A Vagabond Life

Our view can change when we want it to!

Author: Rick (Page 1 of 3)

Babies Everywhere!

Storks have no worry about job security thanks in part to the Ferri family. Babies are us – or rather our children.  We’re up to six grandchildren now and the seventh is on the way, but who’s counting?

Ashely and Jeremy Stewart recently delivered a beautiful little girl named Evelyn Rose. She came into the world on September 19.

Shortly thereafter, we were told about another stork delivery in the spring. Nick and Ashley Ferri are adding to their household and are due the end of April. All is good!

On to less exciting news, we’ve been living out of a 19-foot travel trailer for the past 15 months and have visited more than 25 states. Our intent was to visit all 50 in 50 months, which we still hope to do; however, our plans are changing.  We’re thinking about moving back into a real house and staging our travels from there.

We’re now hunkered down in an RV park outside of Austin and will stay here a few more months to help Ashley and Jeremy with the baby. The RV park we’re in is okay, but there are few amenities and the internet rarely works. It’s also built next a railroad track and every night trains blast their horn as they go through an intersection just a few hundred yards away. There goes the 1:30 AM train – right on time.

Why did we pick this place? It wasn’t easy finding a spot. Austin’s economy is exploding and thousands of people are pouring in. RV living is affordable for both transient workers who are building the infrastructure and those coming here to stay. Austin is also a popular destination for Winter Texans seeking to get out of the cold.

Competition for RV space is reflected in the prices people are paying, and renting a house or townhome may be a better choice. There are several furnished rentals available in an active over-55 community about 20 minutes from our daughter’s home. We’re thinking about this alternative to be close to family part of the time, then lock up and leave to travel the rest of the time.

That’s the direction this Vagabond journey has turned. We’ll keep you updated when we know more.

Vagabond Life by the Numbers

A Vagabond Life is carefree and cheap, but it’s not free. You may be curious about our cost of living. This blog has it – at least the major expenses.

We tracked every penny since hitting the road and have compiled detailed monthly records. Our costs are divided between fixed and variable expenses. Fixed expenses are all the bills we can’t change such as insurance, truck lease payment, storage unit cost, etc. Variable expenses are those items that do change each month such as food, fuel, camp fees, entertainment, etc.

Realize that our cost isn’t what you might have if you decided to do this. We’re traveling as two adults and one dog and living out of a small 19-foot travel trailer. If we had a 35-foot rig our cost would naturally be higher. We’ve also found several ways to save. As a military retiree, I’m fortunate to have access to military RV parks and can shop on military bases. This tends to lower our overall cost. We also cook most meals at home and avoid glitzy local attractions. Books and movies are free through local libraries.

Before getting into the financials, here are some travel stats for Year 1 of the Vagabond Tour:

  • 25,200 total miles traveled from August 2016 to July 2017
  • Furthest west: Las Vegas, NV
  • Furthest south: Hillsboro, FL
  • Furthest east: Lubec, ME
  • Furthest north: Great Pond, ME
  • Longest continuous stop: 3 months in Tucson, AZ
  • 349 nights camping (16 nights staying with family and friends)
  • 321 average daily miles between overnight stops
  • 100,000 –  number of rest area visits so the dog can do his thing
  • Number of new friends made on the road: Countless!

Here is a breakdown of annual expenses that were over $500 per year. First are fixed costs followed by variable costs. Our trailer was fully paid for so there was no expense recorded except for repairs. All figures are annual.

  • Fixed: health insurance $12,168
  • Fixed: truck lease, maintenance and insurance $5,076
  • Fixed: life insurance $2,194
  • Fixed: storage unit cost and insurance $1,932
  • Fixed: phone and data $1,380
  • Variable: food (including dining out) $8,960
  • Variable: camping fees $8,472
  • Variable: fuel (gas) $4,772
  • Variable: gifts $1,990
  • Variable: pet care $926
  • Variable: repairs $790
  • Variable: entertainment and entrance fees $690

In total, our Vagabond experience cost $48,799 during the first year of travel ($4,067 per month). The most expensive month was December due to Christmas gifts and airline travel cost.

