The International Car Forest of the Last Church—Goldfield, Nevada

IMG_4540Goldfield, Nevada currently has a population of about 250 people. This is down from the 30,000 or so who were here during Goldfield’s boom times which started after gold was discovered here in 1902. By 1910, ore production had declined and the population dropped to under 5,000. It’s been downhill ever since.

But just outside of town, with no signs marking the turnoff heading about a half mile down a dusty gravel road, is the amazing, and frankly kind of spooky, International Car Forest of the Last Church. We had heard of this open-air art display out in the desert and we just had to see for ourselves. What we found were the remains of about 40 vehicles stuck in the ground. Now, that’s a pretty bland description so you just have to look at our photos to see what we’re talking about.

The two guys behind this odd piece of Americana are Michael “Mark” Rippie and Chad Sorg.

The following are excerpts from Aspen Marie Stoddard’s April 18, 2014 article in The High Country News that describes the origin of what we saw:

“I came up with The Last Church as representation of the last church being inside each of us,” Rippie told me last year. “Meaning that we should pass knowledge to each other from one heart to another about two things: unconditional love and compassion.”

“To call it an International Forest was my idea,” said Sorg, “as a sort of spoof on ‘national forest’ and because people from all over the world visit Goldfield. Highway 95 gets large amounts of tourists wanting to experience the Old West.”

Rippie, who owns these 80 acres, began the project in 2002, when he was in his late 50s. He’d spent decades around Goldfield (population maybe 250, down from an early 1900s peak of 30,000), often sporting a wispy gray beard and dabbling in mining and other schemes – “running the high desert looking for gold, antique treasures and junk vehicles,” as he put it. He hopped on his backhoe and dug the first hole for the forest, determined to get the Guinness Book of World Records title for the most cars planted vertically in the ground. Then he tapped his personal boneyard of junk vehicles.

Sorg, an artist who had done some work in Reno, came to Goldfield in 2004 thinking the town would be a perfect artists’ retreat and teamed up with Rippie. The High Country News article continues:

“My favorite part about working on the forest was the solitude it provided,” Sorg said. “I was out there every day. We actually wouldn’t start working until after midnight  (to avoid the summer heat). Our trucks and backhoes were equipped with spotlights. The feeling was spooky and quirky. Over time, we learned a lot about the unique physical requirements of each vehicle, how to weight them down, and which end should be buried in the dirt. Mark would drive the backhoe and I would guide the vehicle into the hole. Then we would backfill dirt in. In all the times we did this, surprisingly, we never had any mishaps. After we met, I didn’t leave until we finished planting that last car” – which they did in 2011, seven years after Sorg teamed up with Rippie.IMG_4541IMG_4542IMG_4543IMG_4544

The two artists broke up after the project’s completion and Sorg’s Facebook page describes him as an artist, graphic designer and window cleaner. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Rippie’s Facebook page shows he still lives in Goldfield and is a self-employed heavy equipment operator and business owner/engineer at  Stonewall Mining. Their alliance may be over but Rippie and Sorg’s International Car Forest of the Last Church serves as a lasting monument to artistic creativity.

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Weekend at a Lighthouse

DSC_0170Have you ever stayed overnight at a lighthouse? Well, Tanya and Jay hadn’t. So, when we got the chance to stay a couple of nights in a 100+ year old lighthouse keeper’s cottage along the east coast of Florida we jumped at the opportunity. This was early last month and just prior to taking our latest transatlantic voyage back to Deutschland. Our ship was scheduled to depart from Ft. Lauderdale and rather than staying at some local Holiday Inn before we sailed, we looked for something a bit more interesting. We found it.DSC_0176DSC_0175

The Hillsboro Lighthouse sits at the entrance to Hillsboro Inlet, roughly midway between Ft. Lauderdale and Boca Raton and was built in 1906. The lighthouse still operates nightly, casting its 550,000 candle power rotating beam over the Atlantic. Even though the actual operation of the lighthouse has been fully automated since 1974, the US Coast Guard still maintains three lighthouse keeper houses on the lighthouse grounds for guests and we were able to snag one of them for two nights.

The lighthouse has an interesting history. Made of iron, the tower was built in 1905/1906 by the Russel Wheel and Foundry Company of Detroit. In 1907, the whole thing was disassembled and moved to the Hillsboro Inlet and put together again, ready to start operation in 1909. The structure is held together with bolts, rather than welding, which made the process a little easier. Kind of like a giant erector set.DSC_0177

The 9-foot, 3,600 pound fresnel lens was built in France, is still in use and projects one of the most powerful lighthouse beams in the world, well over 30 miles out. And sure enough, just a little bit before dusk each night, the light starts its nightly rotation. We weren’t bothered by the beam, but we weren’t so sure about the residents of some high-rise apartments across the inlet. Every 20 seconds or so, their windows are illuminated by those half million candles, but apparently a landward baffle has been installed on the lens to cut down the light as it shines over land. But still….

