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?

 

 

Water in the Desert

20180103_112924.jpgWhat a great week of camping we’ve had. It seems wrong that anyone could visit the Las Vegas area without making a trip to check out Hoover Dam. And for us, that means camping at Boulder Beach Campground, near Boulder City.  A view of Lake Mead, a bike path that eventually goes directly to Hoover Dam, and (generally) peaceful rustic camping make this a great spot to hole up for a few days.20180103_102104.jpgHoover Dam is a real international tourist attraction – at least half of the folks there were non-English speakers. All come to gape at the marvel of the Dam, which is more than 80 years old. It’s hard to believe that this was all engineered and constructed in the pre-computer era. This photo taken from the Tillman Bridge (shown in the shadow).20180103_1323201509468320.jpg20180103_121124.jpgA construction model in the Visitor Center shows how it’s made of enormous concrete blocks. 20180103_124043.jpgAt the base, it’s 660 feet thick, tapering to just 45 feet at the top, which is 726 feet high. More than 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete, made onsite, were used in its construction. And perhaps, most astonishing, it was completed under budget and two years ahead of schedule. It’s an absolute marvel of engineering. As you walk across thee top, you actually cross from Pacific Time into Mountain Time. Two states!

One of the things we really love about this site though, is the bike ride from the campground into the Dam, via the bike trail that connects to the Historic Railroad Trail. 20180103_140747.jpgBuilt in the 1930s, it features six gigantic tunnels, blasted through solid rock, used by the trains which carried supplies and equipment to the massive construction site. Although the tracks have long been removed, the tunnels are just rough rock sides (although one has been reinforced with timber, as shown in the above photo). 20180103_112924.jpgIt gradually climbs, winding around great views of Lake Mead, until it deposits us near the top of the parking garage, where a couple of bike racks are conveniently located. Uphill all the way to the dam, and a wonderful downhill ride all the way home. It doesn’t get any better than this. Experiences like this are what keep us on the road. We love being able to cycle our way around new places and see sights that just are nothing like Michigan. It’s a big country, and we haven’t even begun yet to scratch the surface of all the spots we’d like to see.

The Lake Mead Recreation Area is dotted with marinas and campgrounds on the western shore. Since we enjoyed Calllville Bay and Boulder Beach so much, we decided to try Cottonwood Cove, a new one (to us) farther south on Lake Mojave. Want solitude? This is your place!20180105_072216.jpg img_1065Two loops have about 120+ campsites, but only three were occupied. The marina was quiet, the Lake itself was deserted, with the exception of one kayak.20180105_202111.jpg There wasn’t a sound at night, other than the guy across the campground, playing some of my favorite 60s songs on his guitar and harmonica (Ghost Riders and The Boxer were two of my favorites).  Although it seems that this campground would be an inferno in the summer heat, it was the perfect stop for us in early January. It’s 15 miles from anywhere (uphill all the way to the town of Searchlight), so we just wandered around a bit on foot, cooked great food, and buried our noses in good books. I feel a bit guilty sometimes about being so lazy, but then I figure “So what? I’m old. This is what that’s all about.” I’m actually getting pretty good at doing absolutely nothing for a day or two at a time.

But, civilization calls. We have no more coffee, and no clean clothes. It’s time to move on. So, we booked six nights of camping at Lake Havasu State Park, where we have electric/water onsite, brewpubs and restaurants, and WiFi at the laundromat (guess where I am?) Going from one of the quietest campgrounds we’ve ever visited to Lake Havasu is shocking. It’s like being camped at a dragstrip, with the highway nearby. And, there are many huge powerboats on the Lake, each roaring by full-throttle. Today is Sunday, and there’s an exodous out of the campground. We’re hoping for a quiet day or two before it fills up again.

Feast or famine, I guess.

 

Moving On

After a week of driveway camping, eating too much, drinking too much, and just generally hanging around with family, it was time to move on after Christmas. But not too far. We decided that a return visit to Valley of Fire State Park was in order, as we knew it would get us moving – hiking and biking after a week where exercise was non-existent.

Good fortune was on our side, as we lucked into what is probably the best campsite in the Park, nestled into the sandy red soil beneath the giant rock we affectionately called The Poodle.20171229_155230179151433.jpg Our site was deep, and surrounded by high red walls. It was perfect. 20171230_092734612134748.jpgThis campground is a delight, especially for kids (of all ages), as the rough red rocks are tailor-made for scrambling about. In every crevice there’s somebody nosing around, waving to people on the ground while hollering at someone on the next rock over. It’s a great spot.

