Sunday, March 28, 2010

March Madness UPDATE

UPDATE.  In our postings on our trip to San Jose I forgot to mention Susie's brush with fame.  Before the first tournament game on Thursday, we gathered at a downtown bar and grill with a large group of Lobo fans.  A TV reporter from Albuquerque's Channel 13 was looking for interviews where we were sitting at a sidewalk table.  I deflected him to Susie and she said something about being excited to be there to cheer for our Lobos.  The bit played later that evening and several people e-mailed us about seeing Susie and after we got home, several more friends commented that they had seen her on TV. 



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Homeward Bound

Saturday, March 20.  March Madness ends for the University of New Mexico:

The score is a little dim (appropriately): U. Washington 82, UNM 64.  I knew when I saw Washington beat Marquette on Thursday that it was going to be tough for UNM to advance.  UW had too much speed, size, and shooting ability.  But, we had a great and thrilling year, so we feel good about that and are glad we followed the team these last two weeks.

So, we headed home on Sunday.  Decided to head south via US101, through the Salinas Valley and on down to Paso Robles.  This is the route we took two years ago to and from Monterey.  The miles and miles of vegetable and fruit fields are awesome, some of the most memorable sights from our four months in the region.  Today, though, patchy fog, so not much to see.  There are some nice pictures at the above website and I'll stick in some of our pictures from spring, 2008:

Then we headed east to Bakersfield.  Nice green hills adorned with wildflowers along the way:

(For some reason Blogger is refusing to let me center pictures when I want to.)

 Then you come to the intersection where James Dean died.


(Now the picture is centered.  Wish I knew how I did that.)  This is almond and pistachio-growing country and there's a store at this locale with those kinds of goodies.

Had lunch in Bakersfield (chicken-fried this and that) and then it was up and over the Tehachapi Pass again, down to Barstow and on to Needles for the night.  On the way out, just after learning about the Tehachapi Loop (the spiraling RR track), I saw a turn-off for the Loop, but didn't stop for it.  This time we did.  Couldn't get a decent picture, but here's a shot of the track and a tunnel (just above the center of the picture( a little further up.  Looks like a model RR layout.

I forgot to mention it on the way out, but we stopped in Winslow, AZ and had lunch at the La Posada Hotel.  (Just in case anybody would like to (re)read the newspaper article I wrote about this place several years ago, here's the link.)  Allan Affeldt, owner and restorer, was at the La Posada and we had a good visit.  Work is continuing on more rooms in the north wing.  He also has plans for an RV park.  We found out that his wife's (Tina Mion) painting of Jackie Kennedy (which I always look for) was now in the National Portrait Gallery in DC.  

When Susie and I had stopped at the La Posada in recent years Allan had been off to Needles, AZ, where he is in the process of restoring another classic Harvey House, the El Garces (the "Crown Jewel of the Desert").  I asked him how that project was going.  He said it's on hold; nobody is loaning money on such projects these days.  As we left Needles early Monday morning, we sought out the El Garces.  Here are a couple of  pictures.

It looks like a Roman or Greek ruin.  The columns and roof are there, but there don't seem to be any interior walls.  You can see the potential for grandeur.  Anybody want to invest?

After that, an uneventful run across AZ and half of NM and back to Cedar Crest.  We had heard while we were gone that we got yet another foot of snow last week, but that it was melting quickly.  If it hadn't, we might be in Phoenix right now. 

Next up, a Tuzigoot trip to Kentucky and points unplanned.  We'll work on that tomorrow.


Susie and Rob

Friday, March 19, 2010

Winchester Mystery House

Friday, March 19.  When we were in Las Vegas, Heidi's boyfriend, Joseph, who lived in this area for several years, tipped us on the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose.  This is a "beautiful and bizarre" 160 room, 24,000 sq. ft. mansion built by the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune.  We toured the house on Friday morning.  Here's an aerial view from one of the Winchester websites.  In addition to the house there are several outbuildings on the grounds.

How bizarre?  There is a stairway that dead-ends at the ceiling of one room.  There are cabinets that open to the backside of a wall, a window in a floor, mixed elevations, stairs with two and a half inch risers, ... .  There are windows between rooms that let Sarah Winchester spy on her servants.  How did this come about? you ask.