Most fascinating however was how the lighthouse operated in its early years. Electricity wasn’t even brought to this area of Florida until 1932. So, the light rotated by a gear mechanism driven by a weight on ropes, just like a grandfather clock. Except the weight had to be hand-cranked every 90 minutes or so. The light itself was originally an incandescent oil vapor lamp, fueled with kerosene. Several times each night the lighthouse keeper had to haul kerosene up the 175 steps to refuel the lamp. DSC_0173DSC_0181

Fortunately for us, conditions for our stay didn’t include cranking or kerosene hauling and at the end of our stay we were back on our way back to Europe.

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Thoughts on Travel


As of mid-April, 2018 Jay and Tanya have been traveling nearly non-stop for the last 17 months. For some professionals, touring musicians and global consultants come to mind, this is quite normal. And for us, this has become fairly normal as well, although we are looking forward to spending the summer in Wiesbaden and trying to stay put for awhile. We’ll see how that goes.

Our philosophy has been that as long as one feels comfortable in one’s surroundings and with one’s self, the idea of home is wherever one is and therefore one never leaves it. We still believe that, up to a point. But there are certainly places where we do not feel at home or at ease and some of those places are within our home country.

What we’ve found is there are times when we’ve felt at ease with our surroundings but at the same time we often lose track of where we are. We’re still comfortable but we often end up asking ourselves, What town is this? What state or country? What currency are we using today? Are folks speaking a language we recognize or will we have a more challenging time figuring out what’s going on today? And, it’s not like the old reference to package tours, “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium”, where we’re physically in a different place every day. We can have been in one place for weeks and still experience a sense of disorientation in the morning.

We often encounter people, retired or otherwise, who travel for two or three weeks at a time before heading back to their primary residence. Then a month or several goes by before they head off again. We used to be like that. Maybe we will be like that again someday. 

Why do we continue with this, some might say excessive, behavior? Well, one reason is that we can. We know we are in a very small minority of people in the world who are able or interested in engaging in the luxury of this nonsense. But there’s more to it than that. One of our friends says he frequently experiences severe bouts of FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. Perhaps there’s a bit of FOMO in our travel compulsion. There must be something happening somewhere that we simply cannot miss out on. Or, maybe it’s the exhilaration of continually exciting our senses with new experiences. Maybe we’re running away from what most people recognize as normality. 

We once thought that there was at least some altruism to this travel affliction, that we were acting as goodwill ambassadors of our country, helping others realize that Americans were not all a bunch of selfish, ethnocentric boobs. We always try to act politely and respectfully and we suppose it is true, to a point, that our travel does help the lives of others less fortunate than ourselves. Our travel dollars are spent on local businesses as much as possible and when that’s not possible at least other people’s income is partially dependent upon us. But today we find the distinction between altruism and and self-centeredness blurred. Our journeys have become primarily a means of discovery of ourselves and of others, with any direct economic or psychological benefits to others a mere consequence of that personal discovery.

Certainly the most satisfying aspect of all this travel madness is when we’re able to connect one-to-one with people whose life experience and way of looking at things is much different than our own. We’re often taught things like, “We’re all the same, basically.” and “We all want the same things out of life.” Well, that’s simply not so. Other than we may all want to fill our bellies daily and have a dry place to sleep at night, people from different cultures and backgrounds are just not the same. Values and norms are often vastly different than what we, as Americans, have been acculturated to. We’ve both have had our mental jaws drop when hearing what ideas and beliefs come out of people’s mouths, including from other Americans, but we always try to be understanding and look at these experiences as an opportunity to grow. 

Within the last thirty days, Jay and Tanya have turned 70 and 60 respectively. Milestones in life’s journey. Is it time to stop traveling? No way. Will our travels become more targeted and concentrated on specific regions, cultures or themes? Maybe. Will we be content to stay “at home” more to reflect on what we’ve learned? Perhaps. Whatever happens we know that personal connections are what counts, including friends and family. We look forward to what’s next.

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Havana, Cuba

DSC_0109Cuba is certainly on the bucket list of many Americans. For Canadians, Germans and citizens of virtually every other nation a visit to Havana is no big deal. But now that the door is open just a little bit for US citizens, Tanya and Jay had to go. Though our visit was much too short, we got a feeling of how warm and proud the Cuban people are. In terms of economic development, Cuba is about where one might imagine it would be after enduring a US embargo that has been in effect since 1962. But Cubans we talked to spoke with pride about their free education, health care, housing and even free funerals. Compared to much of the rest of the Caribbean, and of course, US cities, Havana is very safe to walk at night. Most folks don’t own a car so transportation is via shared rides, buses, taxi or horse-drawn carts.

