Arizona Rains

It’s hard to believe that just a week ago, I posted about the extreme dryness this area of Southeast Arizona has experienced. We had unseasonably warm weather without any significant rain/snowfall in months. One hiker told me that the creeks in Madera Canyon have not had any water running since October.

Well, that has changed! Wednesday morning, the rain began, and it continued until Friday evening. We went from a wide-open view of the Canyon to this one.

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But, the most amazing part of this transformation is one that I can’t share with you. It’s the incredible aroma of Madera Canyon opening up to the rain. It’s as though every tree, grass, and shrub has opened every cell in order to absorb the maximum moisture. In doing so, the most incredible scents have been released – heavy doses of juniper and pine mixed with mesquite and a trace of woodsmoke from our neighbor’s stove. Not just your average “walk in the woods in a rainstorm” scent. (Hey Google! I need an app to capture this – an aromaphoto that I can share. Apple, of course, will call their app iSmell). After the first day of rain, the scent faded away. But it was a fantastic experience while it lasted. In the meantime, green has exploded everywhere. Hillsides full of tough brown grasses are now a pale, hazy green, and the invasive mesquite trees that plague the Arizona landscape have gone from bare skeletons to leafy trees. Does this rapid transformation only happen in extremely dry climates? I don’t know.

When the sun poked out Saturday, we booted up and headed into the Canyon for a hike. It was delightfully cool and fresh. The rushing creek, which we crossed several times was a delight to hear.

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We trekked up the Carrie Nation Mine Trail, where rusted equipment from the copper-mining days of the Canyon, about a hundred years ago, still remains.

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Madera Canyon is full of old mines – we often hike past the Vault Mine, and our rental cabin is on the site of the old Suzi Lode Mine.

Full of energy after being cooped up for three days of rain, we traversed over to the Agua Caliente Trail

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I’m not sure how legal this campfire spot would be, but it had a magnificent view of Green Valley.

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It was just a great day to be out on the Trail.

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That’s Mt. Wrightson in the distance – the highest peak in the area, at about 9700′.

Our half-way point of the hike was Josephine Saddle, where the Boy Scout Monument always makes me pause. Three Boy Scouts lost their lives there in a freak snowstorm in 1958 while on a weekend camping trip.

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The last four miles of our hike were down the Supertrail, where more great Canyon views unfolded. There was much more foot traffic on this portion of our hike – we had the trails all to ourselves on the first part.

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What a great day for a hike!

I’m writing this very late Sunday night (about 3am), and the rain is once again pounding the cabin. We’ve got high wind warnings for Monday, so it’s going to be an interesting day. Desert? Here?

Madera Malaise (the good kind)

Aside

My prediction about (myself) not getting out of the porch swing at our Madera Canyon (AZ) cabin has been self-fulfilling. There really isn’t much to report for the last few weeks.

So far, this year has been very different than last, which was our first time holed up here in the Canyon. Although it’s hard to believe, it is probably 10-15 degrees warmer every day than last year. In addition, the dryness is notable and alarming. For the first time in the nearly 9 years that I’ve been coming to the Green Valley area, (always in February), there is no snow in the upper elevations. Mt. Wrightson, which looms above our cabin, is devoid of snow. There’s no water in the creek which runs alongside the road down to Green Valley. Already, there are reports of two wildfires nearby. While we appreciate the warmer temperatures, the extreme dryness is worrisome. It doesn’t bode well for the long hot summer ahead.

Some things are the same. We’re still chasing the coatimundi away from our birdfeeders. One cheeky dude stands with his feet on the deck railing, and drinks from our hummingbird feeders.20180203_103909.jpgWe put an end to that little trick by raising all of our feeders a few inches – but they still come back and manage to get a snack every day.

While walking Jezzy a few days ago, seven coatimundis ran out in front of us – I thought Jezzy would have a heart attack! To me, coatimundis look like a cross between a raccoon and a monkey, but they can really move when they want to. We love our front-porch view of them every day.20180203_0956021410783041.jpgSpeaking of Jezzy, we have finally unraveled the mystery of her origins. Santa Claus brought her an Embarkvet DNA test, and we have the results. Her mom, maternal grandparents and great-grandparents were pure Boxer. Dad, paternal grandparents and great-grandparents are pure Old English Sheepdog. I guess that makes her an Old English Shebox – 50% Boxer, 50% Old English Sheepdog. Perfect. If you’re interested in seeing the details of her report, or are curious as to what you might find out about your own dog, click here.

