*****

Denali from Talkeetna, Alaska 2017

Sunday, March 30, 2014

This and that at Rio Bend RV Resort


What kind of ducks are these?  They were huge!  Far larger than any wild mallard I have ever seen. They were happily swimming in the pond at th Rio Bend RV resort, and when I walked by, instead of paddling away they quickly got out of the water and came quacking towards me.  They were clearly looking for a handout, and when I proved to be treatless they returned to the water. 

If they were dogs I would call them mutts.  I think mother duck was a local domestic and father duck was a traveling bird! I didn't know ducks did that, but I suspect he was a "Dandy Drake", possibly from Oregon, and she was a "Dizzy Dame." 


We returned to this park because Craig has a return appointment with the Algodones dentist on Tuesday, and we really liked it here for the $25 per day Passport America rate. I have walked every morning and gone to the pool for an hour every afternoon.  Stretching in a warm pool is so good for my back.  This is one of the things I have been looking forward to so very much. It balances the days of hiking and rock climbing very nicely.  


Our site is small, but cozy. There are olianders around the back, and a park model on one side. It blocks the wind nicely.

Many of the snowbirds have already left for the season, but we enjoyed meeting a few at the last park fish fry on Friday evening. Yummy. $10 each. All you can eat, although we each only ate one portion.   Beer was $2. 

On Saturday we finished our taxes, and on Sunday we worked on our wish list for the things we want and need for the Alfa.  One of them was a ladder.


We found this one at the Home Depot in El Centro. It extends to 12' 6" and is quite light. I really like the thickness of the legs. It has nice rubber buffers on the top edges so it won't scratch or mark the Alfa.











Craig didn't need to extend it all of the way to reach the back bedroom window, but can if he needs to work higher.

While we were still at Camp Driveway we had several ladders, but none were suitable to bring along.  Craig really doesn't want to tie a ladder onto the back of the Alfa. We have plenty of room in the bays for this type.













Monday night we will be dry camping at the Casino that is about two miles from the border. His appointment is at 10:00 AM, and then we will drive on over to Casa Grande.  It is only about 170 miles. We will be a couple of days early for our Camp Freightliner class, but many of the Alfa owners will also already be there. I think we will run up to Chandler (about 40 miles) on Wednesday to go to Trader Joe's and Camping World. Our total stay in Casa Grande will be 12 days.  It is a lovely resort, has a nice pool, and we will have many Alfa activities and dinners. We enjoyed ourselves last year and are sure to do so again this.

I will post about the Freightliner class.

Until then:


Sunset, as viewed from a few steps away from our Rio Bend RV Resort site on Saturday evening.  

Fantastic!









Friday, March 28, 2014

Further thoughts about the Desert

In my last post I wrote that I didn't really like the desert all that much.  This is not really an accurate statement.  I do like the desert, I just wouldn't want to live here long term.

There are many places I want to visit, want to spend a week or two exploring, but already know they are not candidates for long term residency. I want to go to Alaska a few years from now, but I know I don't want to stay there.  I am planning a two month trip to Florida, but don't expect to settle in the Keys. New England and the Maritime Provinces call to me, but I know we will travel back to the Western U. S. in the long term.

As a blogger, I hope to be true to myself in my reactions to different parts of this great country. Some people are compelled to only write glowing reports of where they are what they are doing.

Someone wrote to us after we commented on the winds that "they never were bothered by wind in Phoenix."  They said they had seen dust clouds on TV, but had none where they lived. This person said they hoped our house would close soon so we could go where we wanted to go.  We already are! We wanted to come to Anza-Borrego.  We may just be a little late in the spring. We enjoyed the desert outside of Palm Springs last year, but we were there in December. We were fascinated by Death Valley, but our visit there was in January.

Time of day also has a lot to do with enjoying the desert too.  We are really not morning people. All winter we enjoyed late mornings in bed reading and sipping our coffee. Years ago, when I was a smoker, I was always up early so I could get my first hit of nicotine  Then there were the dog years. With our last dog it was my job to get up early, let her out, wait for her to return, give her an injection of insulin and feed her.  Then I would snuggle back into the warm bed and read the morning paper.