Sarah Winchester was the wife of the son of the Winchester who invented the Winchester repeating rifle.  They had a daughter who died soon after she was born.  This depressed Sarah greatly.  Then, fifteen years later, 1881, her husband died of TB.  She was devastated by grief.  The story told is that a spiritualist medium told her she was being punished for all the deaths wrought by Winchester rifles.  The way to mollify the angry spirits was to move west (the Winchesters lived in New Haven, CT), and build a house, without ceasing.  A large house would provide a home for the spirits and would protect her from them.  She couldn't stop building because people were still being killed by Winchesters. 

This story may be largely folklore (you can Google it for more discussion).  Sarah didn't leave a written account and didn't associate with any people who might have recorded her story, so we don't have first-hand info.  Our guide said another reason she did it was that she was RICH (and maybe crazy, I'd add).  She was also short, 4' 11", so you can add that to the pop psychology mix. 

Sarah Winchester was severely arthritic and had difficulty walking and that's the reason for the low-riser stairways.  In one case there are 44 steps, switchbacking up a stairwell ending up at the next floor, nine ft. higher.

At any rate, armed with good advice, she came to the Bay area and in 1884 bought an unfinished 8-room farmhouse and started adding on to it.  For 38 years until her death, carpenters, gardeners, and craftsmen labored continuously, building whatever whim she came up with. 

Susie said, what a shame that she would spend so much money on such a self-centered project.  The guide said she paid her employees well, so that seems the most positive benefit of her obsession.  She died in 1922 at 82 years of age.  You wonder if she felt that she successfully bought that time from the angry spirits.

At one time the house had a seven-story tower.  This sketch shows a turret on top that is no longer there.

The tower collapsed in the SF earthquake of 1906 and damaged several rooms in the front of the house, so she quit using that part of the house -- not that she would miss a dozen rooms or so.  There are quite a few uncompleted rooms where work was suspended on her death.

No pictures of the interior are allowed and a guide takes you through, so you can't explore.  People wondered why no pictures, but I think that's wise because if 20 people are all trying to snap pictures of each room, the tour would really bog down.  You can see some interior pictures at this website.

Here are some exterior shots I took.  The architecture is fascinating.

The columns supporting the roof of this porch are upside down, for a reason, I suppose, not an accident.  I should also note that the number 13 played an important role in the house design.  There were 13 bathrooms.  One bathroom had 13 windows.  An entryway chandelier had only 12 gas lights, so she had one more added.  The house has been featured on cable channels dealing with ghosts and haunted houses and a boy in our tour group was excited to visit in person what he had seen on TV. 

Here's a gingerbread Winchester house.

Anyhow, this was an interesting place to learn about and we're glad we had the chance to visit.  So, whenever you find your way to San Jose, .... .

By way of contrast the book my book club is reading this month, "Three Cups of Tea," is about Greg Mortenson, a near-penniless nurse and mountain climber who is taken by the impoverished conditions in the mountains of north Pakistan (the region that includes K2) and dedicates his life to raising money and building schools and clinics and better lives for the people there. 

Friend Joseph also recommended the Sonoma Chicken Coop as a place to eat.  We found one of their locations to be just down the street from us in historic downtown Campbell, so stopped there for a tasty lunch, sidewalk dining, across the street from an Italian ice cream shop.  We spent the afternoon and evening mostly watching basketball games on TV.  Disappointments: NM State came so close to beating Michigan State.  Oklahoma State couldn't quite get it done against Georgia Tech. 

The Lobos play Washington tomorrow.  Go Lobos!


Susie and Rob

Game 1

March 18.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sequoia National Park

We got to the Sequoia National Park entrance about 430 on Tuesday.  Nice young Ranger assured us we had plenty of time to drive through the Park before dark, thanks to DST.  Ranger asked if we had been there before.  I said I had about 30 years ago.  Ranger said, Wow, I guess you were a baby then.  I said, Maybe so, but I was driving.  Ranger said, Wow, you were a really young driver!  Anyhow, our plan was to enter SW corner of park, then exit it at NW corner and go on to Fresno for the night.

Our main goal was the Giant Forest and in particular the world's largest tree (in volume) named the General Sherman.  Here's a mountain scene as you ascend into the park.  It's 14 miles or so of steep, winding road to get to the Giant Forest. 

Some tree scenes:

As you can see, quite a bit of snow at this level.

Here are some General Sherman shots:  It's quite an awesome tree.

That's me at the right.