That’s it! Are you ready to hit the road?

August and On the Road

August was a road warrior month for the Vagabonds. We put in over 2,500 miles and drove from the North East to the Central South US. Our month began in Burlington, Vermont and ended in Bertram, Texas, along with a couple of side trips to St. Louis and New Orleans. Hurricane Harvey shut down Houston and that caused a 400-mile detour, but we are in Texas now and plan to stay through the winter.

We left the easternmost part of Maine in the first days of August, traveled across the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and on to the western edge of Vermont and the city of Burlington. The city sits on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and is close to the location of the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War. The Battle of Valcour Island in 1776 pitted 15 outgunned Colonial force ships against 25 British ships. The Colonial force was under the command of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, who later defected to the British. Arnold’s armada didn’t win the battle and lost 11 ships, but the action did slow the British advance.

Lake Champlain Burlington, Vermont.

The Champlain Canal connected the lake to the Hudson River in 1823 giving Burlington an important international shipping route. The town became an industrial center for trade and specialized in lumber, boatbuilding, textiles and machine shops. The industrial revolution brought prosperity and wealth to the northeast and that lasted through the 1900s.

One of the beneficiaries of the nation’s industrial wealth was Electra Havemeyer Webb, wife of polo champion James Watson Webb of the Vanderbilt Family. Electra’s in-laws owned property on Lake Champlain just south of Burlington and in the early 1900s transformed it into a model country estate. The elder Webb’s collected paintings of Monet, Manet, and Degas, but Electra preferred Americana, and by the time she was 40 years old had established one of the finest collections of horse drawn carriages, weathervanes, pewter, circus figures, and just about everything uniquely American. She even acquired the steamboat Ticonderoga that had once cruised Lake Champlain and had it moved by rail to the property.

Electra’s Americana collection is housed at the Shelburne Museum on the Vermont property along with her in-law’s vast art collection. The museum and grounds are now owned by a non-profit organization and open to the public daily. We spent two days touring this amazing place.

After Vermont, we traveled south to Boston and spent a day seeing the historic sites. We had been to these sites several times in the past, but this visit was more meaningful because I had just finished reading Bunker Hill by Nathaniel Philbrick. If you’re into early US history, the accuracy and detail of Philbrick’s books put you there.

The next stop was RI for a cousin’s family reunion and celebration of Rose Marie Ferri’s 85 birthday – along with celebrating August birthdays for everyone in the family. My sister put on a wonderful spread and was a tremendous host, as usual. We all had a great time catching up with cousins, aunts and uncles and extended family. Rose Marie was thrilled!

After RI, Daria headed back to Texas by plane (cheater!) while I drove the camper with the dog west to St. Louis and then south to Texas. My reward was being able to spend time with Thomas, Jess and the three grandsons. I can’t get enough of those three boys! In the meantime, Daria was in Texas for Ashley’s baby shower. It won’t be long now until we meet Evelyn Rose!

I stayed in St. Louis long enough to see the solar eclipse, then hightailed it down to New Orleans to see a college roommate. Hurricane Harvey delayed my trip west to Texas by a few days. I managed to get to Texas by going north and across to Dallas, then drop down to the Austin area. It was an exhausting month, but Daria and I (and Angus) are all together in our little 19-foot trailer again.

July’s Journey through Northern New England

It’s hard to believe we’ve been on the road for 12 months. After 25,000 miles, the Vagabond tour reached far into New England and the furthest northeast one can go in Continental US.

July travels began by visiting family at Camp Wulamat on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. It’s an old boys camp from the 1920s that converted to a family camp after WWII. This is my boyhood summer stomping ground. After 53 years, my sister still vacations here each summer with her family and stays in the same barebones cabins that have been on the property for 90 years. Little changes at Camp Wulamat. The biggest change this year was a wall mounted light switch in the toilet room (there’s just a toilet). It replaced a pull string light that was installed in the 1940s.