Now we naturally wake up about 7 AM, and by the time we do all our morning things at a leisurely pace, it can be 9 AM before we are both ready to do or go anywhere.  This is not compatible with desert living.  It seems to me that hiking might be best at 6-8 AM, and sitting outdoors is best after sunset.  

We lived in the Dallas area for four years. I remember one year when it did not get below 100 degrees (at any time of day) for over 30 days.  We went from our air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned stores, back to the air-conditioned house.  We had a very nice pool, but it was too hot to swim during the day. I didn't mind.  That was where we were and that was what the summers were like. We could not move on.

I wrote about this week's wind as an experience. It was real. The rocking of the coach as we lay in bed was not nearly as scary as listening to the wind in the trees that towered above us at Camp Driveway. We knew we were quite safe in Anza-Borrego. Someday I may write about seeking shelter in the cement block bathroom structure in a midwest park because of a tornado warning.  It will be an experience, not an indication that we didn't want to be where were at that time. An adventure.

Some of my attitude yesterday might have also been because my physical endurance is also not up to par these days. After sitting around waiting for the house to close, I have gained a bit of weight again. I love to hike. I love to climb rocks, but the heat and my weakness makes things less exhilarating. I will get back into shape! 



What a difference a day can make. On Friday, we woke to a cool morning with no wind. We went over to the Borrego Springs farmer's market, bought a few things, returned to the campground and hooked up for our short drive back to El Centro.



We had extended our stay by one day so that we could meet Nan and John Talley, and go to the Friday market.  It was really a good thing we did, because we avoided the wind on the road.

We bought strawberries and arugula from one vendor. Some great pita chips and dip from another, and both bread and cinnamon rolls from the pastry guy.

The market was smaller than we expected, but everything was good quality and reasonable priced.

We are now back at Rio Bend in El Centro and have just had some very positive news about the house sale.

Life is good.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hellhole Canyon, High Winds

We have been hiking every other day here in Anza-Borrego SP. Yesterday we got up very early (for us) and tackled a hike of Hellhole Canyon. It was listed at 5-6 miles round trip, 6 if you went all the way to Maidenhair Falls, and we agreed we would not commit to the entire hike, and turn back if either of us wanted to.



Most of the first two miles were over open sandy desert terrain with a fairly consistent, but not difficult rise. We wondered what this nice little canyon had done to early explorers, to deserve such a negative name...



This cheerful sign was accompanied by three rock cairns which may or may not have been real. It was quite a graphic way of reminding hikers that the desert can and will kill you if you go into it unprepared!

The morning was quite warm, and the landscape provided no respite from the intense sunshine. 



We noticed buds and flowers on many of the plants, but they would have been easy to miss. Most were too tiny for my camera to capture a decent image, or were past their "prime" and were a bit tattered looking. These cholla flowers were just starting to open.

Because there was a spring further up (like Palm Canyon) there were more trees and greenery as we climbed. 

At the beginning of the third mile, the trail got more difficult and we had to climb and scramble over some very large rockfalls.  The sun and heat was also starting to get to me, so we decided to turn back.

There was another couple on the trail that we had passed as they rested, and then they passed us as we did the same. They went a little farther up the trail than we did, but as they passed us on the way down (during our lunch) they reported the falls were dry, and that except for more large rocks there was not much beyond our turn-around place.



I do not move quickly thru the rocks. I am not very flexible, and am very cautious about where I place each step, because I do not want to twist a knee or get my foot caught. I'm not really concerned about rattlesnakes, but I keep an eye out for them. 

We ate breakfast, in the shade of a large boulder,  just after we turned back, and were home in the Alfa before 11:00 AM. 

We did make it almost five miles. I think five miles in the desert is like ten in the forest! 

High Winds
We are presently experiencing very high winds. We slept with the slides pulled in because we wanted to avoid damage to the slide cover. It is now noon and we pulled them back in again. I'm sure glad we are not trying to drive anywhere today.  

I'm glad we came here, and we will not be leaving for a couple more days, but I can't say I am as big a desert-lover as some of my blog friends seem to be. I enjoyed seeing the area and hiking here, but I don't think I want to spend weeks boondocking on BLM lands the way many of you do.  

But that is part of why we want to do this: to experience many places and be able to move on if we wish.

If we all loved the same places they would be too crowded.

vive la différence


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

We Now Have a Long One ...

