Hottest. Lowest. Driest

Gee, can they make Death Valley sound any more attractive (in addition to such an enticing name?) What a great slogan. It owns the hottest recorded temperature in the world (132 degrees Fahrenheit, I think. Back in 1913). It’s the lowest spot in the world at Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level). But, I’m willing to argue about it being the driest. We’ve camped there three years – one in early January, once early March, and this time in late March. Each time, we have endured substantial rainfall. Fun-killing, stormy rainfall. So, the feeble claim of “less than 2 inches of rainfall per year” isn’t really sounding too factual to us. But, what an amazing place to explore and camp.

For the first time, we spent three nights in the northernmost campground called Mesquite Spring, and it’s now our first choice of campgrounds.wp-1490669090641.jpg It’s about 35 large sites, tucked in along the Death Valley Wash. We had the perfect campsite – our door faced east, so our awning offered abundant afternoon shade, which was the envy of every camper there.

The Ubehebe Crater there is probably my favorite place in the entire Park. This huge crater is over a half-mile in diameter.wp-1490669158422.jpg Black cinder sides (up to 150 feet thick in spots) make an easy walk down to the botton 600 feet below, and a heart-pumping hike back to the rim. It’s gorgeous, and the walk around the rim’s circumference is not to be missed.wp-1490669171036.jpg For the first time, we cycled to the Crater – not a great distance, but with some long steep grades punctuated with strong swirling winds. It was a great day.

We decided to hike the next day at Fall Canyon, which we had never yet visited. wp-1490669048443.jpgTowering colorful walls line the canyon, which narrows to about 15′ wide at points. wp-1490998951249.jpgThe hike deadends at a dry waterfall about 3-1/2 miles from the parking lot. Although this doesn’t sounds tough, it’s a steady uphill trek through a gravelly, sandy wash to get there. It was a big relief to get to the end, and find a shady spot to site along the wall while we ate lunch.

After three nights, we were ready to move on to the southern end of the Park. The temperature difference was astonishing – Mesquite Falls is about 1800′, and Furnace Creek (appropriately named) is about -200′. There was about a 15 degree difference in the temperature. When we tow, we keep our window shades up, to prevent them from accidentally snapping up and breaking. Unfortunately, that also lets the sun beat in. By the time we secured a site at Furnace Creek and set up camp, it was probably well over 100 degrees in the Fireball. Of course, it was absolutely dead still, without a whisper of air to help push out some of the heat.20170327_194152.jpg Our puny ceiling fan really couldn’t help much. So, we parked our camp chairs in the shade of some large nearby shrubby trees, and waited for the sun to go down, and for things to cool off. It remained uncomfortably hot inside the whole night. It felt like this.20170327_194112.jpgOur campsite was only available for one night, so in the morning, we quickly cycled to Zabriskie Point to enjoy the color explosion there.wp-1490668553298.jpgwp-1490668567860.jpg We decamped for Las Vegas, taking the long route out, stopping at all the points of interest in the south end of the Park, and had a thoroughly enjoyable day on the road. Devil’s Golf Course was our first stop. These salt-encrusted mounds are stiff and prickly. You wouldn’t want to have a misstep and fall – it would be pretty painful.wp-1490668451319.jpgNo trip to Death Valley would be complete without a stroll at Badwater, the lowest spot in the world. A thick, dusty salt plain stretches as far as you can see. In the bright sunlight, it’s blindingly white. It’s a crazy experience.20170327_193158.jpgwp-1490668287193.jpgwp-1490668254541.jpg At the very southermost edge, we encountered a strange plant called Dodder, or witches’ hair, for the very first time. This wiry orange tangle of springy vine attaches itself to a host plant. It’s very odd to see, and even more unusual to touch, having kind of a dry, yet spongy feel.20170327_192532.jpgOn to Las Vegas, where we are visiting my sister Gail and Dan. We’re overdue for a few repairs (including the installation of a new converter), and a much needed total cleanup. Everything in and about the Fireball is looking pretty raggedy, and we were almost looking forward to the job of a good cleaning overhaul. A bit of quality family time, and some quality grilled goods (Dan’s fantastic outdoor kitchen + John’s great grilling skills) were all on the agenda.