Since no new US cars have been imported since the embargo was imposed, 1950s and early 60s cars are everywhere. Of course, other than the body, most of the mechanical components have been replaced by parts either from other cars, fabricated or smuggled in through other countries. Our ride for the day was a beautiful red 1960 Buick Invicta convertible owned by our driver, Alex’s, father. There were occasional stops to check the transmission fluid level and sometimes we weren’t sure if we would make it up an incline, but overall it was a terrific way to see Havana.

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Portugal Wrap-Up: Aveiro, Lagos & Cascais

No real narrative for this week’s posting, just photos of a few other places visited during January in Portugal. About time since we’re now on our way back from spending February/March in the US.

Aveiro is a cute town along Portugal’s coast, noted for its canals, “the Venice of Portugal”. Nearby is the factory and showroom for Vista Alegre, the famous maker of fine dinnerware and porcelain. Tanya was in heaven.IMG_4349IMG_4350IMG_4351IMG_4352IMG_4353IMG_4347IMG_4344IMG_4345

                                                                                                                                                  This pretty beach town in the Algarve was one of our favorites.IMG_4393IMG_4394IMG_4395IMG_4399IMG_4400

This upscale beach town is only about 30 minutes by train from Lisbon and has long been a place for the well-to-do to spend weekends and have second homes. Naturally, Jay and Tanya thought this would be a perfect place to pick up a suitable winter cottage along the seaside. Unfortunately, any of the places we thought would be really cool were going for about 1.3 million euros. Long-term living in Portugal does not look like it’s in our future.IMG_4354IMG_4356IMG_4359IMG_4360IMG_4364IMG_4369IMG_4373IMG_4375IMG_4378IMG_4379

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Albufeira: The Highs and Lows of the Algarve

IMG_4403How can a place so pretty be so trashy at the same time? Our two voracious vagabonds asked themselves the same question during their week in Albufeira, a summertime tourist mecca along the southern Portugal Algarve coast.IMG_4404IMG_4406IMG_4409IMG_4402IMG_4405

Albufeira has one of the prettiest coastline and beach areas in the Algarve, no question. Unfortunately, thousands of party-goers descend on the area in mid-summer to take advantage of relatively cheap booze and super-low airfares, primarily from Great Britain. Hotel rates skyrocket during this season and otherwise pristine beaches are crammed with bodies.

The darker side of all this, according to one Uber driver, is that fights between rival groups of drunken tourists break out almost nightly. Sound like fun? Time and again our duo was advised by local hotel staff, restaurant workers and taxi drivers to not visit in July and August. Fortunately, T and J were visiting in winter, when both the action and hotel rates are low and quiet strolls along the beach were possible. Evenings were chilly and the wind can pick up, but overall the sunny days and pretty surroundings can make this a reasonable place to visit in January.

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Coimbra: The City That Studies

IMG_4330There’s an old Portuguese saying that goes something like: “Lisbon plays, Braga prays, Porto works and Coimbra studies”. T and J aren’t sure how much studying actually goes on in Coimbra but the city certainly has the oldest and most famous university in Portugal.

Coimbra is a medieval city once occupied by the Romans, of course, and was the capital of Portugal from 1131 to 1255. The University of Coimbra was established in 1290 and its buildings became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. Today, the university has about 20,000 students. This is a good thing because the downtown economy is obviously on the slide with lots of empty retail spaces whose former businesses have given way to a couple of new shopping malls a few miles away.

This was the second visit to Coimbra for our two wandering wastrels and even though the early-January weather was off and on, exploring the Roman ruins and digging the Coimbra style of Fado (the Portuguese blues) made the trip fun.

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IMG_4389Tavira is a small town of about 26,000 along the southwestern coast of Portugal and was the first stop in the Algarve region for our travel-junky pair. There’s nothing especially zippy going on in Tavira and the that seems to suit the local residents just fine, thank you. It’s one of those places in the Iberian Peninsula that follow a similar pattern of history. The Phoenicians were here. So were the Romans. And the Moors. Then the Moors were pushed out by the Christians. We’ve seen the drill so many times.

But two things impacted the course of modern history for Tavira. First, was the great earthquake of 1755 that practically demolished the entire town. Second, was the change of migration patterns of the tuna, which had been so important to the town’s livelihood. The city was rebuilt but the tuna never returned. Fortunately for Tavira, tuna have been replace by tourists (but not that many) which keep the city alive. The food here is wonderful, the people friendly and for the traveler willing to take a little bit of time off the usual heavily touristed Algarve track, a rewarding experience.

