Friday, June 8, 2018

The Magic of Imagination

The late lead singer, Freddie Mercury of Queen enthralled fans with the first line of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' from the bands 1975 album, 'A Night at the Opera'.
That's Freddie Fender hiding behind the boa

"Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?"

That's how J and L felt as we stood looking over the quaint centuries old city streets of a village somewhere in Europe. The weather was rather chilly for almost summer with clouds threatening sprinkles at any moment.

But this wasn't Europe.

 Could be snow, if not rain very soon.
We were at Universal Studios Hollywood and marveling at what we were staring out in every direction. It really, really looked perfectly authentic down to the cobblestone streets of a village we have seen in our actual travels in Europe. But, NO, this was Southern California in May.

The day and evening were spent with two of our four daughters (Erica and Jessica) and their husbands (Brandon and Justin) as we meandered around the nearly 420 acres of Universal Studios Hollywood - not to be mistaken by Universal Studios Orlando.

The crew excited to explore
Thanks to the brilliance and creativity of  writer J. K. Rowling we were standing on a street corner  in Diagon Alley - a place where Harry, Hermione, and Ron spent many hours looking through fabulous stores full of imagination, sorcery and magic. They learned many lessons here that were used for the multitude of adventures they were involved in during their education at Hogwarts.

Kudos to Ms. Rowling - due to her, we believe, were created a generation of readers. Our own four daughters among that generation.

Back to Queen and the idea of mistaking reality for fantasy is not as far a leap as one would think while looking down the many streets of the mock village down from the mountaintop home of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Hogwarts in the rear and Jessica photo bombing

A different view of Hogwarts at night - simply magical - oh, it was wasn't it?
The talent of architecture at Universal was plain to see while visiting such shops as Ollivanders the makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC, or Honeydukes while sampling some of the most 'scrumptious sweets and beguiling delights', or downing a pint of ale at Hog's Head (also, some of the best Butter Beer around), and of course having dinner at the Three Broomsticks.

The Wand will choose you...

Erica was chosen by the wand - magical it was.
I command you to work - and it did - a light went on or something like that.
Every building was created with the illusion of being built many many centuries ago when handicraft meant everything, and appeared to be made by hand. Brick facades, actually carefully formed foam resembling actual brick exteriors, which gave that ancient look all the way around including to tilted - sometimes crazily tilted - chimneys.

Those are some 'crazeeee' chimneys - wonder if they are up to SOCAL code?
Of course, there was more than just Harry Potter Land (J's name for it) as Universal has created the famed city of Springfield where the animated family Simpsons reside, and a plethora of other attractions to keep the entire family entertained.

Yes, they even sell Duff beer - which made Brandon, J and Justin happy.
But be careful to not have too many - the cops will be looking for you!
A must is the 'The world-famous studio tour' which is actually quite fun and educational as a hour ride takes guests through the back lots of Universal. It gives the visitor a chance to see locations of where some very famous films were made as well as two great '3D-HD' attractions including the 'Fast and Furious' and 'King Kong' as well a street scene used in Tom Cruise's film, 'War of the Worlds'.

Looks like Santa had a bad day during the filming of War of the Worlds
Every detail at Universal Studios is created to represent reality or is it fantasy representing reality? A little confusing here and to prove it there are full New York City streets which are nothing more than plywood facades reaching for the sky. Blue screens behind a large empty pool which in a few minutes of movie magic can be turned into an ocean with a poor bloke being chased by 'smokers' as he bravely tries to outrun them to the sanctuary of the floating city. Scene out of 'Water World' starring Kevin Kostner - J wasn't in the film or was he?

Keep gunning it brave soul - you will outrun the smokers - maybe not though
Universal has a twenty minute heart pounding adventure with people on fire, taking high dives of collapsing structures, shooting at each other, jokes, and just all around fun. A time to sit back and watch some amazing talented actors showing what the earth would be like without land.

When the 'Deacon'  takes over the Sanctuary, there is heck to pay.
The Deacon even loses his only chance of escape - too sad, too bad.

