Monday, March 13, 2017

Struggle to Give Novels Life


 
 
To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday Books We Love Ltd is publishing twelve historical novels, one for each of the ten provinces, one for the Yukon Territory, and one combining the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. We Canadian authors were asked to pick one of the provinces or territories to write about or to do the research on for a non-Canadian author. I chose the Yukon because I have been there twice and love the beauty and history of the territory. The following is an overview of some of the struggles that writer's have bringing their stories to life.
 
 
Struggles to bring my story to life.
I have written in many different genres, non-fiction, mystery, romance, and historical and in each one I have had to make sure that my characters are multi-dimensional, my story plot is fast paced, and my setting is exciting. Readers what to identify with the main characters so they have to be believable and likeable. Readers want action in the story so the plot has to move along at a good clip. And readers want to learn about the place where the story is set, so it is important that I know the setting itself. This is much harder in a historical novel because that setting is no longer readily available in the way it was in the time period I am writing about. So this is where non-fiction books, museums, archives, and paintings or photos of that time come in handy.
     In any novel it is important to make sure the plot moves forward, the characters grow, and the setting is described at the same pace but, for me, it isn’t necessary to write that forward movement in sequence.
     I imagine I am like most authors in that I never write a book in the order that the reader will read it. As I am writing the first chapter, later scenes develop in my mind and I will jot down notes on them. When I come to a standstill in the progress of the story, I turn those notes into the scene. That way I seldom have writer’s block. And it gives my subconscious mind a chance to work out the next stage in my story.
     Sometimes I have an idea as to the ending of my novel but I never write it down because it is subject to change at the whim of the characters for, although I am the writer, it is their story.
 

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Short History of the Yukon


 
 
To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday Books We Love Ltd is publishing twelve historical novels, one for each of the ten provinces, one for the Yukon Territory, and one combining the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. We Canadian authors were asked to pick one of the provinces or territories to write about or to do the research on for a non-Canadian author. I chose the Yukon because I have been there twice and love the beauty and history of the territory. The following is a quick summary of the Yukon’s beginning.

 
The Yukon

The name Yukon is derived from the Loucheux first nations word Yukunah which means `big river'. The land was mainly occupied by the Tagish and Tlingit native people for centuries before the non-native explorers arrived in the 1820s. In the 1840s fur traders set up a few Hudson's Bay Company posts along the Yukon River. When the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, there wasn’t a clear border between Alaska and the Northwest Territories, as the land was known then. In 1887-88 William Ogilvie, a Canadian surveyor, surveyed the area making the 141st meridian the western boundary with Alaska and the 60th parallel the southern border with British Columbia. Hence the phrase North of 60.

     Prospectors went north looking for gold in the 1880s and there was a gold strike along the Fortymile River, which drains into the Yukon River, in 1886. There were other smaller strikes until 1896 when gold was discovered on Rabbit Creek later renamed Bonanza Creek. A town named Dawson sprang up on the Yukon River at the mouth of the Klondike River. When word of the gold discovery reached the outside world in the summer of 1897, thousands of men, women and children hurried to Dawson during the winter of 1897-1898 hoping to find their fortune.

     Because of the rush Dawson grew quickly to be the largest city north of San Francisco and it became known as the `Paris of the North'. It had hotels, dance halls, daily newspapers and saloons for its 30,000 inhabitants. Fresh eggs were brought by raft on the Yukon River; whiskey came in by the boatload before freeze-up; gambling made rich men out of some and paupers out of others; dance hall girls charged $5 dollars in gold for each minute they danced with a miner; the janitors made up to $50 dollars a night when they panned out the sawdust from the barroom floors. Due to the influx of people, the region officially entered into the confederation of Canada and was designated as the Yukon Territory on June 13, 1898. Dawson became the capital. Eventually the word `territory' was dropped and it was called The Yukon.

     A Territorial Administration Building was constructed in 1901 for the territorial seat of government and Dawson was the centre for the government administration until 1953 when the capital was moved to Whitehorse.

     The Klondike gold rush ended in 1899 when word of a gold discovery in Nome, Alaska, reached the prospectors and they headed further north. However, over the next few decades gold companies were formed and continued to mine the creeks, this time using dredges to dig up the creek bottom. They left behind huge piles of gravel called tailings. The dredging lasted until 1960 when gold prices declined making the operation uneconomical. Today, mining is done with big trucks, huge sluices, and back hoes.

     The north is known as the Land of the Midnight Sun after the words in Robert W. Service’s poem The Cremation of Sam McGee:

                    There are strange things done in the midnight sun

                      By the men who moil for gold.

     The Arctic Circle is the most northerly of the five major circles of latitude of the Earth. It is an imaginary line that marks the southern edge of the Arctic at 66 degrees 30' north latitude in the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Canada, and in Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia. The land north of the Arctic Circle gets 24 hours of sunlight on the longest day of the year, June 21st. The further north of the circle you go the more days of total sunlight in the summer you will get. This is because the North Pole is tilted towards the sun and gets direct sunlight from March 20 to September 22 as the earth rotates. Conversely, on the shortest day, December 21st, the land north of the Arctic Circle gets 24 hours of darkness because the North Pole is tilted away from the sun.

     The Yukon is a great place to view the aurora borealis or northern lights. These are bright dancing lights that are really collisions between the gaseous particles of the Earth’s atmosphere and the electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The most common colours are pink and pale green produced by oxygen molecules about sixty miles above the earth.  Silver, blue, green, yellow and violet also appear in the display. Red auroras are rare and produced at high altitudes of about 200 miles. The lights are best seen in the winter and the further north you are the better they appear.