We traveled northeast to Maine where we visited friends. Richard and Diane were our neighbors in Arizona over the winter and were fantastic hosts in ME. Diane kept us well fed, and we slept in a real bedroom in a real house! Our side trips with Richard and Diane took us to the LL Bean store (a must for any ME tourist) and to the rocky Maine coast where we went to see the site of the first ME settlement in 1607, which became Fort Popham, a military coastal defense site dating back to the Civil War.

No visit to Maine is complete without a trip to Acadia National Park. We know this is true because every tourist in the state was at the park the same day we were there, at least that’s what it seemed. The scenery was spectacular despite masses of people who had no clue what a crosswalk is used for.

The next day we had a wonderful lobster and steamer lunch with friends Cindy and Kris at their lovely cottage on Penobscot Bay in Belfast. Their warmth and hospitality was truly amazing and we lost track of time – the wine may have had something to do with that.

Having seen the coast, we spent the next week camping in the interior at Great Pond Recreational Area. This is one of those military good deals. It’s a family campground for service people and their families located about 50 miles northeast of Bangor. The camp is nestled among thousands of acres of rugged land owned by the Navy, and it’s on a large mostly undeveloped lake. Nice and quiet!

Our last week in ME was spent in Lubec, one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen. The town rests on the Bay of Fundy where the largest tidal changes in the world occur twice a day. Lubec is a historic town in that at one time it was the sardine capital of the world and sported the world’s first sardine canning factory. The waters were fished out by the 1960s and the town has since declined. Now it’s a budding artist community and a center for lobster fishing.

Lubec is also were you’ll find the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, farthest eastern point as one can travel in the continental US. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge connects the town to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada. We couldn’t resist saying the Vagabond Tour was international so we crossed the bridge and spent a pleasant day touring the island and visiting FDR’s summer home.

Eastern Maine is also home to Wreaths Across America. This military friendly organization provides millions of Christmas wreaths for Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. The family who owns the company provided a free concert for military personal including retirees. Daria and I enjoyed an evening on the lawn listening to Kansas play their hit songs from the 70s and 80s.

The last two days in July, we traveled west along scenic Route 2 through New Hampshire and past Mt. Washington before entering Vermont. Our destination was Burlington on Lake Champlain, and more specifically, the vast Shelburne Museum south of the city. That’s all for now!


The Land of Lobsta and Chowda

Last munth, we went to da fish maaket and bought lobsta, chowda and clamcakes. We took it back to ouwa campa and had a wicked feast!

If you haven’t guessed where we are, I’ll give you a clue. It isn’t Alabama. Okay, here is another hint. When you try changing lanes on the highway, putting your blinker on doesn’t help.  In fact, it causes the car a quarter-mile back to step on the accelerator and pass before you can move over.

We’re in New England – my boyhood home! I was born and raised in Little Rhody (Rhode Island). Yes, RI is small, but it has a lot of charm. We’re back visiting family, friends, and eating all the fresh seafood we can get hold of. For those who think I married a girl from Texas to compensate for growing up in the smallest state in the nation, you can forgetaboutit!

I’m proud of my New England heritage. Everyone knows it’s the Super Bowl Champion Capital of the World. Each season NFL teams compete to see who will lose to the New England Patriots. It’s also home to the famous Boston Red Sox and Fenway Paak, the oldest ballpark in major league baseball. We have Bruins hockey, the oldest NHL team in the US, and the Boston Celtics, who hold the most championships in the NBA.

Our first NE stop was on the border between Connecticut and Rhode Island. We had the distinct pleasure of spending the weekend camping with my cousin Mary Ann and her partner Dennis. My Aunt Elaine also came for a day (aunt is pronounced “au” like taunt, not “a” like ant). We had a blast catching up and telling old stories.

