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Tucson to Dragoon Mountain Ranch

Feb 18, 2017 Saturday – Tucson train station to Garry Sedun’s home at Dragoon Mountain Ranch, near Benson and St. David, Arizona

After my arrival this morning in Tucson aboard the Amtrak Sunset Limited train from Los Angeles, I call Enterprise Car Rentals asking them to pick me up. They state I am out of their pickup area, so I go outside the train station and catch a taxi to the car rental office. After checking in at the desk, the young woman takes me out to their lot to show me the Toyota Corolla I had previously selected online (Intermediate car). After she got into the driver’s side to check the odometer, she quickly closed the door and say she couldn’t rent me that particular car because it had a strong smell of marijuana! Eventually, she manages to send me on my way in a VW Jetta, which is a good fit for my needs over the next two weeks.

Cody's house in the early morning light

Cody’s house in the early morning light

I drive to my friend Garry’s place, which involves driving east on the I-10 freeway just past the small town of Benson. I stop in Benson to pick up a few groceries before driving the rest of the way to Garry’s place. It takes me about a half hour driving south of the Interstate on dirt & gravel roads through the Dragoon Mountain Ranch development, which is 8,400 acres (13 sqmi) in total. It is overcast and lightly raining in spots, but I hope it will clear off for the coming week when my astronomy buddies will be here. Garry and I go over to his neighbour Cody’s place, which is where I am staying along with my friends the McDonalds, who are already settled in.

As it turns out, I have a bedroom in the adjacent garage, which is massive, with an apartment attached consisting of a kitchen, great room, bedroom and bathroom. I am quite comfortable once I turn the heat on and get the place warmed up. The temperatures in this part of the high range land plateau can get down to close to freezing at night, and daytime temperatures are not hot, although the Sun can be intense. The reason I’m here? The very dark skies, of course!

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Hilo & Mauna Kea, Hawaii

February 23, 2014 – Sunday – Hilo and Mauna Kea, the Big Island of Hawai’i

The ms Statendam arrives early and docks at the pier in the harbour. I have some breakfast, and gather up my cold weather gear for my big trip up to the summit of Mauna Kea. I disembark, find the shuttle to Harper’s Car & Truck Rental, and I’m off in my 4×4 Ford Ranger truck, taking the Puainko Street Extension out of town, which becomes the H200/H2000 Saddle Road. I stop to pick up some refreshments from a corner store, since I will skip lunch. I’m glad I brought along my vehicle GPS from home, which guides me through several complicated twists and turns until I get out of the city of Hilo. The drive along the Saddle Road Highway is easy, since it is a paved 3-lane road all the way to the Mauna Kea Access Road turn, although I am climbing in elevation as I go.

The drive to the Visitors Information Station (VIS) is also uneventful, with a good 2 lane paved road all the way through ranch country. I stay at the VIS for 45 minutes in order to acclimatize myself to the elevation change, and then put the vehicle into 4-wheel drive and start up the gravel road to the summit. The road surface is washboard, so having 4WD is great to keep traction and stability. A few miles before the summit, the road returns to a paved surface, since dust control is a big factor with these expensive observatories.

There is snow on top, and the air is clear and cold. I pull on my winter coat, which I have been dragging around with me on this trip just for today’s adventure. It is wonderful to finally see all these observatories in person, especially the ones Canada is involved with. The Canada-France-Hawaii (CFHT) observatory has a prime location on the end of the north ridge, and is a beautiful, brilliant white structure. The Gemini North observatory is next to CFHT, and is a silver structure with bulging air vents all around the lower part of the dome…again, a very beautiful design.

I drive around to see all the observatories up close, but unfortunately I can’t stay for the VIS’ tours inside some of the facilities. The sky is a deep blue and crystal clear, and the observatories are stark white or silver, so I use the High Dynamic Range feature of my Canon 6D dSLR. This allows me to capture the scenes much more successfully. I shoot lots of photos, since I probably won’t return to Mauna Kea again. I can see the summit of the mountain and the trail leading to it from Gemini North, but I have to be careful to not exert myself too much while at 4,205 metres (13,792′) elevation, since the amount of oxygen available up here is less than half that is at sea level.

Reluctantly, I have to return to my cruise ship, so I start the drive down the mountain, with my vehicle in low range 4WD and in 2nd gear as well. I barely touch the brakes for the whole way down the mountain until I shift out of 4WD at the VIS before returning to paved roads. The return trip to Hilo and sea level goes without a hitch. I return the vehicle to the rental company, and I’m back on board a couple of hours before departure time.

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Oahu, Hawaii

February 20, 2014 – Thursday – The North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii

We arrive in Honolulu harbour on time this morning. The early morning approach offers some superb views of Diamond Head and the south shore of Waikiki and Honolulu before we slip into our dock at Pier 2.

I am on an excursion today, our first of two days in Honolulu. The Explore and Taste Oahu’s North Shore tour is a 6.5 hour all day affair run by Roberts Hawaii, which visits the tranquil Byodu Temple after we travel over the H3 freeway through the Koolau Mountains to Kaneohe. The temple is quite beautiful and tranquil despite the groups from the numerous tour buses wandering the grounds.

We then stop at Chinaman’s Hat Rock, which is a rock sticking out of Kaneohe Bay. We drive by the Crouching Lion restaurant (now closed), which my friends and I stopped at for lunch the last time I visited Oahu. Our stop at Malaekahana State Recreation Area offers a great view of the ocean and a spectacular beach, not often visited by tourists or locals. (It looks like Malaekahana is now operating as a campground and retreat.) As we pass the Polynesian Cultural Center, our guide George explains how the students study at the Brigham Young University and the adjacent Latter Day Saints temple in Laie, and also work at the Polynesian Cultural Center to pay for their education.

