Wednesday, November 30, 2011

“The Fog Comes on Little Cat Feet…”

Jill's Journal: Remember what I said about the beautiful afternoon sunshine in Tehachapi? I take it all back. This is what it looked like this afternoon. It’s so foggy that might be the Golden Gate Bridge out there, for all I can tell! Crazy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Golden Sunlight

Jill's Journal: As has happened so frequently on this journey for the past 18 months, our plans have changed a bit. I suppose that’s one of the benefits of having a superbly flexible schedule! We’ll now be spending an extra week in Tehachapi, California, with my parents.

Tehachapi, or technically the community of Bear Valley Springs, is the only place we’ve paid a return visit to thus far. Last year, we were here in the throes of winter, but this time, we’ve been fortunate to make it for the tail end of fall instead. And what a lovely season it is. Afternoons are often bathed in glorious, golden sunlight. Autumn may be manifested in different ways all over the country, but is it any wonder it ranks as most people’s favorite season?

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Driveway with a View...

Last night I was walking across our current encampment's driveway and looked up. I thought - what a great shot.  I rushed to get the camera, a tripod, and to set the scene. 

It is dark.  It is a little grainy.  But to me, it is amazing what you can find, by chance, in your 'own' front yard - by happenstance. :)  (Be sure to click to enlarge it, otherwise it is just a moon...)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hi, Great Grandpa!

Jill's Journal: What fun it was to receive this photo from my Uncle Kim and Aunt Julie in Iowa. This is the girls’ adorable Great Grandpa reading our blog…how awesome is that? Hi, Grandpa…we love you!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Guest Post by Beppy: Tangleweed Farm and Family

Jill's Journal: After my parents went on an Alaskan cruise this summer, I’d asked my Mom to write a guest blog post for us. She didn’t do it, but (even better) surprised me with one today! I’m so thrilled to have her speaking in her own words on here about our day together. I love the thought of the girls reading them someday. Thanks so much, Beppy! :)

Today was the day to explore Tangleweed Farm, a family-owned farm in Tehachapi with lots of fresh produce. The produce is grown organically, harvested, and sold right at the farm. John and Laurie Thorpe started the farm as a homeschooling project in 1999. Jill talked about homeschooling and travelling with Laurie while the men talked about crops and farming with John. I tried kale right from the plant and it had a wonderful, sweet flavor. The girls found a pond to explore and rocks and sticks to pick up. The weather was perfect.

It will soon be time to say goodbye to the last of our family after Thanksgiving. We will miss the grandkids ringing the doorbell and spending the afternoons with us. As each of our family members left this weekend, I felt like they were leaving home for the first time. But, we treasure the time we get to spend as a family and look forward to the next time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Day After

Jill's Journal: No Black Friday shopping for us the day after Thanksgiving. Lunch at a local winery in Tehachapi sounded much more appealing.

Our ranks may be diminished…

…but we still have fun.

Add in some playground time for the kids…

…and everyone is happy.

Life is good.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Jill's Journal: Grateful for so many things, including the chance to spend the first Thanksgiving in 20 years with my family. How sweet it is.

Grateful to have more food than anyone could possibly eat, along with the girls’ Grandpa who slaved away to pay for it all and the girls’ Beppy who slaved away to prepare it all.

Grateful for three healthy and happy little girls, including one who was so excited about Thanksgiving she made name placards for everyone. No, they weren’t really meant to be attached to foreheads.

Apparently Uncle Adam’s name is too long! Or maybe he was at the end of Erika’s name card project and she decided to cut it short. Either way, he got abbreviated.

But that’s clearly no reflection of these girls’ adoration for him. They practically sat in his lap during Thanksgiving dinner. By the way, he surprised us all by rocking the facial hair for the first time ever (remnants of a recent elk hunting trip in Colorado). My handsome baby brother suddenly looks like a grown-up.

Back to being grateful…there’s nothing to be more grateful for than a new baby joining the family next spring. This will be the girls’ (long anticipated) first-ever cousin and Rob’s and my first-ever niece or nephew...oh my goodness, WE ARE SO EXCITED!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Miniature Horse Heaven

Jill's Journal: Grandpa and Beppy know people. And when those people happen to have 10 or so very woolly miniature horses…well, really, could three little girls be any happier?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Week

Jill's Journal: Instead of being in Death Valley all week like we’d expected, it worked out we could spend the holiday week with family. Being with family is wonderful anytime, but it’s extra nice when it’s Thanksgiving week. I don’t believe Rob has ever had Thanksgiving with my family and the girls certainly haven’t. Heck, I haven’t had Thanksgiving with my family since at least 1992, maybe 1991. That’s 20 years! We are most definitely due.

We arrived at my parents’ home in Bear Valley Springs, California, on Sunday and the girls have settled into an easy routine of school in the morning and grandparent time in the afternoon. The girls are so happy to be here that they’ve told us in a not-so-subtle way that Rob and I should continue traveling and leave them here for a while. I believe Erika’s direct quote was, “Maybe you can pick us up in 100 days or so.”

