A Travellerspoint blog

Eureka!! Them's big trees!

sunny 26 °C

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So the Sierra Nevadas are actually quite tall if you were wondering. Mt. Whitney, at 14494 feet is due west of Lone Pine, which is the community you arrive at after exiting Death Valley National Park. The road that runs parallel to the mountains and hugs the Nevada-California border is Route 395. It is a really impressive stretch of black-top, with fantastic vistas of the mountains and lots of scenes that could be taken right from "A River runs through it" or "Legends of the Fall." The motel we stayed at in Bishop had big fish storage freezers, so I would imagine that it is very popular sport fishing country. Yosemite National Park and Mammoth Mountain ski area are both along the way on our northerly voyage.

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In mid to late April, pretty much all of the high mountain passes which would allow you to get into central California are still impassable. I found this out somewhat belatedly, when I asked a Park Ranger in passing what my state traversing options were. "Well son (slight cliché), you don't really have any." North on Route 395 it is then. I see, looking at the trusty Rand McNally after the fact that the entire road is designated as a scenic route, so we didn't do too badly in the magnificent views category.

Ultimately, we drove all the way to Reno, Nevada before heading west. A combination of detours and road construction made for a long day, but the early evening drive through the fruit and vegetable heartland of California north of Sacramento was pretty amazing as the size and scope of land under cultivation was impressive. Considering even for a moment the amount of produce that makes it all the way to our home in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, California must grow an absolutely enormous amount of produce for the North American, and other, markets.

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We started our final push for the West Coast from Red Bluff. The access road from that town is Route 36. Once again belatedly, we found out that Harley Davidson rates this ride in the top 5 for North America for epic motorcycle rides! It is one of those roads that is relatively fine for the driver, but can cause nausea and general unwellness for the hapless passengers. Lots of hairpin turns and rather narrow stretches hugging mountainsides with no guardrails. You travel across the Coast Mountains through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest to the coast. Max and Angus were troopers, but we were all happy when we had successfully conquered the challenging Route 36 as we rolled into Eureka, California in a steady drizzle.

Welcome to the wet coast!

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The Redwood National Park is primarily between Eureka and Crescent City, California, near the border with Oregon. Going to one of the interpretative centres on the coast, it was interesting to find out that the protected area of the old growth redwoods is relatively small, and that, perhaps not unexpectedly, there was not a groundswell of support to protect even the modest area which was ultimately set aside. Understandably, the sheer volume of useable wood that could be harvested from one tree was no doubt mighty enticing to the early non-Aboriginal residents of this area. As an aside, as we know, the vast majority of B.C. old growth has been logged.

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Ultimately, various U.S. Presidents and First Ladies got on board, and lands were gradually set aside. The area we visited was the Lady Byrd Johnson Grove. It is a 2.5 km or so loop, and it provides an excellent viewing opportunity of the wooden behemoths. The clichés are accurate, in that it is difficult to gauge the scale of the trees until you have something or someone, usually a human to compare it to. It was a classic moist, yet moderate Pacific Northwest day, so it was possible to understand the optimal growing conditions which have allowed these trees to thrive for 1500 plus years. On the way out, we also saw the aptly named Big Tree, which was slated to be taken down at the turn of the previous century and have its base used a dance floor!

We left the coast suitably impressed with our Redwood experience. Our return to Interstate 5 was more routine than our slightly harried Hog heaven experience on Route 36, as we came into Oregon at Grant's Pass on our way to Eugene.

Eugene, Oregon is known as Track Town, U.S.A., the home of Nike, the University of Oregon, and the late Steve Prefontaine. By happenstance, we were able to see a major West Coast high school and university individual and relay track meet. Our good friends and next door neighbours in Whitehorse had their eldest son Kieran running in both the 1500m and 3000m, so it was great to be able to see him run and to support him. The Hayward track facility at the University is absolutely first rate, the afternoon was perfect, and it was inspiring to see such incredible performances. Janet is the runner of the family, but the Clarke boys could certainly appreciate the calibre of the competition. Max and Angus are good, strong athletes, but it is unlikely either one of them will become track stars - neither has that lithe, slim, whippet-like body type, shall we say...;)

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On a final note, the University of Oregon's Arts Centre, the Matthew Knight Theatre is really quite stunning. We walked passed it at the end of the day, and sun's reflection off of the burnished, curved metal was very impressive. I read that it is one of the many Knight (the co-founder of Nike) family endowments at the University.