It seems like the turkey flock here has grown a thousandfold. As many as 30 at a time congregate in our driveway and yard. One of the big toms has taken a liking (or maybe he wants to fight) our truck. Every morning we hear him banging away at his own reflection in the chrome bumper. It’s crazy.

We’ve hiked a bit, biked a bit. Watched the birds in the feeders. Southern Arizona is a bird-watchers heaven. So many species that we never see in Michigan are hanging out at our feeders here – Acorn Woodpeckers, Arizona Woodpeckers, Mexican Jays, Blue-Throated Hummingbirds, Oregon Junco, and Yellow-Eyed Juncos are regular visitors. It’s delightful.

A week ago, we went on a hike along a four-mile stretch of the D’Anza Historic Trail. The Friends of the D’Anza had a shuttle running, so you could walk from Tubac to Tumacacori and shuttle back. We’d never been on this flat trail, which runs along the (mostly dry) Santa Cruz River, so we headed out with Caroline and Greg. It was a pleasant hike – we met lots of families out for the day, enjoying the great weather. Without the trees in bloom yet, we had mostly a bit of light shade, with a few sections in full sun. 20180204_0929581343161400.jpgA few dicey water crossings added to a really nice hike.20180204_102300649982384.jpgWe ended our hike at the Tumacacori Mission. 20180213_07275675864348.jpgVolunteers had cooked food that was probably eaten by the original Trail travelers – on their journey from Mexico to San Franisco – hoppin John, cornbread, and some type of pudding. It was great. There was also a woman weaving baskets, slowly and patiently, with the most beautiful results. 20180204_111042202089401.jpgOur Vermont camping pals (former T@DA owners) Cathie and Jay have been here for several days. Although I’d have to admit that we’ve spent most of our time catching up on camping gigs and mutual friends, we did decide to venture across the Border to Nogales, Mexico for an afternoon. Folks we consulted said “Don’t do it. Dirty and dangerous.” We found it to be neither. The four-block area nearest the border was filled with Sunday-afternoon families out for a stroll and a snack.

Food vendors were out in force lining the streets, which (during the week) are home mostly to dentists, pharmacies, and eye clinics catering to US citizens crossing the border for inexpensive care.20180211_1326021515109109.jpg Since it was Sunday afternoon, only the pharmacies and restaurants were open, along with the stalls selling t-shirts and trinkets in the outdoor marketplace. But, there were few Americans around with ready cash. All the warnings against travel to the Mexico border towns have taken a toll in tourist traffic, and I’m sure many of the vendors there are suffering financially. But, for a few delightful hours, we wandered around, finishing with a beer/fish taco lunch.

While we were sitting in the restaurant, we did see an open-air Jeep-type vehicle with three heavily armed gendarmes in the back end. Cathie managed to capture a shot of them just as they passed by.img_74111626474770.jpg It was a reminder of the danger of this border city. But, as we wandered a few blocks later, we came upon the gathering of cops/cars, and they were gracious enough to allow Cathie to pose with one of their guys.

One of the cops even used Cathie’s phone to capture the photo. There is a bit of humanity everywhere. We all smiled and shook hands.

Of course, we had to ponder the Wall. Here’s what it looks like from the Mexico side of Nogales.img_74121575077241.jpgIn places, there are benches within a few feet of the wall, many occupied with people – perhaps waiting for their friends or relatives on the US side to connect.

So, that’s the No News Report from Madera Canyon. All is good here, but we’re already struggling with the idea that our time here is already half over! How can that be?

 

 

Hot Fun in the Sun

It has been a week long on fun, and short on quality photos. There’s a lot to be said about having such a great time that you forget to record anything for future reference. What was all the fun about?

20180126_11331482552024.jpgT@bazona! An annual gathering in the Arizona desert of fun-minded folks who share a passion for camping in their T@Bs, T@Gs, and T@DAs, T@B and T@DA share a common heritage, as they were both manufactured by Dutchman – T@B from 2004-09, and T@DA from 2008-10. Dutchman then got out of the small trailer business, and the T@B line was picked up by Nucamp. It’s more of a traditional teardrop shape than ours is, but loaded with charm and features. A T@G is an even smaller version – about the size of a queen-sized bed, most (?) with a clamshell kitchen.

We registered to join T@bazona last summer, and were fortunate to snag a site in the Usery Park group campground (no electric/water), where we camped with 25 other campers adjacent to the main campground, home to another 30 or so nestled in gorgeous sites with electric/water, firepits, and picnic tables.20180124_1428551804002955.jpg There were probably 80 people in all. This gorgeous county park in Maricopa County (Phoenix) is a a treasure – a maze of hiking/biking/bridal trails encircle the campground.

