Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Murals of Toppenish

Clara and I made our first visit to Toppenish, WA on Aug. 6, 1999 while on a trip from Las Vegas to Seattle (to visit Lesley and then one-year-old baby Leo) with major stops along the way in Montana to visit Clara's nephews and to spend time at Glacier Nat'l Park.

The small town of Toppenish, WA is well known to us for three reasons:
1) It is home to the Cultural Heritage Center of the Yakama Nation (yes, I've spelled it correctly according to the Native Americans), which includes among other things a nice RV park -- also a museum, restaurant, theater, and, a few blocks walk away, a casino.
2) It provides a nice home base for touring the Yakima Valley -- its wineries and fruit stands.
3) It has a marvelous group of murals, some 80 in all, created to depict the history and stories of the region between 1850 and 1950.

This first picture is Toppenish's first Mural-in-a-Day, painted on June 3, 1989, to launch the ambitious mural program. Designed by Phil Kooser of Yakima, the mural was painted under his direction by 15 noted western artists who collaborated on the 40-foot painting on the side of the Western Auto building at Washington Ave. and Toppenish Ave. It depicts the tremendous effort put forth by settlers in the area.

Each year, during the first week in June, another "Mural-in-a-Day" is added to the collection -- you're welcome to come and watch it being done. In addition, you can take a motorized, guided tour of the 80 murals all over town. Here are a few of them (the pictures don't really show the size of the murals -- they're painted on the sides of buildings, many feet high, even more feet long -- truly a sight to see.)

"Cushy" vs "Homey" or "What's an RV park supposed to be?"

Bend, Oregon had little to offer in the way of RV parks -- there was
"cushy" and "cushier." Noting that the off-season rate was only $34
a night, we settled for "cushy" at Crown Villa RV Park. Notice the
size of the paver covered pad, then look at the building housing the
registration desk . . .

At Peach Beach, just across the Columbia River in Washington, our
accomodations were a little more humble (in line with the $20 price)
but notice the setting. Which was the better value for the money?

A Mermaid and mermaids

On Sunday after brunch at the Paiute Reservation, we went over to the
Silverton Casino where Ed and Sheral's daughter Erin was working as a
mermaid entertainer in the "fish tank." Kids lined up to watch as
she swam around in the tank, stopping occasionally to play "patty-
cake" with one of them on the glass wall of the tank. After dinner
that evening, Clara and Sheral played mermaid in the outdoor hot-tub
in the back yard.

Brunch at Paiute and some new species of trees

One of our non-negotiable rituals when we visit Las Vegas is Sunday brunch (see picture #1) at the Paiute Indian Reservation (and Golf Courses) north of town. The food is good though not outstanding, but the setting is well beyond outstanding. If you've heard of us going there before, then you know that my favorite observation is the (opposing) views in the entry hall – to the East (see the second picture) there is Snow Mountain as a backdrop to the golf course, to the West (see the third picture) there are the Spring Mountains as a backdrop to the desert.

On the way back into town we observed some new species of trees being developed by the plant scientists at the local university – the first one is "Palmis Fakis Cellis Toweris" while the second is "Pinus Fakis Cellis Toweris." The university is certain that they will be widely accepted and regards these new species as a tremendous advance in plant science.

An Unexpected Detour

On Wednesday, we headed west from Sky City Casino, just on the edge of the Acoma Pueblo on I-40, where we had spent the previous night in their functional but unexceptional RV facility. Our plan was to get past Flagstaff, AZ to the point where the elevation was somewhat back down from the 7's, at least to the 5's, so that it would not be quite so cold at night. Also so that Clara's physical reaction to "extreme" altitude would subside somewhat.

Our goal – Seligman, AZ – elevation 5460 ft., approximately 1500 ft lower and 10 degrees warmer than Flagstaff, AZ. As we approached the town, I could feel in the steering wheel that there was something amiss in the left front wheel, although I was totally unprepared for what ultimately was found there. We stopped at KOA, the first RV park in town, to make inquiry, but as sadly expected, moved on to our second possibility – KOA is, for some reason, seriously overpriced, both in terms of what they have to offer and in light of other facilities. [KOA was $36 for the night, compared to the $20 we ultimately paid at Route 66 Campground.]

However, the KOA campground host was congenial enough to point us to the town tire shop, where the problem shown in the picture above was soon discovered. To me, the frustrating factor is that there were only some 32 or 33 thousand miles on this tire. Ah, well . . .

That is why we now find ourselves in Las Vegas, NV where we have gracious friends with a spare room, and where there are many resources for getting one or more new tires.

There are two complicating factors in getting a replacement tire or tires, and if you're not interested in the technicalities, you may stop reading here. Others may continue.

The engineers at Winnebago, in their awesome wisdom, decided to put larger tires on the rear of our MoHo than on the front. Besides that, the sizes of the tires on either are the same as on many passenger cars, BUT the load carrying requirement is radically different (passenger car, perhaps 1100 lbs per tire, our vehicle, approximately twice that). The conclusion is that there is essentially only one brand of tire that fits the bill, and it's made (surprise, surprise . . . ) in Germany. And those folks, bless their hearts, crank up the production line for these two sizes about once a year . . . and this year, the shipment is scheduled for two weeks from now!!