     The Yukon has the smallest desert in the world, the Carcross Desert, near the town of Carcross. It is an area that was once covered by a glacial lake. As the glaciers melted the level of the lake lowered until just the sandy bottom was left. Winds off Lake Bennett keep the sand moving and prevent most plants and trees from taking root on this.

     During the late Wisconsin ice age (10,000 to 70,000 years ago) an arid section of the northern hemisphere was not glaciated because of the lack of moisture to support the expansion of the glaciers. The area, called Beringia after the Bering Strait which is near the centre of the region, encompassed parts of present-day eastern Siberia, Alaska, The Yukon, and ended at the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories. The growth of continental glaciers sucked up moisture which led to the sea level dropping by up to 106 metres (350 feet). As a result, a land bridge was formed between northwest North America and northeast Asia.

     It is believed that parts of western Beringia (eastern Siberia today) were occupied by man 35,000 years ago. The forming of the Bering Land Bridge allowed the first humans to travel from Asia to North America. There is evidence that the history of man in North America goes back 25,000 years ago.

     Some of the animals that survived for thousands of years in this arid land surrounded by glaciers were the North American horse and camel, the steppe bison, the giant beaver that weighed up to 181 kilograms (400 pounds), the Mastodon, the woolly mammoth, the giant short-faced bear, the scimitar cat, the American lion, and the giant ground sloth. All of these are extinct.

     The territory of The Yukon was founded on gold mining, but there has been coal and silver mining in the territory also. It is now a favourite destination for tourists.

The Bride of Romancing the Klondike


 
 
To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday Books We Love Ltd is publishing twelve historical novels, one for each of the ten provinces, one for the Yukon Territory, and one combining the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. We Canadian authors were asked to pick one of the provinces or territories to write about or to do the research on for a non-Canadian author. I chose the Yukon because I have been there twice and love the beauty and history of the territory. The following is a quick introduction to the bride of my novel Romancing the Klondike.

 
Bride of Romancing the Klondike

In 1896, nineteen-year-old Pearl Owens and her cousin, Emma, are on their way up the Yukon River to Fortymile. Pearl is on an adventure to the north where she will be writing articles about the area for her hometown newspaper. The two women meet up with Sam Owens, Emma’s brother, and his two friends, Donald and Gordon, in Fortymile. The men, who have been searching for gold in the north for five years, have just returned from staking a claim on Rabbit Creek.

     Sam and his friends move to their claims on what is now known as Bonanza Creek. Against Sam’s instructions Pearl and Emma follow them, setting up a tent on a bench at the mouth of the Klondike River overlooking the Yukon River.

     Pearl meets Joseph Ladue, the first man to ever set her heart aflutter, while Emma’s teenage feelings for Donald are rekindled. Pearl spends her time speaking with the men and women of the north and sketching the scenery. She writes about what it is like to be in the middle of a gold strike. She also describes the early development and growth of a town eventually known as Dawson.

     During the ten months they live in the north Pearl and Emma make friends, celebrate holidays, and suffer through tragedy. One of them finds love, one does not. Of the three men two get rich, one does not.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Twelve



Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.
After visiting my cousin, Betty, in Mayer for two days, our next destination was the Grand Canyon National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We stopped in the parking lot of the South Rim. Mike was able to make the short walk to the first of many viewpoints. I’d seen pictures and heard stories of how beautiful the canyon was but I wasn’t prepared for the absolute grandeur of the multi-coloured layers, the river far below, the rock formations. It was amazing to stand on the rim of the canyon and try to visualize the five million years it had taken the Colorado River to form it.
     We took our time, walking from viewpoint to viewpoint taking pictures and just staring. The canyon is 277 miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide in places and can reach a depth of more than a mile. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Grand Canyon National Park was formed in 1919.
     We drove the Desert View Highway and stopped at other viewpoints for a different view of the canyon and to take more pictures. At the Tusayan Ruin I walked around the small site. It is estimated that about twenty people lived in this pueblo or village. Nothing has been done to reconstruct it only to stabilize what remains of the walls, which are now only about two layers of rock high. I looked at the living quarters, the storage rooms, and the kiva. I took the short hike down to a clearing where they may have had a garden. They also used a lot of the trees and bush for medicinal purposes and for food.
     It is believed that the Peublo Indians built this site around 1185 and occupied it for about twenty years. Again, I was standing in a place constructed thousands of years ago. How thrilling. From the ruins I looked into the distance and saw Humphries Peak. At 12,633ft (3851m) it is the highest point in Arizona.
     Further along the highway we reached the Watchtower. Construction on this tall, circular tower on the rim of the Grand Canyon began in 1930. In order to give it an ancient look the weathered stones picked for it were left in their natural state.
     Inside is a visitor's center, a gift shop, and different Hopi drawings simulating what the early natives would have drawn, on the walls. I looked up the open shaft to the third floor ceiling, then climbed the circular staircase which ran along the outer walls. On each floor there are Hopi paintings. At the top are wide windows with an excellent view over the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. Before descending I looked down the centre shaft to the bottom level.
     After the Watchtower we left the Grand Canyon National Park. As we neared Cameron we drove through miles and miles of the Painted Desert. The layers of the hillsides are made of siltstone, mudstone, and shale. These contain iron and manganese compounds that provide the pigments for the various colours. The layers are easily eroded and so the hills are a variety of reds, tans, pinks, blues, and grays.
     When we rose the next morning it was still overcast and raining. We continued our drive through the Painted Desert. The blacks, reds, plums, siennas, and grayish teal were all beautiful.
     We reached Marble Canyon, which is the beginning of the Grand Canyon and crossed the Colorado River Bridge. Beside it, also over the river, is the Navajo bridge, which was built in 1929. The old one is narrow and now used as a walkway.
     We were on the Vermilion Cliffs Highway and following the Vermilion Cliffs which lived up to their names. They are high and vermilion coloured and run for miles along the highway. We reached the Cliff Dwellings alongside the road. I walked over to look in what remained of the homes created under the large rocks.
      Sign: Cliff Dwellings-People Who Live In Rock Houses. Erosion of sandstone formations leave a variety of crevices, caves and overhangs. Over time travellers and residents found creative ways to use these natural features as temporary or permanent shelter. Around 1927 Blanche Russell's car broke down as she travelled through this area. Forced to camp over night she decided she liked the scenery so well that she bought property and stayed. The stone buildings under these balanced rock were built shortly after that in the 1930s. Before 1930 a road trip up the east side of Kaibab Mountain was very steep. The early cars had a gravity feed gas pump. When climbing the mountain the vehicles could not get gas to the engine but they solved the problem by backing up the steepest parts.