2014 Oahu North Shore photos map

Oahu North Shore photos map

Our destination for lunch is just up the road: Fumis Kahuku Shrimp (Yelp reviews), where we have a pre-ordered lunch of shrimp, cod, or chicken. Most people order the shrimp, which is a large portion that comes in a Styrofoam plate along with some salad and rice and a soft drink. I find the Lemon Pepper Shrimp to be very tasty. There is a washbasin to get the grease off after the meal is finished. Shave Ice can be purchased for dessert, for those so inclined. This is very casual dining, but the food is very good! The James Campbell Wildlife Refuge is visible out by the coastline from here, and the shrimp ponds where the shrimp are raised are right beside this roadside stop.

We carry on to see Sunset Beach for a quick 10-minute stop, then pass by Tunnel Beach, both of which are world-famous for surfing. There are lots of surfers riding the waves. Waimea Bay Beach Park is the next stop to see the turtles in the bay feeding on the algae. We spot one turtle. We then turn away from the coastline, driving through the little town of Haeliwa, and make our final stop at the Dole Plantation. This is the typical tourist trap if ever I saw one, but thankfully it is only a 20-minute stop before we carry on back to Honolulu over the H2 and H1 freeways, passing Pearl Harbor along the way.

The ship stays at the dock overnight, so we sleep aboard.

February 21, 2014 – Friday – Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

2014 Honolulu photos map

2014 Honolulu photos map

I don’t have any excursions booked for today, so I get up and have a leisurely breakfast in the Rotterdam Dining Room. I go ashore from Pier 2, walking a few blocks up South Street as far as the Mission Houses, the Kawaiaha’o Church, and then cross South King Street to see the State Capital and Iolani Palace.

I return to the Mission Houses for their tour of the inside, paying the $10 admission. It was very interesting hearing how the missionaries from Boston sailed around Cape Horn, to live and work in Hawaii. They supported themselves by printing and selling (or bartering) books and documents. They gave the Hawaiians their written language, introduced them to western music melody, and of course converted many of them to Christianity. I don’t have time to go into the Iolani Palace before it closes, so I return to the ship to freshen up and have some lunch.

Collection of photos of this visit and my previous visit to the Honolulu area in 2010.

I spend the afternoon aboard ship, swimming in the Ocean View Pool and generally relaxing. I am also taking advantage of the roaming package I purchased from Rogers, my cellular provider in Canada. The roaming package includes 15 minutes for voice calls, and also includes 200Mb of data. Since I have high speed LTE connectivity here, I can ignore the ship’s slow and expensive satellite Internet connection, and get a few things done online. I also call Harper’s Car Rentals to change my arrangements on the Big Island of Hawaii to a one-day rental with no drop off in Kona, which they happily do for me.

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Kaua’i, Hawai’i

Port of call on a 2010 South Pacific Cruise from Vancouver to Auckland aboard the Volendam

Sep 29, 2010 – Wednesday – Volendam arrives in Kaua’i

I get up around 8:30am and go for breakfast in the Lido. I have an omelette made to order, and have my breakfast on the outside deck; the first al fresco dining for me on this trip, since it is now 24°C in the morning.

JoeTourist: Kaua'i 2010 &emdash; Rotterdam moored in Nawiliwili Harbour dock in Nawiliwili this afternoon at 5:20pm, and we don’t leave port until tomorrow afternoon. The Rotterdam is also docked as we arrive. She departs about an hour later – a lovely sight. As our gangway is put in place, complete with red carpet, a rain shower starts up – “welcome to Kauai”. We all stay aboard the ship this evening.

We dine in the Canaletto, an Italian menu restaurant on the Lido Deck. We are dining a couple of tables away from the Captain. Afterward, we go to the Frans Hals Lounge, where Lance Ringnald is doing an acrobatic performance. He is a past Olympic winner for the USA and is now 40 years old, but is still in great shape and puts on a very entertaining show. He uses hanging silks like Cirque de Soleil does, along with some jokes and banter to the audience (he is wearing a microphone). I shoot some video, since he says he has no problem with flash photos or video. Normally both are not allowed during performances in the show lounge.

Sep 30, 2010 – Thursday – Kaua’i

JoeTourist: Kaua'i 2010 &emdash; Joe & Wendy wandering a beach set my alarm last night and get up 7:30am, since I want to beat the crowds disembarking today. I am out the door and up to the Lido for breakfast: scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and toast. We then catch the Hertz shuttle to the airport, where I have reserved a very nice Nissan Altima. We decide to drive up the eastern and northern coasts of Kauai to a bit past the Hanalei Valley. We stop for a swim near Anini Beach and to see the Kilauea Lighthouse, and are back into town by 3pm and back onboard the ship by 3:30pm…well ahead of the 4:30pm “All Aboard” deadline. My friends and I have visited Kaua’i before, so this visit brings back good memories for all of us and was a most enjoyable day.

The Grand Nawiliwili Sail Away party is hosted by Holland America as Volendam sailed out of Nawiliwili Harbour. In order to compensate for the missed stop in Maui there are free drinks and snacks, so I have a couple of gin and tonics. The headlands of Kauai are beautiful as we sail away while the sun sets. I sure didn’t need any wine with dinner when we dined later at the Italian restaurant Canaletto.