Tombstone, Arizona

On our way back from California, as we crossed into Arizona, we saw a sign for the old historic town of Tombstone. As soon as we saw that sign my wife said…”we must stop and check it out”. You need to know that my wife’s favorite western movie is Tombstone with Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp, Sam Elliot as Virgil Earp, Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday. Many other good actors also appeared in this film, but the movie centered around these four as they were the principal historical figures of the famous gun fight at the OK Corral. If you have not seen this film it is highly recommended.

Promotional picture of Kurt Russell’s Tombstone movie. Can you tell who is who in this picture based on the names listed above? One of my favorite quotes in this movie was spoke by Russell…”tell them I am coming and hell is coming with me!”

 

The town of Tombstone was founded in 1879 by Ed Schieffelin in Arizona territory. Tombstone has the distinction of being the last wide-open frontier boomtown in the old American West. Mining was the source of wealth in Tombstone, the town boomed from 1877 to 1890. Here you see my wife at the west entrance of Tombstone. Yes, in the background you can see the famous OK Corral, more on that later.

 

No doubt that the Tombstone movie gave this old town a good boost. Tombstone survives today due to its many visitors attracted by the history, OK Corral gunfight reenactments and museums showcasing the towns short but rich history. In this museum, amongst many other items we found the saddle Kurt Russell rode in the movie Tombstone. Ok, not that historic, but hey.

 

The site of the famous OK Corral gunfight where the Earp’s and Doc Holliday killed Tom McLaury, Frank McLaury and Bill Clanton. The gunfight was the result of a personal, family and political feud. This display is actually very well done. Press a button and you get the whole story over loudspeakers. The props move according to the gunfight sequence. Unfortunately we were 20 minutes late to the live re-enactment of the gunfight; hope you get there on time when you visit.

 

In one of the many small museums we found a good size collection of old photographs documenting every day life in Tombstone. I liked this one in particular; the 1904 Tombstone football team after they beat the University of Arizona team. That must have been something to celebrate then. Check the protective equipment; wonder if they were better off without so much protection as I would think you would need to factor it will also hurt you when you hit your opponent.

 

Doc Holliday’s girlfriend; Big Nose Kate. Well, Hollywood does not always pick actors that look like the individuals they play. Big Nose Kate was a lot better looking in the movie than in this period photo. Oh well, the past is always romanticized a great deal isn’t it? Brief account of Kate’s role in this plaque.

 

So what is one option when you retire after practicing dentistry for several decades? Join the Tombstone period re-enactment players is one option. That is exactly what this gentleman did; we spoke to this gentleman briefly and told us that he was a dentist for many years and after retiring decided to join the re-enactment group in Tombstone. He loves it and wished he did it sooner.

 

DSCF6986

Tombstone Sherriff outside Big Nose Kates Saloon. Not sure if he liked his picture taken, could not see his right hand and wonder if it was on his gun ready to shoot me at the same time I did…hmmm

 

Inside Big Nose Kate Saloon. According to the last US census, Tombstone has about 1,504 residents and 419 families residing in the city. While the main source of income for Tombstone is tourism (about 450 thousand visitors per year) many of those in the bars were local. Many of them looked like they belong in the town’s heyday. Having a beer in this historic place was fun.

 

East Allen Street, pretty much like it must have look like in its heyday. Unfortunately, Tombstone saw many fires throughout its history and many of the original buildings (were rebuilt; some more than twice). Regardless, the feel of the town is like going back to a time romanticized by Hollywood. This street is closed to vehicles and is the main tourist attraction in the town. There are many gift shops, eateries and saloons along its three blocks.

 

Inside the Crystal Palace; originally known as the Golden Eagle Brewing Co. it was one of the early Tombstone saloons. During the massive 1881 fire, this building was partially damaged. After quick repairs, the saloon changed its name the The Crystal Palace. It quickly became the premier saloon with fine dining in addition to serving the choicest brands of wines, liquors and cigars. Gambling and live music were also part of the action every night of the week. Remember, Tombstone was a very prosperous mining town and money was abundant.

 

The actual roulettes that were in use during the Earp’s stay in Tombstone.

 

A wider view of the Crystal Palace Saloon. The bar is a beautiful mahogany art work. Unfortunately, after prohibition the bar closed and for many years it was vacant. During prohibition it was used as a Greyhound station, a warehouse and a movie theater. Soon after prohibition was lifted it reopened as a saloon again. By then the mahogany bar was no longer there and could not be found. Fortunately, in 1963, the Historic Tombstone Adventures, an organization formed to preserve and restore many of the town’s landmarks purchased the property. The found drawings of the original bar design and reproduced it to it finest details.

 

This is a picture of the original bar. As you can see when comparing the two; they look identical. Cheers to successful restoration efforts!

Two streets from East Allen Street you find the entrance to one of the many mines in Tombstone. Silver was the primary precious metal mined in this area. By 1981, cumulative silver production in this area totaled 490 million troy ounces (15 million Kg. or 33 million lb.). That is a lot of silver. We were told that mining has not stopped and tourism is the main source of income in town.

 

The famous Oriental Saloon. This is the saloon that Wyatt Earp and his brothers took over and made a good deal of money overseeing gambling operations. Like to take a peek inside? Click HERE for a brief video I found in the web.

 

Drinking and gambling were not all of the activities miners and visitors had available.

 

Some things never change!

 

We hope you enjoy this brief tour of Tombstone. We wished we arrived earlier as many of the stores were closed by the time we arrived. However, we really enjoyed our visit and highly recommend you stop by if in the area.

Bruce Schlein - February 21, 2015 - 8:23 pm

Fun px.

Napa Valley

Soon after we ended our Route 66 trip at the Santa Monica Pier, in Los Angeles, CA we departed for San Francisco to visit my cousin Victor and tour surrounding areas. One of the areas we planned to visit was Napa or Sonoma Valley. As we gave ourselves one day for either one we chose Napa Valley as they seemed to have a wider number of well know wineries, but also many smaller ones. Additionally, even though the valleys are close their weather micro system can vary a great deal on the same day. The day we visited was such a day; Sonoma was cloudy and cool, while Napa was sunny and significantly warmer.  We decided to do one in-depth tour at the Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard and then self-tours on Grgich, Beringer, and Castello de La Amorosa vineyards.

Growing grapes and making good wine is not new to Napa; these activities can be traced back to the early 19th century. Since then the population has grown (405 people in 1850, to 140,385 in 2013) and the number of wineries today reach above 400. We chose to tour Mondavi  for their excellent reputation and being one of the premier families with longest standing and influence in the valley.

