Finally Ventured Into Mexico – Baja Road Trip, Part 1

I chose my first trip to Mexico to travel with the Road Scholar program.  I was intrigued by the Baja, Tip to Toe program because it focused on nature, was a road trip (which I love), included two whale trips in small boats as well as other boating excursions and trips into the desert.  I have always enjoyed visiting the desert and the deserts in Baja feature plant life not seen any where else.  I liked the idea of traveling from the top of Baja to the bottom and exploring many towns, cities, the Pacific Coast and Sea of Cortes as well as the different geographical areas.  It seemed strange to visit Mexico so late in life when I have lived close to the border of Mexico during several times in my life including San Diego and Tucson!  On March 26 of this year, our group left San Diego by bus and crossed into Tijuana.  This 12 night adventure had days filled with sightseeing and lots of learning about the history and natural wonders of this special place called Baja California.  There was also a great deal of sitting in the bus as the length of Baja is approximately 1,000 miles, but the scenery out the window usually captivated me.  Our tour guides were wonderful and very knowledgeable.  Our main tour leader, Isabel has done trips to Baja for many years and was enthusiastic and energetic.  Unfortunately, the group size was a little larger than I expected with 30 people.  I had somehow thought I signed up for a small group program, but the size did not detract from all the wonders we experienced on this trip.  In addition, the people on the program were nice to get to know and had a wealth of travel experiences from around the world to share.

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing grey whales up close, so close that many people were able to reach out and touch them from the small boats.  Most of the whales we saw were mothers with babies.  The above picture was taken in San Ignacio Lagoon, our second whaling location.  Grey whales spend the winter here in the protected waters of San Ignacio.  The whales arrive in December and the females give birth to calves and care for them until they are strong enough to leave the lagoon at the end of March or beginning of April.  When they leave they travel up to Arctic waters where food is plentiful.  The cycle continues when the whales return to San Ignacio the following winter after the long trip from the arctic along the Pacific Coast.  It is a bit of a mystery why the whales are so friendly here.  They have few natural enemies in these waters and their curiosity, especially that of the young ones, causes them to investigate the boats.  The whales don’t seem to mind being touched although some come for a quick visit and don’t linger long.  The whales swim back and forth under the boats which is a strange thought because they are massive creatures and could easily turn these small boats over!

The two pictures above are members of my Road Scholar group in a different boat.  They were fortunate to have some close encounters which I caught on camera.  I was not able to touch a whale on the San Ignacio trip, but did have a quick touch of a whale on the previous day’s trip at Scammon’s Lagoon.  The whales were actually a little friendlier and more numerous at Scammon’s and we had a few that stayed longer around our boat.  The whales frequently sprayed us from their blow holes upon surfacing and their noises and movements made for a once in a lifetime fantastic experience.

We found these whales in the picture above “lounging around.”  The baby whale is laying on its side with flipper in the air, perhaps taking a little snooze.  It is sad to think the whales here were once hunted and many, many were slaughtered.  San Ignacio is now a Biosphere Reserve, UNESCO World Heritage Site and grey whale sanctuary.   I was sorry when our two hour tour was over and we had to return  to the shore of the lagoon.  What a great experience!   The picture below is part of my tour group returning in the pangas.

We finished our visit to San Ignacio Lagoon with lunch prepared for us near the shores of the lagoon.  We ate in a “Palapa” (covered dining area) and feasted on very large scallops freshly caught in these waters.  They were delicious!  Discarded and empty scallop shells cover the area here and are in mounds in some places!  I have rarely eaten scallops as fresh tasting as these!

The picture above is the inside of the Palapa with crushed shells on the floor.  I will continue further discussions of my Baja exploration in future posts.  Stay tuned!

Favorite Lodging – #2, La Posada


Located in the small town of Winslow, Arizona is La Posada, a hotel built in 1929 by the Santa Fe Railway for the Fred Harvey Company and one of my favorite lodging choices.   Winslow Arizona is known by many due to mention in the Eagles’ song, “Take it Easy.”  You can “stand on the corner” in downtown Winslow (as noted in the song) and the tune plays over and over on a certain street corner and features a mural and statue to alert tourists of the town’s notoriety.  Other than this attraction, there is little else to bring one to Winslow except for La Posada, a true destination.  During my last visit in April 2015, I was more than happy to enjoy a few days in this southwestern jewel.