Sadly, every good thing about being here has been overshadowed by the fact that Jezzy was attacked by a stray pit bull, while she and I were walking Thursday morning. It jumped her from behind, and had her down before I ever even saw him. You’d be surprised at how loudly I can yell, while kicking that beast as hard as I could. Two guys who were painting the house across the street ran over and were banging on the pit with an aluminum ladder, while I continued to kick and snap him with my leash. All this was to no affect whatever. John finally heard my screams and came charging out into the street. He grabbed the pit by the neck from behind, and dragged him off Jezzy. I was so relieved to see her spring up and run toward the house.

Long story short, we took her to my sister’s vet, where she had surgery that afternoon to close up her eye socket, which had been torn to the bone. She’s got a bunch of stitches under the eye, and a drain to help with the blood/fluid in the deep pocket that has resulted. Fortunately, her other injuries were superficial. The vet at Cheyenne Tonopah Animal Clinic was fantastic, and there staff provided comfort to the three of us, who were badly shaken. Here are pre- and post-surgery photos of Jezzy.wp-1491000060535.jpgwp-1490999047380.jpgShe may have some permanent nerve damage (can’t blink fully), but we won’t know that for months. Las Vegas Animal Control was also wonderful. The officer who picked the dog up was kind and sympathetic. Actually, the dog was very docile once removed from Jezzy, and was wagging his tail happily as he was loaded into the Animal Control truck. We’ve filled out all the forms, the owner has been identified. We’re not sure what may happen next. We may get restitution for medical costs, but that’s not a major issue for us. We want Jezzy well, want to get rid of the Cone (my brother-in-law Dan calls Jezzy “Motorola”), and try to put this behind us. For sure it will take me a while. I’m on the verge of tears every minute. It’s painful to see Jezzy colliding with walls and chairs, trying to navigate around the house, but she’s doing pretty well. We’re keeping the pain meds poured on, as often as prescribed, so we hope she’s not too uncomfortable, even though she seems pretty confused.wp-1490993109530.jpg It’s going to be even more difficult in the Fireball, as the Cone is as wide as our floorspace, meaning that she won’t be able to turn around. Somehow, we’ll make this all work. We’ve extended our stay here in order to take Jezzy back to the Vet for removal of the drain, but hope to be moving on again Sunday.

Yeah, onward.



A Dam Fine Holiday Week

After five days of driving every day, we were more than ready to roll into Las Vegas, and get out of the damn truck. No driveway has ever looked more welcoming than that of my sister’s home there. We piled out, ready to hang out with friends and family for a few days, and that’s exactly what we did.

But, you know the old saying…..”Family, like fish, begins to stink after five days.” Ever mindful of wearing out our welcome, we decided to head to Lake Mead for three days of camping, and return on New Year’s Eve, in time to watch the Spartans beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. (HA! We all know how that turned out, right?) I had even gone to the casino and placed a $10 bet just to get a bit of skin in the game.20151227_135145On the advice of brother in law Dan, we decided to camp at Boulder Beach CG, which is the closest of the established campgrounds to Hoover Dam. Both John and I have visited the Dam previously, but not together, and not for many years. Boulder Beach turned out to be a marvelous choice – sparsely populated and sparkling clean.20151228_13133520151229_091209 Low water levels in Lake Mead make a waterfront site just a wee bit of a walk these days, but the camping fee of $5/day (with our Senior Pass) was just right. Lots of beautiful sights here, and a few not-so-beautiful. I was intrigued by this dead mallard in the water, which had been picked nearly clean.20151228_142021Low water levels are always a topic of conversation here. Lake Mead was last at capacity in 1983 – currently it’s at 38% of capacity – a 143 foot drop.

Once again, we are happy to be people who enjoy cycling. As we hit the bike trail heading toward the Dam, we could see traffic backing up on the highway. It’s a great feeling to know that we probably beat most of those folks to their destination. The best part of the ride was the last 4 miles, where we connected to the National Historic Railroad Trail. This unpaved 4-mile segment, constructed on an old railroad grade, passes through five tunnels used during construction of the Dam.20151229_134210 20151229_104222Throw in a dozen panoramic views – it adds up to a really fun ride. 20151229_10453320151229_134714Hoover Dam is one of those public works projects that defies imagination. 20151229_130148 How could it have been so well engineered that, nearly 80 years later, it still provides water to 25 million area residents, as well as providing power, silt control, and erosion control? How could it have been completed nearly 2-1/2 years ahead of its seven-year schedule? There are dozens of amazing statistics in this massive project.