The scenery changed to mainly forest. We passed a road to the north rim of Grand Canyon which was closed for the winter. We climbed steadily to Jacob Lake. At the summit we descended to the Paria Plateau where we could see forever. We arrived at Freedonia, which was established in 1885. Just on the northern outskirts we entered the state of Utah and were in Kanab.
     Zion Canyon is 15 miles (24km) long and up to half a mile deep. The North Fork of the Virgin River cut the canyon through the red and tan colored Navajo Sandstone. At the Zion National Park it cost us $25.00 to enter the park and then because of our size we paid an extra $15.00 for a permit to go through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel. There were many beautiful different colours and different slants to the layers of the rock walls as we drove. We were on a narrow winding road and drove through the first tunnel. When we reached the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel a ranger came out to check our permit. The tunnel was built in 1929. The highest point is 13'1" (4m) while at the curve it is 11'4" high. We waited for the oncoming traffic to clear and the last driver handed the ranger a flag. He, in turn, gave it to the last vehicle in our convoy.
     As instructed, we drove down the middle of the road through the very long tunnel. There were three spaces where an opening allowed us to see the scenery on the passenger's side. Once out of the tunnel we snaked downhill on steep switch backs into the canyon. We turned off the main road onto the Zion Canyon scenic drive. There are walking bridges across the Virgin River to get to trails on the other side. At the end of the drive there is a river hike that follows the river through the narrowing canyon. It is a two mile round trip but I didn’t have time to do it.
     I met a young woman from Australia. She and her boyfriend were touring for two months in a van borrowed from a friend.
     “We’re from Vancouver Island and we've been on the road for almost ten weeks,” I said.
     “Where on the island are you from?” she asked.
     “Port Alberni.
     “Really? I worked at Mount Washington Ski Resort a few years ago and really liked it. I’d like to go back sometime.”
     Mount Washington Ski Resort is about a three hour drive from Port Alberni.
     It was December 4, Day 68 of our trip. We now had no schedule. Instead of being on a holiday we were on an adventure to make it home before running into snow. We looked at the map for the fastest, yet warmest route home. Over the next three days we drove northwest through Nevada, Oregon and Washington. We drove through fog, rain, and snow and reached Port Angeles on December 6th. On December 7th , we crossed the Juan de Fuca Strait and pulled into our driveway in the early afternoon. We’d driven 18,758km (11656 miles), travelled through two provinces and nineteen states and been gone ten weeks.
    What an experience.

