Slab City

The snowbirds who gravitate to Slab City in the Sonoran Desert in California are not your usual run-of-the-mill types that have condos in the Coachella Valley. But snowbirds, those looking to escape their harsh winter climates by moving to a desert locale for the winter, come in many variations. Those who turn up in Slab City are often at the lower end of the income scale: squatters, tweakers, and down-on-their-luck types. With winter numbers swelling to close to 4000 in recent years (attributable no doubt to hard times and recession), some of the 200 full-time residents who call Slab City home year round are very much into living an off-the-grid self-sustainable life. And fair play to them. Read more

I fell for Tucson Arizona. I didn’t have nearly enough time there but it was long enough to know that of all the cities I’ve visited this trip, this is one I want to get to know better.

Brief history of Tucson Arizona

About 115 miles (185 km) southeast of Phoenix, the city of Tucson Arizona sits beside the Santa Cruz River on a hilly plain in the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by mountains. Back in 1692, when the Jesuit missionary Eusebio Kino first visited the Tohono O’odham, the place was called Chuk Shon – village of the spring at the foot of the black mountain.  A few years later, he’d establish several missions in the locality, including the now famous and rather spectacular Mission San Xavier del Bac. Part of the Gadsden purchase of 1854, Tucson became part of the USA. It’s still a bilingual community with both English and Spanish freely spoken. The city had its fair share of long-term visitors and in its day has flown four flags: Spanish, Mexican, Confederate, and US. With the silver reserves in Tombstone and the copper mines in Bisbee, the city soon blossomed.

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Saguora cactus near Inside of a falled Saguora cactus near Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge, AZ

The desert never fails to conjure up images of Western movies. I expect to see Indians in full battle regalia on horseback on each ridge, and spot the dust plume kicked up by cowboys, with lariats on their saddles and spurs on their boots. There’s an other worldliness to it all that defies explanation. The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Coolidge AZ has been a part of such a landscape for the last 650 years. Read more

Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright, Electric Desert, Electric desert Desert Botanical Gardens

I like flowers. I like plants. I like shrubs. But spending a few hours in a botanical garden isn’t quite my sliver of bark. It’s not something I’d choose to do unless it had something quirky about it. Taking the boat to Garnish Island in Bantry Bay off the coast of Cork was an experience. Visiting the Japanese Gardens in Kildare, a celebration of miniature, is something I’d do again. Visiting Victor’s Way in Roundwood Co. Wicklow is high on my list of things to do next time I’m home. But your run-of-the-mill botanical gardens? Give me a good book and I’ll wait for you. But I like cactuses (cacti) and I like light and sound shows, so when I got to put the two together, it was magical. Electric desert is a must-see. Read more

I have a vague memory of visiting Phoenix AZ many moons ago. That it’s a vague memory says a lot about my impression of the place. I think we were supporting some Irish dancers who had travelled to the city for a feis. I know we met up with the brother of a girl I’d gone to school with at home and he’d taken us to a cowboy place where we sat on saddle-shaped stools and slithered down a pole to get into the restaurant. And we ate rattlesnake. That’s it. That’s all I remember about Phoenix AZ.

This time, we were visiting good friends in Scottsdale and they had our number.

Musical Instruments Museum Phoenix AZ

First up was the MIM – the Musical Instruments Museum. Read more

Route 66 to Williams AZ

Driving along the iconic Route 66 is an experience I’ll never tire of. The longest remaining stretch of the road that once stretched 2488 miles from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA sits between Kingman and Seligman in Arizona. Dotted with long-deserted gas stations and dance halls, towns like Valentine, AZ are ghostly reminders of a once-prosperous time. Read more

General George S Patton Memorial Museum Chiriaco Summit CA

I’m not one for guns. I’ve no great interest in tanks. But I will admit to a certain fascination with war. Travelling east on the I-10 from Palm Desert on our way to Williams AZ, we stopped off at Chiriaco Summit for breakfast and noticed that the truck stop is also home to the General Patton Memorial Museum. The gas station, the restaurant, and the museum are a family business and have been owned and operated by the Chiriaco family since 1933 (the museum opened in 1988). Read more