 

1280px-Robert_Mondavi_entrance

Main entrance to the Mondavi Winery. Robert Mondavi is regarded as capturing worldwide recognition to Napa Valley throughout his innovating wine making techniques and marketing strategies. Mondavi parents emigrated from Italy and settled in Minnesota where Robert was born. In 1943, Robert joined his father and his brother Peter in the purchase of the Charles Krug Winery located St. Helena (Napa Valley). In 1965 Robert Mondavi left his family winery and opened his own winery in Oakville, California. In 1966, he founded the Robert Mondavi Winery with his sons Michael and Tim; their goal was to produce wines that would rival the finest French wines of the day. Robert Mondavi was the first major winery in Napa post-Prohibition era. (Picture uploaded into public domain by Geographer)

 

Roses, beautiful roses everywhere. During the tour,  we found out that while they are beautiful to look at, the roses had a very specific purpose. If there was a bug infestation in the area the first things to die would be the roses. They were used as an early warning system so that those tending the vines would take action before the vines could suffer widespread destruction. However, with today’s pesticides (too bad) the roses are mostly used for decoration only.

 

There are several tour options, we opted for the 90 minute in-depth tour with wine tasting at the end. The tour started reviewing some of the wines around the beautifully manicured property. Explanation on grape types, longevity, weather impact to their output, harvesting and sorting techniques were detailed. We then entered one of the fermentation rooms – shown in this image. Mondavi Wineries use a Gravoty YStem to process, ferment and filter their grapes and grape juice. If you are interested in more detail on how the fermentation and cellaring process is done at Mondavi click HERE for videos.

 

Grapes are loaded from the top into these huge French Oak barrels (I believe they shared each costs about $40K). Good thing they last for quite a long time with proper care.

 

Cellaring takes place in areas such as this one. The statue you see in the center is of Saint Francis of Assisi; were told that he is guarding to make sure the angles do not take more than their allotted share (evaporation – called Angels Share). They had just moved most of the barrels out of this room, but usually the barrels lay on their side – steel bands resting on the concrete strips you see along the room.

 

Selecting which winery to visit is really difficult; especially if you are giving yourself a day to experience Napa…clearly you need more time. We chose Grgich Hills Estate winery for their unique look, organic approach and small size. After visiting one of the biggest ones in Napa, seeing a smaller one would be an interesting comparison.

 

As already mentioned, the Grgich Hills Winery is totally organic. All of their wines are made with grapes grown within the winery fields. While they make really good red wines, they are best known for their Chardonnays; they won first place in the prestigious “Paris Tasting” of 1976. Once again, a California based winery gave notice to the world that the area had a tremendous potential to produce top tier wines to please the most discerning palates.

 

A unique event going the day we visited was the opportunity for guests to crush grapes the old fashion way; using your clean feet. Here is my lovely and very happy wife doing the grape dance and being not too sure if the feel of crushed grapes was a pleasant one.

 

She got over it as soon as she saw her red grape juice footprints on a t-shirt she took home to remember the experience.

 

It was interesting to hear that in Napa, most of the wineries rely solely on rain and moisture to grow the vine fruits. However, as they cannot 100% rely on mother nature, they build irrigation pipes that run across the lower position of the vines. In many European countries, irrigating grape vines that will be used for wine making is prohibited as it can have a detrimental effect on the taste of the wine. Actually, low levels of irrigation (natural or man controlled) is preferable as it will produce a smaller grape with higher sugar content – a combination for an excellent start to great wine.

 

We stopped at Beringer Vineyards for lunch and a quick look then to Castello di Amorosa…probably the most beautiful building in Napa. This picture is the view as you come up from the parking area. The castle took almost 20 years to complete and it was built using repurposed stones and new ones quarried in Europe. Its creator and owner is Dario Sattui, also known as the Mad King on Napa Valley. His story is quite interesting, so if you like to read some of it click HERE.

 

Us getting ready to enter Castello di Amorosa.

 

As mentioned before, the grand majority of the materials used to build it were repurposed from other European castles. When they could not find what they were looking for, they recreated them using the same manufacturing method used on that period. The feel of this castle is truly amazing; just like it has been in place for more than 300 years. A must see in Napa.

 

Getting ready to purchase some tour tickets. As you can imaging, this vineyard is extremely popular and they seem to be doing a huge business selling their wines; that are only available at the castle or via mail orders.

 

This picture does not do this room any justice. I could have used a wide angle lens to capture its grandeur and beauty, They were setting up for an upcoming wedding… what a place!

 

The second floor has beautiful corridors with views to the grand courtyard.

 

Always a sucker for an old door. Outside for the modern lock, this door is simply amazing.

 

A view from the grand courtyard; I can imagine this place being used in some movies. We visited during late afternoon so the light quality made this place look even better.

 

Just because

 

So many angles, so many spots, such a beautiful place.

 

I can see ourselves having breakfast in a nice summer morning right there…can you see yourself enjoying such a place?

 

Even on our way out of the castle, you just feel you are in Tuscany.

Thanks for visiting and hope you have enjoyed some of Napa through this post. Will need to return as we felt we just scratched the surface of this magical place.

Eduardo Murillo Artieda - November 28, 2014 - 1:27 pm

Salud con un buen vino cuya uva haya sido pisada por Bethe, no hay licor mejor que el buen vino.
Es cierto que los Franceses tienen fama, pero he tomado vino hasta Suizos muy buenos.
Excelente idea de visitar Napa Valley.
Abrazo
Eduardo

Vicky Fang - November 13, 2014 - 1:35 am

Another fantastic trip. Glad to know more irrigation knowledge of the vine.

Getting Our Kicks on Route 66!

So we finally did it; as a 50th birthday present to my wife, we decided to ride Route 66 from Saint Louis to LA. We had talked about doing this ride for quite a few years, but after getting the Miata convertible and deciding that would be a fitting 50th birthday present for my wife the choice became obvious.  Route 66 starts in Chicago and it ends in Santa Monica Pier, CA. Total distance is 2,448 miles (3,940 km), but we decided to start in Saint Louis as we are familiar with Chicago and its surroundings. We also bought a couple of books specific to navigating the route and finding the best spots to stop and explore.

Some facts on Route 66 – opened in 1926, it started in Chicago, Illinois and goes through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California (ending at the Santa Monica Pier).  It became the primary road those escaping the Dust Bowl in route to farming jobs in California. It was used for one of the longest foot races in US history; the Bunion Derby from LA to New York City. First prize of $25,000 (equal to $340,000 in 2014) was awarded to Andy Hartley Payne, a Cherokee runner from Oklahoma. Much of the early highway, as with other highways, was gravel or dirt. Some sections were very dangerous and the name “Bloody 66” to identify it was common. During World War II, the route was fully paved and it became a popular route to move military equipment. In the 50’s vacationers traveled the road in increasing numbers that grew the economy in many of the tons along it way. In 1956 the start of its decline came about as the Interstate Highway Act was signed by Dwight Eisenhower. Route 66 was slowly replaced section by section by the new Interstate highways, by 1985 the route was totally bypassed.