It’s beautifully maintained – kudos to the folks here who support this wonderful park system with their tax dollars. We’ve stayed at other Parks in the County, and they are all places to which we would return.

T@bazona is socializing with like-minded campers, sharing food, campfires, and the occasional adult beverage, and (of course) camping stories, tips, and tricks.20180127_1816321517153322.jpgThat’s the #1 reason we enjoy these rallies so much – avid campers trick out their rigs, and are proud and happy to show off the results. It’s all about solar, storage, decorative tips, towing, WiFi, and awnings/shelters. We had campers from as far away as Maryland, two rigs from Michigan, and from all points inbetween – everyone has their own style.

We have an organized sort of Parade of Homes, where  we traipse from camper to camper looking at all the cool stuff everyone has done. Most of the attendees were in T@Bs, along with a handful of T@Gs. We were the sole T@DA this year. Here are a few things that I’d never seen before (remember, I warned you that I took very few photos)…

Solar oven. There were cookies baking inside. Not sure how great this would be in Michigan, but it seems tailor-made for Arizona.20180127_144242408289790.jpgHow about this nifty propane radiant heater? Never seen one of these before. This could heat up our little awning on a chilly night.20180131_1713591686625743.jpgWe’re not big on game playing, but who wouldn’t love T@B checkers?20180127_135748656221599.jpgOur next project may be to develop some kind of aerial pole thingy to boost our wifi cell service. In areas where we have a weak signal, we usually wind up putting one of our phones on the roof of the Campsh@ck to boost the signal for our hotspot. I’ve been campaigning for John to mount a flagpole holder on the camper, and put a fishing pole in the holder. We could put the cell phone in a baggie on a hook and raise it up above the roofline to boost signal. Not pretty or elegant, but hopefully effective. John took a bunch of photos of possible projects, but he’s being pretty secretive about sharing them (for now, anyway).

We did get in a hike to the wind cave at Usery, with camping pals Mickie and Kim. 20180126_1020002127100023.jpg20180126_095349926059056.jpgIt was a gorgeous morning for a hike, and we wound up and up along the trail to the cave, about 1000′ elevation over a two-mile hike. Perfect morning to hit the trail, and I’m happy we got our hike done by the time the afternoon furnace-like heat kicked in.

After four days, it was time to leave. We were excited to head to Catalina State Park for a rendezvous with our Vermont friends (and former T@DA owners) Cathie and Jay. They’ve since moved on to an Airstream, but retain a small-camper enthusiasm for the outdoor life. We hoped for a more sedate experience in Catalina than the last time we visited. 

Go for a hike? Sure? We wandered up the trail with Jay to Romero Pools, which we have visited a few times in the past. It was shocking to see how little water there was.20180129_110405959072727.jpg20180129_110647-11827750297.jpg Where’s the pool? Other times we have visited, we’ve been treated to the delightful sound of running water down the mountainside into the pools, and dozens of hikers cooling off hot feet in the cool flowing water. This was a very different experience. Nearly barren. It was hot on the trail – we suffered.20180129_115821-11850123116.jpgEverything here is so dry – we are one matchstick away from a catastrophe, it seems. In the seven or eight years I’ve been coming to this area, this is the first time where there has been ZERO snow in the upper elevations. Mount Lemmon has an elevation of about 9200′ – there should be some snow up there in January. Seems like this is a bad sign for the area in the coming months.

Ahhhh….we’re now in the comfort of our Madera Canyon cabin. If you are a reader of this blog from a year ago, you’ll recognize this view.20180131_170553-11329694649.jpg Yep. For the next month, we are stretching out. Hike. Bird-watching. Coatimundi. Time with my sisters (who are both in the area for this month). SuperBowl. Cycling. If you want to find me in the next month, I’d suggest you look on the porch swing on the right.

We began our first day here with the most incredible views from of the supermoon eclipse. Set our alarm for 4:30 am, and sat outside with coffee, watching the eclipse develop over the mountainside. For the second time in a year, I was very sad not to have photography equipment up to the challenge of a celestial event. It was magnificent.

Feeling very peaceful….wishing the same for you.

 

 

Keeping It Simple

After a week of nearly perfect camping in Prescott (AZ), we’ve had plenty of time to reflect on why camping makes us happy, and what it is about camping that we really like.

