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June 12, 2017

Felicity California - Dedicated to Remembrance

It rained last night, a sure sign that San Diego’s June Gloom is soon over.  And at last with some beautiful beach weather approaching we are off on Road Trip 2017!

The nice thing about having plans made in Jello – they can be remolded.  But we are RV travelers without a toad, not full timers with a tow or towed vehicle, and when passing thru an unfamiliar area during peak summer season I make reservations at the more popular, must-see attractions and leave travel days in Jello.

Our first Jello plan to be tossed is the Gila Cliff Dwellings, as the Catwalk Trail remains closed.  I’ve been to the ruins, there are many others, but at least at Gila the ruins are all open to the public – albeit because ranchers have all but destroyed them for cattle shelters.  When I was here last the Catwalk was open, but alas I did not take advantage of it.

Becky at Interstellar Orchard has beat me to the blog of options for summer travel and did a much better job of it than I would have.  Read her take on “Summer RVing Without Reservations”.

Road trip 2017 begins under beautiful clear skies as we leave America’s Finest City behind.  Our first stop is Felicity CA,  where the History of California was in progress on our last visit summer 2015.  It is now complete and I’d like to see the finished product.
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Istel purchased 2600 acres in the California desert 8 miles west of Yuma, which included a pure and reliable aquifer.  On this land Felicity was founded on May 11, 1986, the town "Dedicated to Remembrance" was named for his wife, Felicia Lee, by founder Jacques-Andre Istel, the ‘Father of American Skydiving’.  "To our knowledge, it's the first town in America named for a Chinese lady," Istel said. "'Felicity' means ' happiness, culture'”.

I can understand that a lot of people don’t get this place, but I find it to be amazing and fascinating. It is the work of one man who had already made a difference in the world and now preserving the history, the successes and failures, of mankind for the future. Sure he must be a bit eccentric, but he’s made his fortune jumping out of perfectly good airplanes – and teaching others how to do the same.

Istel wrote a children's book "COE the Good Dragon at the Center of the World," which helped convince Imperial County, California, to legally recognize a spot on his property as the Official Center of the World.  In 1989, the Institut Geographique National of the Government of France also recognized it as the official Center of the World and has it listed in the Bibliotec.
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A pyramid was built to mark a spot for the Center of the World, where a bronze plaque in the floor marks the exact spot.  Tours are offered Thanksgiving through Easter to enter the pyramid, there is also a small cafe that is open for lunch during this time.  A couple years ago my younger brother joined in for some Cactus League ball games.  We received our official certificates that March, signed by Mayor Istel.
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Soon the small non-denominational Church on the Hill at Felicity was added in 2008, where it stands on the highest point in Felicity, 60 steps up on a man-made hill.  The church is modeled after a church in Brittany.
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There is a small cemetery behind the church and room for more panels to complete the dream.

The view of the granite panels from the church gives an idea of the dimension of the dream.

Perhaps the best known undertaking is Istel’s Museum of History in Granite. Conceived as an historic record of humanity designed to last for the millennia, the museum is a collection of over 400 granite panels.  The main purpose of the museum is “To engrave in granite highlights of the collective memory of humanity”.  The engraving of the panels has been in progress for the past 30 years, with the History of California being completed just last year.

Although the granite panels are available year round, the pyramid, chapel, store and cafe are open November – March. 

The panels are engineered to last 4000 years, what is placed on each is carefully planned. Once the panel design is ready an etching template is placed over the panel and then sandblasting or laser etching is used to engrave the design.  History of California being engraved summer 2014.

The Exhibits

1. Felicity Stone (9 panels) - using a concept similar to the Rosetta Stone to translate English to several ancient languages

2. History of Humanity (416 panels) - Centerpiece exhibit includes Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on panels #11-13. (a continuing work in progress)

3. USMC Korean War Memorial (62 panels) List of the 4,617 Marines and 107 Navy Corpsmen who gave their lives during the Korean War.  Istel served with the US Marines in Korea.

4. Quest for the Sky - (62 panels) History of aviation (Recipient of the Air and Space Medal in Europe in 2003), has a definite French focus.  But also contains the pilot licenses of Wilbur and Orville Wright who taught the French how to fly and sold airplanes to them.
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5. The History of the French Foreign Legion (51 panels) I’m a bit surprised the Battle of Puebla is not included.  Without the French defeat at Puebla, there would not be a Cinco de Mayo Smile.

6. The History of Arizona (31 panels)
Oops no new pics of AZ …

7. Hall of Fame of Parachuting (13 panels) Celebrates the innovations and accomplishments of the versatile parachute.  It modestly downplays Istel’s own accomplishments involving the developments of the sport parachute and establishing the sport of skydiving.
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8. The Wall for the Ages (13 panels) Record of names to be preserved for the ages.  This wall is now complete, a legacy can still be engraved in the Maze of Honor.
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The Maze of Honor

9. The History of the United States of America (62 panels) – The Dedication Ceremony was on Washington's Birthday 2014.
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10. The History of California (31 panels)
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Had to laugh a this panel.  In the past 3 years CA has made the list of the ‘50 Best Run States’ … in position 50.  In schools too ….
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I have suggested that a camel replace the grizzly bear on the flag.
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The Center of the World's Eiffel Tower stairs have a tall fence surrounding them to discourage anyone from actually climbing them.  The stairs, which are section 12 of the original staircase, continue to slowly rust away, but are still in good shape for being 111 years old. 
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A replica of the Liberty Bell is located within the granite panels.  It’s OK to give it a ring.
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Near the Eiffel Tower stairs, desert (lawn) bowling and checkers are available.
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The sundial utilizes a three-dimensional bronze sculpture of the Arm and Hand of God taken from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam as the gnomon mark the dial.  (Covered during our visit), whose finger points to the church on the Hill of Prayer.  Although the sundial is only accurate at noon on Christmas Day, it’s a most interesting addition.
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USPS Post Office 92283, was opened in December 1987 in an era when other small offices were being closed.  It continues to operate at federal expense of $1 per year.  There are 20 US government $1 checks still uncashed.  The little post office of Felicity (pop 2 at the time) saw over 2300 letters mailed that day.  Bet the postmark is a collector’s item now.
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“Unless we destroy ourselves, or succumb to a cosmic accident, our destiny should be set on a path to the stars.  May distant descendants, perhaps far from planet Earth, view our collective history with understanding and affection.” ~Jacques-Andre Istel

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When it was mentioned "Eventually this will be covered in sand. Those dunes move closer every year."
Mayor Istel was unconcerned. "Won't this be wonderful for some future archaeologist to uncover?"

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A shout out to Jason and Nikki Wynn who did a brief blog on Felicity in 2012, before setting sail.
New York Times Magazine did a nice article on Felicity in 2014, including a video tour.
Desert USA has done an article on Felicity.  This tiny town is also nominated as a World Heritage Site.

Felicity is proof that Walt Disney was right “dreams can come true”.

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