Valley Of The Moon
Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin, part of the fourth mission
to land on the moon in 1971, visited the Hashemite Kingdom
of Jordan, King Hussein took him on a helicopter tour of the
This is the most majestic of
Jordanís desert landscapes, the southern region made famous
as the setting of David Leanís 1961 film, Lawrence of
Arabia, starring Peter OíToole and Omar Sharif.
This is where T.E. Lawrence was
based when he led the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire
in World War I. "Vast, echoing and God-like" was Lawrenceís
description of this sandstone valley.
Scanning Wadi Rum (wadi is
valley) from above reminded Astronaut Irwin of his walk on
the moon. Since then theyíve been calling it "the valley of
I too was captivated with this
magnificent terrain last year. I left my footprints on the
red sands and paused to contemplate the towering rockscapes
and steep hills. I had joined a group to spend a night at a
On the way we stopped in
Salhiya, a Bedouin village of 350 families, where Ali Eid
Swelhdeyen, the 80-year-old sheikh, welcomed us in a tent
overflowing with soft drinks and cookies.
The sheikh escorted us to the
"Handicrafts Workshop for Traditional Bedouin Artefacts"
where we watched women in black niqabs design trinkets and
adornments for sale to tourists. The crafts center is
supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development
At twilight we arrived at the
Captainís Desert Camp,
a family business run by Sheikh Rafiq Suleiman. "We keep a
real Bedouin style for our guests who come from all over the
world," he told us. "We offer jeep safaris, camel rides,
trekking, ballooning and horseback riding."
Torches illuminated the camp.
Dinner was laid out on wooden tables under the stars. A
bonfire kept the area heated. A group of Bedouin in
traditional white robes sat down with drums and serenaded us
with traditional music.
My tent was divided by a large
hanging sheet separating me from another couple. I lay on
the cot with my clothes, jacket and boots on as I snuggled
under the heavy quilts. A chill wind howled and whistled
Stepping out in the middle of
the night to look for the latrine proved perilous. It was
pitch black. There was no path, only sand. The bonfire was
out; everyone retired for the night; there was no one to
guide me. I could have strangled myself in the ropes that
anchored the tent. I happened to have a small penlight in my
gear, which got me safely to the privy.
In the morning I was convinced
that a night in the desert is best left to Bedouins or
Eskimos or hardy seasoned travelers. They know how to
survive the freezing elements.
However Iím glad I spent a
night at a Bedouin campsite. Itís an experience to savor and
long to remember.
Back to Top
Western U.S. Road Trip:
our first annual Road Trip to explore a different part of
North America, we went to the West Coast. We spent one week
in December at various spots in California; the second week
in Nevada and Arizona. Our sojourn produced happy memories
and beautiful pictures. Also a couple of disappointments.
Two months before we started
out, we reserved a car from two rental companies. At Los
Angeles Airport (LAX) we picked up our first vehicle at
Even though we had paid in advance by credit card, we asked
if we could revise the contract to allow for a discount
through our AAA membership. No problem.
The clerk was patient and
accommodating. He put us in a very comfortable and roomy
standard-size Ford Taurus. We were three happy campers as we
made our way through Los Angeles, Ventura, San Diego,
Disneyland and Redondo Beach.
Our itinerary for the
second week called for trekking through Death Valley,
California; hitting Las Vegas, Nevada, and visiting Sedona,
Arizona. AT LAX we returned the first car and went to
to pick up our second car. This was an
unpleasant experience we want to forget. But first let me
We asked the woman at the desk
if she would kindly change our contract to reflect a
discount with our AAA cardóto no avail. She was adamant that
she couldnít do it. I was as polite as possible as I meekly
informed that it had been done at Enterprise the previous
week. Without looking up she kept insisting that company
policy did not allow her to accommodate us that way. I asked
to speak to the manager, who also refused to budge.
As the contract was paid in
advance, we couldnít just walk away from such an unfriendly
encounter and take our business elsewhere. We had no choice
but to drive away from such an ill-disposed outpost in the
rent-a-car business as fast as we could in their compact
Ford Focus. Where do you think weíd go to rent cars in the
Back to Top
The Best Of Southern California
SUITE at the legendary
Millennium Biltmore Hotel
in downtown Los Angeles was the perfect place to unwind in
luxury. This massive gorgeous 11-story structure, with
stunning cathedral-like ceiling, was designed by New York
architects Schultze and Weaver of Waldorf-Astoria fame. It
lays claim to a glorious history from the day it opened in
1923. This was the location for the Academy Awards for a
time, and for numerous movies such as Dreamgirls, The
Nutty Professor and Chinatown. Located at 506 S.
Grand Ave., 800-245-8673,
is the best, and most cost effective, way to enjoy the city.
We obtained one for Hollywood ($59) which offers access to
six attractions, among them a Kodak Theatre Guided Tour,
Starline Tour of Hollywood, and Madame Tussauds. We also got
a City Pass for Southern California ($269) which gives you
three days at Disneyland, and one day at Universal Studios
Hollywood, SeaWorld, and either San Diego Zoo or San Diego
Zooís Wild Animal Park.
We took the studio tour
at Universal and learned how movies are made, in fact how
entire universes are created, how car wrecks are done and
more movie magic. There are rides for the kids and haunted
houses for the rest of us. Many shops and restaurants offer
10 percent discounts to AAA card holders.
perched above the city in the Santa Monica Mountains, is
awesome. We marveled at the extensive collection of western
art from the Middle Ages to the present, housed in five
modernistic buildings. There are guided tours all day of the
various parts of this wonderfully exciting museum, including
the Central Garden and stunning sculptures in an outdoor
setting. This stunning complex, created by architect Richard
Meier of the Bauhaus tradition, opened in 1997. Best of all:
Everythingís free (except parking and eating).