[From Craig]  Now that we're full-timers, we've acquired a treasure that will make us the ENVY of all the other RVers in any park that we pull into! See, we are currently in a pull-thru that must be at least 70 feet long, and they put the sewer way at the back end, which is also the high end.
  
In order to be able to get close to levelling the coach, we had to pull farther forward onto the pad than our old sewer hose would reach. Rather than backing up the coach in order to dump, Merikay commissioned me to build a new hose long enough for this site. So we now have one of the few 40 foot long sewer hoses on the planet!  

I was relieved to see that the connection point in the utility bay is actually higher than the sewer up by the road, so that the tank drainage runs completely out of the clear 45 degree connector. The remaining thrill will be to see how much gray water will escape as I take the connector out through the bottom of the bay. RVing is way more fun that I ever expected...



[From Merikay] Craig needs his own blog!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Not an Easy Sunday Stroll in the Park

The best time to hike in the desert is early morning. We did that for our Ghost Mountain hike, but not being "morning people", Sunday we chose the alternative of a late afternoon/early evening walk, hoping that as the sun went behind the mountains, its heat would diminish.


We set out on the 3+ mile round-trip hike up Borrego Palm Canyon Nature Trail at about 4 PM. Although I packed cool fresh water, we wore only our regular walking shoes and I left my poles in the car. The description in the park handout was "a gently climbing trail leading to a native palm grove". It started out that way, but got rougher.


The canyon is a big, very old wash. It was amazing to me to see so many large palm logs caught in among the rocks and shrubs.

What force of water had brought them here? How long had they been here, and how long would they remain in the arid landscape?



Craig wondered when this very large boulder had come down on top of this palm log.


After about an hour the sun started to slip down behind the mountains to the west. 







It wasn't sunset, but as I expected it got a bit cooler. 

Not exactly cool, but a more  comfortable temperature.





Did I mention that I left my poles in the car because this was a "gently climbing trail"?

This spot looks level, but it was not! I was grateful for Craig's assistance a number of times. I'm much better with poles than without.


Although there were other hikers on the trail, I noticed how still and quiet the canyon was. But then we heard the subtle babble of water trickling over the rocks.



As we went upstream, the dry rocky wash began to show wetness, and then further along a bit of flow.  The creek on our property in the Santa Cruz mountains dried out from the top down. For a creek to work the other way around, its flow must go underground.


And then, as we climbed past yet another rock fall, we heard a waterfall and saw the palm grove.

I imagined what it must have been like for a Native American woman who had traveled across the hot desert to get to this magical place.  She had no air-conditioned RV to go back to. The cool waters here must have been heavenly to her and her people.




We were almost the last hikers of the day, and enjoyed some time in the grove by ourselves. It was not a quiet place, but the sounds were from birds and the breeze, not civilization. We heard a robin and a frog.


Throughout the hike we kept looking up at the walls of the canyon in hope of spotting some Bighorn Sheep.




No luck, but it was nice to be there at dusk. Perhaps some sheep were just hiding behind the rocks and laughing at us? They would come down for a drink when we were gone.


We took the "alternative" trail back, which is described as a bit more challenging and a half mile longer.  It was. We didn't read those words until we were back at the car. As we came down the canyon we were treated to a nice view of the valley below and the beginings of a low key sunset.

The lesson?  Never go hiking without your poles, and remember that trail descriptions are written by all kinds of people!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Good Samaritans Came to Our Rescue

As we were driving into Borrego Springs on Thursday we noticed some wonderful sculptures in the desert near town. We decided we would come back for a better look when we were not driving the Alfa, which is what we did after our Ghost Mountain hike. 



This Columbian Mammoth was simply joyful in its expression.















There were many horse-like critters, but because I had once done a sculpture of a prehistoric horse, I realized that from the shape of their heads and their upright manes they were extinct, not modern equine.

All were in very active poses. 



On the other side of the road some Sabertooth tigers were hunting them.


There was also an Aiolornis in its nest with chicks all silently squawking below. 

The feather detail was incredible.






We wondered what the story was behind this marvelous display. We did see a sign that said "Galleta Meadows Estate", but no other attributes.