Adjacent to the Dam is the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which opened in 2007.20151229_114748 John and I actually cycled across the bridge the day before it was open to traffic as part of Viva Bike Vegas. It was dazzling to be on that high span with thousands of cyclists and NO car or trucks. Now, the pedestrian walkway on the Bridge provides great high views of the Dam. No matter what your interest, wandering around the Dam complex and the Visitor Center is a great way to spend an afternoon.20151229_114254Great weather influenced our decision to ride the 35-mile River Mountains Loop Trail on our last day in camp.20151230_145706 While this should have been a breeze, the rolling terrain took a toll on us. We were delighted to find that the last 8 miles were a slick downhill from Boulder City back to Boulder Beach CG. We were knackered – why do we let ourselves get so out of shape?

New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas should be a huge party, and it probably is for the thousands of other visitors to this playground. Back in the safe haven at my sister Gail’s house, we all managed not to see any fireworks, or toast the entry of the 2016. Old farts? Well, maybe….

Death Valley National Park will be our home for the next several days. Family, like fish…..

Happy New Year.





Hangin’ Out in Vegas

Hard to believe we’ve been camped in Gail/Dan’s driveway for over a week.  Is it remotely possible that we’ve overstayed our welcome?  Um, yes.

But, what a terrific family holiday we’ve had.  We arrived on Christmas Eve afternoon, about 10 minutes behind my sister Lynn and husband Jerry, who traveled from Green Valley, AZ.  We tucked the Fireball in behind Gail and Dan’s coach.  It was intimidating enough that we slept with one eye open every night!wpid-20150101_144731-1.jpgGail’s son Mark, along with his wife Tatsumi, and kids Erin and Shaw rolled in from Laguna Hills, CA on the 26th to complete the holiday celebration.  This is our whole gang – Lynn/Jerry, Gail/Dan, Tatsumi/Mark, Shaw, Erin, John and me.  Jezzy sneaked into the photo, although the other five pups somehow were left out.  20141229_115213Gail/Dan bought everybody remote controlled helicopters for Christmas.  An aerospace engineering degree apparently didn’t  help Mark much with his launch.  Who knew these would be so difficult to fly?John also a tough run with his mini-helicopter, managing to fly it into the light fixture over the dining room table, delighting the peanut gallery, and terrorizing all the dogs.

We did get in a bit of a hike at Red Rock Canyon National Park (sans Gail and Dan), despite frigid temps and high winds, over unenthusiastic protests of teenagers Erin and Shaw.  We scrambled over boulders and through narrow crevices on a clear, cold day, and enjoyed the spectacular scenery (in spite of ourselves).  Here’s Mark, Tatsumi, and Erin.20141227_130003 Tatsumi gave us a real Cheryl Strayed moment when she slipped out of her shoe while scrambling over some slickrock.  Fortunately, her shoe tumbled down onto John, who snagged it as it rolled past.20141227_13570420141227_13592220141227_130537 20141227_133039 It was a photo-perfect afternoon, highlighted by the appearance of four wild burros, sighted shortly after we drove into the scenic drive.  Although we know they are in the area, this is the first time we’ve even seen them – what a treat!  We kept our distance, so this photo is somewhat less than National Geographic quality.t20141227_122458 Much of the rest of our time was spent playing games (I may be the family cribbage champ, although Gail and Mark tried hard).  Have you ever played Dumb Ass?  A crazy fun board game with lots of laughs.  Perhaps the weirdest game was Heads Up, which utilized an iphone.  It was ridiculous, separating the generations among us even more quickly than Name That Tune could have done.

While Mark and Shaw played dominos, Erin created a beautiful pagoda with the spare bones.  She casually created what the rest of us could not have done with an instruction diagram.20141228_134754 Thank you, Shaw and Erin for hanging in there with us – I can’t imagine myself being quite so gracious as a young teen hanging out with my great aunts and uncles.