And that’s the way it should be with grandparents! I love it, in spite of having to decline Erika’s polite offer. Ever the little lawyer, Erika declared we then need to stop “wasting time” with school so she and her sisters can take advantage of every minute here. And oh my, just wait until the rest of the family arrives (and the dogs too)… We’ll never get these girls out of here!

Does this not look like a completely happy, 100% contented child? It's going to be a good week.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hottest, Driest Place in North America

Jill's Journal: It was a huge treat to visit Death Valley National Park. Disclaimer: we probably feel that way because we visited in November and not a few months earlier. We enjoyed a gorgeous fall day with temperatures in the 70s, a little more than double what they were in Lone Pine at our campsite. But Death Valley is not known for its pleasant days. It is famous for the unmerciful five or so months of extreme summers with brutal, soaring temperatures.

Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America, but there are lots of deserts around. What makes this one so hot and so dry? It is a long, narrow basin dipping to 282 feet below sea level, but it is walled in by steep, high mountain ranges. Heat becomes trapped in the valley, only to rise and be recycled down to the valley floor, getting heated even more by the low elevation air pressure. This super-heated air reached a world record high of 134 degrees in 1913. In fact, for five consecutive days that year, it was 129 degrees or higher. (The current world record of 136 degrees occurred in Libya’s Sahara Desert in 1922.) It’s just about as hot these days. For example, in 1996, 40 days in Death Valley registered over 120 degrees (plus 105 days over 110 degrees). When it’s this hot, nights don’t cool down below 100 degrees.

The ground temperature here is even hotter (generally about 40% hotter) than the air. It’s not unusual for ground temperatures on the valley floor to reach a blistering 200 degrees.

As for the dryness, there are four major mountain ranges between the ocean and Death Valley. By the time any moisture might get as far as this particular desert, there’s very little left. A number of years have passed with no rainfall at all, although the average rainfall annually may get up to a whooping two inches. The driest stretch on record occurred in 1931-34, when it rained a grand total of .64 inches during a period of 40 months.

Where did Death Valley gets its morbid name? In 1849, a small group of pioneers heading to the Gold Rush looked for an alternate route to Sutter’s Fort. Winter was setting in and they knew they wouldn’t make it over the Sierra Nevadas. They trusted a crude, hand-sketched map and found themselves in an unforgiving desert. After losing one member of their party, their oxen, and their wagons, they assumed the desert would be their grave. Amazingly, they were eventually rescued by two members of their party who had gone on ahead. As they climbed the Panamint Mountains in their escape, one of these “Lost ‘49ers” looked back and said, “Goodbye, death valley.” As they told their tale of human suffering and near death, the name stuck.

Death Valley became a national monument in 1933 and a national park in 1994.

One of our first stops in Death Valley, coming in from the west, was Father Crowley Point. The girls weren’t too impressed yet…

…but their tune changed when we visited the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. At 14 square miles across the widest part of Death Valley, the sand dunes are a realization of every child’s dream. A giant sandbox!

It got even better when they met two other little girls around their ages.

The five soon set off in search of adventure, leaving the four adults to chase after them.

We so enjoyed this lovely family, one of several we met in Death Valley. Moms don’t come more fun than Linda, who impressed me by getting down in the sand to capture images. She is clearly a more dedicated photographer than I am!

“Sand is everywhere in the desert, but sand dunes are not. For sand to gather into dunes, it takes three things: a supply of sand, a strong wind, and something to slow that wind. Sand erodes from the mountains around Death Valley. Winds from the north carry sand down the valley until they hit the bulk of Tucki Mountain…, causing the sand to collect at its foot. Southerly winds form a huge eddy in the leeward side of the same mountain, adding even more sand. The sands shift with every windstorm, but the dunes are trapped in place.” --National Park Service literature

An hour’s drive away from the sand dunes is Badwater Basin with its 200 square miles of salt flats. These are among the largest protected salt flats in the world. This is also the area resting 282 feet below sea level, the lowest in North America and second-lowest in the Western Hemisphere.

The area got the name from this pond. It was labeled as having “bad water” by a surveyor mapping the area when his mule refused to drink the salty water.

With water nearly four times saltier than the ocean, who could blame the poor beast? The name Badwater stuck.

Over 90% of the salt here is sodium chloride, which is regular table salt. The stark, flat white path has been trampled by lots of human feet. The “puffier” white and brown hasn’t had quite the amount of human traffic.

The girls badly wanted to taste the salt…so we all did! All five of us. A tiny drop is super salty. Erika, our little salt lover, thought it was wonderful.

The source of salt comes from Death Valley’s large drainage system of 9,000 square miles (an area bigger than the state of New Hampshire). The arid climate here causes evaporation to exceed precipitation, meaning just the salt mixed with fine silt is left behind.

We left the salt flats to take in Artist’s Drive and Palette, a scenic nine-mile route among the foothills of the Black Mountains. This area gets its name from the striking colors in the rocks.

Death Valley is huge at 140 miles long along the valley floor. After a full day, we had time for just one last stop to witness the sunset: Zabriskie Point, which overlooks Death Valley's badlands.

We have so much more to see in Death Valley and we hope to do it from the eastern side in a few weeks. What a starkly beautiful place. We feel so fortunate to have gotten this little taste of it.