Sedona, AZ: ATV Riding, the Pink Jeep, and Travel Home

            Friday, September 20, 2019  

            Hubby gets up at 5 a.m. and leaves the hotel. I am awake anyway so I might as well get up. I wander over to the conference early and eat my breakfast alone outside on the patio. Our scheduled adventure for today is an ATV ride at 1 p.m. I had a little panic attack this morning while looking at one of the maps. I see an Arizona Off-Road Adventure company located close to Camp Verde. My ticket has an address in West Sedona. Did I make a mistake? If we show up at the wrong place, we have thrown away a bunch of money.

            I head back to the hotel room after the next to last lecture and meet Hubby in the hallway on his way back to the room as well. We hurriedly throw together a lunch as the GPS says it will take us a ½ hour to our destination. “The traffic is terrible this morning,” is Hubby’s report for the morning.

            We arrive with time to spare and my anxiety about showing up at the wrong place is not justified. We sign the usual, “This is a dangerous activity and we are not responsible if you die” paper before being fitted with a kerchief to cover our mouth and nose, a helmet to protect our brains, and googles to protect our eyes. Now we look like bandits. We settle down to wait for other people to arrive before being taken to a small track outback to practice driving. “For how many people is this the first time they have driven an ATV?” asks our instructor. All four hands in our group go up. Well at least we are not alone in needing to look like beginners.

            “Who wants to go first?”

            “I will.”

            After some instruction on how to push the throttle and how to apply the brakes, I am off. Slowly I crawl around the track. They purposely made it with deep holes and rocks and short turns. Turning the machine seems to be my biggest problem but I make it around without any significant problem. Hmmm! Maybe I can drive this thing. Everyone else takes a turn before we are ready to leave. Hubby does his trial run without any problem either so soon we are piling into a van to be hauled to the Coconino National Forest. Contrary to my preconceived notion, national forests in Arizona do not necessarily contain trees. This one has short scrubs, mostly dirt, cacti, and stones.

Me and my machine

I am a little apprehensive but also a little excited. This has the potential to be smashing fun. We are soon lined up behind our guide. We will be riding 25 miles of dirt trails covered with rock and holes and twists and turns. It takes a little getting used to the throttle which needs to be operated with one’s right thumb. The temperature is only about 80 degrees but the helmet with the face kerchief makes for a smothering sensation. I soon ditch the kerchief over my face. It doesn’t seem that dusty. As I get more used to the machine, accelerating in short burst is a thrill. We travel down a forest road first and then turn onto a path through the “forest.” It is more like a cow path through a dry and barren land. We eventually climb higher on the Sawtooth Ridge and stop for a break. We gaze out over a vast valley below to the red rock formations miles away. Then we begin our ascent back down and back to our starting point. The last few miles takes us on the gravel forest road, and we step up our pace. With the wind in our face, we throttle the machines and sail towards the drop off spot. Whee! A little taste of risk-taking enhances the thrill. Our ride takes about three hours and before we know it, we are back to the truck and heading back to Sedona.

Sedona area landscape

Our plan for the evening is to watch the sunset from the airport above Sedona so we pick up some Subway sandwiches to picnic there. The person working in Subway is sullen and inattentive. I think she would just as soon have not been there. This is our second attempt at buying Subway in Sedona and neither one has turned out particularly well. The last time, the bread on the sandwiches was hard and the cookies stale. This time the sandwiches were good, but the cookies were still stale. Time to give up on Subway here.

The drive up airport road is one of twists and turns. It cost $3 to park in the parking lot there but the view is awesome. We wander down a trail along the ridge and settle ourselves on a bench there. Hubby sets up the camera to get some pictures. The wind is getting cool as the sun goes down. We keep expecting the rocks to turn red with the sun sliding below the horizon but the color changes little. Hubby is somewhat disappointed as the hype has been great that it is such a spectacular view at sunset. It is still a great view. It just doesn’t meet what we have been told to believe. Oh well, time to get back to the hotel.

Sunset over western Sedona from airport

                         Saturday, September 21, 2019

Today is my last day of the anesthesia conference and our last day in Sedona before we fly back tomorrow. Hubby left early to explore so I thought I would get up and visit the Pink Jeep concierge desk at the hotel before the conference starts. We made a last-minute decision last evening to see if we could get reservations for the Pink Jeep trip to the Honanki Indian ruins in Boyton Canyon. I walk up to the concierge desk, but no one is staffing it.