I’ll just post a few photos from our four days there, as we wandered around the trails. 20171229_1242361898826488.jpg20171230_104112164286959.jpg20171230_170624374818339.jpgSome of the clearest, most pristine petroglyphs we have encountered anywhere are in this Park.20180101_193837587276156.jpg But, the best treat came on our third day, when we had special visitors.

Valley of Fire is located at the very NW end of the Lake Mead Recreation area, which protects the Hoover Dam watershed. When the Lake was initially filled, the little town of St. Thomas was flooded. Now that the water levels are near historic lows, this ghost town is above water again. So, we decided to explore.

St. Thomas has an interesting history. It was originally settled by Mormons, who thought they were still inside the Utah border. Nope. After several years, Nevada officials found the settlement, and demanded payment of three years of back taxes. The settlers refused, and returned to Salt Lake City, after burning their crops and homes to the ground. In the 1880s, new settlers arrived, and the town reached a population of about 500 before being abandoned in the 1930s. The last homeowner left in a rowboat in 1938, as the Lake waters were lapping at his doorstep.

It’s a curious place. There are still a few foundations that are mostly intact, and wooden fenceposts from long-gone trees are still lined up along borders that are now filled with scrub. 20171231_1106501504321873.jpg20171231_1100511069464526.jpgI’m amazed that they are still solid after years of being submerged. Cisterns, many so deep that I couldn’t see the bottom, have been covered with rebar to keep anyone from falling in. The tall structure is the remains of the ice cream parlor.

It’s unfathomable to me that this was all covered up by more than 60 feet of water at one time. There’s no part of the Lake within several miles of this site anymore and it sure doesn’t seem likely that Lake Mead will ever have this much water in it again. (It has now been about 120 days since the last rainfall in Las Vegas). Lots to ponder.

The Lake Mead Recreation Area is dotted with campgrounds and marinas along the shoreline, and we decided to search out a new one for a night’s stay. So, here we are at Callville Bay, a gorgeous, sparsely populated campground. Like many other spots here, the bottom of the original boat ramp now ends far from the edge of the Lake.20180101_122501574909932.jpgIt’s a pleasant place to hang out for a day, with a few scrabbly trails to wander.20180101_140252421434952.jpgDid anyone see the Supermoon last night? By the time it was high enough to see over the hills, it wasn’t so super any more, but still bright enough to keep the campground well-lit last night. My cell phone camera sure isn’t up to the task of a good photo, but I’ll close with this, anyway.20180101_170237966171379.jpg

Days of Good Decisions

For folks who travel thousands of miles every year in a pickup with a camper in tow, we really aren’t good at spending hours at a time on the road. By the time we hit Palo Duro State Park, near Amarillo, we were more than ready to stretch out for a few days. This is our third time in this park, and it’s obviously the charm – we finally scored a campsite in the Mesquite campground at the southern end of this massive canyon. 20171216_1634481615310199.jpgOther than the ‘rustic’ (translate: horrible) state of the bathrooms, this is a fantastic campground. Bonus? Of the roughly 25 sites, not more than five or six were occupied. The silence at night was complete – a few yipping coyotes and roaring wind were the only sounds.

Pleasant daytime temps (in the low 60s) prompted us to hike on Day 2. We decided that a stroll to the Canyon rim was in order. It’s laughable that we really didn’t see that we were in no shape for a hike of this length (about ten miles). But, it was so worth the aching legs. The Can20171221_101541225290091.jpgThat’s a lot of footsteps for our first hike in months. But, it was Mission Accomplished, as the goal was to stretch our legs for the day.

Day 3 was a maintenance chore day for John, and a bike day for me. I explored a few of the CCC-era stone cabins that can be rented there. They are exquisitely sited, and would make an excellent weekend retreat for non-campers.20171218_1137002114958094.jpg

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I really wanted to cycle to the top of the Canyon (the entrance station), a steady upward grade for about six miles, followed by a mile or so of 10% grade.  I don’t mind telling you that it kicked my ass! (but I did ride the entire way). I arrived at the Visitor’s Center gasping for breath, but one old geezer did compliment me on my achievement of cycling up the grade. They had passed me about halfway up the Canyon road in their RV.