I reminded Mary Ann when I was a toddler she and my sister thought it was a good idea to leave me alone at a playground hoping someone takes me so they wouldn’t have to babysit anymore. I didn’t know what to do and started running around screaming until a neighbor stopped me and walked me home. The experience traumatized me for life! (not really).

Our next stop was Fourth Cliff Family Recreation Area about 50 miles south of Boston on the Atlantic Ocean.  This area was the mecca for shipping and shipbuilding in the 18th and early 19th centuries. During WWII, the area was part of the Harbor Defenses of Boston. It consisted of an early radar, fire control towers, and artillery batteries. Today, it’s a recreation area for military personnel and their families. The 270-degree water views afford some the best scenery and gorgeous sunsets on the east coast.

July 31 marks our one year anniversary on the road! We’re preparing a special blog in celebration.


End of May and on Our Way

The Vagabonds are heading due north after two months in North Carolina. It was a wonderful two months in the state we’ve started to call our second home. We lived in the Tar Heel State for three years while on active duty in the Marines; two of our children were born in North Carolina and the third just married a special young lady from New Bern. It all adds a little turpentine to the Ferri bloodline.

We were privileged to take care of our new granddaughter for two weeks in May while Nick and Ashley were on their honeymoon hiking the Appalachian Trail. Laini is six years old going on twenty-three. We had many interesting discussions with her about how things work. One concept she brought up was the difference between a woman who is pregnant and a woman who is going to have a baby. The two are quite different according to Laini. We decided to leave that one to her mom.

Virginia Beach was our first stop North. We stayed at an RV park on a Navy base situated on the ocean just south of Virginia Beach proper. Our campsite was on one side of the sand dunes and a beautiful sandy beach on the other. Staying on military bases along the coast is special because it’s restricted. That means the beaches are uncrowded on weekends and often deserted during the week. Angus loved being off his leash to splash around in the water and chase sand crabs.

The next stop was West Point, home of the Army’s military academy. We’ve never been to the academy and were excited to take the tour. The place is awe-inspiring. Words cannot describe how impressed we were. The manicured grounds and majestic granite buildings remind me of an old New England ivy league college.

Pride runs deep at West Point. The fortunate few that are accepted into this and any one of our nation’s military academies have a lot to be proud of, and a lot of responsibility ahead of them.  We were fortunate to meet up with my cousin and his wife and family. Stephen is a 1995 West Point graduate. He provided us with an insider’s view of life as a cadet.

The camping area at West Point is deep in the woods overlooking an idyllic round pond that’s stocked with rainbow trout. A few stone cottages dotting the pond’s perimeter brings out the charm. Some of the tall oaks and elms have been here since Washington’s time. It’s a peaceful and serene place. Who could ask for more?

Well, being an American, of course we want more. There’s no internet access or cable TV. How does the Army expect this Marine to survive?

April Wedding Bells

Nothing can be finer than April in North Carolina for a wedding!

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Ferri are proud to announce the wedding of their son, Nick Ferri, to the vibrant and beautiful Ashely Zaytoun of New Bern, North Carolina, on April 29, 2017. The ceremony took place on Wrightsville Beach and the reception was at the Ironclad Brewery in Wilmington. Family and guests traveled from as far north as Maine, as far south as Florida, and as far west as California.  There was plenty of food and wine and the DJ was outstanding!

The ocean provided a perfect backdrop for the wedding with clear skies and a gentle sea breeze that accentuated the romantic setting. Beachgoers were lounging about adding to the moment with many young woman wearing what passes for a bikini today, and a couple of fellows strolling around and posing briefly for the cameras in their brief Speedos.

Ironclad Brewery was an ideal receptions site for this down-to-Earth couple. The drinks were cold and plentiful and the meal catered by Mission Barbecue was superb.  Frankie Hill from BTA Entertainment was the best DJ we’ve seen at any wedding. She didn’t miss a beat, pardon the pun. We danced and sang and toasted the night away. Everyone had a great time! The adventuresome bride and groom are spending their honeymoon hiking about 70 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Wilmington is a charming port city situated in the southeastern part of NorthCarolina between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear river. The port was vital to the Confederate States of America and served as a focal point for resupply during the Civil War.