Our day continued with a pleasant walk on the grass of Christmas Circle in the center of town. I'm limiting the number of pictures I include because internet access is so slow at the park. While there we noticed the Art Center across the street and walked over to ask about the sculptures in the desert.

There are many articles about them on the internet, but I think this one best summarizes their beginnings. At the Art Center we picked up a free Village Guide with a map to the locations of some of the 130 sculptures in the valley.


After a short mid-day rest in the coach, we again set out by car to see more of the ones located along CR3, a well-paved county highway. Over the years many cars have driven off the road and into the desert to get a better look at them.  We did too.

After our morning off-the-pavement experience, we became more confident about driving on the sand as the day went by.


We were able to drive right up to them, park, and view them up close.










[From Craig] The full-frame image was better, but Merikay cropped her butt out of this version!



















The ground around these two was more like concrete than sand. 


But on the other side of the road, when we drove in to see the Sloths, the sand was much looser.

So loose that as we started to drive along one of the well-worn paths, the front wheels of our Accent sunk into the sand.

We were stuck.  Craig started digging into his wallet for his Coachnet card when two men and two women from another car came over to offer assistance.

With five people pushing and one driving we managed to get free.  Thank goodness for Good Samaritans!  It might have taken all day to get a tow from Coachnet! We actually got a little stuck a second time, but were soon assisted to more firm ground.  We thanked them and they said they were just glad we were in front of them because they would have gone the same way and it may have been harder to get their larger car out of the sand trap.


We looked at several more sculptures and ended the day at my favorite, the Sea Serpent. His body extends quite far with the road crossing his middle.


The detail work on his face and scales was outstanding! I'm 5'7" tall, so this hump has to be more than 15' tall and the head much larger than that!





One of the things I think we are going to enjoy about full-timing, rather than simply taking vacations, is the time we will have.  We are here for a week, and will be back out another day to see more of the sculptures just a little way up the road. There is a Peccary, a Giant Tortoise, and Velociraptor that we want to see.  If we were just on vacation, we might pass on them because we had less time.

To quote other bloggers, RV life is good.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Nothing Bad Happened Today

After a rest day on Friday, we had a triple-header day today,  ending the day with a nice dinner at Carmelita's, a Mexican cantina. We think this is the one Nan Tally meant to recommend.  The food and the Margaritas were great! We decided we needed to celebrate the day, because nothing bad happened when it sure could have.

We started the day early, for us, with a drive southwest to Ghost Mountain. The first part of the drive was quite nice on paved highway and county roads. My Falcon guide to "best easy day hikes in Anza-Borrego" said the trailhead was 2.3 miles from CR2. The park guide simply said it was at the end of the dirt road. The dirt road was really quite sandy and a bit rough. I am a very pessimistic worry-wart, and was afraid we would get stuck. In addition to being narrow with very soft shoulders, it was not really marked in any way, and at 2.3 miles there was nothing resembling a parking area.  We turned around and tried a different route, all the while with me wanting to just turn back, get to the highway, and forget the hike.

It didn't happen. After going around the loop a second time, we found the trail-head parking lot.

The morning was wonderfully cool for the mile climb up the rocky path to the Marshal South family homesite. We saw a movie about it Friday at the visitor's center. Seems that a man and wife decided to live and raise a family in an experimental, primitive style atop Ghost Mountain.  They stayed for seventeen years and had three children. Their story is here.

Anyway, the view from the top of the mountain was well worth the one mile climb up a rocky trail with a 420 foot rise. Once up there, we ate our breakfast sandwitches between two large boulders that shealtered us from the wind. As beautiful as it was, I wouldn't want to live there.  Here are some of the pictures we took:


Ruins of the Marshal South house

View of the Blair Valley from the top of Ghost Mountain

 As the morning progessed, more and more people arrived at the ruins of the South house, and we were glad we had made an early start. Groups of people don't disturb me very much. I figure if we get into trouble there would be someone around to help us.


Yes, Merikay is on a trail.  It was quite steep and very rough.
We just can't imagine carrying supplies up this, but they did for
seventeen years!
The drive back to the highway was less distressing because I knew where we were and how to get where we were going. But it was also difficult because the road was definitely one lane and amore and more cars were coming in.