 

My reward at the top was a visit to the Texas longhorns that are housed at the Park. Although these perhaps are not the largest, most impressive longhorns in the Texas herd, they are still quite astonishing to see.20171221_1018191056158901.jpgAfter three nights, we were ready to hit the road again, in our quest to get to Las Vegas for Christmas. But, before leaving the area, I wanted to make a stop at Cadillac Ranch, where about ten 60’s era Cadillacs are buried nose-first into the Texas prairie. At some point in the lifespan of this iconic attraction, it was determined that it was futile to prevent vandals from spray-painting the cars. Today, it’s allowed – even encouraged. I was anxious to leave a sign of peace and hope to the world from the Crankshaws (quit your sniggering). We purchased a can of sparkly gold spray paint, and headed out to try our hand at tagging. Who knew it was so hard? Spray painting in 20mph winds isn’t easy, and (apparently) I have no artistic ability.20171219_094931440678259.jpg My first try at painting a gold Christmas tree was a flop. So, I decided just to paint a sweet gold heart. FLOP! 20171219_0949041969897322.jpgOh well, we had fun, and I made one young woman very happy when I handed her my nearly full can of gold paint to go with the blue she already had.

Hours later, we arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park (NM) for a one-night stay. Man, it was cold up there! A gradual climb to 7300′ went largely unnoticed until we got to the top, and it was bitingly crisp. Being on the eastern end of the time zone, and near the winter solstice, it was nearly dark by 4:30! We sat outside in the dusk and bitterly cold dry wind before admitting defeat and retreating inside for the evening. 20171219_1706131831860055.jpgThis time, we were the only campers in the entire State Park. The decent bathrooms and warm showers we had hoped for didn’t materialize – the bathrooms were all locked, except for one pit toilet all the way across the campground. Oh well.

Our plan for the next day was to overnight in Flagstaff, a distance of only 225 miles, then travel on to Boulder Beach (near Vegas) for a few nights before showing up at my sister’s house. But, the weather forecast for Flagstaff was brutal – 50mph winds, blowing snow, and temps dipping down to 10 degrees. That is NOT good camping weather. We can camp below freezing temps without having to winterize our water system, but that combination of wind and weather wouldn’t allow that. Plus, our big fear was that I-40 would be shut down for weather reasons, and we could be stranded in Flagstaff. So, we decided to make a run for a lower elevation. We got off to an early start, and passed through Flagstaff around noon. Boulder Beach was another 225 miles, but the weather was still awful there – warmer, but 30+mph winds. So, we called my sister, gave her a bit of warning that we’d be landing on her doorstep that afternoon, and powered through the miles to Vegas. Headwinds reduced our fuel efficiency to a ridiculous number (less than 8), and we were numbed by the strain of all those hard miles.

But, there’s a happy ending. The rest of the family arrives on the 23rd and 24th, and we’ll all be together for only the second time ever. We’re happy with our decision not to camp – the first night here, we had wind gusts of 60mph. The dust from the desert was awful – visibility was severely impaired, and it was just generally miserable to be outside.

Hope your holidays are bright and warm.

 

 

Down South

What a pleasure to visit to these two scenic antebellum (pre-Civil War) cities – Savanah and Charleston. Nothing in my experience compares to these graceful places, full of beauty, and dark history. We loved the lessons here.

Our headquarters for Savannah was Skidaway Island State Park, a gorgeous campground that just whispers Old South. Heavy tree limbs drip with moss and a mixture of pines and live oaks add a sense of mystery.20171014_125041549243403.jpg Super camping. A bonus was meeting another T@DA camper for the first time in five years. We loved meeting Laurie with her socutecamper.com 20171021_065211465471828.jpgTo explore Savannah, we opted to drive a few miles from the campground through narrow causeways and lowland highways to a spot where we could comfortably cycle into the City. It was a perfect combination of low-stress touring for us. Old historic Savannah is crammed with (other) camera-toting tourists, horse drawn carriages, pedicabs, and open-air trolleys – each vying for the best view of the myriad city squares and historic sites. 20171014_124939757713312.jpgThere are so many beautiful sights.20171014_122649-2439994220.jpg20171014_1408181776209822.jpgAt Skidaway, we also enjoyed a hike through the steamy low country. 20171015_120205781837956.jpgThe Park trail took us past the remains of an old still (with axe marks where the US Agents chopped it up!) and some beautiful coastal views.

We also saw trenches, hand-dug by slaves, which were built to shelter the Confederate troops who were guarding the coastal waterways. What a difficult life this must have been – even the task of supplying fresh water to these areas must have been monumental, not to mention food and shelter.

Tybee Island was a nearby beach-y town recommended by a few friends. Beautiful beach and lighthouse, but the heat and humidity were still killing us. 20171016_1152571044692995.jpg 20171021_064814788401094.jpgIt’s HARD to enjoy a calm ocean when there’s no breeze, and the sweat is ruining your eyesight. It was still nearly 90 degrees and a dew point in the mid-70s. Plus, the beach just isn’t my idea of fun. But, still a pretty wonderful view, isn’t it? (Temps finally returned to a more normal mid-70s on our last night in Savannah, and have been perfect since. Whew!)