During my last visit, I purchased the book, “Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West.”  I read about Fred Harvey, the hotels and dining rooms he created along the railroad lines and the young women who from the 1880’s to the 1950’s went west to work as waitresses in Fred Harvey’s restaurants along the Santa Fe railway.   Mr. Harvey “civilized” the west by introducing linen, silverware, china, crystal, great service and fine food to railroad travel.  Construction costs for this hotel in the 1920’s exceeded one million dollars!   It is estimated that the total cost to include grounds and furnishings was two million dollars, a value of $28,000,000 today!  Winslow was chosen for the hotel as it was the Arizona headquarters for the Santa Fe Railway and Winslow was ideally situated for a resort since everything to see in northern Arizona is a comfortable day’s drive.  The renowned architect, Mary Colter designed the hotel.

The hotel remained open for 27 years and closed to the public in 1957.  Eventually the hotel became offices for the Santa Fe Railway and was almost torn down when the railway offices moved out.  Fortunately, the property was purchased by a couple who restored it and opened it back up for business.  The property is lovely to look at both inside and out, decorated with artwork and furnishings throughout the lobbies, hallways and guest rooms.  It is a great place to soak up the feeling of the southwest.  One of the best things about being at La Posada is how reasonably priced the rooms are.  We have stayed here for less than some major hotel chains with far less amenities.   The rooms are spacious with a sitting area and the last room we had also featured a large Jacuzzi tub.

One of my favorite activities at La Posada is exploring and hanging out in the courtyards and patio areas, a perfect location to read or enjoy the Arizona sunshine.

The trains continue to stop at La Posada including Amtrak who delivers passengers twice daily.  I adore trains and train travel, so even sitting and watching the trains go by, even if they are freight trains can be kind of entertaining for me.   Out back of La Posada are the train tracks and various chairs have been provided for those inclined to gawk at or wave at passing trains.  In the picture below I am outside reading the book about the Harvey Girls and looking out for any oncoming trains.

The food at the Turquoise Room Restaurant, located inside of La Posada is another reason to stay at this hotel.  It is one of the best restaurants we have dined in.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner all feature delicious and creative southwestern specialties, served in a very lovely dining room.  For dinner one evening we had an interesting appetizer of Piki Bread with Hopi Hummus – the bread is made by a Hopi cook of Second Mesa and the hummus is made with reservation grown Tepary beans and pit roasted corn.  The signature soup is sweet corn and black bean both in the same bowl and decorated with a spicy chili cream.  Pictures of these creations follow:

We followed these appetizers with the “Killer Vegetable Platter” and the “Goat Platter.”  A couple of great desserts ended this special meal.

A stay at La Posada conjures up a different time and place and is a rejuvenating location in northern Arizona.  A place I hope to definitely return to again and again in my travels!

Favorite Lodging – #1, Crater Lake Lodge

When thinking about travel favorites and lodging, certain places evoke joyous feelings and memories long after the trip is over.   In fact, many lodgings can be a destination in themselves and not just a place to hang out for the night so you can get up the next day and be off to the true travel destination.  I would say that most of the places Mark and I have stayed have been the kind of place I last mentioned above, just a means to an end; a place to stay for a night or two with the hope that the room is comfortable and big enough, the price not too high and the location good for the attractions we are hoping to see.  Most of the time I am happy to clear out the next morning and head off to see the sights.  I generally am not one to linger at the hotel or lodge and take it easy or soak in the atmosphere there.  Three lodges come to my mind when I think of favorites and I want to start with Crater Lake Lodge located in Oregon.  Crater Lake holds a very special place in my heart.  I will never forget my first sight of the lake when we pulled the car over and I walked up a short hill and saw the impossibly blue lake located in a crater and surrounded by steep cliffs.  Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen – no, it is the most beautiful lake.  Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and due to the great depth and water clarity, sunlight is able to penetrate deep into the water which accounts for the color.  The Crater Lake Lodge, owned by the National Park Service was built in 1915 and is located on the southwest rim of the lake which is 1,000 feet below.

