More Summer Doings: Wigwams and Lightships

  Jerome Shea       November 25, 2011      Weekend Wonk

This was a summer of water. Between the Ohio River cruise and the Danube excursion, we headed west to the Pacific in Southern California and then—with an interlude up in Taos, New Mexico–east to the Atlantic on Cape Cod.

Faithful readers know what a fan of SoCal I have always been, both for the trip and the destination (see “SoCal I” and “SoCal II”). Because the Beast is a bit cramped for Diana’s comfort and because the air conditioner makes it overheat, we took Wanda, our faithful old Honda CR-V . Wanda is a bleached out old biddy but absolutely reliable.

This time we took old Rt. 66 through Peach Springs—though not through Oatman—and spent the night in Lake Havasu City on the Colorado (more water, another river!). For the first time, we did not stop at Callanan’s gas station in the middle of the Mojave. Oh, it’s still there, what’s left of it, but this time the little crossroads was mysteriously crawling with workers and heavy equipment. Callanan’s seemed just some poor pile of rubble cowering in the way of progress, however defined. I will miss the loneliness of it. We stopped in Joshua Tree National Park, where from Keys View you can actually see the San Andreas Fault, like proud flesh on the floor of the Coachella Valley.

Good visits with Bob and Brenda, and with our son, Dan, and back we headed, an uneventful return until we stopped for the night in Holbrook, Arizona. We got lodgings and, walking back from dinner, saw a sign for the Wigwam Motel, right next door to our Best Western. Sure enough, we could see huge wigwams in the fading light. The next morning I sauntered over. The Wigwam Motel is a survivor of Rt. 66 architecture in its heyday. There were about a half dozen of these big wigwams, with ‘50’s cars parked in front to complete the ambiance. I poked my head into one while the maid was cleaning up. It was surprisingly spacious, with double bed, bathroom with shower, air conditioning—everything you could want for about eighty bucks a night if you don’t mind a round room. Next trip, for sure! Google “wigwam motel” for an interesting history.

Then back to those Taos earthships (see “Sailing the Mesa”). This time we stayed in the Corner Cottage instead of the upscale and intimidating Phoenix. The Cottage was still a bit too—something—for my taste, but the grandkids got in some good kite flying.

Mid-month we flew to Cape Cod, our staging area as it were for the European jaunt, and a chance to visit with Diana’s parents, who live in Falmouth, and with her siblings who are scattered around New England. It was beastly hot all over the East in July, but there was always the ocean at the end of the day, and if I started early enough in the day a run on the Shining Sea Bikeway was doable. Diana’s brother Jon had had a late night motorcycle collision with a deer (Jon was on the bike; the deer was on foot, or hoof) but, miraculously, neither was seriously hurt. The deer ran off and John recuperated for about a week. (The just-restored bike got the worst of it.) Anyway, that occasioned a visit to Jon and Nancy’s place in the woods on the shore of Great East Lake, in Maine. Yes, more water for us desert rats.

On the way up to Maine we stopped at a pier in South Boston so that my father-in-law, Capt. Robertson Dinsmore, USCG ret., could give us a private tour of his latest project, the United States lightship Nantucket.

Where it was impractical, years ago, to build a lightHOUSE to warn off sea traffic, a lightSHIP was used instead, and it is just what it sounds like: a ship, pretty much permanently anchored offshore, with a light atop a tall mast. No lightships serve today, at least not in our waters, and the very last to be decommissioned was the Nantucket, in 1983. It then led a vagabond life, noodling around the New England coast and finally fetching up in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Always she was going to be fixed up and always those who wanted to fix her up ran out of funds. Enter Bob Dinsmore , who at the behest of the new owners, the United States Lightship Museum, was instrumental in towing her up to Boston. If all goes as planned, in a couple of years she will proudly take her place across the harbor with the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides.” It looked to me a near impossible task to make her shipshape, but old salts are made of sterner stuff than old profs, so good luck to them.

Postscript. The Nantucket had an unusual beginning. Her construction as paid for, in reparation, by the White Star Line, whose ship the Olympic, sister ship to the Titanic, collided with and sank the original lightship, resulting in the loss of more than half of her crew.

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