“When does the concierge desk open,” I ask the hotel desk attendant.

“They don’t start until 8 a.m. on the weekends.”

Well that’s weird. Why would one have less coverage on the weekend when it is busier than during the week? Oh well, I guess I will have to come back between conference sessions.

When I return at 8:30, a gentleman is available to help me. And I am in luck. They have a 2 p.m. time slot for the venture we are looking at. That should be perfect. I can attend the whole conference on the last day, maybe get in a nap, and still make it to uptown Sedona by 1:30 p.m.

            I arrive back to an empty hotel room as Hubby has not yet returned. I spend a few minutes gathering our things together for travel home tomorrow before he appears.

            “We have to go right now,” he announces.

            “Why?” I ask. I was planning on a nice little nap. “Don’t we at least have time to eat?”

            “There are thousands of cars today with a two- mile backup on route 179. I don’t know why it is so busy, but it took me ½ hour to travel just a few miles.”

            “Well, let’s at least try to eat first. We still have an hour and ¾,” I implore.

            We hurriedly eat our usual cold cut tortilla lunch in the hotel room and set off on this beautiful day. Traffic is slow but there are no extended periods of traffic stoppage. I try to relax. We will be just fine. The sun is shining brightly with no clouds in the sky. The temperature is about 80 degrees. We have had no cloudy or rainy days since we arrived here.

            We reach Uptown Sedona where the Pink Jeep headquarters is located with time to spare. The next order of business is finding a parking spot. The town is flooded with people. I don’t know if this is business as usual for Sedona or if this is extra ordinary. We decide to try out some back streets and do find one parking spot in front of some mailboxes in Lot B. Is this a legal parking spot, we ask? We look high and low for any signs indicating our car will be towed if we park here. There are none. Next we need to figure out how to get across the street. The one thing the designers of round-abouts forgot to address was pedestrian crossing. When there is wall to wall traffic with no breaks in the continuous flow of speeding vehicles, how does one get across? Soon I notice that some traffic control people have been called into service on this busy Saturday. One activates a traffic signal that was dark and dormant and another stands at the next round about up the street and stops traffic periodically to allow safe crossing.

Us in front of the pink jeep

            We have arrived with an hour and a half to spare. We do some shop browsing before settling down in the waiting area of the jeep company. At 1:45, we are given some basic instructions on our trip. The most humorous one is the instruction on how to fasten a seat belt. Then we are assigned to our driver. There are six of us in the open-air pink jeep with overhead roll bars. And yes, the jeeps are pink. The first part of our journey is on a hard-top road. It then turns into dirt as we again enter the Coconino National Forest. The roads are of the same status as the ones we traveled on the ATVs. They are strange uneven rock underlay and are full of potholes. We bounce around as we wind through more red rock country with tall mesas off in the distance. After about an hour ride, we arrive at the Indian ruins. The sun is hot as it beats down on us. We have a fairly short walk through the “forest” to the ruins. A slight breeze blows and we get intermittent shade from the scrubby trees. One lady in our group is almost 80 years old resulting in a rather slow walk for the rest of us not-quite-as-old folks. There are some rocks and tree roots to stumble over and a short section of natural stone steps to traverse.

            We are told the walls built of stones mortared together with mud that connect directly to the cliff wall are left over homes or community buildings from a people that lived there in the 1400s. On the cliff walls, in some places barely visible, are various sketches and drawings made by these people. It looks like a rather unique place to live – hidden up against the 1000-foot-high cliff walls.

Indian ruins

            A lady in our group is unable to take the pictures she wants as her batteries have reached their useful life expectancy. Noticing her predicament, my always generous husband offers her his backup batteries. She graciously accepts. Hopefully, his will last until we get home as they are rechargeable.

            We soon return to our pink jeep. There are two elevated seats along each side and one in the back. Hubby and I squeeze into the back seat for the ride back. It is a little like riding in the back of a school bus, but we enjoy the cool breezes as we head back to town. There, we decide to eat in a restaurant along Sedona’s Uptown streets. There are many to choose from. First, I remind Hubby that we were going to stop at the chocolate shop. I saw a tasty looking bar there earlier that reminded me of the peanut butter bars I used to love. They have a peanut butter core covered by chocolate. My mouth has been watering all afternoon. The chocolate covered orange sticks are attracting my hubby. As we check out, the smiling young lady with flowing long pigtails greets us cheerfully, “Thank you for coming back. I gave you a 20% discount for stopping again.” She remembered us from earlier even with the multitude of people flowing through the shop.

