the shower? Hot and strong. Lucked out again. Note to self: be spontaneous more often.

So, I figure it will be under three hours to Tulsa. The map shows turnpike most of the way. After the zoo I'll head toward Oklahoma City and find a place to spend the night near town. I need to be in Wichita on Tuesday evening, but it's only about two hours to the north. I actually have a room reserved for my stay in Kansas.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Day 34 – Jaywalking Razorbacks

There was a point today – around 6PM – when I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to find a motel room. I contemplated parking my car outside a 24-hour restaurant and camping out. But everything worked out just fine.

As planned, I got a leisurely start this morning. Hung around the Shreveport Days Inn reading and waiting for my cell phone to recharge. Didn’t want to get to Little Rock too early since I had nothing planned. Finally got going just before 10AM.

I got to the north-bound route by driving through Shreveport rather than around it. I spend so much time on the edges of cities, I figure I should take the opportunity to see at least a tiny bit of the city I’m supposedly visiting. The drive through went smoothly. After all it’s Saturday. (It is isn’t it? I keep losing track of the days.) This drive-through technique would come back to bite me later in the day.

Just past Texarkana I made the obligatory stop at the state welcome center. I picked up a brochure for the Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. It was just a bit to the southeast of Little Rock, and the greeter at the welcome center said I should be able to get there by 3PM. I’d been wanting to visit one of these ancient constructions and missed a similar site in my quick trip through Iowa.

I was disappointed not to find any discount books for motels. The pricing in AAA for motels looked kind of pricey. So I looked at the budget motel directories I’d picked up along the way and targeted one that appeared to be relatively close to the Little Rock Zoo. Going to the Toltec Mounds site would be a significant detour and would make getting to the motel a bit more challenging, but hey, it’s Saturday, so I could find a path through the downtown area and maybe scope out the road I would need to take to the zoo.

After the welcome center I pulled off the interstate again in Hope, birthplace of President Bill Clinton. I didn’t go looking for his house. I just had quick lunch. From there it was about two hours to Little Rock. Quite a bit of traffic. Lots of BIG trucks. I arrived at the edge of town from the southwest and zipped around the south edge to the east side and the route to Toltec. Found it with no problems.

At the park interpretive center I watched a video about the site and then went on the self-guided walking tour. It is not an active archeological site. There are now federal and state restrictions on excavating Native American burial sites. It was interesting to learn, however, that only a few of the mounds serve as tombs. Some are platforms, like the pyramids in Central America. And the mounds are positioned to line up with sunrise and sunset on solstices and equinoxes – sort of an American Stonehenge. At 50 feet, one of the mounds is the tallest in Arkansas.

In the 90 minutes I toured the grounds and interpretive center I learned a lot, including about cypress knees. I also saw more turtles than I had ever seen in one place. There is a boardwalk at the edge of the lake that borders the site. The local turtles (known as “yum, dinner” to the earlier inhabitants) know to start swimming over when people walk out on the observation deck. People see turtles and start pulling out quarters to buy turtle pellets from the conveniently placed pellet machine. Maybe 20 turtles collected below the boardwalk, but you could see the heads of many others further out. And they were big. Some had shells maybe 12 inches long.

I headed back toward Little Rock before 5PM. Figured I would get off the interstate right downtown and hoped it wouldn’t be too hard to find the street that turned into the street where my target motel was located on the east side of town. Worked like a charm because it was Saturday. Wouldn’t have tried it at 5PM on a week day.

So, I was on the right street headed for the motel when all of a sudden I saw traffic in front of me. The backup looked like bad traffic on a Friday after work. Was it an accident up ahead? As I inched along I noticed cars parked everywhere along the easement and people were walking along with the traffic – and crossing in front of the slowly moving cars. Then I noticed that most of the people were wearing red shirts, some said “One Nation Under Hog.” Sinking feeling: It was the night of a big game. Apparently the local college team is the Razorbacks. Soon I’d make it through the log jam, but would there be a room at my target motel? At any motel within a 30-minute drive?