Mark, Tats, and kids rolled away on Monday, Lynn and Jerry on Tuesday.  So, we decided to gorge on sushi on Tuesday night.  One of the most enjoyable feasts we’ve had.  20141230_195428Our Fireball refrigeration has crapped out again (for the last time).  We’re junking this fridge, but have decided to go without any electronic refrigeration for the next month, while we camp.  Just too much hassle (and expense) to get one shipped in to Vegas, so that we can install it while we are still here.  Does that qualify as roughing it?  Doubtful!

wpid-screenshot_2015-01-01-17-22-28.pngJezzy and I have patrolled the area since we’ve been here, trying to make up for the three lost days of activity while we were in transit.  Here’s my activity log from my Garmin Vivofit for December.  I purchased it on December 4 – can you tell which were our three travel days?  Not too bad for 27 days!

John and I took the bus down to the strip on December 31 (afternoon) to check out the decorations at the Bellagio.  Stunning.  Unfortunately, there were too many people, and I have too little patience to have anything to show for the day.  But, the gawk-worthy Chihuly ceiling there did merit a photo.20141231_132412Taking the bus was a blast, but it did account for a big portion of my mileage for the day (about 10.5 miles).  We waited patiently at one stop, after running out of energy to push ahead on foot.20141231_143200The oddities of Vegas, and especially Gail’s neighborhood will never get old for me.  20141228_200916We awakened every morning (around 3am) to the rooster that her neighbors keep in their back yard.  Apparently, they also brought in some turkeys (at least one of whom escaped the Thanksgiving axe).  It’s a bit unnerving to hang out in the back yard, and hear a turkey next door – although we never got a glimpse of him because of the wall between.  The house around the corner has two horses in the yard.  It’s wild and woolly in their unincorporated neighborhood.

Christmas decorations without snow will always be an oddity to me.  These strings of lights, laid right on the roof would never last in Michigan.20141227_165656Palm trees?20141227_16592020141231_165408But, now it’s time to camp!  Tomorrow at this time, we’ll be in Lake Havasu State Park.  That’s our first stop in a month-long trek around the perimeter of AZ, traveling along the west, south, and east borders.  All of our destinations are campgrounds we’ve never visited, and we’re excited to cycle new roads, and hike new trails.

So, bye to Gail and Dan (for now).  They’ll be heading to Green Valley in February, staying just yards from Lynn/Jerry, and a few miles from our rented house in the area.  For now, we’re shedding no tears at parting.

We did finish out our year with 179 days of living in our T@DA.  Not sure if we can outdo that in 2015, but we will dream about it.

Happy New Year to all.  Hope there are adventures in your future!




Road Warriors

Be Bright.  Be Brief.  Be Gone.  (These are presentation tips from an old friend.  I’m going to endeavor to follow them for this post.)

Two Days.  1319 Miles.  Rain.  Sleet.  Snow.  30-40mph winds.

Objective:  Somehow, someway….get to Vegas for Christmas!  First time my family has all been together for Christmas, ever.

Day 1.  We (finally) depart Grand Rapids at 7:30am.  Dark when we (finally) arrive at destination at night after 11 hours on the road.  We’re sharing the driving, although John got spooked when I drove at the last leg in driving rain.  Old, worn road markings made it difficult to see the pavement markings. Not only did I have a death grip on the steering wheel, but I was hunched over it like Quasimodo due to severe back pain.  Give up my turn at the wheel?  No!!!  Perhaps not my finest moment.   The good thing? Comfort Suites in Council Bluff, NE is wonderful.  Comfy and clean.  We slept like babies.  Saw low gas price of $1.889 in South Haven, MI.  Paid a high of $2.599 somewhere in IA.

