What We Did on Our Winter Break, 1998

Let’s go back to December 20, 1997. Classes are over, final exams are over, grades for 250 students have been sent to the Registrar. Work is done, now it’s time to play! So Phil (aka Bog), Faye (aka Mom), and Janie (just plain Jane) Boger packed up bags and baggage, battened down the hatches on their respective houses, and headed for the wide open spaces of the American Southwest. The first day, we got to Charleston, WV. That 528 miles is a very long distance for us because Bog hates icky ole freeways (aka IOF): high speeds, heavy traffic, and horrible drivers. However, high speeds allow us to go high distances.

The 2nd day, we continued on IOF to Nashville, TN. But on the 3rd day, Bog rested as we drove the Natchez Trace Parkway: ~450 miles of gently curving road, with pullouts for investigating flora, fauna and history; frequent rest stops, 45-50 mph speed limits, little or no traffic; no commercial vehicles; and no billboards. No way could we ever drive the whole 450 miles in a day; no way would we want to, so we stopped about half way at Kosciusko, MS, Oprah Winfrey’s birthplace and still her grandmother’s home. We couldn’t go to grandma’s house for dinner, but we found a decent restaurant to sample local cuisine: very weird barbecue for Bog and catfish for the ladies, all washed down by the Southeast's own Sweet Tea.

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Natchez.tif (412015 bytes) THE NATCHEZ TRACE, SOMEWHERE IN TENNESSEE

Next day, we continued down the Trace. We had stopped to read about Loess deposits when a redneck-like guy in a pickup stopped and said there was a large tree across the road ahead. He told us to follow him to Natchez, but he was going at speeds we did not care to match, especially on a foggy wintry day. Hell, if the rain had caused a tree to fall across the road we wanted, it might also have caused a tree to fall across the road we didn’t want. It had nothing to do with stereotypes, bigotry, or the movie Deliverance. We went back to be sure there really was a tree down. There really was, but there also was a small road leading off the Trace about a mile to the IOF, Natchez, and Mammy’s Cupboard, a restaurant shaped like a giant Aunt Jemima. There were 3 tables inside her skirt, and 6 or 7 in the "bustle" behind. The same hard rain that caused the tree to fall also caused Mammy’s skirts to leak. However, nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for Mammy’s food: thick hunks of luscious homemade bread bulging with chicken salad, roast beef and corned beef, respectable potato salad and vegetable soup that even the country cook (Mom) pronounced "good". In fact, it was so good, we went out of our way to go back on our return trip. Part of our effort to Eat Our Way Across The USA, in honor of the book of the same name by Michael and Jane Stern.

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Mammy.tif (400936 bytes) MAMMY'S CUPBOARD, NATCHEZ, MISSISSIPPI

Back on the road, we wished we hadn’t drunk so many Mason jars of blueberry lemonade. We were not on the Trace anymore, so rest stops were less frequent. And we were on the ickiest of IOF: I10, heading for Lake Charles, LA. Silly us thought it was good that it was raining so hard – our car would get washed off. But we learned that it doesn’t rain water down there – it rains mud – red mud, red mud that does not match the "mica-ruby-pearl" red of our Outback, red mud that does not wash off without a fight. Fortunately, it was not raining the next day. In fact, Christmas Eve was a beautiful day for touring wildlife refuges along the Louisiana coast. It was hard to concentrate on driving when the roadside ditches were full of egrets, herons, and ducks, and the skies were full of hawks, geese, and roseate spoonbills. So we got out and walked the Nature Trail for a closer look at nutria, alligators, black-necked stilts, moorhens, coots, green-winged teal, but we saw no partridges in pear trees, no swans a-swimming, and nary a goose a-laying.

Brilliant tacticians that we are, we decided the best place to find a motel room on Christmas Eve would be in a college town that needs lot of space for visitors, but would not be visited much when classes were not in session. Thus, we headed for College Station, TX. There was indeed "room at the inn", though the room was not much bigger than a manger. Dinner at the Imperial Chinese Restaurant included Twice Cooked Pork, Szechwan Beef, and Moo Shi Pork, but no Christmas goose. The fried rice was the most brilliant orange we’d ever encountered, somewhat reminiscent of the red mud-rain of Mississippi and Louisiana. Fortunately, the rice tasted better than mud, both for Xmas Eve dinner and the following day’s lunch on the Llano Uplift.