Universal Studios Hollywood
on a rainy day in December
is a charming little beach town (pop. 100,000), only an hour
from L.A., where we found art galleries, antique stores,
boutiques, historic sites and museums. Get Ventura
California, the visitors guide, to find places and
events to entice you.
You can pick from a dozen
city tours, among them a Haunted Ventura Evening Tour, In
the Footsteps of Perry Mason (author Erle Stanley Gardner
lived here), and Olivas Adobe Ghost Tour. The historic
downtown cultural district is sprinkled with an array of art
galleries, antique shops, boutiques, wine bars, and
restaurants that offer jazz.
is Venturaís only beachfront hotel, close to the pier and
downtown, so thatís where we stayed. We loved the luxury and
pleasant atmosphere. 450 East Harbor Blvd, 805 648-2100,
We spent a day at
Channel Islands National Park,
which consists of five islands. We explored Santa Cruz. You
could do hiking for one day or go for a multi-day camping
experience. For an island excursion contact
1691 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura Harbor, 805 642-1393,
The boat leaves at 10 a.m. and returns at 4:30 p.m.
The day we ventured out to the
island the water was a bit choppy, rocking the boat. I was
outside on the deck, holding on to my camera with one hand
and the side rail with the other, until I decided itís safer
inside. The Island Packers crew, excellent professional
sailors, got us to the island in less than an hour. We
brought our own snacks as there are no facilities there,
except for a restroom.
After hiking up, down and
around the island, we got back on the boat for the return
trip. This time the ocean was calm. Suddenly Marty Flam, a
National Park volunteer, shouted "Dolphins!" We grabbed our
gear and hurried out onto the deck. We were pleasantly
surprised by a pod of common dolphins that was following the
boat. Some performed for our cameras as they vaulted into
the air and dived back into the water, enthralling us all.
Santa Monica Pier
was a quick pit stop as we headed south.
Moon Handbooks: Southern California calls this "the
ultimate in SoCal beach kitsch." Along one side of the long
pier are an array of restaurants, arcades and souvenir
stands. As the sun descended, David stationed himself on the
beach. He planted his tripod in the sand and tracked the
flaming luminary as it dipped gracefully into the ocean,
burning the sky above in golden colors.
Santa Cruz Island
in Anaheim, the most famous theme park in
the universe, is a required stop, at least once in a
lifetimeóespecially as itís part of the City Pass Southern
California package. We had reserved a room for two nights at
the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, which was grand indeed.
Sunset at Santa Monica Pier
With our three-day pass
we gained admittance to quite a few attractions at "the
Happiest Place on Earth." At Disneyís California Adventure
park we enjoyed Aladdin, a musical spectacular, and
caught one of two outdoor parades, High School Musical 3.
In the Disneyland park thereís so much to see and do, you
have to be there. For resort information call 714.781.4565,
hotel information 714.956.6425,
Sleeping Beauty Castle
San Diego Zoo
was our next stop. Itís so vast you can
spend a full day in the company of pandas, giraffes, jaguar,
condor, and other more exotic creatures. We took a minibus
tour and hopped off at various points to get close with some
of the hippos and lions (not to worry, you canít get too
close to be gobbled up). Besides the mini tour bus thereís
also a sky tram for an overhead view of the 100-acre park.
We walked through the lush botanical gardens and up and down
wooded paths to gaze at the animals, who gazed right back at
us if they werenít sleeping or eating.
Tiger at the San Diego Zoo
was our journeyís finale for the first
week on the road. This beach city of 64,000 is blessed with
a Performing Arts Center where we saw Seussical, a
musical presented by the Civic Light Opera of South Bay
Cities. There were families with children who delighted in
the performance, but we adults enjoyed the show just as much
and applauded heartily.
San Diego Zoo Apes
and Yacht Club
is a charming place to lodge. Our suite
overlooked the water, so we stood on the porch to snap
pictures of yachts that floated by under our window. This
happened to be the 18th annual King Harbor Yacht
Club Christmas Boat Parade. The boats competed with
brilliant decorations of sparkling colored lights. It was a
Next door is the
restaurant, which boasts "serious food, whimsical mood," and
welcomes everyone to partake of their upscale grub, whether
or not you have a boat moored in the harbor.
Colorful Redondo Beach
Redondo Beach & Marina Hotel
is a luxury hotel where the rooms are spacious, the
restaurant fare is delicious, and the staff is friendly.
Itís situated in a very good location at 300 N. Harbor Dr,
The Redondo Beach Pier is
teeming with lively cafes, seafood eateries, pizza parlors,
bakeries and souvenir shops. At this waterfront marketplace
youíll gravitate to the
an amusement arcade that keeps adults and children engaged
for hours. Owner Steve Shoemaker tries to make sure everyone
comes out a winner at the various games of skill and chance.
Lots of kitsch to delight the kids.
The lineup at seaside
You donít need reservations to
and head out to sea. This 144-passenger, high powered, open
air speed boat operates on weekends and holidays, from 1
p.m. to sundown. Youíll find it at the marina (naturally).
If you want to see sea lions,
a 19-passenger, semi-submersible underwater viewing boat. Or
take a one-hour ride around the harbor in a four-passenger
Pedal Boat. Both operate 11 a.m. to sunset every day in
summer, and weekends in winter. Reservations at 310