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And now we are off to Portland to pick up mummy...yeah!!

Posted by clarkesabroad 07.08.2012 15:39 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Death Valley Encounter

Don't get lost here!

sunny 33 °C

The road trip continues on to the California border and Death Valley: First stop, the vaguely Dr. Seussesquely named Pahrump, on the Nevada/California border. We then drove into Death Valley and stopped in and around the Furnace Creek Visitor's Centre. The drive in and out of Death Valley is a fascinating exercise in watching your car's thermometer rise and fall really quickly. The mid-Summer temperatures are of course legendarily furnace-like, but we merely had to survive around 33 degrees celsius. The Yukon boys still had strong opinion about that rarely experienced level of warmth, but it was no 45 to 50 degrees, that is for sure.

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Even in the spring, you appreciate what a bad draw some of the westward bound pioneers had when they stumbled into this beautiful, but very inhospitable land. Although there is limited vegetation, the preponderant image is of varying shades of desert brown, brackish pools of undrinkable water, dirt devils, convection oven dangerous heat, and daunting climbs and descents into yet another very much less than "how green was my valley", valley.

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One thing that I could point out to future travellers to this area is that there are two full descents and climbs between the beginning of Death Valley on the East and the point at Lone Pines, California where you come out at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas in the West. By that I mean that you go from more than 5000 feet to minus 200 feet back up to more than 5000 feet and back down....again. By the end of this part of the voyage, the brakes on the old wagon were screaming and searing hot - that was with using as much engine braking as possible. As well, there are signs to turn your A/C off in order not to strain your engine too much. This was an easy guideline for me to follow as we have a rock hole in the A/C condenser, and A/C no workie. Fine in the Yukon, not so fine in the summer in Arizona and Central Southern California I am guessing.

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On our final climb out of the aptly named area, we passed a chap who was walking across Death Valley. He looked like an older Forrest Gump, after Mr. Gump had been running non-stop for a year. Lots of facial hair and very deeply tanned. I stopped and asked him if he wanted something to drink. He said "I would not ask you for anything, but I would accept any kind offering from you." I gave him a bottle of Gatorade(TM), our general fluid replenisher of the Clarke expedition. He appeared to be on a bit of a voyage of self-discovery, and was totally pleasant to talk to, but he certainly looked very nomadic and biblical!


We popped out from the lowest point of the United States at the base of the majestic Sierra Nevadas which have the highest peaks in the contiguous United States, and our voyage continued.

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Posted by clarkesabroad 04:37 Archived in USA Tagged death_valley Comments (1)

Travelling in the USA

Keep on rockin' in the free world!

sunny 28 °C

I bade the lovely Janet adieu at the Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport on her way to her fantastic-to-be Boston Marathon adventure. On my return to our Tempe digs, I thought, lots of kms ahead in our trusty Subaru Legacy GT! Through a combination of attending many Court Circuits in the Yukon, as well as a number of long road trips throughout the Pacific Northwest over the past years, I have certainly found myself "behind the wheel of this not so large automobile" encountering a seemingly endless supply of rocks and trees and water and plains and ... repeat...you get the idea.

Angus, Max and I headed out of central Phoenix on Route 60, which is a Northwest diagonal out of the Valley of the Sun. It takes a LONG time to break free of the gravitational field of Greater Phoenix. On balance, Phoenix is a good destination in the late spring for a sports-minded family, but the sprawl of the city is quite overwhelming. Canadian cities are generally not much better, but Phoenix may be in a league of its own as the city clearly was primarily built out, and certainly not up. The downtown core of Phoenix is very small, and, I understand some of the CBD is not very vibrant or desirable. Overall, not a city planner's ideal city, but, it seems to work...until the water runs out...