            Hubby’s mouth is watering for a hamburger, so we pick a restaurant called the Cowboy Café. The waiters are dressed like cowboys with one even having a gun on his hip. I am not sure if that is just for looks or if it is actually loaded. Afterall, Arizona is an open carry state. I about fall over after previewing the menu. I was hoping for a reasonably priced meal, but this is anything but that. It looks more high class. We finally decide to order a plate of appetizer for us both. It includes rattlesnake sausage, buffalo skewers, breaded fried cactus, and some type of spicy “bread.” Each item comes with a sauce. I keep forgetting that we are close to Mexico and finding food that is not spiced up is a challenge. We will need to get out the Gaviscon tonight.

            By the time we finish eating, it is time to head for the Red Rock Rangers station where they are holding a View The Stars Party. The hour-long astronomy presentation is following by star viewing through several different telescopes outside in the dark. The sky is cloudless and the stars shine brightly. The air is cool enough to require the addition of a sweater. All the rocks and things to trip over are lined with red lights which supposedly does not affect one’s night vision. I soon realize that I will have trouble navigating in the dark as my balance since my stroke in February seems to be dependent on having visual orientation. Hubby’s primary interest is photographing the stars and the milky way. By 8:30, we are both tired and head back to the hotel.

The night sky from the Ranger Station

            Our last evening is spent packing up and getting ready for a quick departure in the morning. Our flight is not until 12:15 (noon) but we have a two-hour drive, a need to return the rental car, then catch the rental car shuttle to the airport and get ourselves through security. We get all this accomplished with two hours to spare to eat a leisurely breakfast. “Traveling would be so much fun,” I comment to Hubby,  “if there just weren’t any people.” Take a deep breath, I tell myself, and take it one step at a time. Maybe by the time we are too old to travel, we will have this travel thing figured out.

            The first segment of our journey to Chicago from Phoenix goes quite smoothly. There are some thunderstorms in the Chicago area with rain pouring down on arrival. This leads to some turbulence and rather panicked instructions to stay in our seats and buckle up, but we arrive a ½ hour ahead of schedule. We have a three-hour layover here so there is no need to hurry. Our text message from American Airlines gives up a gate number of L1A. We settle in to wait. I spend the time catching up on my writing and do some reading.

            At 5:58 p.m., our cell phones ding to tell us that our flight has been moved to gate L3. We gather up our luggage and move a few gates down. The board still says this flight is on time for takeoff at 8:45 p.m. At about the time the electronic board indicates we should be boarding the plane, the cell phone asks for our attention again. Time for takeoff has changed to 9 p.m. Five minutes later, the next message says the gate has changed to H3A with the takeoff time still being 9 p.m. We get up and begin our walk across the airport this time to a different wing. We have no more started our walk than the next message informs us the gate has been changed to H1B. Seriously people! Is it that hard to figure out what you are doing? And now departure time has been changed to 9:30 p.m.

            My head is spinning, and I am beginning to doubt that we will be arriving home tonight. Finally at 9 p.m., another arriving load of travelers deplane and we almost immediately begin boarding. Maybe there is still hope. Once everyone is comfortably seated, the captain announces, “We will be pushing away from the jet bridge in just a few minutes but expect a 40-minute wait for takeoff.” I groan. But as promised, by 10 p.m., we are airborne and headed for Rochester.

            We walk into the house at midnight. “Kitty Kitty Where are you?” Several times while in Sedona, I wondered if I had put her food out and I couldn’t remember but I convinced myself that I couldn’t have possibly forgotten something so important. I look up at the shelf where I put her food so that I could just set it down before we left. OH NO! The bowl of food still sits high up on the shelf. I never gave her the food on the way out the door six days ago. Poor Snowflake. She greets us with her usual “Meow Meow Meow Meow!” She does not seem any the worse for the situation. I am not sure if she is protesting that we left her alone or that she is starving. I quickly feed her, but she doesn’t seem particularly over hungry. She is just happy we are home and wants us to know it.