Of course the house and motel from 'Psycho' are also in the back lot and as the guest tram drives by the scene, a sedan is seen with it's trunk open and suddenly from the hotel marches Norman Bates carrying a female body which he unceremoniously dumps into the open trunk. Not much into chivalry, but what serial killer is? 

Norman, that is not the way for a positive cash flow!
As the tram slowly, very slowly moves on Norman withdraws a huge butcher knife and chases after the tram with people screaming and taking photos of the crazed madman.

Luckily, to the date of our visit, Norman hasn't caught up to any of the trams and we hope that it continues that way in the foreseeable future. Of course, depends on who may be on that tram - hmmm. A little gallows humor there.

Of course, there are also rides where blockbusters are featured. Jurassic Park, Despicable Me, Transformers, Kung Fu Panda,  Revenge of the Mummy, and much more. There is so much to do that one day may not be enough. Though a day is a pretty long time walking, talking, laughing, and screaming. By night - we all were tired but thrilled to have spent a day together really enjoying the magic of Hollywood.

Welcome, but no feeding the Raptors
Again, in the world of J and L we encourage everyone to go out and research and explore at every opportunity. We traveled a short hour to explore an amusement park with our adult children and did the research to make it more of a learning experience for ourselves than just a day on rides. But that's okay too - just get out and explore. And be a grown-up child every now and then.

We like it that way and hope everyone feels the same.

And Freddie - we loved Bohemian Rhapsody and we're pretty sure J. K. Rowlings does, too, with this quotation from her 2007 novel, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows': "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

L leaving a bistro in Paris - or is she?

We especially wish to thank Justin Barr for the photographs in this blog. At least ninety-nine percent of the pictures for the day were taken by his expert photographer hands. One or two were probably mistakenly placed here by J from his smartphone. We apologize!

We will leave you with this, as we share our magical memories of a Mother's Day/Father's Day and the power of imagination:

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Hardyville, AZ

On a recent trip to Bullhead City, Arizona J and L (along with two of their four footed family members) happened onto an old cemetery perched high above the city. It sat just east of the Safeway shopping center and had a spectacular view of the mountains to the west, the Colorado River and the gambling meccas in Laughlin, Nevada.

Overlooking a Safeway and beautiful sunset

A tranquil respite from a tough life in the Mohave Desert
A peaceful and serene patch of land, but aren’t most places where the deceased rest? There was a visitor information sign that read: Hardyville Pioneer Cemetery and the plaque was erected by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution on November 6, 1999.

Another bronze plaque bolted into a large stone and cement base had a few of the people buried there in the Pioneer Cemetery: Bill Boone – 1866, William Brown – 1866, Thomas Gillan – 1872, and a few others not to be forgotten. It is always a little discomforting thinking about one’s own mortality, especially when in front of a grave yard. These people were alive with dreams and desires just like anyone currently viewing their names except they lived over one hundred and fifty years in the past.

Some of those buried in Hardyville Pioneer Cemetery 

No one is immortal in the physical realm.

So, what was life like so long ago by the shores of the Colorado River in Arizona before this modern era? What was a Hardyville and why this cemetery overlooking the grandeur of the Mohave Desert?
There was research to be completed.

The history of this area roughly 90 miles south of Las Vegas and directly opposite of Laughlin is in Mohave County nestled on the southern border of Lake Mohave. It is now a boater’s paradise with the lake and river close by but what drew people here before speed boats and jet skies were the norm?
In 1540 Spanish explorer Melchor Diaz traveled through the Mohave Desert and met the locals who inhabited the area. The Pipa Aha Macav which meant ‘people by the river’ were friendly to the traveler and it didn’t take much to understand why these people chose this area. Fresh water from the Colorado alive with fish and perfect for agricultural purposes. Eventually with more adventurers coming through the area after reading of Diaz’s exploits the name ‘Aha Macav’ simply shortened to Mojave (also spelled Mohave). It should be noted that the county uses the modern English spelling of ‘Mohave’ but the tribe still spells their name as ‘Mojave’.

William Harrison Hardy
In 1774 Father Francisco Garces crossed the river from what would be Nevada into what would later become Bullhead City. It may have been the first crossing of the wide river by a foreigner in this part of the country.