The road from above.
We has a few difficult passing situations.  Our little Accent is not a high-clearance vehicle, and does not have very good traction in soft sand, so we had to stop and let the oncoming jeeps and pickups either make their way around us, or pull off and allow us to pass them. I was sure we would get stuck if we pulled off. But everyone was very nice and everyone was gracious. 


So, nothing bad happened and we made it safely back to the paved road and home to the Alfa.

Later in the day we had another adventure, and almost got in trouble, but I save that story for tomorrow, because it is almost 7:30 and we are headed out again to attend a ranger-led campfire.

[From Craig] Calling all Ducks! Wisconsin 85, Oregon 77!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Anza-Borrego day one

A short note:

We drove the 76 miles to Anza-Borrego without incident and settled in happily. Took a short walk this afternoon and are now relaxing in the coach with the windows open to a warm evening. The coach is full of the aroma of a fresh loaf of bread baking, and we are listening to a lovely serenade of banjo music (alternating with other instruments) being played by our nearby neighbor.

We are looking forward to sitting out in the dark and enjoying the stars.
picture from web

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

FYI Dental and Glasses in Los Algodonas, Mexico

I know several of you are interested in hearing about our opinion of our dental and vision experiences in Los Algodones, Mexico.

They are a bit mixed. I just had my teeth cleaned. I feel the dentist did not do as deep a job as my American oral hygenist. He seemed a bit tentative, but after years of having the same lady doing my teeth, and my encouraging her to really "dig in", I am not surprised. The cleaning was a painless experience, and the cost of $30 was 1/3 of what I pay in Califonia. I would not hesitate to do it again the next time we come this way.

Craig had a periodontic procedure. His last lower-right molar, which anchors a 3-tooth bridge, started hurting in February. Our dental clinic in Los Gatos drained an infection from there, and wrote recommended treatment procedures which he brought to the same periodontist who did his front teeth in November. He says it's hard to judge the results for a week or two. His treatment cost $210. It would probably cost $1000 in the US.

We both got new glasses. Craig got single vision transition glasses for driving, and is quite happy with them. The cost was $169. I got progressive Varilux lenses in one pair, and transition polarized sun glasses for my second pair. My cost was $378 for both. I am pleased with the regular glasses, but a bit doubtful about the sunglasses. Because they are more curved, the close vision is not as good as I would like it to be. I have to say that the gal at Best Optical told me they would not be as good as a flater style, but I went ahead and ordered them anyway.

 I brought my own prescription that I got in California from a good opthalmologist before we left. The sunglasses are for hiking more than reading, and I choose a more wrap around style for wind protection. I have dry eys, so they should be do the job.

They were all made in one day.  We got there about 11:00 am, and picked them up by 3:00 pm. Because non-glare takes several weeks we passed on it.

So there you have it. I think going to Los Algodones is cost effective and safe. I highly recommend the place. And if you go with the right attitude and a lot of patience, it's fun to visit!

Just smile and say no to all the vendors unless you really want a plaster donkey or turtle.  I did give some change to a couple of accordian players, and bought some fresh strawberries while we waited in line to get thru customs.  I ate them "out of hand" and I guess I'll know in 24 hours if I will get Montezuma's revenge because I didn't wash them myself.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Good News, We Hope

The good news is that the buyers of the commercial property that must close before our house can sell, have finally removed all contingencies that might prevent the closing.  So unless something else causes an unexpected problem, the three transactions should close in a timely procession.  We are pretty sure it will not be by the original target date of March 25.  Our realtor is estimating April 4. Fingers are crossed!

We spent two nights parked on the street in front of our daughter's house, and were able to visit with her and with some of our San Diego friends.
We park in front of the neighbors because the space in front of her house is not level. This was taken early in the morning on the day we left. Being only two blocks from the ocean, it is usually cloudy at that time of day.



On Monday we enjoyed a walk along Sunset Cliffs Drive. The big homes have some very nice landscape plants.




We probably won't be seeing this ocean again for a while, so we savored the sun and salt air on our walk.

We both have dental appointments in Los Algodones, Mexico on Wednesday, so on Tuesday we drove to a nice little Passport America park near El Centro, about 60 miles west of Yuma. The Rio Bend RV and Golf Resort is quite clean and comfortable. After getting parked and hooked up, we went to the sun-warmed pool and relaxed for a while. 