Miracle of miracles, I got the room and at a decent rate. Anticlimactic is good. I ran out and got dinner around the corner and now I’m in for the night. Tomorrow: the zoo.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Day 33 -- Time for some spontaneity

Had no trouble re-finding Chimp Haven today -- and they were expecting me!

Linda B, the director, came out to greet me and took me on a leisurely walking tour around the outside perimeter of the yards. While yesterday I had seen the yards looking down from the roof where they connect with the night houses, today I saw them from ground level, looking across the moat at the broad end of the pie-slice-shaped lots.

As we stood there talking, chimpanzees started showing up. First one who, Linda said, never used to wander far from the building. But now here he was coming to see what was going on. Then two more, an estrous female and her suitor, who wasn't going to let her out of his sight. Just as we were about to leave, practically the whole rest of the troop appeared ambling down the paths they had worn in the grass and through the woods. Very neat to be able to watch these former research chimps use this space, much as they might do in the wild.

I also got to see Phase II of the facility on the other side of the property. And I got to meet Sarah, one of the most famous chimps in the (scientific) world, who was the subject of countless studies in cognitive research. Ooo. I forgot to tell her that we were on the same TV program about chimps: Apes R Us, the Scientific American program from a few years ago.

But I had come to work, so I joined Mike and (departing) intern Monica to finish work on a firehose hammock. By then it was time for lunch and I was invited to join the staff at a farewell get-together for Monica.

When we returned we had just enough time to prepare the (several hundred) enrichment treats for Sunday: ants on a log. No logs and no ants, but rather celery sticks filled with peanut butter and topped with a line of raisins. I felt like I had time-traveled back to the 1960s and was preparing appetizers for a very large suburban house party.

As was mentioned in yesterday's post, it was not clear that there would be any opportunity to volunteer at Chimp Haven during the weekend. But it became clear: there would not be. I had looked at the map and figured I might go up to Little Rock, Arkansas, to visit the zoo there where they have chimpanzees (and gorilla and orangutans). Fortunately, I had remembered to bring along the business card of one of the keepers I'd met in March at the Chimp Mind conference in Chicago. I called. Amazingly, she remembered inviting me to visit and we arranged to meet on Sunday when she will be back from her two days off.

It's not far to Little Rock. Maybe 4 hours. So tomorrow will be a somewhat leisurely day. I still have to study the maps to figure out what route I will take. Who knows where I'll be staying tomorrow night?!? I also have to figure out what route I will then take to Wichita, but I do know I want to stop in Oklahoma City for a visit to the zoo there.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Day 32 -- A day in the kitchen

Chimp Haven is a bit harder to find than the other sanctuaries I've visited. The driving instructions are more complicated. I got turned around a few times (and swore profusely and stopped to ask for directions) but I finally made it there. But after all the driving, it turns out that no one was expecting me. Apparently a communications mix-up. And most of the staff was away for a special training session.

Despite my surprise appearance, I was warmly greeted. Rick, the PR guy, took me on a tour. Funny thing: As part of his job Rick monitors the web for mentions of Chimp Haven. Just the evening before he had found this blog.

Chimp Haven currently has about 115 chimpanzee residents -- most retired from medical research. At this stage there are two 5-acre forested yards so two groups at a time can roam in a natural setting. We stood on the roof of one of the buildings and watched one group gather for the treats they knew would be flying their way. Some sat just inside the woods. Occasionally the care givers use masking tape to link two bananas together ("banana numchuks") and when they are cleaning up the yard they can fling them into the trees so the chimps are motivated to climb. Although most of the Chimp Haven residents have spent all their lives in cages, many have taken to the trees -- especially the females.