Years went by and more and more visitors to the region came and went but one gentleman by the name of William Harrison Hardy decided to plant roots in the desert by the river. He began a steamboat enterprise bringing goods to trade up and down the river to small mining camps and larger towns along the river. Hardy ventured into other businesses as well: toll roads, delivering of mail, and other occupations that made him the second richest man in Arizona by 1864 and also the same year as Hardy’s settlement officially adopted the name Hardyville. 

The richest man at this time in Arizona was Edmund William Wells who was a businessman, politician and eventually would serve on the Arizona territorial Supreme Court.
Boats plowed the Colorado River making Hardyville a busy port

Hardy was also an inventor and is credited with creating the first riveted mail sack to be used by the United States Postal Service. A pretty good conception since he was also the first Postmaster General of the town of Hardyville.

As with all good things, Hardyville saw a sharp drop in business in the following twenty years with the coming of the railroads to Yuma, Arizona, the movement of the county seat to Cerbat (an up and coming mining district), and competition with other barge companies on the Colorado River. Soon the railroad got all the way to Needles, California knocking another huge money making opportunity for Hardy and fellow businessmen. Silver prices plummeted and many of the mining operations ceased to exist since it was no longer profitable to mine the ore.

Of course, like most old west towns, fire struck a few times turning much of the small town into cinders. Rebuilt but without the same enthusiasm as there once was left and the town getting smaller and smaller in population left the future a bit uncertain for Hardyville. There wasn't enough work to support a single man let alone a family so most people moved onto where the grass was supposedly greener.

At the turn of the twentieth century Hardyville was a ghost town sitting idle along the beautiful flowing waters of the Colorado River.

William Harrison Hardy left, moving to Yuma to oversee the construction of the territorial prison there and died of cancer in 1906 at his sister's house in Whittier at the age of either 82 or 83 (a bit of a discrepancy on his birth year). He is buried at the Broadway Cemetery in Whittier, California - seems somewhat unfair that he wasn't returned to the town he had founded but fairness isn't always a part of life or death.
With Davis Dam came the modern day tourists

Decades later, an engineering feat called the Bullhead Dam project, named after the 'Bulls Head Rock' formation along the Colorado River in the 1940's changed the area for good. Later renamed the Davis Dam creating the huge Mohave Lake to the north of what was once Hardyville.

With the huge construction project came numerous businesses to support the crews needed to build the dam which was finally completed in 1951. More businesses came into the area in the following years making the area more profitable and the name of Bullhead City came into being in 1953.

The rest is modern history.

Of course, with the development of the gambling mecca of Laughlin, Nevada along the blue waters of the Colorado River employment was no longer an issue. The population on both sides of the river continued to grow to their present sizes.
Laughlin, Nevada - right across from what once was Hardyville

William Harrison Hardy probably would never have dreamed that one day his little venture along a river in a pretty hostile climate would eventually become so well known. No, like those other folks buried int he Hardyville Pioneer Cemetery he didn't live long enough to see his dreams cone to fruition.

Just a fact - life's funny like that sometimes.

So, again - go out and travel and see what you can learn by accident. The explorer may be surprised what is in their own backyard.

For further information on the cemetery:

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Amboy Crater

J and L often think that all we need to do is to look in our own backyards for new adventures and exploration. We truly believe this, and a recent weekend outing proved that assertion to be true.

On the way home from Bullhead City, Arizona, J and L decided to venture off Interstate 40 westbound and strike out along a portion of old Route 66, near Amboy. Amboy was once a famous, or perhaps infamous, little burg that was once the stopping place for weary travelers traveling west toward California from places to the east - way east.

A relaxing respite from day and night travel; what better place to spend a few minutes, a few hours or even a night to catch up on energy spent on the road?

Harrison Ford cruising Amboy
But this blog is not about the town of Amboy, although the town is actually making quite a comeback. Roy's Diner is open seven days a week, as more and more tourists stop to take photos where numerous films and commercials were shot. As a matter of fact, the sign for the restaurant is a 1959 addition to the property, the same year the film, Journey to the Center of Earth was filmed, in part, in Amboy. Rutger Hauer's cult classic, The Hitcher was filmed here in 1986; and Brad Pitt and David Duchovny were hanging around Roy's during the filming of Kalifornia in 1993. Casting no aspersions on the place, most recently Amboy has served as the locations for more than a few B-rated horror flicks.