Travel to Sedona, AZ 2019

Bell Rock close to our hotel

Tuesday, September 17.

“Let’s go to bed an hour early tonight,” I implore my husband on Monday evening. We need to get up at 2:45 a.m. if we are going to make our 5:45 a.m. flight. As is usually the case, I find that I can’t fall asleep. I am afraid that I won’t wake up in time. I set my regular alarm clock, my travel alarm, and Hubby sets his phone alarm. That should be enough to get us awake on time.

            “Bling, Bling, Bling!” over and over assaults my ears. I roll over and peer at the clock. It is 1:45. I groan. Why is the phone going off at this time?

“Your phone is an hour early,” I grumpily mumble to my spouse.

“It’s not my alarm,” is the response. “It’s the airline texting to say our flight is on time.”

“Seriously? You have got to be kidding me.” Now I am awake and irritated. I could have slept another hour. I roll over and snuggle back in. Maybe I can fall back to sleep. A few minutes later I hear Hubby get up and go downstairs. Then. . . brring, brring, bring! Now my travel alarm is going off. It is now 2 a.m. I had set it for 2:45 but it is going off at 2 am. Is someone trying to tell us something? Any hope of sleep is now gone.

Our trip to the airport goes without incident though I am anxious and wishing I had not turned down Hubby’s offer for me to drive. When did we turn into the old couple cautiously peering out the window and approaching every obstacle with trepidation? The traffic lights in downtown are all green because it is still the middle of the night, but my dear spouse slows down as he approaches each one. Doesn’t green mean go, not slow down? We creep along ten miles under the speed limit on the deserted streets. I bite my lip to keep from being the dreaded back seat driver. We do arrive just as the airport is coming to life.

We sail through security without any issues and settle down to wait for our flight which is still on time. I have not bought an upgrade for this “short” 1 ½ hour flight to Chicago so Hubby tucks his lanky frame into the standard issue seat. His legs have begun to numb even before takeoff. But before we know it, we are safely on the ground in Chicago. A fairly long walk to concourse K is the next order of business. I am learning not to schedule tight connections for our flights because we are way too old for this running business. We have quite a leisurely morning stroll and even some time for breakfast before it is time to board our flight to Phoenix, AZ. This time we have hit pay dirt with our seat choice. Not only does Hubby get an exit seat but he gets one right where the plane narrows leaving his window seat with no seat in front of him – all the leg room he could ever want is within his reach.

Out of the airplane

Another beautiful touchdown in Phoenix ends the air flight part of our journey. Then it is on to boarding a bus to take us to the rental car terminal. I reflect on the fact that it is only 11 a.m.  here in Phoenix but we have been up for ten hours already. My head hurts and I need a nap.

This time when I rent a car, I decline all upgrades even though we are told that means we will have to ride in a VW bug. When we pick up the car though, it is not a VW bug but a Ford Fiesta. Our butts are almost sitting on the ground and we need Hoyer lifts to get ourselves up out of the car every time we stop but it does successfully perform the task of transporting us around. We soon discover that the left blinker doesn’t work, and the tires are bald. It does have 43000 miles on it, so I think it needs some loving attention. Hubby just cannot live with a car that lacks a working signaling system, so he buys a bulb the first day in Sedona and replaces it.

Driving in Phoenix is like driving in any big city. The speed limit says 55 but it is like we are a beetle crawling up the road while everyone else catapults by. Phoenix is a dry and barren landscape with some beautiful cactuses scattered here and there. What do these people do here for a living? We wonder. As we get north of the city and the elevation begins to increase, the landscape begins to change. It now looks more like the grasslands of Africa. The grass is brown and dry, but it was once grass. Short stubby trees are struggling to grow and the tall stately cactuses of earlier have disappeared. The land begins to take on a reddish hue as we get closer to Sedona. Once we turn off the main interstate 17 onto 179 north, the beauty of the landscape becomes apparent. The red rocks of Sedona rise in stately spires towards the skyline. We end our day by previewing the landscape in preparation for our coming days.