www.joandonaldsonyarmey.com
 

 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Ten


www.joandonaldsonyarmey.com
 
 
Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

Road Tripping USA Part Ten
We drove to Langtry and stopped at the Judge Roy Bean Saloon and Museum. Roy Bean owned a store when he was appointed as Justice of the Peace of the Pecos County to combat the lawlessness of the area. He moved his court to Langtry and set up a tent saloon. He later built a wooden saloon which he named the Jersey Lilly after famous English actress, Lillie Langtry. She was his idol and he composed many letters to her inviting her to his town, which he claimed he named after her.
     Judge Roy Bean dispatched his own version of the law and was known as the ‘Law West of the Pecos’. Although he was also known as the ‘Hanging Judge’ there is conflicting information about that. Some say there is no evidence that he ever sentenced anyone to hang and others state that he sentenced two men to hang, one of whom escaped. His bar, or the front verandah, was his courtroom and his customers usually acted as a jury. He had one law book, his own idea of frontier justice, and a six gun to back his decisions.
     Lillie Langtry was born Emilie Le Breton on October 13, 1853, in Jersey, England. She married Edward Langtry in 1874. Her beauty won her many acclaims and she became a stage actress in 1881. She later formed her own production company. She toured the UK and went to the United States on tour in 1883. After many such trips, Lilly, as the American's spelled her name, became an American citizen in 1897. She died in Monaco on February 12, 1929. She did get to Langtry, Texas, in 1904, but it was a few months after Judge Roy Bean's death.  
     The buildings- the billiards hall, the saloon, and the opera hall- are all original and well preserved. We walked into the saloon and I bellied up to the bar. In the Opera House was a bed and some other furniture.
     Beside the museum is the Cactus Garden Interpretive Trail. We wandered the path through the different cacti reading their names and descriptions of their uses. I learned that the fruit and flowers of the Spanish Dagger are edible and the fiber is used for string, and that candy is made out of the Eagles Claw. It was a lovely walk through the garden and across a man-made dry river.
     Langtry is just a few houses near the museum and a post office. I bought a post card and mailed it to mom.
     We were on the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Dessert and we drove through this desert over the next week as we went through southwestern Texas and into New Mexico and Arizona. The desert also goes south into Mexico. It covers 139,769 sq. miles (362,000 sq. km) and is the third largest desert on the Western hemisphere, and second only to the Great Basin in North America.
     At Marathon we headed south and passed a sign stating we had entered the Big Bend National Park. However, the headquarters were still 28 miles (45km) away and the campground 20 miles (32km) past that on the Rio Grande. We drove through a tunnel and finally reached the campground after dark.
     Big Bend National Park is named for the big curve in the Rio Grande. It covers 800,000 acres (323,760ha) of desert and mountains, and includes 118 miles (190km) of the Rio Grande. It is the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan desert in the U.S.
     In the shower/laundry room the next morning, I talked with a woman who said she and her husband had been in the park for five days and were planning on staying for a couple more. They had been RVers for a year, travelling around the countryside. She told me about some of the hiking trails in the park. She said to watch for the trinkets that were beside the hiking trails for people to buy. I wasn’t sure what she was talking about but I figured I would find out.
     Mike and I walked to the boat launch and Mike put his foot in the Rio Grande. We drove to the Rio Grande Village nature trail. Mike wasn’t sure how far he could get but we set out. Just as we crossed the bridge over a pond we met four people who had just finished the trail.
     “Is the trail worth going on?” I asked.
     “Oh, yes,” one of the men said.
     “Is it hard?”
     “Going around the bottom of the hill is okay but it is a steep climb to the top.”
     The other man wore a jacket with the name Jasper on it. Mike saw it and asked. “Are you from Jasper, Alberta?”
     “No. We’re from London, Ontario. We’re Canadians.”
     “We’re Canadians from Vancouver Island.”
      The man said they came down to Texas every fall to spend the winter with their friends in San Antonio. He asked us what we were doing. Mike said we had gone to an international breast cancer dragon boat survivor festival in Sarasota.
     “Oh,” one of the women said. “One of our friends in London belongs to a breast cancer survivor dragon boat team and she was at Sarasota.”
     I asked the name of the team was but they couldn’t remember.
     We started hiking along the trail and we hadn't gone very far when we found some hiking sticks, and scorpions, road runners, necklaces, ocotillos, roosters, and other items made out of beads and copper wire in a group by the trail. There was a piece of cardboard beside them with the prices on it and a plea for donations to support their school.
     These were the trinkets the woman in the laundromat had been talking about. They were left there by Mexicans who came across the river.
     It was on the honour system to pay and there was a container to leave the money. Mike and I each bought a hiking stick. Mike's had a bird and a cactus painted on it and mine had a snake. We carried on and found three more wayside trinket sites. We climbed up to a magnificent overlook where we could see Mexico across the Rio Grande. There were beautiful canyon rock walls and a town way in the distance. Donkeys grazed just on the other side of the river. Interpretive signs told about the border and the wild animals in the area.
     We descended and then I decided to walk around the hill. On the way I found a sign for a river spur trail. I strolled along it towards the river. On the way I saw bowl-like depressions in slabs of rock. I had talked with the woman in the store when we registered the night before and she told me that they had been notched by the natives centuries ago and every time they came through they used them to grind their grain into flour.
     On our way back to our camper, we met two women heading out on the trail. I told them to watch for the hiking sticks and trinkets. One of them said she thought it was against the law to buy stuff from illegal aliens.
     We headed to the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. There was a building at the Port of Entry but the crossing was closed. A man was doing some work on the building so I went and talked to him. He explained that anyone wanting to go to Mexico could walk down to the river. The Mexicans on the other side would come across in boats to pick them up and take them to the town we had seen across the river where they could shop or relax.
     “Many people just go across to chill and say they have been there,” he said.
     There is no guard at the crossing. There are cameras set up and it is monitored in El Paso. Inside the building is a kiosk where anyone wanting to cross could scan their passport. El Paso checks the passport and can keep track by camera when the tourists return.
     The man told me that for hundreds of years the Mexicans had been crossing the river into the US on a bridge at this crossing and no one said anything about it. Then the border patrol decided it wasn't right so they demolished the bridge. But, because they knew the crossings would continue anyway, they gave the Mexicans some green aluminum boats. Those boats are the ones they pick up tourists in.
     On the way to the Boquillas Canyon overlook we saw a sign that said: Purchase or possession of items obtained from Mexican Nationals is illegal.
     We weren’t sure if that meant the items at the trinket sites or if we bought something from them in person.
     From the overlook we could see the river below and a tall rock face in the distance on the Mexican side. There are more trinkets-necklaces, anklets, tea towels, hiking sticks. We looked down on three Mexicans on the other side of the river who were watching us through binoculars. They had a small fire going and one of those green boats sat on the river bank. Mike liked a rock with crystals embedded in it and he bought it. He held the money in the air before putting it in the jar then picked up the rock and showed them. He waved and they waved back.
     We had our oil changed in Alpine and then left on the Texas Mountain Trail. The scenery was wide open spaces, grass, cows, some cacti, some bush, and hills in the distance.
     We drove into Valentine. It has a population of 217 people and no services. Mike saw a sign for a library and he stopped. I still had some of my books so I went in to see if I could donate them to the library. The librarian was very friendly and told me about the founding of the Kay Johnson Library.
     "Kay and her husband owned a ranch near here and she always wanted to do something for Valentine but never got to it before she passed away. So her daughter, and her husband, from Austin Texas bought this old house, fixed it up, and started the library in Kay Johnson's name."
     She took me on a tour showing me the different rooms.
     "Each room has a different type of book: mysteries, romances, children's. There is even one for hard covers. All the books have been donated and anyone can borrow a book."
     "I am a mystery writer," I said. "I have copies of my three novels in the camper. Would you be interested in a set?"
     "Oh, yes." she said. "That would be wonderful."
     I came back and signed them. I gave them to her, then signed the guest book. The place is not advertised but tourists do stop in. A couple from Sweden had signed the book a few days before me.
     The West Texas Valentine's Day celebrations are held in Valentine on Valentine's Day, hosted by the Big Bend Brewing Company from Alpine, Texas. A building in the town has been renovated to hold the party. There are usually three bands, lots of food to eat, and a dance. People come from all over the area to celebrate.
     Valentine began as a station on the Southern Pacific Railroad. There are two stories as to how it received its name. One is that it was founded on Valentine's Day. The other is that it was named after John Valentine, a stockholder in the railroad. The population grew to 600 but when diesel engines were introduced in 1950 the roundhouse was closed. The crew change point was moved in 1984 and the population slowly dwindled.
     We decided we wanted Mexican food for lunch. We saw a sign for Chuy's Restaurant in Van Horne and stopped there. While we waited for our food we were told the story of a Monday night in 1987 when John Madden stopped in to watch Monday night football on their television. During his career Madden was an NFL football player, a super bowl winning coach, and a football commentator on television. He liked the food of this restaurant so much he mentioned it in articles he wrote for magazines. On one of his television shows he called it the "All Madden Haul (sic) of Fame". Madden had been coming to Chuy's for many years and had his own director’s chair with his name on it.
     Mike ordered Quesadillas and I had Flautas, which is shredded beef in corn tortillas. The food was delicious but I don't think we will be back every year.
     As we continued north we are in the Guadeloupe Mountains. Guadeloupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8749 ft. (2667m).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Nine