It’s been five years since I was last in the Colorado Desert. [Confession: I had been referring to it as the California Desert (as it’s in CA) but actually the Coachella Valley sits in the northern end of the Colorado Desert, near the lower reaches of the Colorado River.] Back in the day, the valley was a sea and when the first settlers appeared, they found seashells. As the story goes, Conchilla (Spanish for little shell) became Coachella, perhaps because of someone’s bad handwriting. The state highway 111 runs right through, a retail corridor linking Indio, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City. We drove it a number of times travelling between friends in Palm Desert and friends in Palm Springs and everything seems to run together. It’s hard to tell when one city stops and the next one begins. Read more

Watching live crab at Redondo Pier CA

Way back when I moved to California, I remember feeling cheated. In my head, I was moving to Los Angeles, but my address said Torrance. I wasn’t living in LA. I was living in a city some 12 miles south of it. Granted, that city was in LA county, but that didn’t appear on my address.

Revisiting Torrance CA

I spent a month there in 1990 and came back again for another six months later that year. It felt like I was there for years, but doing the math a few lifetimes later, seven months was all I had. I worked at an Irish pub on the corner of Western and Del Amo, Friday nights from 10 pm till closing and then occasionally covering other shifts for other bartenders as needed. It was quite the education. I remember running after my first customer to give him back the change he’d left on the counter. The whole tipping thing had eluded me. I’d soon catch on, though. I made a mess of pouring my first few pints of Black and Tans (half Guinness half lager), and some random guy at the bar benefitted from my mistakes. I met lots of people – Irish and American and Australian – and some 25+ years later, I’m still in touch with a few of them.

The old Looneys bar in Torrance CA

The old Looneys bar in Torrance CA

We stopped by to see the old place. It changed hands after the sudden demise of the legendary Tubbs (a man who made 6’2″ look like 7’3″) back in 1998 and morphed into Paddy O’s, which fell in the wake of rising rents. I’d last been there, I think, in 1991 and yet it seemed like yesterday.

I’m spending this weekend back in Torrance with the inimitable JNP and his lovely wife SRP. Driving over to Torrance from the airport, I searched in vain for something I recognised, someplace that looked familiar. I drew a blank. I remembered, though, about the carpool lane where cars with two or more people get to drive a little faster. That helped. But I was blown away by the number of driver-only cars on the road and their lack of willingness to let you into their lane. I was distracted by the vanity plates and had to turn off the radio in case I missed my off-ramp. I’d forgotten how much attention it takes to drive the LA freeways and for the first time recognised why automatics might be better than stick-shifts.

I had a list of things I wanted to do – have an In ‘n’ Out burger, have a carne asada burrito (and we did at La Capilla – don’t miss it), and do the milk dud/malteser comparison check, just to make sure I remembered that maltesers are better. I also wanted to check out Walmart, Target, and RiteAid. And if I could fit in a few cemeteries, so much the better.

Redondo Pier

Riding the waves at Redondo pier near Torrance CA

Redondo pier near Torrance CA

Redondo pier near Torrance CA

Redondo pier near Torrance CA

LA is having unseasonably cold weather and when I’m tired, the cold seems to take up residence in my bones. While I was well wrapped up, others walking the pier at Redondo Beach were in their shorts and t-shirts. It was a glorious day, perfect for some of Kincaid’s legendary clam chowder. The sea lions were bellyaching about the cold, too, much to the delight of the visiting toddlers. The fishermen were holding their own, despite the dire warnings posted about not eating the local catch. And the sea was a brilliant blue, not something I’d ever connected in my LA memory.

Fishing from Redondo Pier

Bait shop at Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

Fish cleaning station Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

Fishing from Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

Fishing from Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

Fish warning at Redondo Pier near Torrance CA

It’s a lovely part of LA county… beautiful on a sunny day. Revisiting Torrance CA, I’ve readjusted my LA memory bank to include the sea. And next time might just be tempted to rent a rod and try my luck.

 

 

Salt pans at Delimara Point

I come to Malta every year around February and thanks to the perseverance of some lovely friends whose mission it seems is to take me somewhere new each time, I’ve gotten to see a lot of the island. This is no mean feat as the island of Malta is just 27 km (17 mi) long and 14.5 km (9 mi) wide, with a total area of 246 square km (95 sq mi). I’ve been coming here regularly for the last 10 years or so and each time I think, this is it. I must have seen it all by now. But no. Once again, they surprised me. This time with Delimara Point. Read more