The drive to Las Vegas was reasonably uneventful. After temperatures in the high 80's to low 90's, we lucked out with a pretty mild, overcast day with intermittent showers. The desert landscape was stunning, with many spring cactus blossoms and general greenery, which I am sure, is fleeting as the 110 to 120 degree big heat of summer was approaching.

Downstream from Hoover Dam

Downstream from Hoover Dam

Prior to arriving in Las Vegas, we stopped at the rather massive FDR 1930's public works project, a.k.a. the Hoover Dam. Janet and I were there in around 1994, pre-kids, and it is still really big. Max and Angus were suitably impressed. There is a lot of Art Deco design in the statues and plaques and the concrete work as you walk across the top of the dam. It is very similar to the architecture of the Chrysler and the Empire State Building. The style is evocative of the power of human potential and ingenuity. This style was of course twisted and contorted by the totalitarian regimes of the time, but it is, in this context, a hopeful, optimistic, and forward-looking design.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

We arrived in downtown old Las Vegas in the late afternoon. We stayed at a Best Western which was within walking distance of the Fremont street experience. We went to said experience that night. The concert music was various Queen songs, most of which the boys had recently heard at "We will rock you" in London.

The street scene confirmed the status of Las Vegas as the premiere adult playground. The variety and volume of large novelty drink containers was impressive. The most popular were modified hollow plastic golf clubs, which can conveniently double as walk stabilizers as the evening progresses, and biggish football goblets, which would not have the same utility, but could perhaps become the focal point of a rogue game of likely instantly wet touch football.

Excalibur in Las Vegas

Excalibur in Las Vegas

In addition, the fun for adults experience is enhanced by lots of cigars being consumed by novice aficionados, people taking advantage of the "loosest slots in Las Vegas", and the ever-present massive buffet offers. Of note, the tell tale clanging of coins is becoming a bit of a rare beast, as most of the slots run on credit systems, which do not, for the most part deposit copious quarters into the metal trays. I recall that noise being ever-present in our previous trip to Sin City.

Here is not a bad tip for families with kids between 10 and 14 in Las Vegas. Walk from the old town all the way to the end of the "new" strip. It is around 10 km and it is a pretty decent mix of exercise and sightseeing.

Our kids had not had a full breakfast yet, so they were developing a bit of a hunger when we stumbled upon the first Denny's experience of their lives, and let me tell you they were some excited. The perennial home of comfort food, Denny's has moved up/down the food chain, and you can actually have a somewhat healthy Grand Slam now. The boys had fun picking out the healthy alternative substitutes like the daily fruit selection or the egg white omelette. I know, kind of defeats the purpose, but it was fun, and, in any event, our eldest, Max is in his admirable " body is a temple" phase of his early teen life!

The day consisted of roaming the strip and surveying the concourses of the big casinos, pretending we were in Venice or ancient Rome, or New York, or vaguely 1950's meets ye olde tyme Merry Olde Englande at the Excalibur. The strip is generally on a rotation where the oldest casino is due for demolition and the next newest, flashiest concept rises from that casino's ashes. I think the one exception might be Caesar's Palace, which they appear to be renovating as they go. It really does have a massive footprint, with the mercantile mall section itself being bigger than many purpose-built malls elsewhere.

Just like Venice...on the second floor of a casino

Just like Venice...on the second floor of a casino

All in all, we had a good time, as the desert sun descended upon us. Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll (oh, and the occasional bit of gambling thrown in) is clearly the fuel that drives the Vegas bus, but there is no pretense that it is anything other than that. Is now and has always been...

Posted by clarkesabroad 16.07.2012 12:32 Archived in USA Tagged hoover_dam las_vegas Comments (1)

More than a feeling!!