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We’re happiest when everything is simple.

Sounds easy, but it’s really something we’ve had to work at. Our T@DA camper is small – yet we have everything we need to keep us comfy in even the worst of environments (and believe me, we have somehow found them!). In our sixth year on the road, we are still discarding seldom-used items (the cribbage board didn’t make the trip this year), to make space for something we’ll use more. In this spirit, we’ve taken out the television, and replaced it with a basket screwed to the wall where we can accumulate maps and also charge our tablets and phones. Out is the microwave, in its place is a cabinet for food storage. Everything is a compromise.

Yavapai Campground, one of our very favorite sites in Prescott, AZ is a great example of how this works for us. It’s a small campground – 22 sites. There’s no electricity, and just one water pump. A huge benefit is the composting toilets, which use no water or chemicals, and are totally oderless. They are an enormous leap forward over the common pit toilets found in most rustic campgrounds. Sure wish there were more campgrounds using this technology. We love the crisp air (cold and crisp at 5800′ in January!), the large sites, and the quiet. John has rigged 220 watts of portable solar power to keep our lights on and the fridge running.

We love our quiet power source, and it works especially well in the sunny Southwest.

Thank goodness we’re not clothes hounds. Funny, but if you look back over five years of these posts, you’ll see that we wear the same clothes year after year, adding a favorite new t-shirt one year/retiring one. John has his favorite fleece pullovers – the pumpkin one and the red one. I bring the same pink fleece vest, blue hoodie, and cardigan sweater, which I wear every day. This year, I retired my old one, which was threadbare, and replaced it with a brand new one. Heaven! Heavy duty sandals, hiking boots, and cycling shoes account for our footwear (plus shower sandals for public showers). I’d rather go without something than frustrate myself everyday by carrying too much stuff. This certainly isn’t everyone’s system, but it works for us.

We have a small shower we use when there’s not one in the campground, as at Yavapai.20180115_100524.jpgOur 22 gallon water supply, and six gallon gray water tank don’t allow us the luxury of a long shower. In fact, we took four showers, plus used small amounts of water for other things, and still didn’t fill our 6 gallon tank. We have two one-gallon jugs we fill at the pump for drinking water, and water for dishwashing, which we usually do outside. John has rigged a system for shaving and haircuts using the truck mirrors, which is downright comical to watch.20180115_100205513767212.jpg Seems odd, but when there aren’t other mirrors around, it’s all we have.

But, we sure do eat well. We carry a Napoleon propane grill and a CampChef Everest stove along, and use either or both every day. Instead of using individual one-pound tanks, we have a three-pound aluminum tank with two connections. Saves us a ton of money, and we don’t have all empty cannisters to recycle. We often Dutch Oven large batches of stews and chilis, which are wonderful after hikes or bikes rides when we’re hungry and cold.20180117_1742081704686970.jpgWe do cheat a bit and put the Dutch Oven directly on a burner set with as low of a flame as possible. Then, we augment the heat to oven-style by putting heated charcoal briquettes on the lid. Sure, it’s cheating, but we like not using so much charcoal.

There are great hikes in Prescott. The first one on this trip was a new trail (for us) near the campground – about four miles, which meant we could take Jezzy along. There were still remains of a recent bit snow along the trail, which turned the surface into a thick sludge. So much collected in-between Jezzy’s toes that she eventually plunked herself down, and refused to walk any further until John pressed out some of the huge clods, relieving the pressure.20180113_1159431177451577.jpg Back at camp, she needed a footbath which she patiently endured, although it obviously is not something she enjoyed.20180113_1424061900364621.jpgWe drove a bit north to the Watson Lake Recreation Area, for a spectacular hike a day later. Massive granite boulders circle the lake, caused by wind and water erosion. 20180116_114142199644124.jpgRough and gritty, they are perfect for clambering around. We took the trail that circumnavigated the lake, and were treated to stunning views. It was really a fun hike.20180116_122853548826146.jpgImpossible for us to be in Prescott without climbing Granite Mountain, a 7600′ peak that looks over the campground. While not a difficult climb, it’s relentless. We were so happy to get to the top and eat peanut butter sandwiches and Starbucks Double-Shots. Oh yeah.20180118_141301301282709.jpg

On to Lost Dutchman State Park, where we met up with Vern and Ilene, friends from the Phoenix area.20180119_1739441326314844.jpg

20180119_173857.jpgThey were the very first people we met who who also owned a T@DA, and we’ve still maintained a close friendship, even though they’ve moved on in the camping world to a larger motor home. Before the rain and cold moved in, we had one perfect night for a grilled pizza and campfire. There’s lots to catch up with when we only have an annual visit.