The process began late Thursday afternoon at Discount Tire, and on-line at, but didn't conclude until slightly more than 24 hours later (at Nevada Tire City), after visits to Nevada Pick-a-Part (imagine six football fields of junk vehicles waiting for you and your tools to help yourself), Nevada Truck Salvage, and a couple of tire repair facilities (verdict – negative). The word from Nevada Tire City is that they'll have a new tire, found in somebody's backroom, here in town next Wednesday!!! I hope it's not the same type of pipe dream that many folks in Las Vegas have when standing in front of one of those machines you can find everywhere here . . .

Ah, the adventures one can find while traveling . . .

A Trip to Acoma Pueblo (Sky City)

On Tuesday Clara and I took a tour of the Acoma Pueblo, located some
70 or so miles west of Albuquerque, high atop a mesa rising some 375
feet above the surrounding lands. The Puebloans, as they prefer to
be called, settled here around 1650 A.D., a date established by
Western archaeologists and anthropologists since the Puebloans had no
calendar or year system of their own, hence no way of saying how many
years ago they settled here.

Our tour guide was an earnest young man from the Pueblo (see first picture) who told us some about his people's religion. Their "migration stories" taught them that all living creatures emerged from the deep at an unknown
place variously known as "shepapu" or "shepau."

Their sacred home on the mesa was known as "Haaku' " and was "a place
prepared for them." Their ancestors had been told to search for
"Haaku'," and that they would know when they had found it when their
shouts of "Haaku' " were answered with an echo. (Looking around this
area and seeing the other mesas and hills in the area, it is apparent
that there would be echoes of shouts from the top of their mesa. (See second picture))

The pueblo was almost completely uninhabited today, since there were no utilities nor other amenities of today, but it is quite picturesque (see third picture.) I could not resist this fourth picture which, to me, shows the irony of a sleek modern auto in front of an ancient dwelling.

My question, which you can readily anticipate, is how it could be
that these people could have a similar creation story and a similar
"chosen people" myth as the Israelites and perhaps other Eastern
peoples. After all, they were quite separate in time and location
and could not conceivably had any communication . . .

While on that tour, I also ventured to ask a question of our tour
guide regarding his people's reaction to the priests (and soldiers)
bringing to them the Catholic religion. I said, approximately,
"Several years ago, I had a conversation with a young woman from
another pueblo who told me that her people did what the priests told
them, performed the rituals as instructed, etc., but in their hearts
they kept only their traditional beliefs. Was that also true of your

The young man's answer was quite interesting, but also puzzling to
me. He said that his people perceived that their religion and the
religion of the priests were really the same religion, differing only
in being expressed within the framework of two different cultures.
He went on to say that this was basically true of all religions.

Were these Puebloans truly the first Universalists? Could they
really have believed/perceived that the two religions were, in basic
terms, the same religion with only a different cultural realization?
Or is this just the first manifestation of "spirituality without

Lunch Out

After our very early session at the launch field Saturday, we decided we deserved a lunch out and headed for a spot we remembered from years ago. But we turned the wrong way on 4th and had to ask directions. The woman we asked recommended a place she claimed was better – and she was right! As you can see from the second picture – their Carne Adovada was heavenly. What is "Carne Adovada" I hear being asked from Seattle? [Marinated overnight and then slow cooked until falling apart tender, Carne Adovada melds the flavors of New Mexico Red Chiles, cumin, oregano and garlic in this traditional New Mexican pork dish.]

The place (Casa de Benavidez) was a typically Mexican setting – open courtyard with adobe wall – and the margaritas were good, according to Clara (see the third picture.) We enjoyed it so much we came back the next day with five more friends . . .

The last picture has to have as its headline "You know you're in New Mexico when . . . "

Greetings from the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque – Part 4

It was in this latter event (Texas Hold'em) this past Monday morning in which a rather serious accident occurred – a passenger in the balloon's gondola was catapulted out, into the air, and down onto the ground when the gondola clipped the top of a tent near the edge of the field. At last word, he's doing OK, but with a cracked pelvis. Again by the sheerest of coincidences, he was a volunteer crew member residing in the RV right next to ours – while we barely knew him, we had spoken with both him and his wife, and it still struck close to home.

This first picture is from the local newspaper, showing the victim literally flying through the air with the tent the balloon clipped clearly visible in the background. Ironically, this tent was the VIP tent, where those who wished to pay extra could have cushy seats from which to view the morning's activities.

Allegedly this link (also from the local newspaper) will get you to a raw video of the accident – good luck . . . I haven't been able to get it to work.

The next five pictures are actual pictures that Clara took of the balloon involved in the incident, after the victim was catapulted out. They show the balloon first shooting up high, due to the change in weight in the gondola, then crashing hard into the ground because the envelope was collapsing. The pilot was injured in the landing, but not as seriously as her passenger.

