Friday, 21 July 2017

I Feel Like I'm In A Real Western Movie

    You cannot visit the true west and not take a horseback ride, so a 7AM sunrise found us at the Desert High Country Stables in Tucson eagerly awaiting our first ever trail ride with the boys. We could not have dreamt a better start as the sun rose and turned the desert sky from red to orange. There was just the four of us on this ride; that in itself was rather nice so with “A Horse With No Name” playing in my mind we headed out to explore the desert flora and fauna on horseback. It was a perfect start to another picture perfect desert day.
      Because we had to return to the stables before the heat became a danger to the horses and us, we had a full day ahead of us and chose to spend it at the Old Tucson Movie Studios just west of the city. I had always been a big movie fan and particularly interested in film techniques and behind-the-scenes information so this was going to be a big deal for me. Old Tucson Studios was originally built in 1938 as a replica of 1860s Tucson for the filming of the movie “Arizona.” In 1960 the Studios were opened to the public and they grew as various production companies left something from their set on site as each film was completed. 
      As the day wore on it got hotter and hotter and by the time the first stunt show ended in the early afternoon it was a real scorcher. Many people were uncomfortable but it hit Adam very hard and he alarmingly collapsed from heat exhaustion necessitating us to rush him to the infirmary. Staffed by medics in cavalry uniforms, Matt introduced himself to Adam as he took his blood pressure. After a drink of Mountain Dew, a cold compress on the back of his neck and a bit of rest Adam recovered and we were on our way.
      Gavin was a little jealous of all the attention given Adam but I think it was mainly the fact that Adam got a sweet drink and he didn’t. Being a little nervous we spent a bit of time just relaxing in the shade and enjoying the people walking by and the various activities that unfolded around us. Old Tucson Movie Studios had a cornucopia of authentic Western dirt roads, boardwalks, rain barrels and saloons with swinging doors so this little break gave Adam a chance to stabilize.
      It was more than an enjoyable visit, it was a chance to get a feel for the culture of the Old West in an authentic (looking) setting.

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Monday, 17 July 2017

Expect the Unexpected

    I don’t know if it was the clear New Mexican skies, the fresh mountain air or some strange concoction of both but there seemed to be an inordinate number of low flying birds around. There were not flocks of them just lots of single birds flying dangerously low to the ground and totally at random so much so that in the course of about 100 miles we hit at least three of them. We heard a dull thud somewhere at the front of the van then I looked in the rear view mirror as the unfortunate flight came to an end with the avian careening off the road behind. Young Adam was laughing as he thought it rather funny each time we hit one. At first I wondered what he thought was so funny then he innocently asked, “They’re okay aren’t they Dad?” That’s when I knew I was a parent as I had to smile through my outright lying lips and say, “Yeah, they’re fine.”

      As we entered Arizona we were all feeling a bit hungry so decided to munch on some muffins that Karen had made a few days ago. It was unbearably hot in the van as we had no air conditioning and we had no water or anything else to drink and let me tell you, there is nothing like a bone dry muffin on an empty road in the desert heat. As we all struggled to swallow a mouthful of muffin that might as well have been a mouthful of sawdust I was the first one to “voice” what everyone was thinking. Turning my head to the open window on my left I took a deep breath and spit a huge spray of muffin dust out into the arid air. Laughing uproariously, the boys did the same sacrificing our great snack.

      Caution must be taken as you walk amongst the cacti for cactus needles attack relentlessly and many come equipped with a barb on the end which makes their extraction painful at best. No amount of tough denim or even thick-soled boots can escape their wrath so tread lightly my friend, as if you were walking on eggs.

      As we continued on we wound along the road passing between massive hills of cacti on either side of us and I could not help but think I was living in an old western movie. We stopped at the roadside to explore and in a barbed wire enclosed area were amazed to find that it was more than the desert cactus we had to worry about. Here, for some unexplained reason, a sign indicated caution because an unexploded mine field lay ahead. I knew we were close to the Mexican border but this was a tad extreme don’t you think?