A completely self-indulgent account on surviving the rather toasty Boston Marathon, 2012 Edition

sunny 32 °C

The Boston Marathon - it is the race that many runners want to do once in their lives. How lucky am I that after eight months of travelling the world, I was able to meet my good friend Michelle and have the most amazing running experience of my life.

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I flew from Phoenix on Friday, April 14th leaving Max, Nils and Angus to pack up and leave our Tempe condo to begin their drive north to Las Vegas. My flight was a red eye so I arrived in Boston with a number of other marathoners. The pilot wished us all luck on our run, which prompted much discussion about training, number of marathons, shoe types, pacing and all other subjects that bore most people to tears. Michelle arrived a couple of hours later and we jumped up and down at the gate hugging, not quite believing that what had been the subject of many transatlantic e-mails was actually happening!

A little background...Michelle and I had both been part of a group of thirty-five Whitehorse runners who ran in the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon in June 2011. The icing on the top of an amazing weekend was that we both ran this marathon in a fast enough time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That August, as I was leaving on the Clarkesabroad adventure, we both decided to enter, not exactly sure where I would be for the April 2012 race. The lovely village of Mèze was an ideal training spot for long runs under lovely ocean breezes and the half marathon in Marrakesh was a nice pre-full marathon appetizer. My ski mishap in Rossland set me back a little but buoyed by lots of icing, a supply of Tylenol and promises by Michelle that she would carry me if needed, I set my sights on April 16th.

The wonderful John picked us up at the Boston airport and drove us out to Plympton, where we were staying with John and his equally kind, generous, funny wife Margaret who is my mum's first cousin. Twenty-five years ago, when I was an au pair in Paris, Margaret and John hosted me and my friend Lisa in their St. Alban's house when I visited London. Over the four days that we were there, we spent time with Daniel, their son and Gaurav and Shivain, their foster sons from India...as well as the three goats in the back yard.

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Margaret drove us into the Boston the next day to pick up our bib numbers at the Marathon Expo and we both bought bright orange marathon jackets and sampled the many power bars and granola mixes on display. I picked out a bright orange running cap as well since at that point, we had received three e-mails from race organizers warning us about the extreme heat forecast for race day.

On the morning of the marathon, both John and Margaret woke up really early to see us off at the train station. We caught the 5:30 am train which got us into central Boston by 6:30 am and close to Boston Commons, where hundreds of yellow school buses were making repeated 45 minute trips to take the 22000+ runners to the town of Hopkinton where the race would start. Already at that time, it was very hot and people were shedding the extra clothes that they were wearing.

Michelle and I made it to the front of the line by 7:10 am, boarded the bus and began chatting with our fellow runners (see above for topics which were discussed). At 8:40 am we were still driving on that bus. Ever observant, Michelle said "I think that we are lost". At that moment, the driver, an affable black man, picked up the bus speaker and said "Ladies and Gentlemen, we were lost...but I think that I am on track now." The start of the run wasn't until 10 am so we all cheered. However, for this running cohort that had been working on their hydration, it was getting a little tense. When we finally pulled into the Athletes Village, all fifty of us streamed off of the bus and ran for the bushes. There were bare bums everywhere! Belatedly, we discovered that we were squatting in a swatch of bramble branches which twisted painfully up our legs. When you gotta go, you gotta go!

We waited on the fields at Athletes Village for over an hour trying to relax. We spent our time lining up to use the porta potties, peeing, looking for shade and then lining up to pee again. We applied sunscreen and talked about how hot it was. We did meet one guy from New York City in the potty line-up who was unusually well-informed about Stephen Harper and Canada in general which was an interesting distraction.

When our numbers were called, we were able to deposit our bags on a bus and then join the lines for the starting corrals. As has been done for one hundred and sixteen years before, all participants moved down the main street of Hopkinton towards the start. However, the eighteen runners in 1897 had a little more space than the thousands of us on this day and it was a very tight and slow-moving procession. It was very difficult not to feel physically sick with the heat, the crowds, and the prospect of the twenty-six hot miles ahead of us. When we finally made it to the starting corrals, the race was beginning. With about 15 seconds to spare, Michelle and I squeezed in and started the trot which would be our pace for the next four hours and twenty minutes.