The Gen. Sherman is an estimated 2200 years old.  It's 275 ft. tall and weighs an estimated 1385 tons.  By way of contrast, the tallest Coastal Redwood trees are 100 ft. taller.  They don't have the branches, though, that the Sequoias have, so do not have as much weight or volume.  We recall Kauri trees in NZ as being called the world's largest (and I found a website with that claim).  The Kauri have a trunk as large at the base as a Sequoia, but they don't taper so much and they're not as tall.  This website lists the General Sherman as the world's largest tree (trunk volume of 1487 cubic meters) and the Tane Mahuta Kauri tree in NZ, which we saw, as the fourth largest (244.5 cubic meters).  That's a big difference and I'm not sure I believe it.  Maybe the Sherman volume includes branch volumes.

Just beyond the Giant Forest, where the road starts down toward the NW corner of the park, the road was barricaded. Road Closed.  So, we retraced our path.  Different views, though, so it wasn't at all a repeat trip.  Nice young Ranger was still on duty at the gate and he was interested to hear the road was closed.  Must have been an avalanche, he surmised.  Strange they hadn't told him.  Anyhow, by the time we got down it was nearly dark and we were still 80 miles from Fresno, so we decided to stop for the night in a Comfort Inn just outside the Park at Three Rivers.  Wi-Fi and waffle-maker in the breakfast area.  What more could you ask for?  Well, here's the hill across the road from the Inn.


Susie and Rob


Well, by now, those who care know that the Lobos lost to San Diego State on Friday in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament. A very close, hard-fought game. We had a chance to win it at the end, but didn't get a clean shot off. Nevertheless, UNM still got a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, so that seeding wasn't likely affected by the loss.  On the plus side, the loss gave us, the team, an extra day to rest and prepare for March Madness.

Also, as we hoped and found out Sunday afternoon, UNM plays this Thursday in San Jose, so we're off for San Jose. They play Montana U in the first round.

In the meantime, we had a quiet weekend. On Saturday I went to an exhibition baseball game between the Cubs and White Sox here in Las Vegas. It was a sunny, but chilly and windy day. I moved around a couple of times looking for a seat sheltered from the wind. Nothing memorable about the game, but it was fun to be there.  As Jeff E said, a way to ease the pain (freeze the pain?) from Friday's loss.

Heidi helped us both ease our pain by treating us to the buffet at Aria, the hotel/casino in City Center where Heidi works.  For me, king crab legs and lobster were the highlights.  Dessert, too.

Sunday we went to church at the Green Valley United Methodist Church with our friends the Bornhofts. Went to breakfast afterwards and caught up on family news and some politics, too.

When we crossed the Hoover Dam on Wednesday I could tell that considerable progress had been made on the new bridge since we were through a month earlier, but didn't have a chance to stop for pictures. Rectified that on Monday by driving out early in the morning -- for best sun angle. If you compare these pix to those in the previous posting you can see the bridge platform has been extended by several sections.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, the bridge is scheduled to open in December and it will have pedestrian access.  Pictures next year!

Susie and Heidi got finger and toenail jobs on Monday.  Heidi whipped up some fajitas.  Nice, restful day.
Tuesday we left for San Jose.  Sunday night I had searched the internet for tickets -- there were lots for sale, but most ticket sellers only indicated that they would FedEx your tickets to you.  As we would be traveling, I wasn't sure how we would make the connection.  Finally, on the razorgator site I found a phone number and succeeded in talking to a live person on Monday morning who set up a ticket sale and pick-up for us at a FedEx site in San Jose. 

Before we left Albuquerque, I put our names on a waiting list to get two of the tickets allocated to the teams that make the tournament.  Because we're not Lobo Club members or athletic program donors, I realized I wouldn't be high on the priority list.  On my application, though, I noted that I'd been a season ticket holder for 41 years and had also been picked several years ago to be recognized as the 10 millionth fan in the Pit.  Didn't seem to work, though, because on Sunday I got email from the Lobo Club saying it didn't look like we would get two of the UNM allocation of tickets, but maybe if some of the folks ahead of us declined their tickets, we'd get a chance.  Thus it was that Monday morning I went ahead and bought tickets from razorgator.  I had this nagging feeling that because there were no glamour teams, or teams with large fan bases, besides the Lobos, scheduled for San Jose, that there were apt to be lots of street scalpers selling tickets on game day.  But, I wasn't sure enough of that feeling to risk being wrong, so for peace of mind, that's why I bought somewhat marked up tickets from razorgator. 

I told you all that to tell you this.  A couple of hours after leaving Las Vegas on Tuesday morning I got a call from the Lobo Club.  Two tickets were available.  Did I want them?  First I said No.  I had already bought tickets.  Then, we got to thinking: the UNM tickets were better seats - main level instead of nosebleed upper tier- and we'd be with Lobo fans and that would be part of the fun, so I pulled over and called back.  We'd take the tickets and hope we can sell the razorgator tickets when we get there.  Stay tuned.