Crater Lake is one of the snowiest places in the United States and therefore the lodge is only open for a limited time; usually from the end of May to the end of October.  We have stayed at this lodge twice.  During the last time in May 2014, we were there the first week of opening and heavy snow still encircled the lake.  A scenic loop road goes around the whole lake and almost all of the road was still closed due to the snowfall.  Walking around the lodge felt like a winter experience as I sunk a foot or so into the snow and struggled to keep my footing.  The first time we stayed at the Lodge was in October 2004 and the lake had received a light snowfall prior to our stay.  We sat on this deck with huge icicles hanging above our heads and watched the stars at night while rocking.  We also watched the sunrise sitting in these rockers one morning and that is unusual for Mark and I as we are not morning people and getting up before sunrise does not usually happen.  Sitting in these rockers is a favorite pastime at Crater Lake because of the views right out onto the lake.  The setting is gorgeous.   It does not matter if it is very cold as the lake, the starry sky and sunrise (seen below) just beckon.

The great thing about Crater Lake Lodge is that not only is it fabulous outside near the lake but also pretty nice inside as well.  The lodge is beautifully finished inside with a few large stone fireplaces to sit beside and tables next to the windows to view the scenery outside.  The last time we visited in 2014, we sat at a table for several hours, ordering appetizers, lunch and hot drinks and just enjoying being in this special place.   Throughout the afternoon I would periodically venture outside to enjoy the snow, cold and marvelous lake scenery before returning back inside for another cup of hot tea.


Beth’s Favorites – Let’s start with culture

In this post I want to start writing about some favorite places I have seen on my travels.  I want to separate them though into different categories and start at first with culture.  When I think of a place that gave me one of the best cultural experiences, I think of New Orleans.  New Orleans brims with culture and my favorite thing about New Orleans?  The music.  Music seems to be everywhere you go, from small, impromptu groups of musicians playing at a neighborhood park or square to the many wonderful jazz clubs throughout the city.  Even the National Park employees have their own jazz band at the local jazz museum.  Probably the most famous venue is Preservation Hall, founded in 1961 in the French Quarter to preserve and promote New Orleans jazz.  Concerts are held every night in a tiny venue where most people will not be lucky to snag one of the few available seats and will have to stand for the performance.  But the performers are legendary and so talented that it makes standing worthwhile.

One of the most fun evenings I have experienced is when one of my new friends from the tour group I was traveling with and I went “club hopping,” attending several jazz clubs.  It really hit home that New Orleans had a special affinity for music when I used the bathroom in one of the clubs and in the bathroom was a piano!  This gave me quite a chuckle!

New Orleans is known for not only music but great food which I was able to experience as well.  There were a number of favorite foods on my trip including Dooky Chase’s legendary Creole Restaurant, a bowl of gumbo soup at “Gumbo Shop,” the amazing pork sandwich at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, our delicious meal at the New Orleans School of Cooking, the Bananas Foster French Toast (see below) and the many praline candy stores around the city.  I have a real sweet tooth and couldn’t get enough of this delicious candy.  See the picture below of the pralines we got to see made and then taste at at the cooking school.

While at New Orleans I learned about the culture of the Mardi Gras Indians, a fascinating history here in the city.  We ate at a restaurant owned by a Mardi Gras Indian who created and made his own costume each year for the Mardi Gras parade and festival.  The costumes or suits are influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel and very elaborate in design.  Our host displayed all of his suits at the restaurant and tried on a few for us to see during his presentation.  In the picture below I am standing next to one of the suits.

The culture of New Orleans is about enjoying life and expressing this with fun, frivolity, dance and outrageous attire.  This woman was a joy to watch on Bourbon Street.  She knew how to kick up her heels!

As we plan our routes of exploration across the country in this new nomadic life, New Orleans is one place I definitely want to return to for a visit.  In fact, I want to see as much of Louisiana as possible.  The jazz music of New Orleans and Cajun songs of Louisiana are calling to me!