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.

 

 

HOTlanta

Atlanta has been on our ‘short list for several years now, primarily because it’s home to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum. In the five years we’ve been wandering, this is the only Presidential Museum we haven’t visited. It’s a checkmark we’ve been anxious to score.

When visiting any major metropolitan area, camping can be problematical. We’ve usually had to resort to private campgrounds because there oftentimes aren’t state, city, or county parks nearby. But Stone Mountain Park fit the bill nicely for us. It’s kind of like a ‘super’ state park, with a big variety of recreational attractions – watersports, a golf course, gondola rides up the Mountain, hiking, museums and theaters. The campground is old, but clean, and staffed with super friendly folks. Our reserved site (selected by them, not us) was close to the lake with a pleasant view (for the first night anyway). wp-image-301489796We were pleased to have a site with electric power, as running our CoolCat a/c was necessary. Temps every day were between 85-90, with dewpoints in the mid 70s. It was very uncomfortable. Never was there a breath of a breeze. Not sure how we would have managed without the a/c, and leaving Jezzy alone for the day in the camper without it would have been out of the question.

Atlanta has a series of pedestrian/bicycle beltways which run to the City Center from various points outside the city. Although we couldn’t bicycle all the way into the city from camp, we were able to drive to Piedmont Park (about 20 miles), then cycle into the city for exploration. 20171011_115257.jpgThe Carter Museum was right alongside the beltway. Perfect!wp-image-1866454064For all of our anticipation of this visit, both of us were disappointed. Granted, Carter was only President for one four-year term, and he had zero national political experience prior to that, so perhaps that accounted for what we considered ‘light’ content. As always, we began by watching the film, which overviewed his early life and career – US Naval Academy, submarine Executive Officer, peanut farmer, Georgia State Senator, Governor, then US President. Carter’s years in the Oval Office were marked by our first energy crisis, high inflation and recession, and the Iranian hostage crisis, which shadowed more than his last year in office.wp-image-1272462176 Yet the Museum didn’t really offer insights into Carter’s thoughts and/or options in working out these problems. One aspect of other Museums we have especially enjoyed is the exploration of the decision-making process on some of the major issued. What were the options? Where did all of Carter’s advisors stand? Other than Cyrus Vance’s resignation letter (Secretary of State) over the disastrous hostage rescue mission, we didn’t get much insight of these thoughts. Compared to other Presidential Museums, we left without much of a sense of the political man, except of course his honesty and unfaltering quest for racial equality and justice. Carter’s big international achievement was the historic peace accord between Egypt and Israel, which stands today.

On display is Carter’s Nobel Peace Prize Medallion, awarded in 2002 for his work to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, and advance democracy and human rights through the Carter Center, founded after his Presidency ended.wp-image-531713582The Nobel Peace Prize is a nifty segue for our next stop, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, located in downtown Atlanta.wp-image-193479201 Included here are MLK birth home and Ebenezer Baptist Church. Construction on the site prohibited us from visiting his grave, where he and Coretta Scott King are both interred. King was the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. His reverence for the teachings of Gandhi and non-violence is well documented.wp-image-1080519483King’s family and supporters established the MLK Center for Nonviolent Change, which is also onsite.

Our third Atlanta quest is also one that could be accomplished on this trip – a visit to the State Capitol. Several cities, including Savannah and Augusta have been the site of the State government, but Atlanta has held the reins since 1868. The capitol building is magnificent – not overly embellished, but stately and elegant. The legislature was not in session, so we were able to wander freely about. Such a treat.wp-image-143839748wp-image-720904366wp-image-298568694Although there are probably many other spots in Atlanta that deserve a visit, we were happy with our Big 3, wanting to spend the rest of the time hiking and exploring Stone Mountain.

One of the main features of Stone Mountain Park is the huge ‘rushmore-like’ carving of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis which is carved into the side of the mountain. Ironically, the project was actually started by Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor who later went on to create Rushmore. After disagreements on how the project was to be run, Borglum left the project, and his start was blasted off the mountain by his successor. In retrospect, it seems like Borglum might have had a better idea – this is not terribly impressive. It sure doesn’t have the impact of Mt. Rushmore.20171016_0947361898180297.jpg All the activity in front seems to be the building of some kind of giant snow slide (next to the laser light show area). Yes, this really is a super-park. It must be jammed in the summer.

How could we visit Stone Mountain without actually climbing the mountain. It’s a pleasant walk up a granite slickrock surface, with perhaps a hundred others. There’s only one really steep section, and so this is doable by people of all fitness levels. If it weren’t so damned hot! We steamed ourselves on that mountainside! But, getting to the top made it all worthwhile. 20171012_120932332599642.jpg20171012_1208071638164989.jpgThe guy in the second photo was just sitting there reading a book. Loved that!  We hung around for quite awhile, watching the skytram disgorge crowds of folks. 20171012_1216431920994185.jpg20171012_1210161791349385.jpgwp-image-761210315We spent the rest of the day in the Museum there watching a film about Stonewall Jackson, and another about the creation of the mountain sculpture.

We’ve moved on to Savannah, envisioning cool ocean breezes. Nope. Try again. But, we’re enjoying ourselves at Skidaway Island State Park, where we’ve got a fabulous campsite.20171014_125041549243403.jpg