I'm writing this as we are sitting outside in the shade and are listening to many doves and other birds. There is a patio party of a bunch of noisy old-timers going on just up the road, but it doesn't bother us at all.  Sounds like people having fun.  There must be a dozen golf carts parked there. If we had the energy we would wander over. I'm sure we would be welcome, but we are both just happy to sit here drinking our wine and doing our own things. 

Later:  After dinner we took an evening walk around the park and discovered this beautiful pond and the golf course. 




We will stay here for just two nights and then go north to Anza Borrego State Park. We have a week-long reservation in the campground with hookups.  We are not yet ready to boondock in an area that might get quite hot. I do hope it will be cool enough to take some hikes.  

I really feel very mellow and content right now.  Is it the wine? Or is it knowing that we have everything we need. Running water, a sewer connection, air conditioning, cable TV, and a wonderful warm swimming pool to float around in when we return from our dental trip tomorrow.

One day at a time!
  
As Judy would say: "Carpe Diem!"

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Closing delayed again, but we're out of here!

Yes, you read the title correctly. The closing date on our house has slipped again! More hiccups have occurred with the first property in our string of dominoes. We were told about it last Monday, and I was really really upset. I could write about it at great length, but decided better.

The only thing we are sure of is that our buyer is a good man, and really wants this house as soon as possible. We spoke with him, away from the realtors, and he is as frustrated and unhappy about the situation as we are. It will close, we just don't know when.

It had been our intention to pull out of here after the closing on March 25, giving us just enough time to visit for a few days with our family in San Diego and then get to Arizona for the Freightliner Camp and the Alfa Rally.  Since the closing will be delayed, we have decided to just leave early and consider this our Spring Trip. Hopefully we will not have to come back!

Last look at the house from the Alfa as Craig backed her out of the driveway

It all seems so anticlimatic.  We had dinner with friends Friday night, and pulled out on Saturday morning.

I don't feel either excited or free.  

There will be no real freedom until the sale is closed and the money is in the bank!

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Very Hard 2.7 mile hike at Almaden Quicksilver Mine Park

Everyone likes to do different things. Some enjoy bike riding, some boating, some sitting in the sun reading, some going to cities and attending concerts and theatrical performances. We enjoy hiking.

As our days count down here, we have finally gotten out to some of the local places we have known about for years, but somehow have never visited. Sunday we went to the Almaden Quicksilver County Park. As the name implies, it was the location of a cinnabar (mercury) mine.

There are three entrances to the park, with many trails. We choose a 2.7 mile loop that started and ended at a large free parking lot.  The trail was wide and sandy. It was a multi-use trail for bikes, runners, hikers, and equestrians. But we only saw a few. For a pleasantly cool Sunday afternoon it was not busy at all.

It definitely was the hardest hike we have done so far this season. The elevation change was over 500 feet. That's five hundred feet up in the first mile, somewhat flat in the mid-section, and then 500 feet down in the last mile. I'm not sure which was harder. My knees don't like steep downward walks very much.

A short flat section of the trail is visible from the trail above.

The grass is greening up nicely, and some of the trees are showing new leaves. Some did not lose their leaves, and some are yet to bud out. There were many nice views of the city below, but none of the pictures I took were very clear.


One thing I did notice was the large masses of poison oak along the trail. I had seen a warning sign on the trailhead information board. (Along with a warning about mountain lions.)

I am very sensitive to it and need no warnings to keep on the path and not touch, but as we were going down I saw an Asian couple with two small children coming toward us.  The little boy was playing with a stick along the edge of the trail. I don't know how much he was touching the plants, but I warned the mom about the poison oak.  I hope he did not get into it.

After our hike we drove around to another part of the park and visited the
Casa Grande and Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum 



There were several volunteers wearing period costumes in the house. We were escorted by a very knowledgeable guide who seemed to really enjoy sharing the history with us.

This picture is from the web and is a bit soft
Two of the rooms were decorated with furniture and items from the same period as the house.






Our guide also took us thru the mining museum exhibit. It was in the space that had been the dining room.


We learned a bit about mining cinnabar, extracting mercury from the ore, and it's uses both past and present. 






The mine was the largest mercury producer in the US. Which is why the local newspaper is called "The San Jose Mercury News".