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High Alcohol Concentration in Porto

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January found our restless duo in Portugal, in search of some warmer weather than in chilly Deutschland. While warmer than most of Europe during the first month of the year, Portugal still has its gray, rainy days and the temperature never got much over 60 degrees F.

But what their first stop, Porto, lacked in warmth it more than made up for in the sheer quantity of alcoholic beverage, namely port wine. The warehouses lining the banks of the Douro River hold literally tens of thousands of barrels of the sweet elixir and it is said that the area contains the highest concentration of alcoholic beverage per square meter than anywhere in the world. After our visit, that amount may have been diminished slightly.

How port came about at all is a fascinating story. Grapes had been grown and wine produced in the Douro Valley for over 2,000 years. The Greeks made wine, the Romans made wine and, of course the Portuguese produced wine. By the mid-12th century, wine was an important export for the Kingdom of Portugal and a mutual trading relationship grew between England and Portugal, often involving the sale of Portuguese wine for the import of salt cod. While the Portuguese wine then being exported from northern Portugal was okay, it was rather thin, with high tannin levels, and the English still greatly preferred imported French wine.

In the 17th century, France and England were engaged in not only military conflicts with each other but also trade wars. The French restricted the import of English goods into France. The English retaliated by imposing high tariffs on French wine. We can’t help but think of the current US president’s recent remark, “Trade wars are good. And easy to win.” Not sure if France or England came out on top but this particular trade war did end up benefitting English wine traders and Portugal.

English wine merchants started sourcing wine from the Douro Valley, shipping it down the river to Oporto and then up the Atlantic coast to England. The wine was better quality than what the English had previously experienced from Portugal but, unfortunately, the long sea trip often resulted in the wine that, frankly, tasted terrible by the time it got to England. The English then got the brilliant idea to fortify the wine before shipment by adding brandy to the barrels. This made the wine stronger and kept it from spoiling during the long trip north. With an alcohol content of about 20%, the new product, “port wine” became very popular with the Brits and a whole culture of pairing the red stuff with exotic cheeses, fine cigars and so on developed. Today’s port has brandy added during the fermentation process but the idea is the same. In the end, France and England stopped fighting but port has lived on.IMG_4292IMG_4276

Today, Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and is a much more workaday place than Lisbon. The weather is harsher, the skies often grayer and the place reminded Tanya and Jay of a larger version of Astoria, Oregon, including lots of seagulls.

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Winter Olympics–Then and Now

It seems especially appropriate right now, while the 2018 Winter Olympic Games are underway in PyeongChang, to take a look back at one of the past Winter Olympics and make some comparisons. Last July, Tanya and Jay visited the site of the 1936 games in the German city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. IMG_3783

IMG_3823The Olympic stadium is still there, as well the modernized ski jumping platforms. IMG_3821IMG_3784The area is still a winter playground and visitors can just imagine what the games must have been like in those years before the start of World War II. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler opened the games and there would not be a Winter Olympics for another 12 years until St. Moritz hosted them in 1948. Just as in the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin later that year, the clear purpose of these games was to showcase the Nazi regime and its athletic and political superiority rather than today’s games which are more focused on unity and peace.

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One of the highlights of the 1936 games included Sonja Henie of Norway winning her third consecutive Olympic gold medal in figure skating. Alpine skiing was introduced for the first time at these Olympics and the Olympic flame was lit for the first time at a winter games.

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646 athletes from 28 countries competed in 17 events at the Garmisch Olympics. 80 of the athletes were women. In comparison, there are 2,952 athletes competing in 102 events in PeongChang. The athletes come from 92 countries. Over 45% of all the athletes competing are female and 108 of the 243 athletes on the US team are women.

As for medals, Norway cleaned up at these games, winning the gold medal in 7 of the 17 events and 15 medals overall. Three of Norway’s gold medals were won by one athlete, Ivar Ballangrud, who won three of the four speed-skating events. Ballangrud took the silver in the fourth event. Of the 11 teams winning medals, the US took 1 gold, in the 2-man bobsleigh, and 3 bronze, placing them 8th in the overall medal count.

Of course, the 1936 winter games were much simpler than today’s Olympics. There was no man-made snow in Garmisch, no electronic time keeping, and no drones overseeing the venues. There were no curling events and no multi-million dollar advertising, television and sponsorship deals. There was however fireworks at the closing ceremonies. And, of course, there was the ominous presence of the Nazi party and the foreboding of what was to come. Despite the ever-present danger of North Korea, the PyeongChang games look pretty good in comparison.

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