Fort Fisher lays at the mouth of the Cape Fear river and was a Confederate stronghold from 1862 to 1864. The largest sea to land battle of the war took place at Fort Fisher from January 13th 1865 – January 15th 1865. A massive naval bombardment from more than 50 Federal ships lasted for two days followed by the largest sea to land troop assault of the war with over 8,000 Union soldiers and Marines storming the fort and overrunning the Confederates. The siege of Fort Fisher was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

Today, the area surrounding Wilmington is a perfect blend of natural and social elements – great geo-physical location, a moderate climate all the year through with clearly distinguishable four seasons, the historic preservation district, annual festivals such as the Azalea festival and numerous other recreational activities, as well as a great place for a spring wedding!


March Travel Madness

We’ve been extremely busy of late, traveling through several states, from Texas to Alabama to North Carolina, life on the road couldn’t be finer. The temperature could be a little warmer though, but at least there is no snow, and if we only had bright 80 degree days, we’d probably be soaking up too many rays.

We left Tucson in mid-February and stopped in Texas for a couple of weeks. It was great to see Ashley and Jeremy again. The mother to be is doing fine! We also took the opportunity to drop off winter clothes and picked up more summer stuff. It was interesting to look again at the stuff we decided to keep in storage rather than sell or give away. In retrospect, we kept too much! What were we thinking?

By early March we were back in the Florida panhandle staying at the Blue Angels Recreational Area on Perdido Bay near Pensacola, Florida. This is the former site of Bronson Field used primarily for dive bomber, fighter, and seaplane training during WWII. Baseball great Ted Williams was among those trained at the base. The airfield is still in use today but only for model airplane enthusiasts. One of several seaplane ramps is pictured below.

Our next stop was Panama City, Florida. We camped at NSA Panama City, a US Navy base that supports fleet activities. Among the units on base is the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center where the services conduct experimental deep diving techniques. Did you know this is the 100th anniversary of the Mark V dive helmet and the 40th anniversary of women divers?

Our timing at NSA Panama City coincided with the final round of a unique competition among civilian engineers and scientists who work on base. Participating units receive $15,000 to design and build an improvised explosive device (IED) detector robot that searched for and neutralized IEDs. We were in attendance for the final detect and dig-up competition. The DoD pays about $150,000 for each robot it buys for use in the fleet. The winning team in this competition was able to build two robots for one-tenth the price.

The next stop was on the east coast of Florida near Kennedy Space Center. Again our timing was perfect. We were there for the launch of a SpaceX rocket. This was the first rocket launch we’ve seen and it was nothing short of incredible. It was calm and clear when the rocket lifted off at 9 PM. The plumb was so bright it was like a mini sun! We were amazed at how slowly the rocket climbed into space, not Fourth of July fireworks. The rocket plumb remained clearly visible for several minutes until the first stage burned out. If you haven’t experienced this, put it on your bucket list.

Visiting Florida gave us the opportunity to visit with family and friends. The luck of the Irish kept us safe in Boca Raton as we partied-down with my sister Karen and her husband Rick.  Everyone had a great time – and we stayed up past 10 PM!

We’ve recently moved up the east coast to North Carolina where Nick and Ashley’s big day is April 29! It will be lots of fun, and we’ll get to spend time with a lot people we haven’t seen in a long time.

Eastward Bound

After more than six months on the road, the Vagabond tour has reversed course and is heading east! We departed the Davis-Mothan Air Force Base family campground in Tucson last week and have made our way to Texas. After visiting family and swapping out cold weather clothes for more summer items at our storage space, we’ll continue east and eventually stop in North Carolina for Nick and Ashley’s wedding! We’re super excited about the wedding and about getting together with family members coming in for the event.