Rick then introduced me to Mike, the enrichment tech (and the inventor of the banana numchuks). I was put to work in the kitchen filling devices with treats that the chimps would have to work to extract. The only guidelines were to use my imagination and to make some sugar-free treats for the group with a diabetic chimp. For the next several hours I smeared combinations of peanut butter, jelly, chocolate syrup, and bananas in the toys and sprinkled in cereal, popcorn or crushed cookies or crackers. The barbecue sauce was too runny to stick to anything, so I made it into a paste by mixing in instant mashed potatoes.

At first I was thinking too hard and moving pretty slowly, but after lunch I lost my food inhibitions, got a system going and was able to make it through the whole pile of gadgets that needed to be smeared. I accompanied Mike as he distributed some of the treats to a couple of the smaller groups. No one spit anything out.

Not sure what I'll be doing tomorrow. More toys to smear? A different kind of treat to concoct? Also, it's not clear whether I'll be able to work on Saturday as they may not be set up to accommodate volunteers on the weekend.

I managed to reverse the driving directions back to Shreveport with only a few missed turns and no major adventures (i.e., I didn't get hopelessly lost). Stopped for dinner at a catfish restaurant I had spotted the day before. Back at the motel this evening I watched too much TV. But, hey, all the new episodes are on.

And as I always seem to say, I'll add some photos later. (Maybe that will be a project tomorrow night?) But here is a 3-minute video from Chimp Haven (some sound) so you can see what I saw today.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Day 31 -- Into Louisiana

I arrived in Shreveport before 5PM and went straight to the motel I had targeted after perusing the AAA guidebook and interstate discount booklets. Criteria: price, location, internet access. Before asking about room availability, however, I booted up my computer in the parking lot to see whether I could access their wireless signal. YES! (I had been worried that my connection problems were a result of some changes to my system configuration and that I would be internet-less for the rest of the trip.)

The outside of the motel looks a bit raggedy, but it's because they are in the midst of renovation work. The room itself is quite nice. Figure I'll camp out here for several days while I volunteer at Chimp Haven. It looks to be about 20-30 minutes from here. I'll find out tomorrow. I was told that this area was about the closest I would find a motel.

I've been driving hard for almost three full days. The first several weeks of the trip were almost all one-nighters. Now I'm traveling to places where I will spend 4-5 nights. And those places are days apart. So there will be more strings of driving days punctuated by multi-night stops.

Yesterday I took I-10 from Tallahassee all the way to Gulfport, Mississippi. Then I took US49 up to Hattiesburg. Feeling fresh and with an extra hour (in the central time zone) I decided to keep going to Jackson. Longest one-day drive yet: 469 miles.

With the time I'd saved (not figuring in the time I wasted last night trying to get internet access) I figured I could go to the Jackson Zoo. So I did. I'd been there on the trip 7 years ago, but it was on a cold Saturday. This time it was a warm Tuesday and I pretty much had the place to myself. I talked briefly with keeper Steve P who, while not a regular primate keeper, was working that area since the chimp keeper, whom I'd met in Chicago in March, had quit.

Jackson is a poor city in a poor state, and the little zoo looks a bit frayed. Lots of chain link on the enclosures. But they do a lot with what they have, and they have A LOT of primates. Eight chimps and two white-handed gibbons and some orangutans (who chose not to go out today) and many different kinds of monkeys. I spent the most time watching some red-tailed guenons who were in a roomy enclosure with two black-and-white colobus monkeys. One of the guenons was playing with (terrorizing?) one of the much larger colobus. Apparently they are having success breeding these guenons and the Diana guenons.

I didn't do the whole zoo because I needed to get going toward Shreveport. I decided I should really get a bit of a look at downtown Jackson, and I wanted to drive on the Natchez Trace Parkway, so I backtracked a bit and found a street that would take me right through downtown and connect with the Trace. It didn't connect as seamlessly as it appeared on the map, but I eventually found the on-ramp and drove for about 10 miles of the 444-mile parkway that runs from Tennessee across Alabama and Mississippi.