www.joandonaldsonyarmey.com
Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

Road Tripping USA Part Nine
After leaving New Orleans we passed through La Flourish Parish, Terrebonne Parish, Assumption Parish, Iberia Parish and entered Vermilion Parish. In Abbeville we stopped at the tourist information where I learned that Parish is the name for ‘county’ in Louisiana. It dates back to the Napoleonic Code when France controlled this area. Louisiana is the only state that uses the word.
     Acadians are descendants of French colonists who settled Acadia, now known as Nova Scotia, Canada. During the Great Expulsion, 1755 to 1764, the British deported the Acadians to the thirteen colonies. In Louisiana, they became known as Cajuns taken from les Cadiens. Vermilion Parish has the most Cajun people in the state who trace their origins back to Nova Scotia. The woman I talked to in the tourist info told me she had gone to Nova Scotia during the summer to trace her family name there.
     She also told me that when Hurricane Katrina went through, it hit New Orleans and much of the eastern part of the state and missed this area. About a month later Hurricane Rita came and that is when Abbeville was damaged. They were still working to recover.
     The morning was windy and cool. The clouds made it seem darker than it was so I didn’t realize the time. I woke at 8:30. On our drive we passed through a lot of marshland and saw small fields that looked like they were deliberately flooded. In one place we saw a man in a small aluminium boat out in the middle of one of those fields.
     The day remained dull and overcast. At 12:00 noon it was 40F (9C). We only stopped to have lunch. There were signs telling us that we were on a Hurricane Evacuation Route. Because of the time change and the time of year, it was getting dark early. We were stopping at around 4:00-4:30pm. So our days were getting shorter.
     We entered Lake Charles from the south and pulled into a Walmart. Mike wanted some authentic Cajun music so he went shopping. While in the store he asked one woman if there were any good restaurants where we could try Cajun food. She told him any restaurant in town would do. He asked another woman and she gave him a list of a few places she liked or had heard were good. Mike came back out with a CD, a bag of groceries, and papers describing some tourist attractions in the area. He showed me his list of restaurants but I didn’t feel like driving to any of them for supper.
     I went through the pamphlets and found some places to visit within a short distance of the city: an alligator refuge, a rum distillery, which Mike was interested in, and a scenic bridge. I said let's go see them before we left in the morning. I also found an advertisement for a restaurant called Cajun Kitchen. We had seen signs along the road so we thought after we looked at those attractions, which were east of Lake Charles we would return to the city and have lunch there.
Mike’s Story
     I listened to the CD I had bought but it wasn't what I was looking for so I went back in the store. I talked with a young man about music. The young woman, Angelle, who I had talked with earlier came over and the two apparently were a couple. As we chatted I told them about what we were doing and how we were travelling.
     Justin, the young man, told his girlfriend that when he got old he wanted to be just like me.
     “Why?” I asked, surprised.
     “I don't want to be afraid to talk with people when I get older. I want to meet people, I want to do things.”
     Justin advised me on a couple of CDs to buy. The young woman asked me if my wife and I had tried one of the restaurants. I said no. Justin said that he and Angelle would cook us a real Cajun meal if we wanted to go to his apartment the next evening. He didn't get off work until 9:00pm so it would be late.
     “Oh, you don’t have to do that,” I protested.
     “I understand that we are strangers and you might be fearful of us,” Justin said.
     “No,” I said. “We have a saying that ‘Strangers are just friends we haven't met yet’.”
     I went to the motorhome and asked Joan. She thought it was so nice of them to offer that she hated to turn them down when they were willing to go through all that effort.
     “It’s going to be pretty late,” I told her.
     “We’ve met so many nice people on our trip,” she said. “Let's change our plans for tomorrow and do it. We could talk with them and get to know them.”
     I went back in and gave them some money to pay for the ingredients for the meal. They agreed to meet us the next evening at 9:00pm in the parking lot.
     The next day It was cool and overcast day. We went to the Bayou Rum Distillery in Lacassine. This is the largest privately owned rum distillery in the United States. They use 100% Louisiana unrefined cane sugar and molasses. The tour had already started so we watched a video about sugar cane harvesting and the making of rum. Cane has to be processed within two days of picking it. At the distillery it is processed in 18 hours.
     We bellied up to the tasting bar and sampled the three different types of rum they produced: gold, silver and Satsuma orange infused rum which was first bottled in 2014. I bought two bottles of the new Satsuma rum and Mike picked up a bag of sugar cane sticks. When he looked at them in the camper he saw that they were a product of, and packaged in, Hawaii.
     Mike and I drove to the Gator Chateau on Rue de L’Acadie. This is home to orphaned baby and rescued mature alligators. They are looked after until they are able to be released back into the wild. When I walked in the woman asked me if I wanted to hold an alligator and I said yes. She picked one up from the heated glass container and gave it to me. It was warm and soft and squirmy. I had to hold it tight. She took a picture of me and then returned the alligator to the box. I asked about alligator feeding and she said that they are hibernating.