Drive Along West Side of Glacier

 

The day starts out with the conference occupying the morning. We don’t have big plans for today so we leisurely make our sandwiches and eat when I get back at 1:15 pm. We decide then to check out the gift shop here at the hotel and then the beach on Whitefish Lake. It is sunny and scorching hot so I really have no desire to sit on the beach. Behind the hotel, there is a 30-acre wildlife preserve that sports a walking trail through it. At least the trees there shade the sun some. As we wander through the preserve, we feel water drops hitting our head. At first, we think it is sap off the trees. “But it is not sticky,” I proclaim. “Well, it can’t be raining. The sun is shining. Maybe they are shooting water up over the trees from that truck we hear,” is one of our differential conclusions. As we walk along, though, more huge drops hit our heads and the ground. “It IS raining.” The clouds above us are slightly darkened but not at all like we would expect rain clouds to look. It is very dry here, having not rained for most of the month so we are shocked by the wetness coming from the sunny sky.

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Town of Polebridge – just south of Canadian border

Not knowing what else to do in the heat, we decide to hop into the car and drive up along the west side of Glacier. This is an area that is not highly traveled by tourists and most of the road is gravel. It is still beautiful countryside and follows the North branch of the Flathead River. We have a leisurely drive to a little town called Polebridge. It is the last town before the Canadian border which is closed. Polebridge reminds me of an 1800s town. It has a café, a bar, a store, and some cabins and I notice some solar panels outback which is the only thing that doesn’t fit the 1800 motif. We buy some delicious homemade pastries there and some drinks for the road. We take a different road into Glacier Park from the west. The entrance is not even staffed due to the low number of tourists who enter from this direction.

Of course, I need a souvenir from this trip to Montana so we make a quick stop at a gift shop near the entrance to West Glacier. I soon spend almost $100 for a t-shirt, a sweater, and a book. Then it is back to the hotel to kill a couple of hours before we drive back to the Hungry Horse Dam where Hubby would like to take some night pictures.

I think somehow, we ended up renting a car with limited driving miles of 750. I didn’t think anyone did that anymore but I guess I will find out when we return the car. We crossed the 750-mile mark yesterday, Wednesday, already.

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Sunset at Hungry Horse Dam

We leave around 8:30pm for our foray to the dam. We stop at McDonald for our supper with plans to eat on the way. The sun is just starting to slide towards the horizon as we begin our climb up the dam access road. A beautiful orange sunset extends up from behind the mountains. Hubby is looking for a good place to set up his camera equipment where he can take some night pictures of the road over the dam and then when it is dark enough, try to take some star pictures. I find a flat rock to lay on and absorb the warmth of the sun. Hubby is able to get some good pictures of the dam as night falls but the stars are slow to appear as the light seems reluctant to fade into total darkness.

Grrrrr! Grrrr! Reaches our ears. “What was that?” Grrr! Grrr! Again. “That sounds like a bear to me,” we both say at once. I am instantly on my feet and peer into the darkness. “Do you mind if I bring the car closer?”

“That’s OK. We’re leaving,” Hubby replies as he begins disassembling his camera equipment. I think our night time picture taking is over. It is time to head back to the hotel.

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Hungry Horse Dam at night

 

Travel Day – Trip to Florida 2016

187              With anticipation, we roll out of bed at 3:30 a.m. on this Wednesday, January 13. The goal is to leave the house by 4 a.m. The thermometer declares the temperature to be 9 degrees below zero on this fine Minnesota day. I think it is a great day to head for Florida. My hubby is the one having trouble getting ready in ½ an hour today and I am the one chomping at the bit to leave. As we are motoring down County Rd 2, I ask, “Did you take your pills this morning?” Soon, we are turning around and heading back to the house. I do not have any extra pills along. They are counted out to the exact number. I bite my tongue and soon we are on our way again. The airport is just opening as we park at 4:55 and I am the second in line to check our one bag. Before we know it, we are on the plane but because of the cold weather, de-icing takes 30 minutes.

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Flying into the Sunrise

My breakfast is tomato juice. My hubby is behind me on this smaller plane in which he cannot even stand up straight. We fly towards a beautiful sun rise with streaks of blazing orange and yellow. By 8 a.m., we are on the ground in Chicago. We have a long walk to the next concourse with just enough time to grab some nuts to complete the tomato juice breakfast. My assigned seat is the middle of the three seats on this flight to Charlotte, NC. I take one look at the big man by the window and realize that I will not survive in the middle seat between him and my hubby as I am claustrophobic and one of my nightmares is being suffocated between two oversized people in these undersized seats.