The best part? Ilene and I went into Phoenix, where we joined 20,000 other men, women, and children for the Women’s March. 20180121_105917516606138.jpgIt was exhilarating.20180121_1101541533296170.jpg One of the best moments was when we came upon this group of 15 women, all wearing the red gowns and head gear of The Handmaid’s Tale. 20180124_104629-11288863792.jpgThere was a young father pulling his four-year old son in a wagon at about the same point. We heard his plaintive voice, “Who are these people? What is the point?” Ilene and I cracked up. I said to the father, “Good luck with the next 15 years.” He grinned ruefully and replied, “Oh, it’s going to be an interesting discussion at lunch”.

Today, were moving to Usery Mountain Park, where we’ll join about 70 other T@Bs and maybe a T@DA or two for a few days at an event called T@bazona. Some of these folks here we’ve met along the way somewhere, but most of them are unknown to us. We’re looking forward to picking up new tips and camping hacks, and discussing favorite campgrounds. T@B owners are always a lively bunch, and we’re happy to be included in any of the gatherings. Our best camping friendships have resulted from these types of gatherings.

 

Lake Havasu Love

Seems like we’ve had an entire week of doing nothing – but don’t think I’m complaining. Not so. But, we’ve been living in near-luxury at Lake Havasu State Park (AZ), in a site with both electric AND water, plus neighbors at arm’s length. Such luxury does bring out the sloth in us both.20180111_144759.jpgWe did get a good start though with a hike through SARA’s Crack,  (also called Crack in the Mountain). We were anxious to complete this hike through a slot canyon, after being thwarted on an attempt two or three years ago, when we were here the first time. At that time, we had Jezzy with us, and some of the elevation changes and narrow spaces were just too much for her to navigate, and we were forced to abort. Jezzy stayed home this time, and we negotiated the modest slot canyon easily.20180108_121226.jpg20180108_120755.jpgAlthough most of the hike consisted of walking down a pretty boring wash at the bottom of the canyon, it was fun to clamber through the slot. The best part, though, was the turnaround spot at the end, where we ran into Lake Havasu. Can you imagine a more perfect picnic spot?20180108_115250.jpg 20180108_115506.jpgThis site is maintained by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) for boaters, who may want to camp overnight. Plenty of room to pitch a tent, plus a pit toilet, and trash baskets.  Worth any amount of effort to get there. We took the long way back, so we could pass the Lizard Geoglyph, a fun (but hardly historical) hiker-made rock formation. It’s difficult to see, but use your imagination to see the giant lizard.20180108_140837.jpgCycling around Lake Havasu is easy – it’s mostly flat, the Lake is pretty, and there are a number of historic lighthouse replicas nearby to keep things interesting. We visited most of these before, but they are always fun to see and photograph.20180109_120856.jpg20180110_164747.jpgPlus, Lake Havasu is the home of the historic London Bridge, which was dismantled and reassembled here. Its serene presence rules the the area. 20180110_114105.jpgWhile we were at Lake Havasu, we made an unexpected, but most fun connection with someone whose blog I have read and admired for a long time. Ingrid and Al are full-timer RVers. In addition, Ingrid is an incredible photographer – the link above is to some of her Texas posts, which are probably my favorites. After seeing my last post about heading to Havasu, she sent me a note stating that they were also in Havasu, and how about Happy Hour? So happy that she took the chance in contacting me – we four had fun swapping favorite camping sites and discussing future plans. P1020088.jpgIf you enjoy beautiful photography, check out her blog.

We had one more blast from the past today while visiting Buses by the Bridge, and annual VW Camper Fest (hippie blast). If you have ever lusted about hitting the road in a WV bus, this is the group for you. Part flea market, part hippie, part wannabe, and mostly pure fun. Buses, some perfectly restored, and others held together with spit and baling wire, have traveled for miles to get here “14 hours from Albuquerque at 35mph”. We watched one guy get towed in on a flatbed AAA wrecker, and jump out of the cab like he had won the Indy 500. Lotsa love here. Creativity abounds. I’ll close with photos. These folks are here for the weekend, and it’s gonna be a party!20180111_144410.jpg 20180111_144114.jpg20180111_123447.jpg20180111_121949.jpg20180111_115940.jpg20180111_121549.jpg20180111_144856.jpgPeace and love. We are off into the wilderness again tomorrow.