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Bluegrass on the River 2003
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February 23, 2003 : I was at work recently when someone asked me, “When are you going to take another trip?”

I did a double take. “Work?” I said. “What am I doing working?” And I immediately packed up and headed for Arizona.

I left very early, 6 a.m. today, with reservations already arranged at Needles, close to 400 miles away. My preferred daily mileage is closer to 250, but this is a relatively short trip timewise, and I don’t want to spend much time getting where I am going.

My dad and mother go to Mesa AZ every year to escape the harsh winters of central California, and I am going there to spend about ten days with them. Then I will head for Parker AZ, on the Colorado River, for a bluegrass festival, and be back in Fresno about March 11.

Like most of my trips, there were negative events at or near the start – I received a notice to report for jury duty March 10. The festival ends March 9, and I have paid the non-refundable camping and festival fee. I did not want to leave Parker at 6 p.m. March 9 and try to be in the Fresno County Courthouse at 9 the next morning, so I returned the notice requesting a delay till July. The notice said that most requests are granted, and they will only contact me if it is not; and of course I got out of town before they could call me to say “no way.”

My trip has taken me south on California 99 to Bakersfield, east on California 58 to Barstow, and east to Needles on US 40, which has replaced most of historic Route 66.

There was quite a bit of fog in southern Fresno and northern Tulare counties, but otherwise the weather was sunny. It was about 65 here, and there are a lot of clouds, with a chance of rain. The temperature was 70 degrees where I had lunch, a rest stop about 40 miles east of Barstow on US 40.

At first I didn’t think there was much to say about the scenery, but that’s because I’ve driven through these areas so much. Actually in the San Joaquin Valley the almond trees are still in bloom, but have dropped enough petals that it looks like there is a dusting of snow under each row of trees. The foothills east of Bakersfield are green and beautiful, with big valley oaks in the lower areas, and shrubs, live oaks and blue oaks higher up.

Bear Mountain, south of 58, and the mountains around Tehachapi, which is at 4,000 feet, still have patches of real snow.

Much of the desert is pretty drab, although I like the Joshua trees and the treeless, rocky mountains in the distance along California 58. There is quite a bit of grass getting started in the desert near Needles.

I am staying in the KOA on the western edge of town, right on the original Route 66 (you can tell because the camp store sells 57 different Route 66 souvenir items).


February 24, 2003: I got another early start, 6:45 a.m., and headed down US 95 from Needles to Blythe. I wanted to be sure to get through Phoenix before the evening traffic rush, and in fact I made it to Mesa about 2:30. The weather was partly cloudy all day, but rain-free. The next day would be a different story.

The drive down 95 goes through some hills with jagged rock formations, plus lots of desert terrain, with cholla and some other cacti. Eventually the road started following close by the Colorado River into Blythe. Then it was east on I-10, about 175 miles to my destination.

Within a mile of entering Arizona, you begin to see saguaro cactus (I believe they are native only to Arizona and Mexico). You may go miles without seeing one, then have lots on both sides of the road. However, the thickest saguaro “ forests” are east of the Phoenix-Metro area, on the highway to Globe, and up the Apache Trail into the Tonto National Forest.

Once I got to the park where my parents stay, I got the trailer set up, rested a while, then walked over to their mobile home, one row away. We went out for a nice dinner, and I got caught up on the news in the local papers.


February 25, 2003: It started raining during the night and kept it up into the morning. It came down hard several times for a while, but stopped long enough for me to take my morning walk, then go to Dad and Mother’s after breakfast. Right now, 1:10 mountain time, the rain has stopped for several hours, but there are dark clouds and it looks like it could start again any time.

Dad and Mother had some errands to run, so I stayed around the trailer reading. In the evening we went out to a nice Mexican restaurant.


February 26, 2003: The Valley of the Sun is very soggy these days – it rained off and on all day yesterday, and was raining hard when I went to bed. I went for my morning walk without getting rained on (unlike yesterday), but a sprinkle started just as I got back to the trailer.

We had a little more rain today, but not much. However, it always looked like it might rain. We went to lunch at the local senior center – a good lasagna. Didn’t do much the rest of the day.