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Within five minutes, we were sweating and our mouths were dry. The organizers had put on double the number of water stations so at mile 1, we both grabbed a cup of water and one of gatorade. This would be our routine for the next twenty-six water stations. Sometimes we would drink the water, other times, it was dumped over our heads. At times we lost sight of each other, but managed to meet up again shortly after the water station crowds dispersed. We did not speak much during the run except when one of us would say periodically "I think that we can do this". We constantly had other runners around us but it did not feel claustrophobic. Many people were beaming just like us, not quite believing that they were there and wondering how it could be so hot.

The crowds were amazing! For much of the run, we went through small towns. Families were bbqing on their lawns while their kids held garden hoses spraying runners down or handing out orange slices...or later on in the race, popsicle sticks with vaseline on them. At one house, a boy enthusiastically played a drum set that he had brought out on to his veranda. When we ran down the main street of yet another bucolic, colonial New England town, there was often a decontamination tent set up in front of the fire station and all the runners would take a slight detour to take advantage of the water spraying down inside.

At the halfway point of the marathon, we ran through the grounds of Wellesley College, where hundreds of students traditionally line the sidewalks offering water, oranges, high-fives, kisses, and much-needed inspiration. They make so much noise, that has become known as the Scream Tunnel. At mile twenty, Margaret, Daniel, Gauvra and Shivain waited 1.5 hours to see us on Heartbreak Hill. It was so fantastic to see familiar faces!! As for Heartbreak Hill, both Michelle and I were in agreement that it paled in comparison to the hills on our "usual" run in Whitehorse.

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For the final five miles as we approached Boston, the crowds grew larger and so did the number of runners walking. At this point as well, people were cramping up and sitting on the side of the road getting medical help. My knee felt okay... every 10 km I had rewarded myself with a tylenol and that seemed to help. We kept up the pace we had set at the start...in fact, our pace over the entire race was surprisingly consistent. The final two turns down the long streets were like a cruel joke but soon the finish line was in sight. I have never been prouder of my determination to get through a race.

The finish area was like a war zone with people looking everywhere for a shady spot to sit and many volunteers were calling for stretchers and wheelchairs. Nearly 2,000 participants had received some level of medical attention, and about 120 were taken to hospitals in ambulances. We tore open the package of food that we had been given and began stuffing the potato chips into our mouths to try to replace the salt which now covered our arms and foreheads in a dry white powder. Sitting down felt heavenly but getting up required Michelle's help as well as the kind souls who happened to be walking by at that moment..

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We wore our medals while we went for a beer and, on the train home that evening and everywhere, people would stop us to say congratulations. The next day, we were very sore and I had huge blisters on my soles of my feet. Michelle's legs had a raised, ugly rash that we traced back to peeing in the brambles. Despite this, we doned our orange marathon jackets and walked the Freedom Trail from Boston Common, lunching around Sam's bar at Cheers. Again, people saw our jackets and the talk was all about the marathon.

Michelle and I rewarded ourselves for a job well done by taking the train the next morning for New York City, staying in the wonderfully located Pennsylvania Hotel. We stayed in the Big Apple for four days, walking, shopping, eating, drinking and of course, reliving the marathon.

Thanks Michelle for being patient with my indecision, making most of the travel arrangements and for being your supportive, enthusiastic, funny self every step of the way...literally!!

Posted by clarkesabroad 21.05.2012 09:17 Archived in USA Tagged marathon boston Comments (0)

Sun and sports, sun and sports....and again!!

sunny 32 °C

We went to Phoenix seeking hot weather and we were not disappointed. For two weeks, our days were filled with blue skies and hot temperatures (who would have guessed that I was actually acclimatizing myself for "Hot Trot Boston 2012" but more about that in the next blog).

We rented a condo in Tempe and we loved the convenient location to grocery stores and parks, our access to Netflix, and the two large pools in the complex.