Our Route 66 trip started on September 5th and we reached the Santa Monica Pier on September 17.  After that we went to San Francisco, Napa Valley, Austin and New Orleans before returning home on September 29th. We logged a total of 7,000 miles in the Miata without a glitch.  This post will only cover our Route 66 drive in a very abridged way; we saw so much and took so many pictures we will spare you too much detail. Enough, let’s get going with some pictures…

NOTE: I apologize for the length of his post; it is the longest I have ever posted. However, I hope you review it in its entirety to get the best and the curious of what we saw. While the number of pictures below is big, it only represent a very small number of the ones we took.

The gate to the West monument; the iconic Saint Louis Arch. The tallest monument in the Western Hemisphere and the tallest arch in the World. This thing is massive! It looked and felt like stainless steel, but some said it was titanium….hmmm….nah. Have verified that it was constructed by joining stainless steel triangles with smaller cross-sections as they reached the apex and then filled with concrete. Now, that is one strong and beautiful structure.

 

Having some fun with alternate views…

 

My wife took this one; I really like it.

 

DSCF5539

We are eating a lot less meat these days, but while in Saint Louis we had to have some of our favorite BBQ. We think the BBQ in Saint Louis is one of the best as we really like real smoked BBQ. We split a sampler platter…wow was it big…what you see here is half of it. Yum!

 

After a day in Saint Louis we were ready to head west on Historic Route 66. Many parts of Route 66 are no longer in service, but with some patience and a not so easy to navigate Route 66 map we did ok.

 

I can only imagine how busy this route must have been during its heyday. Unfortunately, many of the businesses have closed and only a few remain. You do come across some strange ones now and then.

 

Almost out of Missouri so we had to stop at one more BBQ restaurant. The place was filled with very funny plaques and the waitresses wore different funny quotes on the back of their t-shirts. This one was funny and appropriate for the place.

 

We came across many really good murals in Missouri, Kansas and to some extent New Mexico. Some depicted store fronts like this one… it looked real, but it was just a solid wall.

 

Others murals paid homage to some of the young men in the town that were killed in WW II.

 

Hey, to get traffic many stores along Route 66 dream up things that are unique, will be noted in travel guides and will cause other to stop. This is one good example.

 

One after the other you see small stores to get your hard-earned money. This one was closed, but it looked really nice; probably a new addition – it just looked too good.

 

Then you come along diners that bring back memories of the 50’s. This one is open 24 hours and it looked fantastic. Unfortunately we ate not long after we bumped into it so we did not go in.

 

You may remember Joplin, Missouri. In 2011 Joplin was hit by an EF5 tornado where whole streets were wiped and about 150 people were killed. An EF5 tornado is as violent as you can get and this one was no exception. It was the most destructive tornado to hit the US since 1947 Glazier-Higgins- Woodward tornado. It also ranks as the costlier tornado in US history ($2.8 billion). The good news is that they have not had one since and this day was a beauty with no tornado potential at all.

 

Detail from previous picture – showing you the overall view of Route 66 from Chicago to LA and the various states it crosses.

 

Route 66 traverses many small town main streets. Many of these small towns thrived during the route’s heydays, but are now devoid of the traffic they once had. Many became ghost towns, some barely managed to survive, and some decline but were not taken out. As many in the US and around the world rediscover this venerable route and people like us tour it, some of the towns around its route are starting to slowly rebound. This image shows a portion of Joplin’s main street; we noticed that it was very clean, had nice flowers and trees, but still had plenty of empty stores. Looks like it is trying to come back, and we hope it does as we really enjoy thriving small towns. We find that these streets, when thriving, offer business variety not found in malls. We must not be alone on this as over the last decade there has been a move to revitalize main streets and they are indeed pulling business away from the now declining malls. Yes, the pendulum is swinging back.

 

As mentioned previously, many portions of the original route are no longer there, but the good thing is that most of it is. We were pleased to see good Route 66 signage. We only had a couple of issues where we had to back track to find a turn, but generally speaking, the route is well-marked. Regardless, if you decide to ride it we recommend you do some research in the internet, buy a book or two that provide you with highlights and must see spots. The route does split on several points into “Historic” and “pre-1930”. The “Historic” portions, completed in 1930, rerouted it to align it better with other roads and somewhat reduce travel time. We did some portions of the pre 1930; we found the roads were rough and not as well maintained as the “Historic”. Actually, after traveling on a portion of the pre-1930, it suddenly stopped, so we had to back track.

 

Soon after we crossed into Kansas we came across the town of Galena (established on 1877). The town was not in good shape overall, but had a couple of bright spots. The first, this nicely refurbished old gas station with the addition of some of the Disney’s movie characters. This is no longer a working gas station, but it is a visitor’s center and they sell many Route 66 themed items. By the way, notice the skies. We had great weather along the whole route; sunny, sometimes very hot, but overall perfect weather to keep the top down. Yeah!!!!

 

For those who are familiar with some of the Cars movie characters; here is Tow Mater (actually his real name is Sir Tow Mater). Nice job!

 

Galena’s main street has several blocks, but most are deserted with boarded up businesses. As we go by similar towns we always wonder how residents make a living, but somehow they seem to manage. On the way out we saw a very well done mural highlighting Galena’s place within Route 66. This and the gas station were the nicest spots in town. Route 66 only runs for 13 miles in Kansas so this was the highlight for this stretch.

 

DSCF5654

Yep, we had to stop many times to check the guides and try to plan our next move. As we mentioned, thank God for the wonderful weather throughout the whole ride. Many times the only marking for the route were painted on the road itself, such as this image shows. We missed a few here and there as some had faded significantly…not too mention that sitting as low as you do in a Miata, it is not hard to miss such road signs.

 

By now you should have figured out that there is a trend on what you will see on Route 66. Old gas stations – we were told that in the route heydays cars only went about 70 miles per fill up – trading posts and general stores. If you are not into vintage/old stuff then Route 66 might not be for you.

 

DSCF5667

The “World Famous” Waylans Ku Ku Hamburger joint in Miami, Oklahoma. We had to stop and have a bite. It was around lunch time so the place was packed. You ordered at the counter, got a number and they would deliver the food to your table. As we waited our turn an older looking lady was sitting in the table next to the cash register (small place remember). We could tell she was a regular as they addressed her by her first name. She smiled and I returned the smile; soon we were talking and while my wife ordered our food she told me her life story and showed me pictures of her family she had in a small flip album she kept in her purse. We had a great chat and wished us safe travels. I really like exchanges like that; imagine they are more common in small towns like this. By the way, she was 92 – wish I took a picture of her.

