Tag Archives: European

Frozen in Place, Help!

5°F? Surely not.  Our last night at Williams where we camped in order to drive up to the Grand Canyon I slept until about 3:00 a.m. when the cold started to ooze through the walls of the trailer. My freezing nose, all that was exposed, kept me awake. When I could stand it no longer, I leapt out of bed to turn up our blast furnace, put the kettle on for tea and retrieve a thermometer from the outside step. It said 5°.

View from our campsite. Tell me that doesn't look cold!
View from our campsite. Tell me that doesn’t look cold! Those are straw bales insulating the water hookups.

I blinked and looked again certain I’d read it wrong and watched the mercury quickly rise through 10° and 15° in the relative warmth of the trailer. The cold outside didn’t seem to matter at the time as the few cubic yards of the trailer soon cozied up with the fire breathing dragon that is our forced air furnace.

As it happened the cold outside did matter. We soon discovered that the trailer was frozen into place.

We’d pictured in our naïve European minds the whole of Arizona as a sunshine capital, warm and bright in the winter and blazing in the summer. Parts of it are like that. If I’d read Wikipedia beforehand I would have discovered that “the northern third of Arizona is a plateau at significantly higher altitudes than the lower desert” and “extreme cold temperatures are not unknown.” Well I know that now.

Ok you guys from the north, I know that doesn’t look like much snow to you.
Ok you guys from the north, I know that doesn’t look like much snow to you.

Let’s be clear about this. We are tourists traveling in a trailer, not campers who enjoy roughing it. We don’t, and never will, own hiking boots. Any trail requiring more equipment than a pair of trainers is off limits to us. Many people around the world tolerate and cope with frigid temperatures every winter and in considerably less comfort than we are able to afford. Some hardy souls sleep in tents in this weather. For fun. We hate the very idea of it.

I know I'm smiling at the camera but Crikey! it was cold.
I know I’m smiling at the camera but Crikey! it was cold.

The day before, I’d seen an earnest young man, his narrow back heaped with camping gear, stride off from the trailhead at Grandview Point – a viewpoint for sissies and inappropriately shod tourists at the Grand Canyon – and disappear from view at three o’clock in the afternoon. It would soon be dark . . . and cold . . . very, very cold. We stood on the rim and admired the canyon from the chilly height of 7,000 feet. As the backpacker descended from us he would get warmer, even snug on the canyon floor, but I’d visions of the poor fellow sinking into the bowels of hell, at least my version of it.

The plumbing on trailers is vulnerable to freezing weather so we always take precautions when freezing temperatures are predicted, disconnecting hoses, draining tanks and bringing inside the trailer gallon bottles of water for bathing and washing dishes. It was laborious to heat our washing water on the stove but that day it was a way to procrastinate going outside.

When we could put it off no longer and forced ourselves out to begin the hitching process by winding up the corner jacks, our steadying supports, we found they were concreted into the ground. Successive thaws and freezes had done the work. Forcing the mechanisms would break them and little kicks rewarded us with stubbed toes and jarred ankles. Jimmy gave the base of one of the jacks an angry jab with the jack winder and impaled it into his palm, drawing blood and bad words.

Within moments of stepping outside of the trailer we had become numb in the frigid air. We were frantic to leave Williams before having to suffer another arctic night. How could we possibly get out of this predicament?

The Grand Canyon train arriving into our bleak landscape just before dark.
The Grand Canyon train arriving into our bleak landscape just before dark.

Are There Any Texans out There?

For every little thing that is bigger and better in America, according to Americans, it’s that much bigger and better in Texas, according to Texans.

When describing a spider and saying 14 inches, a Texan will hold his hands out at full arms breadth. And of course there’s the story about the Texas rancher bragging about his family’s property to an East coast farmer. “My Daddy can drive his truck from dawn to dusk and still not cross our property.” To which the East coast farmer replies, “Yeah, my Dad had a truck like that.”

Our first view of the Rio Grande, USA to the left, Mexico to the right.
Big country. Our first view of the Rio Grande, USA to the left, Mexico to the right.

There is no doubt that Texas is a big state, 268,601 square miles (bigger than Spain and Portugal combined), the largest state after Alaska so driving is a daily pastime. “We might drive a hundred miles to the grocery store. To a European, that’s a vacation,” our neighbor in the campsite boasted to us. We drove 49 miles to the interstate the next day and didn’t encounter another soul on the lonely road.