Relaxing at the pool in Tempe

Relaxing at the pool in Tempe

Morning at the pool

Morning at the pool

There are several major league baseball teams who use the stadiums in Phoenix each spring for a month of exhibition games. We went to two of these games at Salt River Field. We took our picnic blanket and sandwiches and joined hundreds of other families on the grassy fields just beyond the outfield. It is a most excellent way to watch a baseball game! By the end of the game, the free sunblock dispensers were empty and the beer vendors were looking ragged but quite content with the day's sales. We went to one more spring training game and then travelled downtown for a Diamondbacks regular season game at Chase Field. These crowds love their baseball so there are always cheers and songs to join in with as well as animated reactions to watch when the calls don't go their way. It is fun to adopt the home team and to share animated mock outrage at the perceived injustices of the sturm and drang of the proceedings.

Soaking up the sun at our first spring training game

Soaking up the sun at our first spring training game

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Take us out to the ballgame!

Take us out to the ballgame!

We are hitching our hopes on the Phoenix Coyotes this year for the Cup now that the Vancouver Canucks have fallen. We went to the last two Coyotes regular season games at the new and slightly cooler than expected, Jobing Arena. At the first game, we were wearing shorts and t-shirts (as one does when it is 30 degrees) and after the first period, I considered buying the toques and mitts from the people in front of us. Imagine living where the only time you get to wear that stuff is when you go inside to a hockey arena?!

Mike Smith is having an off day...bring in Angus Clarke

Mike Smith is having an off day...bring in Angus Clarke

Phoenix loves their "Yotes" and excitement was huge when the team made it into the first round of the playoffs. We were lucky enough to nab the $30 playoff tickets (huh?!) and enjoy the free parking at the arena to participate in "whiteout" fever first hand. There was a white Coyotes t-shirt on each seat and, with the exception of the Chicago fans, everyone put it on. The Coyotes were ahead until 17 seconds left in the final period...the Chicago fans made their presence known at that point. In overtime however, the Coyotes scored and the crowd went wild. The team has since made it through the first round and moved on to face the Predators in the second round. (Coyotes - 2, Predators - 1 at press time!)

WHITEOUT!!

WHITEOUT!!

We visited the very impressive Desert Botanical Gardens where we enjoyed a wonderful butterfly exhibit and saw more cacti variations than we ever imagined existed. It was an amazing time of the year to visit to see all of the colourful desert flowers in bloom. Some of the cacti look like they were taken right off of a Hollywood sci-fi movie set - who knew ?

Desert colour at the Botanical Gardens

Desert colour at the Botanical Gardens

Desert flowers

Desert flowers

Holding Max up in the heat

Holding Max up in the heat

Desert flowers at the Botanical Gardens

Desert flowers at the Botanical Gardens

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Dwarfed by large cacti

Dwarfed by large cacti

Frank Lloyd Wright owned a desert residence here which is now a museum and architectural school. The tour took us through his home and highlighted the many ways that he revolutionized home and building design. Three of the interior design innovations which spring to mind are theatre, and eventually aircraft, track lighting, interior acoustic enhancements through the effective utilization of local rock structures, and strategic theatre seat placement which recognized the habitual left to right crossing of the legs.

In an early 2000's poll of the most significant architectural designs in America of the 20th Century, as I recall we were told, 7 or 8 of them were from Frank Lloyd Wright with the iconic Fallingwater residence being #1. In my opinion, most of his designs were not necessarily classically fancy or artistic, but his realization of effective form and function was brilliant, and his legacy is everywhere today. (oh, Nils, stop showing off)

Touring Frank Lloyd Wright's desert getaway

Touring Frank Lloyd Wright's desert getaway

Pond at Taliesin West

Pond at Taliesin West

On April 14th, I flew to meet my Whitehorse running buddy Michelle in Boston and the next morning, the boys set out in our trusty Subaru for Las Vegas and, the adventures continue...

Posted by clarkesabroad 04.05.2012 11:27 Archived in USA Tagged baseball phoenix Comments (0)

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