From Las Vegas to San Jose is just over 500 miles.  We'd decided to take two days and see something along the way.  Between Barstow and Bakersfield you cross a small mountain range.  A nice scenic area, shining brightly green with new grass this time of year.  At the top of the pass is the town of Tehachapi.  It advertizes itself as having four seasons (as opposed to what they have back down there on the Mojave Desert floor).  We found a downtown cafe for lunch.  The town history on the menu noted a 7.7 earthquake in 1952 that about destroyed the town. 

When we drove through Tehachapi a couple of years ago on our way to Monterey, Susie had told me that when Manny graduated from Highlands U, he and she had teaching offers from Tehachapi and another California school district.  They turned them down and ended up in Roswell.  And the rest is history.  It was fun, though, to see the town that might have been.

Tehachapi is a railroad town.  Main line goes through here.  One feature is the Tehachapi RR loop: the RR makes a spiral as it ascends toward the pass.  Here's a picture from the website.

Here's some of the terrain near Tehachapi.  As we travel we often see country that reminds us of New Zealand, pardon the country-name-dropping.  As Susie points out, we've got a lot of similar country; it's just that NZ has it more compactly.  The present highway is at the right edge of this picture.  The old one winds down the hillside opposite.  Looked like it would be fun to explore the region.

 As usual, we don't like to constrain ourselves by a lot of planning but by the time we got in the area it looked like we had time to drive into Sequoia National Park.  Warning: We stop for big trees!  Stay tuned for the next posting.


Susie and Rob 

Monday, March 08, 2010

Vegas, Baby!

Greetings, Family and Friends:

We're headed back to Las Vegas this week for the Mountain West Conference basketball tournament. To set the stage I want to provide some pictures and info from our visit a month ago.

We went to Las Vegas in Feb. to see the Lobos game against UNLV, and also to see Heidi and Joseph. It turned out that Susie's sister-in-law, Joyce, and her husband, Jay, were also in Las Vegas. They had just visited us in Cedar Crest for Super Bowl weekend. They travel in (actually, they tow) their fifth-wheel RV doing Habitat for Humanity builds and had transited from projects in Las Cruces to Las Vegas via Albuquerque. Here's their picture at the campground they stayed in near Coronado State Park, just north of Albq.

When we re-rendezvoused in Las Vegas, Jay and I decided to drive out to Hoover Dam to see the dam and especially the new bridge being built over the Colorado River at that site. Joyce, Susie, and Mandi (who had flown out from Denver for the festivities) went shopping.

This project has been ongoing for several years. Because of construction and congestion RVs and semis had been routed from Kingman, AZ to Laughlin, NV to Las Vegas during this time. Last March when I went out to the Grand Canyon Skywalk (you remember that, don't you?) the construction was at this stage:

The two arms of the supporting arch were reaching out to each other. Now, they've met and the roadway and its supports are being added. Building materials - forms and cement - and construction workers are transported along those high wires.

The bridge will be about 2000 ft. long and 900 ft. above the river. It is scheduled to open the end of this year. Pedestrian access is part of the design. I can hardly wait (notice I did not say we). This picture gives you the big picture. Bungee-jumping, anyone?

Not to be forgotten, here's Mr. Hoover's dam:

Meanwhile, back in Las Vegas we visited Heidi's new work site, the Aria hotel and casino, and went to the ballgame. Exciting game and UNM got a narrow win. Here are some tourists at the Aria:

Somewhere along the way, Susie and I decided to continue the Lobos road trip from Vegas to Salt Lake City. The Lobos got another close, exciting, overtime win. This must have been one of the all-time great roadtrips for UNM and we were excited to have been along. It got even better when it turned out that we were on the same flight home as the team. Got to exchange high-fives and comments with several players and coaches. Susie was afraid I might embarrass her, but I think I maintained proper decorum. What happens in Salt Lake City, stays ... .

And, the Lobos just kept on winning. They won their last 14 conference games in a row, finished the regular season with a 28-3 record and a No. 8 national ranking. This week's tournament will determine their seeding in the NCAA tournament. We're hoping to travel to wherever they are assigned for first round games next week. We're hoping for San Jose or OK City. If it's the former, we'll just drive there from Las Vegas. We're making this trip by car, not Tuzigoot. Haven't had much chance to get Tuzi ready for travel this "spring" - still got snow in the driveway - and going by car gives us more speed and agility -- like a good basketball team.

Stay tuned.


Rob and Susie