Tucson was a wonderful place to hang out for three months during the winter. Besides enjoying reasonably mild weather, staying in one spot for an extended period allowed us meet many great people and make several new friends. Some people staying on the base campground were part-time campers and the rest were living a Vagabond life full time. We couldn’t tell who was full-time and who was not unless we asked because everyone was so laid-back.

After more than six months on the road, we have to admit that a Vagabond life is liberating. Owning less “stuff” means there less to worry about, and the people we’ve become friends are the genuine article. No one talks about money or social status – there’s no keeping up with the Jones. No one is out to prove anything to anyone. The people we’ve become friends with are comfortable with who they are and have no desire to be around people who have a problem with that. We’re all there living a dream and being part of each other’s dream.

All this probably sounds like Fantasyland to some people. They are, unfortunately, people who think human existence is hopeless. For those folks, I have some relief. There’s a place south of Tucson where you can blow-up half the world (the other half). The Titan Missile Museum south of Tucson is the last remaining Titan missile site on US soil. All others have been imploded. For a modest fee, you can tour the site, see the missile, and may even be selected to “turn the key” in the control room.

Daria had this honor during our tour.  She sat at the control desk and turned one of two keys 90 degree clockwise for 5 seconds. The tour guide didn’t turn the other key simultaneously so there was no missile launch (plus about 10,000 other reasons like no fuel in the rocket). I asked how she felt afterward and could she do it for real? Daria said it would have been very hard to turn the key but that she would follow the President’s orders.

I know how Daria felt about turning that key. Back in 1988, I was one of two pilots in my squadron who was qualified to carry and drop nuclear weapons. Here’s a little about how that worked: we would fly into bad-guy territory very fast and at a very low altitude; when in range, I would pull back on the stick and go vertical, the computer would throw the bomb high into the atmosphere, and I’d perform a split-S maneuver and head for the hills; the bomb would parachute down and explode at altitude, incinerating everything within 25 miles; at top speed our aircraft would put us about 12 miles away. Get the picture?

For all the good we took from our stay in Tucson, we unfortunately left something behind that was near and dear to our hearts. Major, one of our two trusted K-9’s, crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Dog Heaven.

Daria wrote Major a eulogy:

How do I start to talk about Major? It’s so hard to do.

You see, back in 2008, we wanted to get Rocko a friend.  Bandera had a dog and cat shelter called Cowboy Capital Pet Assistance League.  We went to the facility and there were quite a few dogs to choose from.  As we walked around, I saw a little dog cowering in the corner of his kennel. We walked up to his cage to coax him to come but he would have nothing to do with us, so we continued looking.  None of the other dogs gave me that good feeling of our soon to be Major.

Rick was talking with the volunteers when I went back to Major’s cage. I sat down on the ledge and talked to him until he cautiously walked over to me. Then he sat down, looking at me, probably wondering if I was a human that could possibly be good to him.  He came closer so he could smell my hand and I slowly stuck my fingers in and started petting him.  He seemed to enjoy that until I moved to get a little more comfortable…he ran away to his corner.  I was able to coax him back over until Rick walked up and once again he ran away.  I was thinking what abuse did this poor little dog go through before he ended up in this cage.

I told Rick that this is the one that we should adopt. We talked to the volunteers and asked if there was a way we could take him home to meet his new buddy to make sure that they got along. They said that we could foster him and if for any reason the friendship with Rocko didn’t work out, we could bring him back.  I was already thinking there was no way that I could bring back this poor, scared dog.

Long story short, the two dogs got along.  What we didn’t realize is that Major was probably abused by someone in a baseball cap because he ran away every time Rick wore one.  It took a while for Major to understand that we were not going to abuse him.  He wouldn’t go up to strangers for several years, but towards the end of his life that changed and he walked up to most people he met.

Major started retaining fluid and became lethargic.  We took him to the vet and the Doc said that the left side of his heart wasn’t strong and he maybe had 2-3 months left, but not 2-3 years.  By adopting him we gave him the best life a dog could ask for.  He was able to live on 58 acres and roam.