The 22 million of population in Texas is concentrated in the east of the state. Parts of west Texas have a population destiny of less than one person per square mile – no urban sprawl, in fact no urban – with vast tracts of desert and mountains.

This was all we saw for miles and miles and miles.
This was all we saw for miles and miles and miles.

The parched and empty landscape is tranquil in winter but deceptive. Wide dry river beds and deep gulches, new patches of road and new bridges where the gulches run through, give an inkling of the ferocious rains and flood waters of summer. During the previous September floods had caused extensive damage in Big Bend National Park.

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Texas weather and conditions include tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, floods, wild fires, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues of locusts, snow, searing desert heat, biting cold and sometimes all at once. Texans are given to exaggeration though, as a tsunami erupting from the Rio Grande in west Texas where we learned of this lively weather seems unlikely.

If the wild extremes of weather aren’t enough, they have their share of horrifying creatures in Texas – tarantulas, black widow spiders, funnel-web spiders, vinegar bugs, scorpions and ninos de los terras, which I was given to understand were scary little snakes, but the only reference I can now find to those words is children’s shoes. Still dangerous but slightly more warm and fuzzy are mountain lions and bears and even a big cat that was thought to be extinct but lives an elusive existence amongst the 309,331 square miles of Big Bend National Park, but that’s all according to Texans.

Our first sighting of the comical roadrunner was of said bird running on the road – Beep! Beep! – just like his cartoon persona. Also new to us were javelinas – cute little bristly pig-like creatures that are not pigs.

Click pic to enlarge.

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Gold in the hills. Big Bend National Park at sunset. Believe this is Casa Grande. Does anyone know any different?

We had attributed all of these real and imaginary creatures and phenomenon to Texas but we were new to the Southwest and all the marvels it had to offer.

“And how about your skin?” I questioned our waitress, Rebecca, who had moved recently from the humidity of Florida to the arid atmosphere of Ft. Davis. “How does the dry air affect it?”

“Well my lips are so dry and cracked they feel like they are going to fall off and my arms and legs are parched. Other than that I’m perfect,” she said endearingly. But she lives in a tree house so I’m not sure I can take her word for anything.

So how ‘bout it. Any Texans out there? Just what are ninos de los terras? Am I even spelling it correctly?

Questionable Food and Unnecessary Drugs

Acting like a couple of refugees with a cash handout our initiation to the American way of life included a supermarket sweep – a dash and grab of food-type items of questionable nutritive value. So much choice. I loved the American grocery store experience and tried to linger over every box, can and bag of flavor enhanced matter. Jimmy hated it, but he hates shopping full stop. We were more used to small European mom and pop stores – sparsely stocked dusty shelves with cans labeled in French or Spanish. If we couldn’t pick it up or point at it, we went without. Shopping trips were short.

While I waited in line at the checkout I picked up a magazine as an impulse buy, a middle of the road ladies’ glossy mag, leisure reading of a journalistic standing halfway between say Vogue and The Weekly World News, The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper. The later headlines “Countdown to Apocalypse! The Anti-Christ is Already Living Among Us” or “Your Doctor Could be an Alien” or “Super Depression Coming – Millions will Starve as Economy Collapses” or my favorite headline “Aliens Mutated my Tofu”.

Back at home with my magazine after reading the first few pages I began to notice a trend. Counting up through the first 30 pages, there were 13 advertisements for drugs or medical interventions. There were cures for everything from asthma to bipolar disorder to epilepsy, but most commonly the drugs were to suppress the symptoms of excess. C’mon guys, don’t you think that if you didn’t have that fourth helping of pie you wouldn’t need to be taking medication for acid reflux? Come away from that buffet and you won’t need those fat burning capsules. A little moderation is called for and pushing your cart round the grocery store and loading your bags into the car does not count as exercise.

The American dependence on drugs was shocking. In a study in 2007 (when I was still feeling shocked about it) over 50% of Americans, adults and children, were on prescription drugs for chronic conditions which for many could be controlled by lifestyle changes.

But worst of all, I read every advert, put several life changing drugs on my shopping list and made a note of the 1-800 number for my free 30-day supply of the non-inject topical alternative to Botox for deep wrinkle relaxing.