The only thing Santa Claus brought us was nice weather for Christmas Day, but that’s all we needed. Listening to the tunes of Bob Wills, the Texas Playboys and Asleep at the Wheel helped us "Waltz across Texas" to Midland. We had NOT been "Dreaming of a White Christmas", but before we went off to Dreamland on Christmas Day, it had started snowing. As we headed into New Mexico, the 2-3" of snow coating the landscape could have made us homesick, but the oil wells, pecan trees and yucca didn’t look much like home. Snow did cause a minor delay when, after driving about 60 miles along a scenic highway in the Guadeloupe Mtns, we found that the connecting road had not been plowed. Crocodile Dundee would probably have risked it in his Outback, but we decided our Outback would backtrack. Hey, it was a beautiful drive getting there, it should be a beautiful drive going back! We tried to make time by getting on the IOF and speeding toward Alamogordo. That turned out to be something of a Crocodile Dundee stunt: navigating a 16 mile, 6% grade from Cloudcroft (elev. 8650) into the Tularosa Basin (elev. ~6000) at night on an icy, curvy road with oncoming traffic, after having driven about 10 hours already. But we made it!

Howling coyotes and very cold air greeted us the next morning. How did we warm up? We headed for the Chili Capital of the World: Hatch, NM. Unfortunately, it was not chili season. After leaving Hatch, we got very cold, and made Mom very nervous, while driving through the mountains over the Continental Divide at snow-covered Emory Pass (elev. ~7000). To describe this as road "crookeder than a dog’s hind leg" is the height of understatement. Or should that be the nadir of understatement? The Spit & Whittle Club members might know, but we never saw hide, hair, spit, nor whittle of them; only a sign announcing their meetings. Mule Creek Canyon Road looked like our kind of road – the kind with a huge sign at the entrance warning trucks, trailers and RV’s to stay out! Mom had gotten over her car sickness, we had gotten over the Continental Divide – how bad could it be? Well, if you like looking straight down and seeing the road switch-backing 2-3 times below you, it was very good. But then the road stretched ahead into the sun setting on Safford, AZ. Sunday, December 28th, we finally made it to Mesa, AZ where Uncle John and Aunt Wilma Boger awaited. Whew, it’s a long way from western New York to the wide open spaces of the American Southwest.

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John_bog.tif (424293 bytes) UNCLE JOHN AND AUNT WILMA OF MESA, AZ

Unfortunately, somewhere along our 3,400 mile route, we picked up some germs. The first week in Mesa, Mom was more than just carsick and could barely get out of bed. Wilma got sick soon after we arrived, and Bog felt a little ill during the second week, but John and Janie survived without apparent suffering, or suffered with apparent survival!

Bog and Janie stayed in Mesa with the "grown-ups" from Dec. 28th to Jan. 2nd, then we took off on our own. You might think it would be fun having 3 people (sometimes 4 or 5 counting neighbors) cooking for us, waiting on us and trying to anticipate our every need, but it about drove us crazy. Even taking day trips wasn’t enough, because they wanted to have dinner ready when we got home, so we had to know when we were getting home. We hate planning where, when, and how long we are going, so we had to get away.

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Saguaro.tif (453675 bytes) CRESTED SAGUARO IN SAGUARO NP, TUCSON, AZ
Wcountry.tif (422393 bytes) WIDE OPEN SPACES NEAR TOMBSTONE, AZ

he weather being what it was, we thought heading south toward the desert would be preferable to going north onto the Mogollon Rim. So it was off to Saguaro National Park, which is divided into 2 sections by Tucson. We started at Saguaro NP-West, where Park Volunteer Inga set the stage by showing us a map, drawing a big X through Old Tucson, and dubbing it "nothing but an amusement park with $18 admission charge". We like our amusements wild and free. We camped in Gilbert Ray County Park and drove Golden Gate Road through the mountain pass to the city. We found a little Mex place, El Charro (thanks to EYWATUSA) where the specialty is Carne Seca. Shakespeare wanted to know "what’s in a name?" Well, carne seca by its English name – "dry meat" - does not sound as sweet. The grub was good, as was the beer. Okay, food is one amusement we don’t like wild and free. We took long hikes in the desert, saw spectacular sunsets & sunrises, heard coyotes howling at the moon and generally had a wonderful time.

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Nitefal.tif (396436 bytes) SUNRISE IN ORGAN PIPE NATIONAL PARK, AZ

Next stop: Tombstone, where Bog lived for a month back in '67. We think we found his old house, but - oh, surprise - things change in 30 years. Then we drove through the grasslands to Patagonia Lake SP and looked for an exotic bird called Nutting’s Flycatcher. Apparently, every other birder in North America was there for the "Nutting Watch". We didn’t know it existed and wouldn’t have known it if we had seen it. We were more excited about seeing Bewick’s Wren, Say’s Phoebe and a Great Horned Owl and about having lunch time at Zula’s, a Greek-Mexican restaurant in Nogales. Imagine our surprise that everyone there was eating hamburgers. Our motto is "when in Rome, don't eat hamburgers", so we ate chili rellenos and came machacha.