 

In the old days attention to detail and adding decorations to building were a lot more common than today. This is the main theater in town (Miami, OK); look at the beautiful detail on the facade of this building – I think it is amazing and sad we are tearing down many examples of such fine workmanship.

 

While in Miami, OK we stopped at the Vintage Iron motorcycle museum. What a great museum with many examples of old and new motorcycles, as well as a great collection of Evel Knievel memorabilia. Here we have a fine example of the a fine motorcycle by the Indian Motorcycle Company. If interested in more info on tis museum check their website at www.route66vintageiron.com

 

It is universally agreed that Mr. Knievel was a fearless (some would say crazy) individual. Maybe one of his quote years after he retired puts it best…””You can’t ask a guy like me why I performed. I really wanted to fly through the air. I was a daredevil, a performer. I loved the thrill, the money, the whole macho thing. All those things made me Evel Knievel. Sure, I was scared. You gotta be an ass not to be scared. But I beat the hell out of death.” Evel Knievel

 

I just do not get tired of seeing variations of old gas stations. Believe me, not posting all I have. If you look at details, you will see many differences amongst them.

 

Afton, Oklahoma, population as of 2010 was 1,049. We stopped at their Route 66 station and now museum. You really could not tell what was inside, and we were pleasantly surprised.

 

At the entrance they had distance markers for the whole route…we still had 1,680 miles to Santa Monica, CA. No problem!

 

Once we entered the classic car section of the store/museum we were surprised to see two large rooms filled with impeccable Packard’s and Studebakers.

 

Labelled as the tallest Totem Pole in the world…it was really not worth the extra miles, but we can say we were there. Apparently, this is a popular place for families to come on holidays for a day out. They do have several totem poles and a large picnic area.

 

Here she is! My very skilled navigator waiting for a snack and looking for accommodations for our next stop. We had roughly planned stopping points along the way, but since we took our time in some attractions and we also took some detours to see attractions miles away from Route 66 those point did not always work out. So, we waited until early afternoon each day and projected were we would be by 7PM or 8PM. We then reserved a hotel room in the selected town. For the most part we had good hotels; with one exception. Let me just saw that it was the worst hotel stay ever.

 

One of the highlights was the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Wow was it nice; highly recommended and plan to spend at least 2 good hours touring it. They had so many great items chronicling the real cowboy story that differ significantly from the one we get from Hollywood. However, they also had a huge section devoted to Western movies and TV shows.

Gunsmoke had to be there.

 

My wife would be really disappointed if Clint Eastwood was not represented. Glad he was or I would not be responsible for the damages to the museum.

 

The museum really covered so many aspects of the regular cowboy life. One whole room was dedicated to barbed wire; yes, barbed wire. Did you know that there are over 8,000 types of burn wire? Each has a different twist and prong configuration. What you see here is just one of the many draws showing 16 different types. There were four walls filled with draws; go figure.

 

There are 9 Route 66 museums along the whole route. We stopped at the one in Clinton, Oklahoma. Looked really nice so why not.

The museum is in really great condition and it has well laid out exhibits and old cars. You really feel that you have travelled back to the 50’s while inside. Liked the history and the old pictures of the route at different stages of its history. Well worth the stop and entrance fee.

Not sure if the VW bus was around during the route heyday, but it was good to se one of this buses again. I remember they were very popular in the late 60’s and 70’s. Wonder why VW has not brought these buses back? A day ago I read an interview with a VW executive and was asked if there were plans to bring the famed bus back; not a chance he said. Time will tell.

 

Self explanatory; we really like neon

 

While crossing Texas we saw this super iconic Route 66 landmark. The Conoco Art Deco Tower in Shamrock, TX. Our only disappointment was that it was sunny and we could not appreciate the neon that lines much of its profile. Construction was started in 1930 and finished in 1936. After Route 66 was bypassed it changed hands and many tenants modified it to fit their business. It eventually fell into disrepair and was finally shut down in the 90’s. A federal grant funded its full renovation to its original look. It looks brand new today.

 

There are literally hundreds of old signs all along the road. Most about businesses that do not exist anymore, but in this case the motel is still open. We liked to see these fine examples of 50’s signage. Nostalgic? Perhaps.

 

A surprising fact is that most of those riding Route 66 are from other countries. While we some many Chinese and some Brazilians, Europeans were the largest foreign group we came across. Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, UK, Italy, Scotland, New Zealand and Sweden. In fact, this picture shows one of a group of Swedish motorcycles we saw along the ride. We usually saw a group of 4 to 6 riders at the time. They were really enjoying themselves.

 

We stopped in Amarliio, TX ad stayed a couple of days visiting friends and making new ones (Nancy & Steve – thank you so much for your hospitality; hope we can host you in Greenville, SC soon). One of the definite highlights of our trip was Palo Duro Canyon. Wow, had no idea there was such a canyon in TX. Our friend Scott and my wife are seen here as we start our hike up to The Lighthouse formation. Again, a beautiful day, not too humid.

 

As we hike it was difficult to focus on much as the beauty of this canyons all around you. This piece of dead wood caught my eye as we approach The Lighthouse.

 

Ok, never heard of dung beetles before. Wow, talking about hard, dirty work! This little fellow was moving his dung ball up the incline you see in front of him. As he would approach the half way point the weight of the dung ball will overwhelm it and the ball would roll over it while the beetle held on the ball as it rolled back down. Did you know that a dung beetle can bury a dung ball 250 times heavier than itself? Now that is strength! So they eat dung, live in dung and play with dung…to each its own I guess. Strange creatures but someone has to deal with dung, right?

 

A panoramic view of Palo Duro Canyon with the Lighthouse on the left. Wow is this place beautiful.  Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the US. It is not to the scale of the Grand Canyon, but I think it is just as beautiful. To think our friends are 20 minutes away from such an amazing natural wonder. Fantastic hiking trails everywhere.

 

Hiking up to the Lighthouse is a bit challenging, but the view is certainly worth it. Here we are with our good friend Scott – our guide of the day. Thank you so much Scott for the treat of hiking with you in such an amazing place.

 

One final view of the canyon as we return to our cars. The formations, colors and the many creatures we found along the hike was really something we will remember for a long, long time.

 

Here we are outside the home of our friends Scott and Dawn. They also had visitors from California and Massachusetts – we knew them all as at one time we all attended Church in the Pines in Wareham, MA. It was great to see them after many years. PS. if you live in Southern MA and are looking for a great church you must visit Church in the Pines. For more info visit www.churchinthepines.org

 

We restarted our ride and; surprise!…15 minutes after leaving the home of Scott and Dawn we go by Cadillac Ranch. I remember when the partially buried cars were in much better shape. Picture below show the Cadillacs as they looked soon after they were half buried.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 10.13.14 AM

Picture credit to JP Laffont.