February 27, 2003: This report is getting repetitious and dull; sorry about that. I would love to have nice weather and be doing something. It rained during the night, and may rain again today; it’s cloudy right now at 10:30, with dark clouds in the north, and pretty cool and breezy. If we have a day when no rain is threatening, I will go out walking in the desert, but today is not the day. I sat around reading the paper and drinking fortified tomato juice.


March 1, 2003: Very soon now I am in danger of getting REALLY PISSED OFF about the weather. We have had rain every day since I’ve been here, and today’s forecast is the usual “possible thunderstorms.” We managed to get through the daylight hours yesterday without rain, but there may have been rain here in Mesa; we were gone most of the time. If the paper shows a day in the future without rain (“partly cloudy”), before that day actually arrives, the outlook is changed to rain.

We had a good time yesterday; went to my mother’s cousin’s house in Glendale (Roy & Jeanette Whittekindt). Also present were another cousin who lives in Surprise, AZ, Gloria Samuelson and her daughter Margaret Meister. We had a good dinner and a nice visit. Like my parents, all these people grew up in the snows of Ohio; Roy and Jeanette spent their working years in the snows of Illinois and have lived here about ten years; Margaret and Gloria lived in the snows of Omaha and have been here five years. They came here to visit relatives and said “the heck with snow,” and here they still are.

Today is mostly sunny so far (although the forecast is “possible thunder showers”). I went to get propane and gasoline this morning, then had breakfast. Mesa has a display of sculptures on the downtown main street, and we may go look at that later this afternoon (if we beat the showers).

On the way home yesterday we were treated to a view of some beautiful snow-covered mountains to the northeast (probably the Four Peaks). There has been a lot of snow to the north in this series of storms. One key reservoir, Roosevelt Lake on the Salt River, went from 10% of capacity to 15% with the precipitation from this storm.

About Arizona:

If you have not been in the Phoenix area for ten or twenty years or more, it has grown! It is a very spread-out metro area. By way of perspective, I read something once about the late senator Barry Goldwater. When he was born in the mountains north of Phoenix in about 1910, the entire valley had about 10,000 residents. Now there are several million.

We are in eastern Mesa, and on our trip yesterday we traveled most of the way on freeways, over 50 miles one way, going through Scottsdale, northern Phoenix, and into Glendale. Sun City, Peoria, Gilbert, Tempe, Chandler, Apache Junction, Goodyear, Avondale and several cities I am forgetting are all part of the overall metro area.

There are good freeways to get you through and around the cities, but there was still some of the usual metro area slowdown yesterday, and I hear that traffic comes to a halt every morning on the Superstition Freeway (US 60 between Mesa and Phoenix.).

The rain has caused some street flooding, but in most places the drainage is good. As in Fresno, when a lot of rain falls quickly, it can back up. In the mountains around Roosevelt Lake, there are some people cut off from their way out due to a creek that is normally easy to drive across (no bridge).

Arizona still has somewhat of an “old west” attitude, with a lot of independent and “leave me alone” type people. However, the Phoenix area is probably as cosmopolitan as San Diego or San Francisco.

The state does like to take an independent path – it does not go on daylight savings time, and was the last state to approve the Martin Luther King holiday (losing its first bid for the super bowl because of this stance).

There are hundreds of restaurants, and I have eaten at a dozen or so, with a wide range in price and quality. One of my favorites is Waldo’s Barbecue on Main Street in eastern Mesa, which has great barbecue and tons of attitude. An example: A poster on the wall reads “I didn’t fight my way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian!”

Although Arizona has an image as a desert area, in fact there is a lot of variety in the terrain – the north rim of the Grand Canyon is close to 8,000 feet and has tons of snow, and even in the southern half of the state, near Tucson, there are some rugged mountains. However, there is indeed a lot of desert, some of it kind of desolate, and other parts marked by a wide array of cactus and other plants. There’s also lots of wild life, but you don’t see much, except for the coyotes that welcome people moving into their territory by eating their pets. (Which reminds me, why didn’t I bring those rotten little dogs that live next door to me down here with me?)