One final note, Angus, our black lab took everything in stride and he’s getting LOTS of attention! That’s all for now.

Happy New Year!

5 Months 12 Days

It’s 2017 and we’ve been on the road for two years! Not really. It’s been only 5 months, but those months cover part of 2016 and so far 1 month in 2017. The funny thing is it seems like only yesterday we sold our ranch and left the homesteading life.

At first we found it odd to say we live on the road. Now “We’re traveling full time” just rolls off our tongues. Most people are usually impressed with that answer and ask, “How is it?” We’re actually very fond of this mobile lifestyle. It’s low stress, low cost, there’s no mortgage, no grass to cut, we can change scenery any time we like, and we can visit people we haven’t seen in a while without the hassle of finding a hotel room. We’ve already met many wonderful people and made a lot of new friends. We’ve also had the time to stop at places we never had time for and can stay a few days, or not.

How long can we maintain this Vagabond life, moving from one RV park to another every few weeks? The people who camped next to us last week have been doing this for 18 years. We’re not sure if we’ll be on the road that long, but this could be just the beginning for us.

We’ve been camping in Tucson since November and have made several side trips. Last month, we visited Saguaro National Park, Mount Lemmon in Santa Catalina Mountains, the Airplane Boneyard on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, traveled to St. Louis where we got the entire family together, went to a Tucson Roadrunner’s hockey game, and rang in the New Year with 330,000 of our friends on the Las Vegas Strip.

East of Tucson is Saguaro National Park East. The park is home to the nation’s largest cacti, the giant saguaro. It’s the universal symbol of the old American west. These plants are large, tree-like columnar cacti that can develop branches (or arms) as they age.  Saguaros are covered with protective spines, white flowers in the late spring, and red fruit in summer.   These majestic plants are found only in a small portion of the United States, and although not a protected species, Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of this species.

Mt. Lemmon is in the Santa Catalina Mountains within the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson. At its peak is the Mount Lemmon Observatory, which was formerly the site of a USAF radar base of the Air Defense Command, and the building that formerly housed a military emergency radar tracking station for landing the Space Shuttle at White Sands Missile Range. Mount Lemmon is 9,157 feet above sea level and receives approximately 180 inches (4.6 m) of snow annually, and that means snow skiing. Mount Lemmon Ski Valley has one lift and 21 runs. There’s no snow making equipment, so the ski season depends entirely on the weather. We were told the runs could be open as few as 2 days in a season and as long as 4 months.

The Airplane Boneyard on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is where military aircraft go to die. Officially called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, tours of the “Boneyard”/AMARG are offered daily by the Pima Air and Space Museum. I went on the tour, and it brought tears to my eyes. All the aircraft types I few in the Marine Corps from 1981-1988 are now sitting in the boneyard to be converted to scrap; the T-34C, T-2, TA-4, and the A-6E. There are over 4,000 aircraft in the Boneyard. Most will be used for parts and then scrapped. A few aircraft will make it back in the air after rework or end up as a static display.

Daria and I also experienced some local culture. Tucson is a growing city with an abundance of young and talented people. There’s always something interesting going on. We attended a Road Runners Hockey game, enjoyed the production of Fiddler on the Roof by the Arizona Theater Company, and strolled through a huge art fair called the 4th Avenue Winter Street Fair.

Christmas was a first for the Ferri family. All the children, spouses, grandchildren, and future grandchildren were there. Words cannot describe how wonderful it was for us! Thomas and Jess hosted the memorable event.

The month was capped off attending a party with 330,000 other people who took to Las Vegas Boulevard to ring in the New Year. There were so many people we literally could not move for a few minutes. I’ve never been concerned in a crowd, but I was concerned in this one. I managed to shove our way through to an open spot in front of Caesars Palace just as the fireworks went off – and they were great! Been there, done that – checked off our bucket list.

We’ll be in Tucson for another month before heading east again. We will try to write more…but then, where does the time go? Happy New Year to all!

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