Day 2.  On the road at 6:30am. In an all-time low point, we made SIX stops for gas today – headwinds of 30-40mph for hundreds of mile severely cramped our fuel economy.  It was unbelievable!!!  In spite of this, we forged on and covered lots of miles, owing to the fact that we gassed up, took Jezzy out for very brief pee stops, hopped back in the truck and kept on driving.  For 13 hours.  696 miles!  But, the wonderful part of this odyssy?  The stretch of I-70 West of Denver.  As we headed into the mountains, the wind lessened, and darkness fell quickly.  The snow-covered mountains were magical.  Passing thru Vail was unforgettable – the fir trees decorated with lights were enough to make this vocal cynic silent with amazement –  many of the trees must have had a couple thousand lights each on their boughs.  So, picture this…..narrow, twisty, mountain road, with just a bit of twilight left.  Enormous fingernail moon, shrouded in snowy mist.  Dozens (maybe a couple hundred) enormous trees with white lights or dazzling multicolored lights, and huge clumps with electric blue tops, a white mid-section, and red bases.  Hundreds of thousands of lights against the tree and snow-covered mountains.  It was a spectacular sight.  Our tired eyes snapped to attention, and we powered through the last 50 miles through swirling snow and 10degree temps to get to our Glenwood Springs, CO destination.  An unbelievable finish to a tough day.

To help us get more miles out of each day, we decided not to camp in the Fireball, but to hotel it for our nights on the road.  We hit the jackpot with Comfort Suites in Council Bluff, and Quality Inn in Glenwood Springs.  Huge rooms, luxury linens, and perfect locations.  Breakfast! 

No photos to document this mileage extravaganza.  Christmas Eve, we’ll be sleeping in the Fireball, securely parked in the driveway of my sister’s home in Las Vegas.  This will be the 172nd night of 2014 that we’ve slept in the Fireball.  For the year, it will (probably) total 179 nights!

It’s been a good year for the Campshaws.  Hope you all can look back at your year and say the same.  Seasons Greetings.  Happy New Year!

Sorry, no photos.  Next time, ok?

Eight Long Weeks

The past eight weeks, since we rolled home from our Lake Superior odyssey, have been a test.  Two months away from home means a glut of yardwork and housework. Everything looks neglected.  Then, we got dumped on, with over two feet of snow before Thanksgiving (which, sadly has melted and has not been replaced.)

The best news of the past two months is that John’s folks have moved from their home 40 miles from us into an independent living apartment just five miles across town.  They’ve got a tidy, bright two-bedroom apartment in a complex where they’ve got community meal service, housekeeping, and plenty of activities to keep them involved, should they wish.  Today was moving day, and it was an ordeal for Frank, Verna, and Aunt Alice (as Jezzy refers to their gorgeous cat).  We’re so happy that they no longer have to drive, that they can turn the heat, and ignore (for the most part) snow piling up in streets and driveways.  No more yard maintenance, which is a big chore when you’re in your 90’s.  I’ve learned a lesson about dealing gracefully with stress – the Crankshaws were so calm in the teeth of the storm today.  What an awesome family.

My part of this was to provide lunch and a bit of moving muscle.  To punch up the celebration, I ordered a cake from my friend Kirsten’s custom baking business.  omg……what a treat.  This was a dense pistachio olive oil cake, studded with raspberries.  Served with a dollop of whipped cream, its slightly crispy top and dense interior…..I have to stop thinking about it.

So, that’s been the big focus of the past two months.  Here’s the rest….

As always happens when we come home after living in a compact space that has everything we need to comfortably sustain us, I’ve been on a rampage of household crap reduction.  This time, we’ve finally made a dent in the mountain of crap in which we reside.  John’s sold dozens of items on ebay, and nearly every day brings a trip to the post office to ship off some bicycle part or unused tool to a new home.  Truckloads of small household items and clothes have been carted off to Goodwill.  It’s liberating to clean out whole corners of the basement, and see a bit of floor space open up in the garage.  Gone is our enormous stand mixer and all the attachments that came from John’s break-baking days.  Gone are two fiberglass Herman Miller chairs.  Gone are dishes, utensils, spare camping gear and endless stuff.  The amount of sheer stuff we have is ridiculous.

Gone also are the ugly mini-blinds that have (dis)graced the windows of many rooms in our house.  They’ve been here since I moved in 21 years ago.  Finally!  New shades in three rooms.  Can’t believe how great it looks.