More about AZ:

The state and the cities (and probably the counties) are having the same kind of budget problems we are having in California; reading the news about state and local budgets here is almost exactly the same as reading them at home – staff layoffs and cuts in service are possible.

Also, like the San Joaquin Valley, air quality is becoming an issue (this is a big valley filled with people, freeways and agriculture, surrounded by mountains). It’s not as bad as Fresno yet, and editorials are asking, “How much worse does it have to get before we act.” Maybe they could learn a lesson from our procrastination.

Drugs are big news too – a couple of years ago the state hired a company to dispose of meth ingredients and other toxic items seized in drug busts. Recently they found out the company was selling the ingredients to a big drug cartel, and some employees had set up their own meth labs.

The population of Phoenix in the 2000 census was 1.3 million, making it the sixth largest city in the United States. Eight cities in the metro area have a population of 100,000 or more. Mesa is close to half a million.

One of the things Arizona can brag about is that they have had two consecutive governors who have not been indicted for criminal activities. Before these two, the previous pair were both charged for criminal acts prior to their election as governor. Of course, the current incumbent has been office only a short time, but SHE’s a Democrat, so there is hope for another crime-free four years.

The Phoenix area is probably the worst place in the country to be a lawn mower salesman. Many of the yards (and virtually all in newer developments) use colored rock and drought resistant native plants for landscaping. Perhaps Fresno could learn something here.

The freeway designs in cities are also worthy of emulation – the concrete sound barriers and freeway structure are often colored (sandstone red or beige), and feature Indian-inspired graphic designs and pictures of native animals. The approach ramps are long enough for a vehicle to get up to highway speed before having to merge.


March 2, 2003: Today was the kind of day you go to Arizona for. Yesterday’s forecast for today was “partly cloudy,” but of course today’s outlook for today was “possible thunder showers.” Even so, I set out on the Apache Trail (Arizona Highway 88), northeast from Apache Junction, and turned off on a dirt road that goes to two trailheads. I went to the farthest one, two and a half miles from the highway, paid $4, and started down a trail into the Superstition Mountains.

There are all the usual cactus varieties (prickly pear, saguaro, hedgehog, pincushion and cholla), as well as many bushes and plants (palo verde, creosote bush and mesquite are the most common), plus a very few flowers. Most of the area I have walked in before is pretty open, and you can go cross country between cactus and bushes with no trouble. This area is apparently much wetter, a bit higher and probably cooler. The bushes, cactus and other plants are too thick to walk off the trail very much.

The rock is very porous, and there are a lot of places where water seeps out of the rock and collects in small streams. The trail criss-crossed one substantial stream that had some large pools. There are some nice rock cliffs, and in general the trail goes through a small canyon into the mountains.

Of course, this stream will dry up when the rains end, and “cool” and “wet” are relative terms in the Sonoran Desert. A July hike would be very uncomfortable.

There were some dark clouds nearby, but most of the time it was warm enough to get by with just a T-shirt. There were a few drops of rain when I was hiking. I could hear them hitting my hat, and see the drops hitting the many puddles along the trail, but only felt three or four drops on my skin.

When I got back to the parking lot, I had a snack, then walked up a hill nearby. From the top there was a good view of the Four Peaks, a snow-covered mountain beyond Canyon Lake on the Salt River.

I was kneeling down to photograph a pincushion cactus when I noticed a small round hole, about an inch in diameter. It had a little “fence” of webbing around it, and when I looked down in it, I saw something move. Soon a small tarantula came up to the top of the hole. I started looking in other holes, and saw one other larger tarantula, and a small spider in a large hole.


March 3, 2003 : Today was laundry day, and time to do some preliminary work for my departure Wednesday – checking the air in the tires, and putting away my extra lawn chairs. We had a late lunch/early dinner at Coco’s, and just got back a little while ago, about 4:30.


March 5, 2003 : Yesterday we went to lunch at the senior center, eliminating the need for another full meal in the evening, then went to the Mesa Museum of the Southwest. This is an excellent facility, with exhibits covering the area from prehistoric to modern times. There is an extensive dinosaur exhibit, a model railroad display, and much more – photos from the Arizona Highways magazine collection, information on the “old west” period, Indians, and a section on movies made in Arizona. We didn’t get to see everything, and another visit would be well worthwhile.