 

The cars were originally installed in 1974 on a different location; just a few miles away in a hay-field owned by Stanley Marsh. Development threatened them so they were relocated align side Interstate 40 on land also owned by Stanley Marsh. As you can see, time and graffiti has altered their look. On accession however, they are repainted a solid color to provide a new canvas to visitors. They have also repainted them to commemorate special occasions such as flat black to commemorate the passing of Ant Farm artist Doug Michaels, restored to their original colors to shoot a commercial for the motel chain Hampton Inn.

 

Today they have wild colors and visitors are encouraged to paint whatever they like on them. It really seems that the cars are not being help together by the ever-growing paint coating on them. I would think rust is no longer a problem.

 

When we stopped at Cadillac ranch we saw about 20 to 30 Mustang convertibles parked alongside the road. We figured they were a large group of tourist and so it was. After we left Cadillac Ranch we stopped to refuel and saw a few of the Mustangs doing the same thing. Spoke to the gentleman in the picture – he told me that a group of Kiwis flew to Chicago and  booked a  Route 66 tour with “Kiwis on Tour” company. They all had Mustangs convertibles and drove Route 66 to LA. At this point they were on their way back to Chicago. For more info on the tour company they used check the website noted on the back of this car; must be a great business for them. They were having a grand time and their moods did not reflect the miles that have already put on; made us feel good of what was ahead of us.

 

Soon after crossing into New Mexico we stopped at Del’s Restaurant (Est. 1956) in the small town of Tucumcari. The food was really good, especially the soup! Directly across from us we had these two gents and a boy. The two gents were talking about a recent slaughtering and then turned to the boy and talked about roping cattle. The young man on the right had big spurs on his boots, they looked really cool. I imagine they have a ranch close by and Del’s is a popular lunch spot for them.

 

Tucumcari main street, as many of the other main street Route 66 went by, has several souvenir stores selling just about every Route 66 trinket imaginable. Of course my wife had to check it out. IMPORTANT – one of the benefits of traveling cross-country in a small convertible such a Miata is the lack of space everywhere. The cabin is very comfortable for two, but nothing more. The trunk? Ja, it is very small and to maximize it volumetric capacity we decided to forgo the use of suit cases and place our clothes right in it. After we were done packing what we thought we would need there was no much room left for anything at all…brilliant way to avoid buying stuff you like, but hardly need. Yeah!!!

 

The Blue Swallow Motel is by far the most recognizable landmark in Tucumcari. I have seen this motel in many publications before. It was great to see it personally; I am glad the skies were perfect for this shot. Wish we could have stayed overnight to be able to capture it with it neon lights on; but not to be.

 

DSCF5906

Portion of the rooms at the back of the Blue Swallow Motel. Notice the neon light at the top; the whole building/units have neon borders. Nice!

 

DSCF5996

We finally made it to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Great city for what we saw. We stayed overnight and had amazing Mexican food at El Pinto Restaurant – what a huge place (sits as many as 2,000 people and they have a wait staff of 88 at any given moment). Their salsa and sopapillas were simply superb! They make their own salsa, they use about 120 tons of chiles a year, and make 4,000 cases a day. Ok, but what about the church in this image? Ah, we are looking at the oldest church in Albuquerque. It was built in 1706 and has served the community without interruptions since then. It is located on the main square of the Old Town section of Albuquerque. A real beautiful old church that has been very well maintained for sure.

 

We took a trolley tour of Albuquerque and we came across a neighborhood that really looks a lot different that all others in Albuquerque. This particular house is the one featured in Breaking Bad; Jessie Pinkman lived here in the series. What makes this neighborhood different? Notice the green grass? Well, almost all other neighborhoods do not have grass due to the high cost of water. Lawns in other neighborhoods are nicely decorated with stones and green bushes I assume are drought resistant. This house is in one of the premier neighborhoods in Albuquerque and a very popular area for Hollywood movie. Main reason, they are can look like any place in the US. Many movies have been filmed here for that reason.

 

DSCF5947

One more for Breaking Bad fans….do you remember this Motel? Used by uncle Hank to give Walter Jr. a lesson of where you can end up if you allow drugs into your life. Jessie also used it occasionally for nefarious activities.

 

Albuquerque is a very nice looking city. Much of its architecture borrows a great deal from Native Indian motifs. Here we have a beautiful detail of one building along the way illustrating the unique look I am talking about.

 

During the tour we went by this mess of a place. We were told that the city has no plans on tearing it down or revitalizing this old and run down building complex. Why? It is heavily used by Hollywood for movies of all kinds. One you may have seen is one of the Transformers movies. Due to its proximity to Hollywood, great weather, lower tax rates and tax breaks to related industry Albuquerque is one of the top movie/TV locations today.

 

 

DSCF5985

If you visit Albuquerque you need to visit the Old Town area. Initially it looked to us like the area was a recreation of what the old city must have looked like. Only to find out that most, if not all, of the structures there are original. Refurbished here and there, but original. Old Town is full of stores, galleries and restaurants. We decided to stop at the High Noon restaurant for lunch. This image shows the front of the restaurant built around 1785. Legend has it that this building has been both a gambling parlor and a brothel. Additionally, many employees and customers have many stories about supernatural encounters.

 

Being a big fan of old building this one did not disappoint. The floor looked original tile (heavily worn, you could easily see high traffic areas). Te decor was really nice and the food amazing. Highly recommended.

 

DSCF6044

While in Santa Fe – WOW is Santa Fe beautiful! My wife heard that there was a flea market near by. Guess what, we had to go…good thing we have no room in the Miata (wife did hint about shipping FedEx..:-( )

 

While wifey shopped around I wondered and found this gentleman practicing his art. We chatted for a while, told me how business has slowed lately, but the weather made up for it. Santa Fe is supposed to have the cleanest air in the US. With an elevation of  7,260 feet I can see why the air is so clean and also some may feel the altitude while walking uphill.

 

Yep, this artist is prolific. Being in a semi-Arid climate, good thing it rains very little or much of his work would get ruined.

 

Native Americans are a common sight in New Mexico. We came a cross a young girl wearing some native hair decorations. I think they look real nice. Yes, I asked if I could take pictures.

 

More on the local architecture; what a great change from what we are used to back East. By the way, we were told that hanging chile peppers is done for good luck.

 

One last image on Santa Fe buildings. It does not get more Santa Fe than this.

 

The famous Loreto Chapel stairs. Notice how there is no center post on this stairs. Architects marvel at how it was constructed since it defies know rules for such a structure. No nails were used by the unknown builder. Non native wood was used and there is no record of how the materials were delivered. In short, who and how such a structure can stand is a mystery even today. Many say it was a miraculous occurrence as a result of the nuns praying for a way to get up to the choir loft. Those who believe in the miracle say that St. Joseph was the builder. We might never know.