Gone (sadly) is our old furnace.  A service call resulted in the discovery of two cracks in the heat exchanger.  Cracks = carbon monoxide leaks.  Not gonna live with that!  So, last week we had a new 96% efficiency furnace installed.  We should see about a 20%+ reduction in our monthly gas bill, which will be very welcome.

While we were waiting for the new furnace, our dishwasher sprung a leak from deep in the inner bowels somewhere.  Don’t mistake me for a gal who will willingly hand-wash dishes.  Nope!  New dishwasher will be installed Monday.  We need to sell more stuff.  Furnace + diswasher+ blinds  >> income from selling crap.  This equation just doesn’t balance!

What’s the good news?  I got a small package in the mail this week (from Santa!)  It was full of shiny oblong orange-y looking things.  Kumquats! wpid-20141213_224806.jpg What??  It dawned on me that Cozybegone, a blog I religiously follow, had recently had mentioned kumquats. I commented, asking about them, as they’re a taste I’m unfamiliar with.  Well, Carla tracked me down (scary that it’s so easy for someone who doesn’t know you to find your home address) and sent me a box of kumquats and pecans to sample.  While I still can’t get John to try one, since he apparently saw the surprised look on my face when I popped one into my mouth, I’m liking the bitter, then sweet rush, they provide.  Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus.

Caroline and I cycled out to see my mini-donkey/horse buddies a couple of weeks ago.  Yep, he’s still there, and as curious as ever.20141130_124127We chatted with the owner for a few minutes, and gleaned this fact about donkeys.  They have a reputation for being stubborn, but that really is untrue.  In order to be compliant, they need to trust.  The owner assured us that she could get her donkeys to jump off a cliff if she instructed them to do so, because they trust her. The image of donkey basketball games with balky animals refusing to trot downcourt is all due to a lack of trust.

Hey, is than an iphone?  Android?  Oh, let me see???20141130_123613This is Skip (I called him Billy Idol).  He really wanted to get up close and personal!

Other than this bike ride, I’ve been a huge couch potato since we got home in mid-October.  Gained about eight pounds, which are not pretty.  (On the plus side, I’ve read a huge number of wonderful books!).  Had my annual physical this week, and was terrified to face the doctor.  I need a motivator to get off my butt!  Garmin Vivofit is the machine for the job.  It’s a wearable, electronic pedometer, which connects to my computer and phone.  It tracks my steps, mileage, and caloric output and gives me some neat reports as to how I’m doing.  Silly as it may sound, it does motivate me – I’m super-competitive, and the thought of missing an easily achievable goal just isn’t going to happen.  I’ve had it for under two weeks.  Here’s my best day so far, in steps.  Actually, it was my first full day.20141204_220545The reports I see look something like this (on my phone)….this is the first four days.wpid-screenshot_2014-12-11-22-31-25.pngHere’s my week so far….wpid-screenshot_2014-12-13-23-18-01.pngJezzy has been a beneficiary of the Vivofit.  She’s my walking buddy, although she often hesitates and looks longingly at our street as we pass by to make just one more lap around the block.  We’ll be ready for hiking in the Southwest, soon.  Bring it!

So, we’ve hauled the Fireball out of storage, and are preparing to depart for Las Vegas on December 22, the day after the Crankshaw family Christmas celebration.  For the first time (ever, I think), my entire family will be together to celebrate a holiday.  Not exactly Christmas, but kinda.  We’ll gather at my sister Gail and Dan’s home in Vegas, sister Lynn and Jerry will come up from Green Valley, and my only nephew Mark, along with Tatsumi, Erin, and Shaw will come in from California.  We are all excited.  Not Christmas, but Christmas-ish.  I can’t wait.

After the holidays, we plan to move around Arizona, camping for the month of January.  There are loads of interesting State Parks we haven’t visited – trails to ride and hike every day.  The Vivofit will get a workout.  We stay in one spot for February in Green Valley (AZ), then hit the road again on March 1.  Our road bikes are Fed-Exing their way to AZ already, and the mountain bikes will be in the truck with us.  Boots and backpacks are ready to go.

So, thanks for letting me get this all off my chest.  Merry Christmasish to all of you.  Be safe and happy.  Next post will come along the road (somewhere).