Today I got hitched up and left about 9, heading for Parker AZ and a new bluegrass festival. The promotional announcements for this event have stressed the importance of supporting it so it can be scheduled again next year, and all evidence is that it will be a big success. There are well over 100 RV’s here tonight, at the LaPaz County Park on the Colorado River, and they have been arriving since Monday. The festival starts Friday morning, so there is another day for early arrival, and no doubt many will arrive on Friday, plus the single day visitors on Saturday.

My route was west on Arizona 202 (an urban loop freeway), then Interstate 10 to Quartzite, and north on Arizona 95.

This area is very nice, with red and tan sandstone hills above us, and the river nearby. The concert area overlooks the river. Also the weather is cooperating so far. It was raining when I left Mesa, but stopped before I got past Phoenix, and has been sunny all the rest of the day.


March 6, 2003: After breakfast today I went up Highway 95 to Parker Dam, where I got gas and a few groceries, and drove across the dam and back. On the way I stopped and walked up a wash in the hills south of the highway (opposite the river). It was easy walking, with lots of palo verde, mesquite and creosote bush, and cholla and barrel cactus. The first part of the wash was pretty level, then it started climbing slightly, but was still easy going. I probably went up a quarter to a half mile, and could have kept going. Where I turned back the canyon was getting pretty narrow, but was still passable at least to the next bend.


March 14, 2003: As usual, there was no modem connection at the Bluegrass Festival, so no report could be sent after the first one. Also as usual, it’s hard to get the final entry done after I get home and find piles of mail, tall grass to be mowed, and lots of other stuff piled up.

The festival was a lot of fun, with several groups I have seen before, and several that were new to me. There were about 4,000 people attending, so it was a big success. It was the first festival in this series, but definitely will not be the last. I saw and talked with people I have met at other festivals, as well as new people, and had a great time.

(10/06 update: This was the first festival put on by Larry & Sandra Baker (L&S Promotions), and they have since promoted festivals every year in Parker AZ and Plymouth CA, all highly successful. In 2006 they added a one-day festival in Yuma. There are links below for the ones I have attended.)

My favorite never before seen band at the 2003 Parker festival was the U.S. Navy Band, Country Current. The top level military service bands have many, many talented musicians to choose from, so the premiere groups are guaranteed to be outstanding, and Country Current certainly meets that definition.

Bands I had seen and enjoyed a number of times previously included Ron Spears and Within Tradition, Lost Highway, Cherryholmes and the Witcher Brothers. Also worthy of note was Doodoo Wah, a duo from northern California who perform humorous originals. These include some of the clever radio jingles they have written for local sponsors in the Sonora CA area. They have a CD out which I purchased recently and you can check their stuff out here).

I got started home about 8:30 Monday (7:30 California time) and drove all the way home, arriving about 7 p.m. It was a record distance for me, 456 miles, but it did not make sense to stop early in the day at the half-way point, nor to pay $25 to spend the night in Bakersfield, so I just kept going.

Next up – a trip to the San Jose area with my grandson to see a Sharks hockey game. There won’t be an official report on that, but I can reveal that we plan to go to Santa Cruz and the redwoods, in addition to the game.

(Photos open in a new window)

Pacific Crest Ron Spears & Within Tradition Lost Highway
Silverado Carolina Special Cherryholmes Family
Doodoo Wah Witcher Brothers Country Current
Letz Pic Jere Cherryholmes & sound man Art Kershaw Pick N
Superstition Mountain from Lost
State Park
Dick by road to First Water
Trailhead, Tonto National Forest
Porcupine cactus
Cholla Cactus Typical saguaro forest Barrel cactus
Creek along Dutchman Trail Desert barrel garden Dried muddy wash near Parker

Flowers in wash Cactus blossoms Composite rock

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Creek along Dutchman Trail

Desert barrel garden

Witcher Brothers

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Updated February 21, 2024