 

On our way to Arizona we saw so many amazing views; this is one fine example. We were surprised how quickly the topography would change. It seemed that as soon as you cross a state line, BAM!…you had a complete different looking landscape.

 

The Miata did excellent though out the ride. No issues at all.

 

Of course we had to wash the Miata a couple of times as the amount of bugs that decided to adorn its front became too much. Here we have a couple of large bugs taking a closer look of the grill.

 

While in Arizona we visited the Painted and Petrified Forest. Here we have some extremely old paintings left by native dwellers. They look prehistoric to me.

One more…see the bird (big bird perhaps) like creature? Does it have something in its beak? Is it a man? A frog ….

 

We were very happy with our Painted Forest visit. The colors and patterns all around you are unique. Wifey smiling to the camera.

 

It is very easy to just get out of your car, sit and contemplate the beautiful world God has created for us. I think way too often we do not see or realize the amazing world we have been gifted with.

 

A small sample os a petrified tree. The saddest thing was to find out that the area was once full of standing petrified trees. Not long ago people saw profit in cutting them down, sectioning them and selling them. The result is that most of what you see today is just a very wall remnants of what must have been truly an amazing sight.

 

With the gentle wind blowing by, perfect silence and time to enjoy the view.

 

The same view changes in so many way depending on the lighting at any given time of the day. We were really lucky to arrive kind of late to the Painted Forest. The sun had just started to go down and the colors of the landscape was further accentuated by the golden hue of the setting sun.

 

The view kept on getting better as time went by. We were treated to God’s amazing heavenly canvas and how it touched this earth with falling rain- way far in the horizon. I am not sure about you, but this kind of image just reinforced the hand of an omnipotent creator to me.

 

DSCF6158

Last one as the light quickly faded and we were headed to Holbrook, AZ for the night.

 

While planning our Route 66 trip my wife often spoke about the Wigwam motel and how it would be great to see it. Well, we did the next best thing; we stayed in it.

 

The Wigwam Motel is a bit run down, but it has the feel of what things may have been many years past. There are many old cars all around the property that gives it that old look. Waiting to check in at this point.

 

Rear view from previous image.

 

Our room! Yes, it is a tepee shaped room. You must have seen this before as it is quite a famous landmark.

 

Suffice it to say that our experience in our tepee room was, lets say, representative of what sleeping in a real tepee must have been. Fine for one night, no more.

 

As mentioned before, there were many old cars around the Wigwam motel, but this one caught my eye. Do not remember seeing a Studebaker truck before; only cars.

 

During our ride we saw hundreds of trains. We were amazed as the length most had. Firstly, all had at least 2 engine cars upfront; this one has 4. Then the number of cars they pulled…wow. we decided to count in one instance and we stopped at 84 cars…there were probably around 100. Of course, the flat terrain helps a lot.

 

Eagle Fans -Take it Easy. Do you know where we are in this image? Yes, … “I’m a standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and such a fine sight to see It’s a girl, my Lord…” It is my girl! My wife is leaning on Glen Fry from the Eagles. Take it easy was written by Jackson Browne and some contributions by Glen Fry.

 

My lady right on the intersection of Second St & Kinsley Ave., Winslow, Arizona.

 

Riding such a long route you are bound to come by items that catch your attention, but stopping for each would make for a very long trip. This large carved totem pole caught our eye enough to take a quick snap from the car. We know we probably missed many things along the route, but we did our best to be alert at all moments.

 

Panoramic view of Meteor Crater in Arizona (also known as Barringer Crater). The crater is located 18 miles west of Winslow, AZ. The crater was formed about 50,000 years ago. Then the area was an open grassland with woodlands that more than likely has some wooly mammoths. The crater was over 10,000 years old when the first humans saw it. How is that for being old? The crater is about 3,900 ft. (1,200 m) in diameter and 570 ft (170m) deep. It is quite a sight when you stand on its rim.

 

The obligatory picture to document we were actually there…lol.

 

Williams,  Arizona. We were really looking forward to seeing Williams, Arizona as we heard it was one of the best preserved towns along Route 66. Well, the town of Williams did not disappoint. It’s main street and adjacent ones are very well-preserved and they have a vivid 1950’s feel. Here we see the front of Cruiser Cafe on W. Railroad Ave (part of Route 66).

 

DSCF6232

We had a great lunch inside and enjoyed the many 50 memorabilia all around it. Again, we saw many old gas pumps in great condition. They also have the biggest gift shop of 50’s and Route 66 items we have ever seen.

 

Maybe one of the main reasons this town is so well-preserved is that they were the last Route 66 town that was bypassed by an Interstate. Maybe, just maybe.

 

Wifey and Elvis posing in Williams, AZ.

 

Foreign tourist alert! This gentleman is visiting from the Netherlands; yes I heard him speak…he is Dutch. See that yellow bag he is carrying? Well, on many stores we visited the ones that bought the most times were by far Europeans. I believe the main reason for this is the prices. For many of us (US residents) they may be a bit over priced. However, most of the items are a bargain for Europeans as their prices and taxes are significantly higher than in the US. All the stores in Williams seem to be doing a very brisk business. Good for them.

 

Of course, lack of space to store any purchases did not stop my wife from looking for deals. This sign was a perfect hook to get her into this tourist trap.

 

Love this sign. We bought a similar one that reads…”Warning – Intruders will be shot, and survivors will be shot again”.

 

I think this is the last gas station I will be sharing…I think. Come on, admit it; great looking gas station. Do you remember going into a gas station and having an attendant fill your tank? Well, while in Missouri we stopped at an old gas station and the owner told us to stay in our car as his was a full service gas station. Wish we took a picture of it. Definitely a thing of the past. We had a good chat as he served us and wished us well as we departed.

 

Now these are very original support columns, yes?

 

A look down W, Railroad Ave from Cruisers Cafe. As you can see the strip is quite long and busy.

 

We decided to stay in Williams overnight as we were told they had the most neon on  Route 66. We were treated to many good examples of this dying signage style. This is the Cruiser Cafe as seen from the corner on its right. They have live music each night and a big fire pit near the entrance.

 

Route 66 gifts, gifts and more gifts. It does get overwhelming at times, but each have at least a few things unique to the store.

 

Just a nice sign.

 

DSCF6272

As you enter the Turquoise Tepee you are greeted by 4 mannequins depicting Native Americans playing poker. We had a good chat with the very conservative owner (has owned the store for 45 years) and he shared some of his views on what life was like in Williams in the 60’s and the changes he sees now. The store is filled with turquoise jewelry, but you also have a full range of original native art, clothing, Western wear and hats. If you stop in Williams, make sure you visit it.