We decided to visit Fort Pulaski National Monument on the way back to camp, not knowing what to expect. Named after Revolutionary War hero Casmir Pulaski, the moated Civil War-era fort is a thoughtful history lesson. 20171016_1330531126798860.jpgOver 20 years in construction, it surrendered in its first fight with Union forces in 1962, and then became a prison for Confederate soldiers. Its demise? It was armored with cannons which had a 1/2 mile range. 20171016_135142268435691.jpgBut, by the time the War began, the Union forces had rifled cannons which could reach 1-1/2 miles. After just two hours, the fort’s interior walls were breached with cannonfire, and the Fort surrendered. It was converted into a prison for the remainder of the War.

On to Charleston, where we scored a site at the very busy county park at James Island where we met up with a bunch of T@B campers, at the beginning of their 12-day Coastal Caravan Tour. We didn’t spend a lot of time together, having our own plans set to explore this new (to us) city, but we did have a very memorable dinner together at Home Team BBQ. We actually had rolled in for lunch there one day, and went back for dinner with the group the next. You know it was GOOD!20171018_141530115475423.jpg Great food, Motown, Aretha, and other awesome R & B. And a fabulous selection of whiskey (of which we did NOT partake).

Charleston blew me away. The Battery section of the city along the waterfront is an amazing collection of gigantic, gracious antebellum homes. 20171021_065419567180488.jpgThere are beautiful architectural details everywhere. I’ve got dozens of photos I’d like to share, but am limited by bandwidth restrictions to upload. 20171018_132846512663229.jpg20171021_065627257959914.jpg20171018_133233198544850.jpgAs in Savannah, we drove into a City park, then unloaded our bikes and pedaled from there on. The very first unexpected sight we stumbled on was The Citadel.20171018_1040291868736530.jpg This gorgeous military academy campus was curiously quiet. We cycled around the perimeter, but most of the buildings were off-limits (including this one).20171021_065331950025628.jpgWe had earmarked a possible tour of Fort Sumter, which we ultimately decided not to take. It involved a boat ride across some fairly choppy waters (I’m not a fan). The Fort Sumter Visitor Center was informative, and clinched our decision not to visit the actual Fort.

The Charleston Slave Mart was another site we earmarked for a visit. 20171018_1248251436511372.jpgWe were surprised to find it on an historic cobblestone street, which was tortuous to ride on our bikes (so happy we had our mountain bikes, not our skinny-tire road bikes!!). The surface of this street, probably restored many times, is likely 200 years old. 20171018_1207161900907274.jpgThe Slave Mart operated as an actual auction house for slaves. South Carolina had a big stake in slavery – it was the first State to secede from the US. Of the 15 plantations in the US with more than 500 slaves, 7 were in South Carolina. No photos are allowed inside the site, but there are so many shameful artifacts of slavery, I was glad not to take any photos.

Churches, homes, parks – there are plenty of amazing sights to feast upon in this beautiful, graceful old city.20171018_142800565955746.jpg20171014_1334041264106961.jpg20171018_1726591009986668.jpgTwo other brief Charleston expeditions – by bike to the Angel Oak Tree, which is probably the largest living organism east of the Mississippi. This enormous live oak tree has a branch which extends 187 feet from the center.20171019_11312458226141.jpg20171019_1132041048024302.jpg It’s amazing to see, on a par with the giant Sequoias and Redwoods of California. With a lifespan of 900 years, the Angel Oak is in mid-life. Heavily damaged in the 1990s by Hurricane Hugo(?), it still thrives, although most of the limbs on one side are missing.

Our other outing in Charleston was another beach visit to Folly Beach. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a stroll through the beach town. 20171019_183402459638010.jpgIt was the perfect way to end our stay in Charleston.

Now it’s Friday night (10/19). We had reservations at nearby Givhans Ferry State Park, a short drive from Charleston. We arrived, set up, and proceeded to enjoy a beautiful afternoon in a quiet park. Around 5pm, a Ranger drove up and said we were occupying a site reserved by another camper. What??!! I had the site reserved (or so I thought). Apparently, my reservation was not confirmed. My first Reservation Screwup in five years! No other sites were available at this small park, nor at any of the other parks within 30 miles of here. We finally secured a site for one night (the last one of 150 campsites) at Santee State Park. What a circus this campground is! We checked in and set up in the dark. (First time for that, and I hope it’s the last!). Tomorrow we will be homeless (no sites available) and will have to search out a new spot. Oh well, lots of time to work that out.