On a lighter note, the area served as the backdrop for Enrique Iglesias' music video Hero, as well as the cover art in 2008 for Rush's album Snakes & Arrows Live. And, local legend has it (and autographed photos in the diner tend to add credence) that Harrison Ford is a frequent visitor, landing his personal place at a nearby strip -- the oldest in California.
This story is about that - the Amboy Crater, let's go
Pretty impressive for a place in the middle of nowhere, little Amboy has quite a history but again, this is about the Amboy Crater.

Middle of nowhere - not quite - a lot happening in this part of Route 66
The Mojave Desert is an amazing source of research and exploration. The cinder cone of the Amboy Crater is believed to be about 80,000 years old with periodic eruptions ending ten thousand years ago. A very active part of the Mojave Desert has similar but not as definitive cones (areas sunken with remaining side walls of material encircling the actual eruption site) as the Amboy Crater.

That little volcanic area that erupted in the Mojave Desert is what placed Amboy on the historical map. While ten thousand years in geologic time is like yesterday, we are glad it wasn't yesterday since J and L live in the Mojave Desert; and that would be awkward and potentially life threatening. Seriously though, Southern California is known for earthquakes but not so much for the volcanic activity which once proliferated all around the Golden State. With tectonic plate shifting comes the chance of volcanoes erupting here and there and Southern California just happens to be in the 'here' area.
This baby isn't going to blow any time soon - we hope!

Of course, most if not all volcanoes in the Mojave Desert are inactive - which is simply a geologist's way of saying: "I don't think anything will blow up soon around here. Oh wait, I have a plane to catch."

Hundreds if not thousands of visitors come to this remote area to walk, hike, and explore the area which is like stepping back into time.

There is a short area of smooth walking but most is over level rocky trails
The actual material was layer upon layer spewed up out of the earth over eons and consists mainly of pahoehoe which is a Hawaiian term (Hawaiians being the notable volcano experts) for smooth or unbroken lava.

This basaltic lava has a smooth, billowy, undulating or ropy surface. That happens when the lava below the surface is still very fluid, like molasses, but the top is quickly congealing so the lava path has a chance to stretch out and become smoother, often forming tunnels. The temperatures at the time of formation are a cooling two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. No matter what, the surface around the crater is crammed with hardened rock that, to the naked eye, may not appear to be particularly smooth. But J and L aren't geologists and only look at things as they appear. Smooth and billowy - nope. Hardened and at one time dangerous to walk on - yep.

This looks pretty hard for both bipedal and quadrupedal creatures.
At the ridge line of the cone, nearly 250 feet above the rest of the lava-strewn valley, the views of the desert are amazing -- a delight for photographers and artists who want to capture the reality of a violent past to a peaceful present.

The moon, right?
Walking into the crater allows the explorer a chance to look around at a surface that could be compared to that of the moon. Sandy, rocks here and there, but most notable is the silence. Yes, the wind does blow but when it stops so does everything else for a moment. When that quietness engulfs the crater you feel as if you are on another world. This is definitely the place to go if the adventurer is out in the Mojave Desert driving down Route 66 and just happens to pass a sleepy depot known as Amboy. Stop and have a bite at Roy's but don't forget that strange-looking thing just south-west standing against the backdrop of the Mojave Desert. Take a stroll to the Amboy Crater and realize that stroll has now
brought you to where the past meets the future.

Pretty steep walls - makes the place quiet

As we've said many times, we relish the thought of seeing things in your own backyard. It can be fascinating as we found out by simply getting off of the state highway and taking a two lane road home.

Sit a spell and learn about the area of Amboy

A little time consuming? Perhaps, absolutely worth it when we realized we've experienced something thousands of drivers will never see driving westbound on Interstate 40 heading to the Pacific. Taking a philosophical page from Miriam Beard: "Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."

That is the human spirit - go to the mountain and learn what is there to be learned. Just the experience is worth the travel.

Midnight, what better place to be than here?