Then I continued on to Shreveport on I-20. I didn't have time to stop in Monroe, LA, at the Louisiana Purchase Zoo. I-20 from Jackson and on through Louisiana to Texas is the same route I drove 7 years ago. I'd planned the route so I would pass through Shreveport where Chimp Haven was supposed to be under construction and I could stop and see it. But work didn't start on the sanctuary until a couple of years later. Now Chimp Haven is up and running and I'm going to volunteer there this week.

More computer issues (a rant)

After all the problems with the wireless access on Monday, I specifically chose a place that had a wired lan AND dialup dataports. Nevertheless, I could not get online last night. The ethernet connection would not work and suddenly I was being denied access on my dialup account.

This AM I have spent almost an hour on the phone with my ISP tech support -- multiple calls and transfers (and accents). In then end the call was dropped. No one has called me back despite the fact that every person I spoke with asked me for the number where I could be reached.

Anyway. I tried one more thing and got on -- at a very slow speed, but I'm on.

Where I'm going next I'll probably be staying in the same motel for 4 nights, so I hope things go more smoothly. Or maybe I will be doing more reading in the evenings. Books, not websites.

More detail later but I'm just outside Jackson, Mississippi, and heading for Shreveport, Louisiana. Tomorrow I report to Chimp Haven to volunteer for a few days.

I covered 469 miles on Tuesday and gained back one of the hours I lost on the first half of the trip.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Day 29 -- Back on the road and heading west

Frustrating. I pick a hotel (in Tallahassee) for the internet connection and I can’t connect. Something about the authentication method not matching the way my system is set up. This has happened at a few places. At one I got around it by using the ethernet connection that was available in the room. Nothing in this room. At another I just used my dial-up account. In this room the phone wire is fixed. No jack. Front desk is no help, but I asked whether there is an ethernet connection anywhere and she said it was in the lobby.

I’ll go down there after “Dancing With The Stars” is over. Can’t miss Week 2. But that won’t be until 10PM. Won’t be time to do much – IF there really is an ethernet connection in the lobby. I’ll use commercial breaks to draft a few highlights that I can add to the blog later when/if I manage to get a connection.

Sunday I returned to Save the Chimps and worked in the kitchen again. Counted and bagged lots and lots of chow and helped dish up the Sunday carb meal. Then a staff member took us (me and the two other volunteers) on a tour of the facility in a golf cart. Several members of each chimp group we visited came to greet us, and we could see the rest of them roaming around on their grassy islands. It’s so great to see them with all that space. They’ll never be truly free, but considering where they came from … their Florida home must seem like heaven. [Maybe I’ll get some photos up later when I can get my wireless act together.]

This morning I woke up early to the sound of wind and rain. Strong wind and heavy rain. Good thing I had already packed all my freshly laundered clothes, but I was thinking about trying to pack the rest in a driving rain. But it suddenly stopped and by the time I finally got up the street was practically dry. Yeah. But it was still muggy. Always muggy.

Four nights in Wauchula (at Center for Great Apes) and four nights in Barefoot Bay – what a change after sleeping in a new place almost every night for three weeks. It was refreshing, but I was ready to hit the road again and was looking forward to some long driving days. Really. Monday would mark the first day of the second half of the trip.

I hit the road by 9:30. I decided to take the interstate (95) past Daytona to state route 100, which would cut diagonally across the state to another interstate (10), which would get me to Tallahassee. That way I could cover the distance I needed to but still get off the big, homogenous highway. It worked. I got to Tallahassee by 5PM.

Not sure yet what route I will take tomorrow on my way to Shreveport. A little spontaneity is a good thing … right? BTW, today I passed the 5,000-mile mark.

[Am sitting in the motel lobby with an ethernet connection coming out of a closet. I'm running on battery power. Purposely did not bring my power cord so I would not be tempted to stay too long. Still have to figure out what route I will take tomorrow.]