“You need to sit in the middle seat,” I instruct my better half. This is not a great option for him either as his legs are too long but what is one to do.

By noon, we are rolling into Charlotte. We have just under an hour before boarding our next flight. We are making good time. Another long walk is required to reach our last departure gate. This time I decide to grab some sandwiches for us. There is no price on the chicken salad sandwich that I choose from the display freezer. That seems faster than waiting in line for handmade ones from behind the service counter. As I hand them to the checkout lady, she casually enlightens me, “These are really expensive. Are you sure you really want them?” I stare blankly at her. It takes me a second to comprehend what she is trying to communicate. It seems like a really strange thing to say after I have already waited 15 minutes to arrive at the checkout counter. I don’t have time to go back and start over looking for a cheaper choice so I guess I am buying $14 sandwiches. If it is important enough to inform the customer of this at the cash register, wouldn’t you think it would be important enough to mark the price on them in the cooler?

After enjoying our overpriced sandwiches, we are ready to board the last leg of our flight today to Miami. Again, I am assigned the middle seat. This time I luck out and my window partner is a slim petit young lady. Good – I can breathe. As the flight gets underway, she falls asleep. I notice that in her hands she holds a book entitled Serving God in Dangerous Places. I am intrigued by the book and by my seat partner. In my younger days, serving God in dangerous places would have fit right in with my adventurous spirit. I reach over and gently slide the book out of her limp hands and begin to read. This is a book I must buy. I finally return the book to her unsuspecting hands while she doses on. Later, we talk and I learn that she is on her way to the Dominican Republic to teach in a Christian school there. Before I know it, we are landing in Miami.044

There are only two more tasks to check off our list and then we will we on our way towards Duck Keys, FL. We need to pick up our luggage and then find our way to the rental car area. We flow along with the mass of humanity towards the luggage pickup zone. We walk and we walk and we walk. And we walk some more. I swear we must be half way across Miami by the time we finally reach the designated area. Finding the rental car agencies is a reverse of the long walk in the opposite direction. Our steps have begun to drag along the floor and the stumbles have increased. As we follow the signs to “Rental Cars,” we find ourselves at a dead end. There are doors on either side that open and close as other travelers get off and on a subway type transportation.

“Are we supposed to get on the train?” we ask each other. There are no directions posted to guide us.

“I don’t know,” is my frustrated response. “I have no idea where we are or what we are supposed to do.” Well, I guess we get on and go for an “El” ride to somewhere. As we step off when it stops, there is the sign pointing to the rental cars. Yippee!

“What we have reserved for you,” says the Budget rental agent “is a VW bug. Will that be big enough for you?” My hubby and I look at each other – “A VW bug???” How is my 6’ 4” husband going to fit in that? Noticing our hesitation, she continues, “We can upgrade you to a bigger car.”  But we instantly reject the upgrade. It seems the rental agencies are always trying to make more money by sneaking in upgrades and extras and we are always getting caught in these endeavors. We soon have secured our shiny black VW bug. With the seat pushed all the way back, my hubby’s ample frame fits nicely into it. There is no back seat left but we don’t need one.010

The roads leaving the airport remind us all too soon that we are in the east and out of our driving element. There is not much to do about that but hang onto the wheel and go. We have a four-hour drive to Hawks Cay Resort at Duck Keys which is our destination. It is dark and raining but warm when we arrive. As my hubby slides the seat ahead in our VW to retrieve his camera which he has lain on the floor, a strangled sound escapes his lips.

“What’s wrong,” I ask.

His distressed voice responds, “My camera lens is shattered. It must have gotten crushed by pushing the seat back. I’ve never had a problem with putting it on the floor before.”

“Oh, NO! What are we going to do? How are we going to take any pictures here?”

“I don’t know,” concedes my hubby, “I am hoping the inner lens is not damaged. If it’s not, I can maybe just change the outer lens. If the inner lens is shattered too, my expensive camera is useless.”

What a bummer of a way to end our day of travel. We are both depressed. But given an hour, my resourceful husband has been able to remove the damaged lens and replace it with a new one. The camera is as good as new and we are ready for our adventure in the Florida Keys.077