     We saw a sign for boudin, a Cajun dish, and decided to try it. We turned off the highway and went into a small restaurant beside a service station. As we entered the restaurant I saw a sign that rice field crawfish were out of season. Those were the fields under water that we had seen and the man in the aluminium had been checking on his crawfish.
     We each ordered boudin, which we found out was made from rice and pork rolled into a ball and deep fried. We enjoyed ours so much that Mike ordered more. I asked about the alligator balls advertised but I was told that they were out of season.
     Mike and I drove to the historic Lorrain Bridge on Lorrain Road near Hayes. The original Lorrain Bridge was built in the early 1900s as a draw bridge over the Bayou Lacassine. It was closed in 1998 for safety reasons. It was rebuilt (not as a drawbridge) and opened again in 2004. It is 209ft (63.7m) in length.
     We drove along the Bayou for a ways just enjoying being in the peaceful scenery and quiet area. A Bayou is the name for a creek or river that flows so slowly that it doesn’t appear to be moving at all. They are usually found in flat or low-lying areas. It can also refer to a marshy lake or wetland.
     We met Justin and Angelle and followed them to their apartment. They had purchased the ingredients and began preparing the meal. Angelle cut the vegetables up while Justin did the cooking. Mike had told him that I can’t tolerate spicy food so he modified the ingredients for me. We’d sample one dish while he made the next and we talked.
     Justin told us he wanted to start a restaurant in Dallas, Texas, and we told him to let us know when that happened and we would come to it. Angelle was raised back in the Bayou and had moved to town to get a job at Walmart. That was where they met. We told them that I was a writer and Mike was retired but had worked in the oil patch in Alberta for many years. We had five children and seven grandchildren.
     It was a relaxed, enjoyable evening that lasted until about 1:30 in the morning. As we were leaving they gave us a container of Creole spices and a jar of jam from Texas. I gave them copies of my books.
     It was as if we were destined to meet that young couple. When we’d driven into Lake Charles the first evening we asked Lola for a Walmart. She gave us a few to pick from. We selected one but as we were driving to it we passed a different one. I told Mike, let’s just stop here. It was the one Justine and Angelle worked at.
     In Texas, we passed through Burnet and turn onto a narrow road to the Longhorn State Park. At the Long Horn Caverns I booked to take the next tour. While waiting I went to the former administration building that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), which was a public relief program operated by a government agency to find work for unemployed, unmarried men. The administration building is used for exhibits but was empty when I went through it. I climbed the steps to look out over the area. Behind the visitor’s center is a trailhead and I strolled the Backbone Ridge Trail, turned onto the 3 Minute Loop and then returned on the Loop D trail through the bush of the area.
     I visited the observation tower that had two sets of circular metal stairs to the top. From there I had a panoramic view of the Texas landscape.
     The tour of the caverns is a 1½ mile (2.4km) round trip. When these caves were discovered, the CCC hired a number of men to clear all the debris--rocks, mud, dirt--from them so they could be opened to the public. They used that debris to make the road to the caverns. The grand staircase at the entrance was built by the CCC.
     The guide told us some of the cavern’s history. This was a Confederate stronghold during the Civil War. They manufactured gunpowder here using the bat guano. Sam Bass was an outlaw who hid out here and the entrance is named after him. During the 1920s, the cave was used as a speakeasy and dancehall by the nearby residents. It was used as a bomb shelter during the Cold War and supplies that could last for months were stocked here.
     A young woman was captured and taken into the cave. Three Texas Rangers repelled down to rescue her. She married one of the rangers and they lived in Burnet.
     There is the Crystal City, which is a room full of calcite crystals, and a waterfall that isn't really a waterfall. It is called that because of its formation from dripping water. There are small bats, some only about the size of a thumb, in the cave. They are independent and like to sleep alone. We could see some of them hanging onto the wall.
     The cave started as limestone then turned to dolomite the further we went. When we reached the far end we were 135ft (41m) underground.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Road Tripping USA Part Eight


www.joandonaldsonyarmey.com
 
Author’s Note
I belong to Angels Abreast, a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Every four years the International Breast Cancer Paddlers Commission IBCPC) holds an international festival somewhere in the world. In the spring of 2013, my team received a notice that the IBCPC had chosen Sarasota, Florida, USA, to hold the next festival in October 2014.
     We decided to attend and while the other members were going to fly down, tour around some of the sites and head home I wanted to see more of the country and meet some of the people. My husband, Mike, and I drove from our small acreage at Port Alberni, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean, to Sarasota, Florida on the Atlantic Ocean.
     Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the people I would meet nor the beautiful places I would see nor the adventures I would have on our ten week, 18,758km (11656 mile) journey. On the thirteenth day of every month in 2016 I will post a part of my trip that describes some of the excellent scenery, shows the generosity and friendliness of the people, and explains some of the history of the country. The people of the USA have much to be proud of.