 

Time to leave Williams, but before we do we must have some breakfast. Surprise! We bumped into some Uk visitors traveling portions of Route 66. I approached them and asked them if I could ask them a few questions about their experiences so far. They were very nice and invited me to sit down. We had a nice chat and exchanged emails as they like to see this posting. Trust they continued to enjoy their trip and got home safely. Cheers!

 

Before we left we had to retake a picture of my wife in front of a nice old car belonging to the “Addicted to Route 66” store. The morning sun was much better than the cloudy late afternoon of the previous evening.

 

On our way to California, but still in AZ…this image is for my sister Ana Maria; a big Betty Boop fan!

 

The even smaller than Williams town of Seligman, AZ. The strip is juts a couple of blocks, but packed with unique places.

 

Here we see two Chinese  girls and an older gentleman waving back at me. Yes, I started to wave at them. I tell you, they come from all over the world to see Route 66. Isn’t time for you to tour Route 66?

 

The Rusty Bolt Blvd Store – a very different kind of Route 66 Store.

 

Yes, it has a long facade. Unique approach with the mannequins.

You see tourists in Convertibles (our preferred choice of course), cars, buses, vans, motorcycles and, as you see here…motor trikes. This one is driven by a German couple as you can clearly see their country’s flag on the right hand side of the trike. One thing is for sure, they packed a lot heavier than we did or could ever fit in te trunk of a Miata

 

Still in Seligman, AZ. Many tourists walking around and taking pictures…just like me.

 

Guess who we saw on our way out of Arizona? Our German tricycle riders. Humming along to LA while enjoying the open roads. This was a section of the pre 1930 Route 66 in AZ. As you can see not much around. There were some sections where there was nothing for miles and miles. You better gas up whenever you had the chance; we did as soon as we hit half full just in case.

 

DSCF6334

Hackberry General Store in Hackberry, AZ. We had a choice of taking the Historic or the pre 1930 Route 66 route; we are glad we took the pre 1930 route or we would have missed this great old store.

 

A popular stop judging by the amount of people inside and out taking pictures and buying nostalgic souvenirs.

 

From my perspective, the best part was outside. The surrounding grounds had many old cars and items that had been in place and been weathered by times quick passing.

 

Old rusted car are one of my favorites as you may already know. This 1948 Ford pickup was waiting for me. Look at that beautiful rust!

 

Rear tail light from a 1959 Mercury Commuter wagon; a classic!!!

 

Here is the front – a beauty! – yes?

 

 

Not sure if authorities planted this wreck or it is a real one. The road can be treacherous and most of the turns do not have guard rails – I can see how this could happen.

 

While driving by the Mojave dessert we came by an old mining town called Oatman. More about the town in the sign.

 

My wife thought the burros we so cute…that is, until they came around her for a closer look..lol

 

Small donkeys are cute, sort of. This one had a sign on his forehead asking people not to touch or feed the young one. We go a bit close and the mother really got overly protective. She shoved us away from the young one quite easily.

 

Oatman has a jail with an empty coffin in case there was a body needing a quick burial. This is my wife’s impression on a dead person…I think the tongue out is overkill…pun intended.

 

Remember, Oatman was also crossed by Route 66. The town has seen a renaissance as a result of growing worldwide interest in Route 66 and explosive growth of the nearby gaming town of Laughing, Neveda which promotes visits to this town.

 

Really liked the peaks around Oatman; it must have been quite a bustling place when mining was at is peak.

 

The burros seem quite friendly and of good humor. I think they play the odds that if even a small percentage of tourist will give them something to eat they win. Here we see a pack virtually beg the driver of this SUV.

 

While in Oatman we had a snack at one of their bars. The place was completely wall papered with dollar bills. I mean, there was not free spot on any of the walls we saw (the place was not small either). Each bill had something written on it, so think this fact will prevent other from taking the bills. We figured there would have been around $12,000 dollars at least.

 

Attached to the bar we saw the Oatman Hotel. It must have been a lot nicer when Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon upstairs.

 

IMG_1375

On our way out-of-town we had a well wisher come as close as possible to my wife while in the car. She freaked a bit, but all was well. He understood it was only a two-seater so he did not push for a ride.

 

DSCF6358

On our way to LA. We stopped for a quick stretch. This is a back road that leads to route 2 and over the mountains into LA. Not much traffic at all. Going over the mountains was a blast in the Miata; tight turns is what the Miata is all about. Did I say another perfect day weather wise?

 

After driving 2,1457 miles we made it to the Santa Monica Pier in LA on September 17. We really had a great time and recommend this ride to all of our friends. I know that this type of experience is not for everyone, but if you ever thought about doing it; get going. You will not be disappointed.

 

This is the last picture of this portion of our trip. The end of the trail for Route 66 only. We still had plenty miles to go.

Thank you for visiting; we really enjoy sharing our experiences with you and hope that they motivate you to explore the world around you if you are not already doing it. Life is indeed short.

 

Eduardo Murillo Artieda - November 28, 2014 - 1:19 pm

Maravilloso e inolvidable viaje por la ruta 66.
Estados Unidos es tan gran de que esta ruta la deben conocer pocos, porque mayormente estan circulando por las grandes autorutas.
Aun habiendose perdido en algunos momentos de la ruta, puedo estar seguro que hasta eso fue parte importante del viaje, los imprevistos le dan mayor realce a los viajes.
Los felicito porque estan realizando lo creo es el mayor placer del ser humano, vivir intensamente, y para ello no hay como viajar, conocer e intercambiar experiencias con nuestros semejantes.
Eduardo

Hongjiang - October 10, 2014 - 11:42 am

Absolutely no need to turn on the radio!

Vicky Fang - October 8, 2014 - 9:48 pm

What a wounderful trip!

Cathy Heisey - October 6, 2014 - 1:52 pm

Awesome pictures. Love the descriptions too. Made me feel like I was there with you. Thanks for sharing! A ride for a lifetime!

Jan carpenter - October 4, 2014 - 9:49 pm

Carlos so well done . Absolutely enjoyed. We have been on some parts of Route 66. Being familiar w AZ u have us visiting the places u mentioned. U & Beth r so interesting. Thks 4 sharing. We would love hearing about the trip.

Kathy Eikost - October 4, 2014 - 8:42 pm

Carlos, I so enjoyed your journey, read every word of the blog. Great pics!

The Best Tea in China

During our April visit to China, I was able to once again visit the home of my good friend John Pan. John was our second driver while I worked in China and we became good friends during this period. John shared my passion of photography and I was very impressed on how quickly he taught himself many of the photographic techniques that separate a snapshot from a well composed and exposed photograph. I would like to think I had a small part in awakening John’s photographic skills, but all the credit is his as he relentlessly studied and practiced to the point where his photographs have become very, very good.