Greetings from the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque – Part 3

One of the daily features of the Fiesta is the "Dawn Patrol" when a group of about ten balloons ascend at 5:45 a.m. to check out the atmospheric conditions, and determine whether it is feasible to have flying that day. At that time of day (night?), it's rather difficult to get any pictures, but here's a couple attempts.

Another feature is the inclusion of various skill events; one is the key grab in which a set of keys to a vehicle (perhaps for a year's use, perhaps to own) is hung on a post some forty feet off the ground – pilots attempt to fly by and grab the ring with the keys. Another is Texas Hold'em in which they fly over the field and drop weighted objects attempting to hit targets which count as cards in a poker hand.

The first two pictures are of the Dawn Patrol taking off, the next two of large groups of balloons taking off from the launch field in order to go a specified distance away then return for the contest of the morning, and the last two are of balloons moving very low across the field attempting to hit targets on the field.

Greetings from the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque – Part 2

The Fiesta began in the early '70's, and Clara and I were there a couple times in the mid '80's when we were living here. It was, of course, a lot smaller in those days – there were a few RV's around then, perhaps a couple hundred, whereas at this Fiesta there were approximately a couple thousand. At this Fiesta, there were around 550 balloons registered, with some 600 pilots on the official rolls, whereas there were at most a couple hundred in the beginning. Picture #1 shows our little RV lost between two behemoths, #2 shows the row of RV's across from our site, #3 shows another row along the border of the landing field right behind our spot.

When I went over to the launch field on Saturday, I took along my lawn chair and sat down near the field. There was another couple nearby and we struck up a conversation. There are many thousands of people in attendance here, undoubtedly representing all of the 50 states, yet the couple that I by chance sat next to came from Kenmore, WA – no more than about 15 miles from my home!! Go figure!

Greetings from the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque

One of the centerpieces of a Balloon Fiesta is a mass ascension, when virtually all of the 550 balloons registered at the Fiesta lift off (obviously not all at the same time, but in several groups cluttering up the sky). This usually takes place fairly early in the morning, so that the weather conditions are optimum for flying.

The unique feature of the Fiesta in Albuquerque is the so-called "Albuquerque Box" – a term which describes the peculiar atmospheric conditions in which there is a wind current moving, say, southerly at, say, 300 feet above ground, while there is another wind current in the exact opposite direction at,say, 800 feet above ground. Thus a pilot can take off, rise a short ways and float off to the south, then rise still further and return to his point of origin. [Why is it called a "box?" Because if you look at it from the side, its path is rectangular.]

This first picture is of a part of the mass ascension, while pictures 2,3,4,5 are so-called "custom-shape" balloons.

Some themes from our trek to Albuquerque – Part Two:

Theme #2: Life has changed dramatically over the last X years.

Recall that we spent an evening at Three Island State Park in Idaho, a spot on the Oregon Trail noted for a potential river crossing for the travelers. Put yourself on the trail in a covered wagon and consider the following:

A Risky River Crossing
Upon reaching the Three Island ford, the emigrants had a difficult decision to make. Should they risk the dangerous crossing of the Snake, or endure the dry, rocky route along the south bank of the river? About half of the emigrants chose to attempt the crossing by using the gravel bars that extended across the river. Not all were successful; many casualties are recounted in pioneer diaries. The rewards of a successful crossing were a shorter route, more potable water and better feed for the stock.
The Three Island ford was used by pioneer travelers until 1869, when Gus Glenn constructed a ferry about two miles upstream.

Now put yourself on a jetliner from your hometown to Oregon, or in a modern automobile (or even a small RV) on the Interstate Highway system and consider the question – what comparable changes will the next 140 years bring to travel?

Go back again to the pictures of the cliff dwellings and recognize the extreme difficulty – each young child must learn to master cliff side climbing using hand and toe holds, must learn hunting or farming for bare subsistence, must live or die without medical attention, etc. You can easily conceive of many more difficulties of life in cliff dwelling times. Now ask yourself the question "What changes in lifestyle, comparable to the changes over the past 1400 years, from cliff dwelling times to the television and Internet of today, will take place over the next 1400 years?"

Some themes from our trek to Albuquerque – Part OneB:

Theme #1: Many good things can be created only by government action.

On our sixth day out, while camping just outside the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, we visited the Park, where Clara took a guided tour of Cliff Palace, one of the four cliff dwellings open to tours. A surprising new piece of information was the statement that the cliff dwellers were now believed to be the ancestors of some of the modern day Pueblo dwellers of New Mexico.

We also learned that there are some 56 total National Parks in the U.S. (including several in Alaska, American Samoa, Hawaii). By going through the list, I counted 32 that we have visited, and noted several that we will never see . . .

Picture #1 is a mural found in the auditorium at the Visitor Center, numbers 2 and 3 are different views of Cliff Palace, and #4 shows the virtual inaccessibility of these cliff dwellings.

Is the preservation of some of the history and culture of our country a constitutionally mandated endeavor? Whether or not it is, it is certainly a worthwhile one that should be continued.