 Road Tripping USA Part Eight
In the morning I went into the McDonalds in Panama City, Florida,
 
to check emails. While I was there Mike saw a man sitting on the parking lot curb.
Mike’s Story: So there I was sitting in the motorhome all by myself because my wife had left me. The cats got tired of talking with me. I looked around and saw a guy sitting on a curb. Cats won't talk with me, wife is gone so I hobbled on my cane out to the guy on the curb. He was sitting with his head down and a cardboard sign propped beside him: Need Help, Thank You.
     He looked very depressed. I stood there. He looked up at me.
     “Hello,” he said.
     “Hello,” I said. I was in bad shape so I had a hard time rolling onto my knees, to my bum, to the ground to sit beside him. “So tell me your story.”
     He came from Tennessee to look for a job because he heard there was a lot of work in Florida. He was a painter and worked new construction. In order to get here, though, he had to sell everything. Once he arrived he found there was a lot of work but no one would hire him. First, because he was 60 years of age and they didn't think he could do the work, and secondly because he didn't have a means of transportation. He didn't own a car. There were places that would hire him if he had a car. He didn't know what to do. He doesn't have a pension to fall back on.
     I could tell he had a lot of pride. He missed his dad and phoned him once in a while. His dad is in his 80s and when he hears his son, he cries.
     I asked him why he wouldn't go home because it didn't make sense after that story and he said he didn't want his family to see him like he was, his dad, his brother, his sister. I asked him if he thought his dad would love him any more if he was the president of the US. It sounded that if his dad cried when they talked on the phone it didn't make any difference to him.
     “You should go home,” I said.
     “Maybe you're right,” he agreed. “Thank you for taking the time to sit down on the curb beside me and talk with me.
     “I wish I could help you more but I can't.”
     “That’s okay. The time you spent was lots and the talk was lots.”
     We talked some more and he said it was cold, he hated the nights sleeping out. I told him yes, I had done it myself when a teenager.
     “Sleeping out is a bugger,” I said “Where I come from you could freeze your ass off.”
     “Where are you from?”
     “Canada.”
     “Yeah,” he said. “Canada's cold.”
     “When did you eat last?”
     “Three days.”
     “That's counting today?” I asked.
     “No today is the fourth day.
     “How much would it cost to buy a meal?
     “I don’t know what to ask you for, you can eat cheap at McDonalds for $5.00.”
     “Could you have a good meal if I gave you twenty dollars?”
     “With twenty dollars I could eat for four days and I could start on my way home.”
     So I gave him twenty bucks and he thanked me. When he said he thought he should go home I said it would be a good idea because it doesn't matter how much money you have if you don't have family you don't have anything. He agreed.
     “Don’t give up,” I said.
     “I’m not giving up and I wouldn't give up.” He shook my hand. “God bless you. I'll walk you to your camper so you don’t fall down.”
     It was night when we entered Biloxi, Mississippi. We found a place to camp and the next morning drove to the Boomtown Casino. Part of it is on a barge where Mullet Lake empties into Biloxi Bay so it is considered a floating casino, a throw back to when gambling on land was illegal. To get around that law, paddle wheelers with poker games and machines plied the rivers and lakes. When the law was changed those paddle wheelers disappeared and casinos were built on land.
      We actually came out ahead on this floating casino. Mike spent $72.00 and won $100.00 and I spent $20.00 and made $30.00 so we were $38.00 ahead. We went to the buffet in the casino for lunch. It cost us $54.00 but what a meal: catfish, flounder, all the snow crab we could eat, roast beef, potatoes, shrimp, sushi, pizza, vegetables, salads and much more.
     As we drove through Biloxi, the Gulf of Mexico with soft sandy beaches was to our left. There were stately old houses to our right. We travelled about 30 miles (48km) with beside the beach. Then we crossed a bridge over St. Louis Bay with the gulf to the left and bay to right. At the end of bridge we were in St Louis and away from the water.
     As we neared New Orleans in Louisiana I asked Lola for a tourist information center. I wanted to go to one on the outskirts of the city so that we could find out where the French Quarter was and go straight there. Lola gave me about ten choices. Not knowing the city I just randomly picked one and hoped for the best. She took us right downtown.
     We didn't know where we were going but followed her directions to the Basin St. Station Tourist Information Center. We found a parking lot facing St Louis Street near the information center that charged $3.00 for a ten-hour stay or $10.00 for twenty-four hours. There were a few other vehicles and a motorhome was set up in the far corner. We paid 3.00 thinking we would only be there long enough to get our information and then be gone.
     In the center we discovered we were just a block from the French Quarter. And that we could also book a dinner cruise on the Mississippi, which we did for 7:00pm that evening. We got a map and headed out on St Louis Street to tour the French Quarter. The French Quarter is the oldest neighbourhood in New Orleans. Also known as Vieux Carre, it has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
     As we walked down one of the streets a young lady came across the street towards us. She wore skimpy shorts and nothing else. She had painted her boobies all different colours. There was money sticking out of the waistband of her shorts and she had some in her hand. Mike got so excited that he took a picture of her.
     “That's going to cost you,” she yelled at him.
     “What?” he asked
     “It costs you to take my picture.”
     “Okay, my wife will pay.”
     “What?” I tried to hide my smile.
     Mike didn’t even look at me. He was staring at the young girl. “Yup, my wife will pay.”
     I gave her some money then took a picture of the two of them together. She didn't charge me.  As we walked away I thought, what an excellent way of make a living. Just paint your boobs and walk around in skimpy shorts collecting money. I wondered if maybe I could do the same only I would cover the seniors’ age group. I looked around and saw that there were quite a few potential customers.
     On Bourbon Street we went into a bar and ordered drinks. We had a good visit with the bartender who said he was hoping to leave New Orleans soon and pursue a different career. We continued our tour stopping in at a shop to buy bead necklaces. I wanted to take a swamp tour and we went into an agency. The man was willing to book at that time but Mike wanted to wait until the next day to see how he felt. The man said we could come early in the morning and book.
