We hope you'll forgive us for combining many experiences into a single report, but we sloughed off for the holidays! Standing on a pier, the bird has squat wide legs, darker shaded wings, a russet brown breast, dark green head, and a grey-white bill. Green heron, maybe

There isn't any doubt that Arizona is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. It's almost possible to see new developments being born overnight. We spent a weekend with our sister Laura and cousins Annette and Tom in Scottsdale, and were amazed at the variety of landscapes and homes; in contrast to Florida the residents of this part of Arizona come in all ages, with a very healthy proportion of young, energetic adults. (We know they are energetic by the way they drive!)

The Arizona plants are stars of the landscaping show here. Of course the imposing saguaro takes center stage everywhere; we observed the holes made by birds who build safe nests inside them. Cactus of many varieties, palo verde and mesquite trees An enormous cholla has grown to the size of a tree, its tips colored greyish white, and its spiny trunk brown Jumping cholla cactus abound, as does the other Arizona staple, ocotillo. Touring the dramatic Hyatt resort in Paradise Valley, we found another mystery bird to photograph -- does anybody recognize him? (we think it is a Green Heron...)

On the way to Prescott, Arizona our truck developed a sinister rattle. We took it to the largest GM dealer we'd ever seen, in a new $24 million building. We had the differential and U-joint replaced, while we drove a rental. We had hoped to visit with cousins Carol and Tony and Donna, but what with the broken truck and the fact that this was the day they were moving Donna out of her ranch and piling the horses in the trailer for the long drive to Oroville, California, we decided to wait to get together until we A lone saguara reaches to the sky against an Arizona mountain backdrop Saguaro cactus reached California.

Prescott, we can tell you, was the territorial capital of Arizona, and calls itself Arizona's Christmas City. The four-block courthouse square was perhaps overdecorated with Christmas lights, and surrounded by touristy stores and old hotels and saloons. Our restaurant recommendations include the Dinner Bell Cafe and Biff's Bagels. The Dinner Bell is an old fashioned restaurant with a wonderful breakfast, rather on the large side. Biff was a dog owned by by a friend of our son -- a much beloved pet, judging by the pictures on the Dog Memorial wall. Both the Founder and Biff were remembered with love by the present staff in Prescott, which has a new owner but the same tradition. Grateful Dead music can still be heard as background in Biff's. The bagels are yummy and big.

The truck sounded and drove smoothly after the repair, so we took a dirt road A brightlypainted red store front with a big white sign painted on the window reading Biff's Burgers Biff's Bagels in Prescott northeast out of Prescott through the Williamson Valley. North of Prescott we saw more horse property than we could imagine, then a string of large cattle spreads. Seligman, Arizona is almost a ghost town, but it proudly dubs itself the heart of Route 66, and the big store in town is decorated by 1950s mannikins. We followed Route 66 west to Kingman, and can recommend the old highway scenery. When an interstate comes along and pulls all the traffic away from an old through highway, the old road is generally a much more interesting, not to mention more peaceful, drive.

In three or four years there will be a new bridge over the Colorado River, but for now highway 93 winds tortuously over Hoover Dam, stopping every few yards for a pedestrian crosswalk. Once into Boulder City, the new freeway 515 whisked us to downtown Las Vegas, where we enjoyed five nights at the Golden Nugget. We were probably the only guests who spent more time sitting at our computers in the room than in the casino, and one of the few guests who retired early each evening. On historic U.S. 66, flags and mannikins decorate the roof of a mercantile establishment in Seligman, Arizona. Mannikins in Seligman

The principal difference in Las Vegas at Christmas time is an increase in the number of visitors of Asian heritage. The gambling goes on 24 hours, 7days, 52 weeks, year in and year out, non stop. The new slot machines take your money just as fast as the old ones, but they are more fun to play. The Golden Nugget is not on the Strip -- it's downtown, lending a bit of class to funky old Fremont Street with its pawn shops and liquor stores. We enjoyed the Fremont Street Experience, a music and light show played at 9:00 p.m. on the inside of the three-block cylindrical roof that has turned Fremont Street into a year-round pedestrian walkway. Of course the casinos lend the usual sparkle and dazzle of neon and flashing lights to the scene all the time.

There were a lot of families on vacation in Las Vegas, and as long as the children were kept in tow by their parents, the guards let them walk through the casinos on their way to and from their rooms.

We left Las Vegas heading northeast again, and were amazed at how much of the The light blue sky is streaked with scarlet and purple, and a bright yellow light at the horizon, below which the mountains seem black, with sparkles of Las Vegas night lights. Las Vegas sunrise formerly empty desert has been filled up with houses. We wondered how there is water to support all these people in the arid southwest.

As it turned out, a Pacific storm was building. We had hoped to travel through Death Valley Junction, but that highway is still closed due to last year's floods. This year, heading west out of Beatty, we encountered plenty of flooding through Death Valley. One idiot (California plates) put his car in the left hand lane while driving through a flooded section, and just hung out there although he couldn't go fast enough to pass. A lot of water was splashed up. It seems that a simple principle such as "GO SLOW WHEN DRIVING THROUGH DEEP WATER" is hard for some to grasp.

Within a few minutes of getting away from Mr. Idiot (who pulled into the store at Stovepipe Wells) we found ourselves negotiating an icy unplowed road over the summit and down into Panamint Valley. The snow was at the 4000 foot level here. At the bottom of this hill, while we gazed in wonder at newly flooded Panamint Lake (remember we lived in this area 18 years) we were greeted by an Inyo County Sheriff, who said the road over the hills to Lone Pine was unplowed and currently unpassable. It was OK to turn south through Trona and Ridgecrest, however. In the foreground, desert brush, topped by a line of power poles.  In the background, the Sierra Nevada mountain range, viewed from the East, snow-capped, topped by fleecy grey and white clouds, and a light blue winter sky above all. Stormy Sierra Nevada

All told, we drove across three good size rain-fed streams washing across the highway as well as countless large puddles and smaller rivulets, and finally forded a good-sized pond at the corner of Richmond Road and Ridgecrest Boulevard.

We'll be staying in Ridgecrest five nights, will see some old friends, and then on to Santa Barbara for our annual physical exams, which we hope will pronounce us fit for another year of gallivanting.

May we hope you all had a pleasant holiday season and wish you peace, prosperity, good health and happiness in 2005.