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Monday, 10 July 2017

Go West Young Man

    When it comes to road trips, the longer the better; that’s my preference but I will concede it may not be everyone’s – you’re certainly not going to get kids attuned to that philosophy. It was October 1992 and although we had nearly three weeks allotted to this vacation we had a gargantuan distance to cover as we would be driving to Las Vegas, through the American southwest and back. If we were going to cover a lot of ground we had to get a tremendously early start so we discovered hey, there really is a 3 o’clock in the morning. Of course it was dark then, which helped because the kids were able to sleep until daylight and we were in the United States by then. We had usually headed in a southerly direction on previous trips so this was dramatically different and at about 6PM we passed the Gateway to the West, the St. Louis arch!  That was about 1000 miles from our home in Gilford and a monstrous drive for one day so we stopped just outside St. Louis.

      Although we had been to Colorado in 1990 this was our real introduction to the Wild West, the one that Gavin and Adam were familiar with thanks to Hollywood folklore. The next day after what could politely be referred to as a tediously boring drive devoid of anything remotely interesting, we reached Dodge City, Kansas, where we would begin our true quest for the West.

      Best known as the setting for the long running television series “Gunsmoke”, Dodge City lies in the southwestern quadrant of Kansas and is a testament to the Wild West. It has maintained part of its primitive downtown area as a tourist attraction. One street, a rustic wooden walkway, preserves the old west with saloons and stores surrounded by a wooden picket fence highlighted by an old steam locomotive and a wonderful old windmill. Looking through the fence was like looking through a window in time.

      As we drove away from Dodge City early the next morning we realized that it was the radio not the television that provided the best entertainment in these parts. Scattered amongst the numerous reports on the hog futures and corn prices of the day was the local news of barn dances and prison breaks. Prison breaks were hardly ever in the news at home, see, we just don’t get out enough - we need to travel more.

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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Lake Placid in the Fall

    Upper New York State is beautiful in autumn as the sunshine turns on nature’s neon with a vibrant display of fall colour. We had been there three times before; once on our honeymoon in 1977, once with friends in 1983 and once with the boys in 1985.

      We selected a small motel on Mirror Lake, often mistaken for Lake Placid, to stay for a couple of days. There was nothing unusual about the motel but it was right on the lake and as guests we had full access to their canoes and paddleboats. This was going to result in hours of fun for us, immersed in the resplendent chromaticity.

      I was no stranger to canoeing having taken many trips in the past, but it was a new experience for Gavin and Adam. They loved the water and were thrilled to be able to paddle, although it was a bit of a stretch for Adam to reach the water from high above it sitting in the bow with me in the stern. Mirror Lake is aptly named. Its surface was like glass and the clear blue sky and brilliant autumn colours were reflected endlessly on the water. The icing on the cake was the silence broken only by our paddles slicing into the calm waters and the occasional exclamation of delight from the boys.                                              

      It is true that all good things must come to an end and when it happened to our vacations it left in its wake something very close to depression. I grovelled in it for a while then had to force myself back to reality and the knowledge that there would be other vacations and they would probably be even better as Gavin and Adam grew up and were able to do more things with us. So waffling between depression and elation (there’s a psychological disorder there isn’t there?) we left Lake Placid with a scenic drive along Highway 3. We descended out of the mountains and followed the winding road through picturesque forests and Norman Rockwell-type villages. It was about a three hour drive but it was so pretty we wished it had been longer.

      In a last ditch effort to make our time together as long and as meaningful as possible we stopped at the roadside for a picnic lunch. There were no sand dunes so the boys had to be content with climbing the rocks and jumping to the soft grass below - how fitting that this vacation should end with the boys doing what they learned to love in Cape Cod.

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Monday, 26 June 2017

The Baseball Connection

    I had heard that parking can be a bit of a challenge at Fenway Park so I decided we better get moving at about two o’clock if we were to stand any chance at all of getting a spot. Good decision because I was totally unprepared for not being able to get there from here. Boston‘s road system is not a grid like many familiar cities but rather is set up in circles encompassing Beacon Hill and intersected by streets like spokes on a wheel. This is very European and very picturesque but is a nightmare when it comes to locating and getting to unfamiliar places. Such was the case as we drove in continuous circles able to plainly see Fenway Park but unable to figure out how to get to it. It was very frustrating but ultimately we did fluke it and arrived at the curbside of one of the streets bordering the park.