     On our way back to our camper we tried to take a tour of Cemetery #1 which was across St Louis Street from the parking lot. The gate was locked. I decided to check the next day.
     In the motorhome Mike laid down and I read. When he got up we decided we might as well stay the night in the parking lot. The cruise ended at 10:00pm and we figured we wouldn’t be getting back until around 11:00pm. Before we left at 5:00pm I went and put in another $3.00 to last us until three in the morning. We had been told that there was a trolley car we could catch to take us down Canal Street to the harbour but we wanted to walk. Mike took his cane for support.
     It was getting dark as we walked down Canal Street. It was brightly lit with lots of people, traffic, and the trolley cars going by. We arrived early at the ticket booth of the cruise. We took pictures of the cruise ship, named the Creole Queen, and then went into an outlet mall to wander around. There was a Lindt Lindor chocolate store. Each piece of chocolate was 26 cents or 150 for $44.00 dollars. Christmas was coming and those are my chocolate of choice during the holiday season. But rather than buy them and have to carry them with me on the cruise, I decided I would walk back in the morning and get some. Plus, I have absolutely no will power and I knew that if I took them with me I wouldn't have room for the meal on the cruise.
     We lined up to board the ship. We were seated and told to help ourselves to the buffet. I decided to take everything and at least taste it. I tried the chicken and sausage jambalaya although I didn't take the sausage. The rice with bean sauce and the Cajun green beans were both very spicy. The corn dish was delicious. I felt safe taking a lot of the garlic potatoes. I was told the gumbo was flavourful but not spicy and that was true. The corn muffins were sweet. For dessert there was bread pudding that tasted like a cinnamon bun with raisins. It was so good I had two helpings. There was also roast beef and Caesar salad but I didn't sample them. I can get them at home. I had water because there was either that, or an alcoholic drink or coffee and I’m not a coffee drinker.
     The meal was served between 7:00pm and 8:00pm and a three-piece band played jazz. At 8:00pm we started our cruise up the river. It was very dark and we could see the lights of New Orleans as we left. The Creole Queen is an authentic paddle wheeler. She is powered by a 24 foot (7.3m) diameter paddle wheel and made her maiden voyage in 1983. Mike and I headed outside but we were going against the wind so it was chilly. We went back inside and listened to the music. When the Creole Queen turned around we were sailing with the wind and it was quite balmy.
     I spent a lot of time out on the deck watching the water churn by and seeing the lights on shore. The river was busy even in the dark as a number of boats and barges went by. I walked to the back end and watched the paddle wheel work for a while then leaned on the railing and just enjoyed the fact that I was on the mighty Mississippi River.
     Mike talked with one of the band members. The man had been to Nanaimo when he was a member of a different band that was touring British Columbia.
     The riverboat docked at 10:00pm and Mike and I started our walk back. We went slowly and Mike had to use his cane. We decided to see the French Quarter at night so we walked to Bourbon Street again. Barricades were at the ends of the street and it was closed to traffic. All the bars and stores were open and people wandered up and down the street talking and laughing. It had the party atmosphere we’d expected to see.
     We turned onto St. Louis Street to continue our way back. It wasn't as well-lit and we were nervous. As we walked we heard steps behind us. We looked back and saw a guy who appeared to be following us. When we got to a corner we walked kitty corner to the other side. Once there we turned and stared back at him. He hesitated on his corner then left.
     As we continued to walk there was another guy behind us. We looked back a couple of times which must have made him nervous or uncomfortable because he changed to the other side of the street to walk. We got back safely just before 11:00. I went across the lot to put in three more dollars which would take us to 9:00am in the morning. There was lots more that we wanted to do like take the swamp tour, go buy my chocolates, and see the river in daylight. The only other vehicle in the lot was the motorhome. At last, a quiet night.
     At about 2:00am a tap, tap, tap woke me up. It wasn’t a knock so I didn't know what it was. Mike came up and I asked him what it was and he said there is a sheriff outside. He got dressed and went out to talk with him. Our girls were on high alert at the tap on the door and when Mike went outside they headed to the windows and tried to look outside. My window was open so I could hear what the sheriff had to say.
     Apparently there had been a break in of a motorhome somewhere in the area and he was wondering if it was us.
     “No, we’re fine,” Mike said.
     “Why are you camping here?”
     “We were told we could by someone at the information center.”
     “This is a bad area and you shouldn’t really be camping here. Criminals will look at your license plate and see that you are from Canada. They know that you won’t be carrying a gun, so you will be an easy target. Last year we had 300 murders in this area and people disappear without a trace.”
      He wondered if we had any protection because we could carry a gun in Louisiana as long as it was not hidden. At one point someone walked by on the street and the sheriff pointed to him and said that was one of the people he was warning us about.
     Once he had delivered his message he and Mike chatted for an hour about fishing, hunting, places for us to eat, and more. He said he wanted to come to Canada someday so Mike opened the outside door and asked me for my business card. Purple and Red both went and sat on the step looking at him. After I'd given him my card I went back to bed.
     As he was leaving the sheriff advised us that maybe we should find a different place to stay. He said that because of all the disasters that have happened in Louisiana over the years there are a lot of homeless people who can't get back on their feet.
     We took his warning to heart. We put Walmart into Lola, picked one and drove to the west end of the city.
     We figured we were pretty lucky. Lola directed us to the visitor centre right beside the French Quarter, the place we wanted to see, the sheriff came along and possibly saved us a lot of hassle or even worse, and then Lola got us to the Walmart to stay for the rest of the night.
     We have a saying that we live by: The Lord looks after kids and idiots and we’re not kids anymore.