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Moon.tif (391077 bytes) MOON OVER NATURAL ARCH, ORGAN PIPE NP, AZ
Sunset1.tif (351768 bytes) SUNSET IN ORGAN PIPE NP, AZ

The map said take IOF 19, 10 & 8, but we opted to take fabulous FR 39 across the mountains from Nogales to Arivaca. Confirmation that we chose the right road came from the roadrunner and flock of Montezuma’s quail that greeted us within the first mile, the sassy gray jays all along the route and the "ab fab" scenery all around. We thought it couldn’t get any better, until we arrived in Organ Pipe National Park. Wow! What magnificent desolation. We took the 25 mile drive the first evening. Next day we did a 7 mile hike in the desert and the 50 mile drive in the afternoon. The Ajo and Puerto Blanco Mountains were absolutely glowing in the sunset. But then we made the mistake of calling the folks back in Mesa. During that conversation, we learned that we had been gone A WHOLE WEEK. We could have sworn we had been gone ONLY A WEEK. Time is relative, especially when you are dealing with relatives!

Back in Mesa, we had a unique desert experience – a thunderstorm, complete with hail. Fortunately (or unfortunately), we were protected within the confines of a shopping mall ... ugh. We usually put a big X on malls (they can certainly be wild, but are definitely not free), but we had to buy souvenirs and thank you gifts before we headed home on Jan. 12. We had enjoyed Saguaro NP so much that we returned to Tucson so Mom could eat carne seca and experience the desert flora and fauna on Cactus Forest Drive and Trail. There was a lot more fauna visible in Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, NM. We spent an afternoon there with tens of thousands of sandhill cranes (and 4 whoopers, so they say, but we didn’t see). That evening we watched a couple of coyotes stalk the cranes and snow geese. Next day, we went to Abilene after driving US 380, a marvelous road through south-central NM. US highways normally rank a tad below IOF’s, but this one seems not to have been discovered by truckers or anyone else. But then it doesn’t go anyplace, except for Lincoln, NM where Billy the Kid escaped from jail after killing 2 deputies. Oh, and across the Valley of Fire, where a mile-wide lava flow is visible from the road; and along the northern border of White Sands where we saw three oryx.

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Bogatpit.tif (391609 bytes) BOG CHECKS OUT THE VICTORIA MINE, 
ORGAN PIPE NP, AZ
Chainfru.tif (429654 bytes) JANIE CHECKS OUT THE CHAIN FRUIT CHOLLA, 
SAGUARO NP, TUCSON, AZ

By this time, things were turning against our plan to take our time and see what we could see. What we could see was flooding, icing, and reports of bad weather ahead. We still tried to avoid IOF’s by baktracking through Natchez (and Mammy's Cupboard) and along the Trace again to Kosciusko. This time we tried Loly Dude’s Excellent Pizza, but didn’t think it was better than Danny Wegman’s. Perhaps we should have tried Loly’s Cajun Style Mucho Meat Pizza instead of plain pepperoni. At our final stop, Elizabethtown, KY, we were forced to eat at White Castle and Cracker Barrel (shame on us). Elizabethtown is about 700 miles from Geneseo; way too far to go in one day. But we were travel-hardened and just kept pushing on. The snow storm that greeted us on NY 17 kept Bog guessing where the road was, and kept our speed at only about 25 mph. We were just so close and we suspected that the snow would stop when we entered "our" valley. Geneseo is far enough E of Erie, S of Ontario and N of the Allegheny Plateau to miss most of the really bad weather everyone hears about. Our suspicions were confirmed, but it was after 9 pm when we finally pulled in the driveway at Naweedna. Whew, it’s also a long way from the wide open spaces of the American Southwest to western New York.

But we made it home hale and hearty, rested and ready to take on another semester. Well, at least, Janie has another semester to teach. Bog is on sabbatical during the Spring semester of 1998. Mom has been on sabbatical for several years, except from knitting, mowing yard and cooking dinner for us most weekends. Still, we'll all look forward to mid-May, 1998 when classes and finals will be over, grades will have been determined, work will be done and once again, it will be time to play!

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Sunset2.tif (332456 bytes) SUNSET IN ORGAN PIPE NATIONAL PARK, AZ

P.S.

Bog's Spring '98 sabbatical turned out a bit better than his previous one. Spring '91 was hell for both of us: Janie taught the GSCI 100 lecture as well as labs (for no extra money, DUH). Bog learned to program in ToolBook and created ~10 computer programs for use in GSCI 100 labs. He also spend a lot of time interviewing and escorting applicants for the new geology professor and cleaning up after the ice storm. Worst of all, though, was dealing with Bog's Dad’s cancer and death.

Spring '98 was more like purgatory: Janie taught labs and tried to help Bog's sabbatical replacement deal with ~250 students in GSCI 100. Bog spent his time at the computer in heavenly Naweedna, upgrading all the existing computer programs to the latest version of ToolBook and creating a few new programs plus the Web pages for all of his courses. Fortunately, there was no ice storm to clean up from, but there was another illness and death; this time of Mom's oldest brother, Bog's Uncle Buck. During the summer of '98, we did get to play a little, but not as much as we would have liked. Well, there's always next Winter Break.