      It was about three o’clock by now and the game didn’t start until seven so we were able to find a perfect parking spot and were determined to keep it no matter how much money we had to feed the parking meter between now and 6 PM. We were just about to leave for a walk through the Fenway neighbourhood when a man and his weenie wagon appeared and asked if we would kindly move our vehicle so he could have this fine parking spot. I was just about to tell him what he could do with his wagon and all his weenies when he suggested that we simply move ahead one spot and he would pay the parking meter for us. Well, not even I was about to argue with sound logic and good ideas like that so I happily moved forward and we were off without having to worry about running back to feed the meter.

      Fenway Park had been home to the Boston Red Sox since it opened in 1912, and was the oldest major league baseball stadium still in use today. The ballpark had several quirky little areas unique to Fenway, not the least of which was the famous Green Monster, the nickname given to the 37 foot 2 inch high left field wall that serves as a popular target for right-handed hitters. Our visit tonight was made even more meaningful as the Red Sox opponents would be our very own Toronto Blue Jays.

      Trying not to be too obvious about which team we were cheering for was a perfect way to spend an autumn evening. It was part of a Whitehead vacation in its best form – two teams chasing the elusive American League Pennant, ballpark franks and a couple of spellbound kids watching America’s game.


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Monday, 19 June 2017

Ducklings Lead the Way

    We had tickets to the Red Sox baseball game that night so decided to spend a leisurely day in Boston. As we walked the perimeter of the Boston Public Gardens adjacent to Boston Common along Beacon Street we came upon the bar from the television series “Cheers”. I was going to look for it anyway, it just made it much easier when it presented itself so readily. I probably would not have found it if I had gone in search of it. The bar, which was founded in 1969 as the Bull and Finch Pub, was used for exterior shots only in the show and does not resemble the bar in the television series at all on the inside. However in 2002 the owners gave up and officially renamed the bar Cheers.

      The Public Gardens were beautiful in the morning light as we walked somewhat aimlessly about to a second coincidental stumbling on our part  (remember I mentioned if you look, something will always come up to entertain your children and save the day). Ours was the discovery of the bronze statues commemorating Robert McCloskey’s children’s story “Make Way For Ducklings.” It is located near the central pond not far from the Bull and Finch Pub. The book was so popular the statues were created and placed in the public park. It was pretty exciting, to Gavin in particular, as he had just finished reading the book in school so this discovery was a gold mine for him. Sitting on the large mama duck’s back, Gavin proceeded to tell us the story of the two mallard ducks who decided to raise their family on an island in the pond in Boston’s Public Garden.

      Neither of these things were typical tourist things to do in Boston. The bar has become one but at the time of our visit the series was just getting under way. They just happened and it’s important you be prepared to embrace these types of opportunities when they occur. It adds a wonderful dimension to your travel plans and in all honesty works best when you have not tried to plan it at all.


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Monday, 12 June 2017

Plimoth Rocks

    To be able to learn History by viewing it firsthand would be best but also impossible so the next best thing is to be able to learn history by seeing its remains firsthand. That is exactly what the boys were able to do as we arrived at Plimoth Plantation near the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

      It is a reconstruction of the original settlement of the Plymouth Colony established by English colonists, later referred to as Pilgrims, in the 17th century. As we entered this living museum we passed through the fort at the gates equipped with cannons to protect the village. We spent a wonderful day wandering around the sand and dirt roads and pathways flanked by split rail and twig fences. Wooden houses with thatched roofs were bordered by corrals for the livestock, chickens and goats.

      Museum interpreters populate the 1627 English village and speak, act and dress as they did in 1627. A little disconcerting at first in a “What the hell did he just say to me?” kind of way, they interacted with their “strange visitors”, us, in the first person, answering questions, discussing their lives and viewpoints and going about their daily activities of cooking, carpentry, blacksmithing and gardening/farming. It was indeed interesting to watch a couple of matronly women pluck a goose to cook in a pot of boiling water over an open fire. One young lady was asked what she did. “What do I do? I do my labours,” was her surprised, almost indignant response.

      In the town of Plymouth near the legendary Plymouth Rock rests the Mayflower II, a replica of the 17th century ship celebrated for transporting the Pilgrims to the New World. The ship is under the care of Plimoth Plantation and like the museum is inhabited by colonial first person interpreters representing the sailors, officers and workers on the 1620’s ship. The actors in character added to the enjoyment and understanding of the era. How anyone ever survived the long ocean voyage on a vessel like this is beyond me.

      Once again, an unscheduled diversion took us into a world we didn’t know existed, a world we uncover by spontaneity on the Holiday Road.

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