Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Twentynine Palms

After our return from Michigan on Sunday evening (see previous blog) Max and I had one day to recover, do our laundry, and prepare for our next adventure.  Now I want to chime in here.  We are really rushing this to "publish"- hopefully we'll proofread at least enough. But the Kappel's arrive tomorrow- and of course there will be Thanksgiving (and a baby baptism thrown in just for a bit more excitement)- so we are really up against a deadline.  So here goes!
This next trip involved much more extensive travel taking us to Twentynine Palms, CA which sits on the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert.  Twentynine Palms is a town, but more than that it is home to the Marine Corps largest Base.  The desert terrain around the base provides an environment not very different from parts of Afghanistan, and consequently it provides excellent training for the Marines who deploy there.

But we didn’t go there for the dry desert air or the scenery of Joshua Tree National Park that is adjacent to the town, we went to see Clint who had just several weeks before returned from Afghanistan, and also to meet our new  granddaughter, Amelia Cole Kappel, who arrived on October 11.  Of course we can’t forget Amelia’s siblings, Reeder, Hayes and Weiler, or Marianne who has contained and nourished these children during Clint’s long deployments to the Middle East.

Twentynine Palms is not a an easy place to get to.  The closest airports are over an hour away and not on the main routes of airlines that leave from Cincinnati.  We have driven there once, but that is a 4100 mile round trip.  So our routine approach is to fly from Cincinnati to Las Vegas and then rent a car and drive  the 175 miles across the Mojave Desert to Twentynine Palms.  The road is mostly two lane and very straight with almost no traffic.  The speed limit is 55, but we usually can make the trip in about 2 hours and 15 minutes.  You can calculate how fast we drive on your own. Let's be real honest.  This is a beautiful country- and there is certainly beauty in the desert.  But by my calculation this was our 9th and 10th trips driving across the Mojave Desert.  I'm really over the desert.  I'm ready to move on. ENOUGH ALREADY!

We arrived on October 31 and our first priority was to see Amelia, as Clint was at work.

She is a beauty! Big eyes, dark hair, gorgeous olive complexion.  It was love at first sight.  And so cuddly!

And, of course, October 31 is Halloween, and on a Military base in a base officer housing neighborhood where all the residents are married with young 1 to 1+n children each, Halloween is a BIG DEAL!
I wasn't ready for Halloween on a Marine Base for families.  Now I knew from our previous trips that Marines have a lot of children.  In the United States the "average" child per family around 1.8.  But not on a Marine Base- don't think they got the memo on average family size.  Now I don't have any statistics to back this up- but I think the average is at least 3 per family.  Well I watched this parade of children on Halloween and I'm real comfortable with my numbers!

Reeder was a princes with a peacock mask

Hayes was a Ninja, Blue Man, Monster Truck Driver.  That boy is creative.

Weiler became a skeleton wearing his skeleton pj's, although somewhat grudgingly.  It was his first Halloween in which he participated, and all of this seemed a bit scary to him.  But once he figured out that people were giving you candy if you just walked up to their house, he was on board!  That boy does like candy and before long he was running up to the houses with the big kids.

Max assumed responsibility of Amelia, that is when Amelia wasn't hungry. Marianne and I sat out front- I held Amelia and Marianne passed out candy.  We started with a BIG TUB of candy.  The steady stream (sometimes you might even say a mob) of children- often accompanied by their Marine father- started the parade that continued without any pause for 2 and a half hours.  I was totally amazed.  I don't ever remember seeing that many children...

But she definitely wasn't alone in working on this duty.  Holding this 3 week old little girl was shared by many and Amelia didn't complain.

Some children are tough to photograph either because they sense the picture being taken and pose or they sense the picture and have a negative reaction.  But Weiler and Hayes seem to have this amazing relationship with my camera.  Maybe it's because I try to photograph them from a distance with a telephoto lens, but for what ever reason I love what I capture with them in front of my lens. As you can tell Don was in his photographer role for this visit!  And the pictures are wonderful!

Reeder can be tougher to capture, but when we do it is worth the number of failures.  

When we go to Twentynine Palms, we always try to get into Joshua Tree National Park and this trip was no exception.  Clint had to work, but we took the kids (all four) for a hike.  Amelia enjoyed being strapped onto to either Max or her Mom, and occasionally Weiler got a lift, but Reeder and Hayes took off for an afternoon of rock climbing.  We were at a place called Jumbo Rocks.  The name is pretty obvious once you get there.  The geology provides rocks the size of houses to small buildings that have been exposed by erosion leaving Jumbo Rocks.  Reeder and Hayes love to climb among these rocks. Now I might mention here that I'm really not that into rock climbing- hiking yes- rock climbing no!

We had a picnic lunch before starting out and soon Reeder and Hayes were out of sight as they scrambled up the rocks.  Marianne's friend and routine companion on her "interesting adventures", Jessica, arrived just after lunch and joined us with her infant son Gabe.

My 300X telephoto zoom lens certainly came in handy.  These two had no fear and climbed among the rocks like a couple of ants.

There is a trail back through the boulders, but we quickly lost it and just kept heading toward the sounds of Reeder and Hayes.  We found a narrow route and squeezed between a couple of "rocks" and finally came out into an open area where we relaxed. Have I mentioned that I really am not that into rock climbing- particularly rock climbing with a baby packed on my chest... Just saying...


The two babies slept well strapped onto Max and Jessica.

While the babies had their next meal of the day we noticed that we hadn't seen Reeder or Hayes for a while.  Eventually Reeder returned to let us know that Hayes was stranded in a spot he couldn't climb out of and needed a little help.  Reeder led me to him, and I'm not really sure how he got down there, but with a little effort and some heavy lifting I got him out.  At least he wasn't hurt, just a little scared before I got there.

Once we got back to the car Marianne wanted to visit one more spot before heading back.  There is a small patch of this desert that for what ever reason seems to be perfect for the growth of cholla cacti.  These cholla are often called Jumping Cholla or even Teddy Bear Cholla.  They got these names because they do look so cuddly, but if one gets too close they seem to jump right into your skin and stick there.  The pieces break off easily and that is one of their mechanisms of reproduction by hooking onto an animal or human and getting carried to a new spot where it comes off and eventually grows into a new plan.

Finally, on our last day (at least our last day for the next four years) we had a final lunch at the Officer's Club with Clint.  I finally confessed my insistence every visit on at least one trip to the Officers Club for lunch.  You would too- well at least all of our female readers would.  There is just something very, very, very pleasant about sitting in a large dining room filled with gorgeous- really "buff" young men.  It's not the food- it's the view- and not out any window.  And then we headed back across the Mojave towards Las Vegas for our flight home.  Twentynine Palms has some wonderful things about it (the community of Marine families and Joshua Tree National Park), but we will be very glad to have the Kappel family back in our own time zone for the next several years. Which is why we're in a bit of a rush to publish this blog- the Kappel's arrive tomorrow on their way to their next assignment.  Clint has been assigned to the Pentagon- and the Kappel family will be living in Arlington, Virginia- a days drive from Cincinnati.


Sandy Needham said...

Just lovely. All of it.
I love how there is no filter between Don's lens and those little fearless eyes.
I love how Max's devotion as a Grandma is completely iterated in the way she holds that baby.
I'm so happy they're moving nearby for a while!
I just need to school you two in BREATHERS!

Lucas said...

So glad he is home and that family is together again. Hooray, hooray, hooray! And that baby is adorable, looks JUST LIKE her sister! :)