During our April visit we saw John, wife Linda and his family several times. Unfortunately, when we were to go and spend the day with him and his family my wife was not feeling well so she was not able to come with me. Below I am summarizing this very special day.

Meet John and his son Eric. We met Eric when he was just two weeks old and we were really happy to be able to see him again now that he is running around.

 

Eric is a very normal boy, he likes to run around and explore everything on sight. Linda, his mother, takes excellent care of him. We noted she is very attentive to what he does and keeps him out of trouble.

 

After running around in the touristic Pingjiang Lu Eric fell sound sleep. Again, normal little one. He is really sweet.

 

Time for lunch at Pingjiang Lu…before entering the restaurant we checked some kitchens. This one looks good.

Not surprising, the Chinese food you get in China is very different to the Americanized version you get in the US. I have so many favorites that are hard to list and or describe. All I can say is yum, yum, yum!

 

After lunch and walking around Pingjiang Lu for another hour or so we took off to Taihu Lake (translates to Great Lake). This view is minutes away from the lake and John’s parent house and tree farm.

 

Unlike city housing, the houses around John’s neighborhood are much larger than Suzhou city for example. This area is very clean, quiet and picturesque.

 

We got home and Eric quickly ran to his grandmother’s arms. Meet John’s mother, she beams when she sees Eric and you can easily tell Eric is the apple in her eye.

 

This is how you brew and drink green tea grown in the foothills all around Taihu Lake. Once the leaves sink completely it is ready. It is best not to drink below the level of the leaves; once you get to that level you add more water. This can be repeated two or three times without replacing the tea leaves.

 

Much of the furniture in the main hall/entrance of John’s parents house has been in the family for many generations. This is the case for this baby crib.

 

John in front of his parents home. John has a room in it, but lives in Suzhou city as his work is in Suzhou and commuting from this location would not be practical. Like me, John is ready to take pictures at any and all moments…lol.

 

John’s father owns a tree farm right across from his house. It is a large farm that has been in the family for several generations. I was told by John that because of this, the farm land is owned by his father and not by the government, as most of all land in China is. Here we see John walking on a trail and chatting with one of the field hands that work in the farm.

 

As you can imagine and John verified, living in this great surroundings presented many play times with other kids in the area. While called a tree farm, they also grow green tea (one of the best I have even had) and most of the vegetables they eat.

 

We hiked up the hill to the end of the farm and at the very top you could see John’s street and house. In the background you see Taihu Lake. Such a peaceful place, felt very lucky to see it; sad could not share it with my wife.

 

We took a quick tour of the neighborhood and saw this gentleman splitting some wood used for cooking.

 

While John’s house had running water, that may not be the case for all residents in the area.

 

_K3A6903

This is one of the neighborhood laundry areas. Seems like a perfect place to catch up with the latest news (gossip). Again, some have laundry machines, but some still believe in old methods to get their clothes cleaned.

 

Taihu lake is the third largest fresh water lake in China. This lake has about 90 islands, some measuring several square kilometers. It is really big, in many sections you cannot see the other side. While this sunset was not spectacular, many are. We just did not hit it at its best, but still a beautiful and very peaceful place.

 

This is a few of the many private fishing fleets in Taihu lake. Unfortunately the lake has high levels of pollution so many of these boats are not as busy as they once were. For several decades, the government has tried to clean the lake with mixed results. Sad how such a wonderful natural resource can be destroyed by the very people dependent on it. No different from many other resources around the world. Efforts to clean it up are on going.

 

I was very lucky to visit during tea harvesting time. A very high-grade green tea is grown in this area and I was fortunate to meet a master tea lady that showed me how the best leaves are separated for what is know as the “Emperor Cut” blend. After picking and separating the leaves by their size and proximity to the top of the plant, the tea is dries in this large metal bowls.

 

The metal bowls are kept hot by using a special wood fire stove. Here we see John’s friend feeding the fire at the special request of the master tea maker (right) to assure the proper temperature is kept throughout the process.

 

Here I am being taught how to roast green tea leaves. You must keep the leaves moving, but avoid touching the bowl as it is hot. The leaves, once dry make a different noise when moved against the bowl – that and a visual check by the master tea maker will finalize the process for that batch. This is the ritual each day for a period of a month or so.

 

This batch is ready!!!

 

The master tea maker was very shy at the beginning, but I was happy to see that  she opened up to me as I got my hands dirty with her. I was thrilled to meet and being able to learn from her -simply amazing. (when I met her in the fields earlier she would not look at me as I had my camera and wanted to take her picture. big difference after we got to know each other just a bit).

 

This is a traditional tea sifting/separating basket and seat. That seat is about one foot high.

 

As we returned to John’s home…surprise! We found John’s grandmother separating green tea leaves – just todays harvest.

 

John’s mother is a great cook. My wife and I have eaten at her house twice before. I wish I could add the aromas permeating the room at this time…yum!

 

The heat this type of burner gives out is like nothing I have ever experience in any other home. I wish I could get the same in my home in Greenville. I have a couple of Peruvian dishes that require this type of flame, but my stove just cannot deliver it. 🙁

 

John is getting some of their home-made rice wine for dinner. Quite good and tasty -I found it not as strong as others that I have tried. I really liked it; maybe the home-made version is just better.

 

Just a small portion of what we had for dinner. John’s mom makes some incredible dumplings that are still to come out, plus a few more delicious dishes. As mentioned before, all of the vegetables in this meal were grown in John’s parents farm. As fresh as you can get.

 

John’s father gift to us was a two boxes of their own best green tea. The tea he gave me is one of the best and smoother green teas I have ever had. The leaves were the very young and small which produce a tasty but mild flavor. I enjoyed every cup since then. Still have a little left (yes John, I have it in the freezer).

 

After dinner, more tea cutting. Here is John’s mom at work. The harvest time obviously the busiest; you just can not pick them and let them sit. They must be process very quickly so everyone gets into it.

 

My friend John and his beautiful wife Linda.

 

This was taken during a dinner we invited the family to. Sad to say good-bye, but we are hoping John’s promise that he and Linda will visit us in the US comes true soon. Ok, so I got a bit carried away trying to make Eric smile… 🙂 

We truly consider ourselves very fortunate to have met such wonderful people. The opportunity to be invited into a wonderful local home, see and experience very local lifestyles, farming areas, tea cutting and roasting and delicious home-made foods is something not many tourists experience. Thank you to all in John’s family that made our experience in Suzhou richer and memorable. We hope to see you in the US soon John and Linda.

John PanJunqiang - July 31, 2014 - 8:53 pm

Time flies!Missing you.How many new photos here!Lovely John!

F o l l o w   U s