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.



Rollin’ Again!

Long time, no read, eh?  It’s been a long homespell for us this summer, as we tackled projects long neglected.  Since returning from our last trip in early April, here’s the short list of what we’ve been up to.

John’s folks moved into an independent-living apartment in December.  All the stuff they didn’t take with them was part of a massive estate sale in April.wpid-20150417_075936.jpg Then, we got everything cleaned and shined, and the house is now on the market.  There’s an offer pending, and we’re hopeful that this time it will result in a sale.  Frank and Verna Crankshaw (John’s folks) also celebrated 70 years of marriage this summer.  Can you imagine?

There’s always lots of bike-related stuff for us in the early summer months.  I’m a volunteer for the Rapid Wheelmen 100 Grand Bicycle Tour, and the MSU Grand Fondo.  The New Belgium Clips Beer & Film Tour also comes to town in early summer.wpid-20150611_095228.jpg Love volunteering for these events, as I know what a PITA it can be to wrangle volunteers.  These events all give a big boost to our local cycling community, so it’s fun to give a bit.  Cycling is a big part of our lives (John and I met in the Rapid Wheelmen Bicycle Club).

John’s involved with the National 24 Hour Challenge, both on a Director level, and as crew chief for a variety of riders.  This year, he crewed for the top female rider (423 miles) and also for the woman who set a new record in the 70-74 year age catetory (298 miles).  Three or four of the other riders on his team set personal records.  It was a huge year for him and his team.

We finally got our back yard in shape by adding a new patio. Old back yard…..wpid-20150705_073124.jpg Wow – what an improvement. New back yard….wpid-20150711_191312.jpg Of course, the completion also meant that he could finally get a Big Green Egg grill.  Wish we would have done this years ago – our backyard dinners have been fantastic!  We loved our Weber charcoal grill, but John’s really at the top of his game with the Egg.

We bussed to a Detroit Tiger game. wpid-20150719_122556.jpg (the stands were full – this was early pre-game)  I’m a huge baseball fan, and the Tigers are breaking my heart (and spirit) this year.  They just suck!  Going to a game is still special, though.  Got tickets again later this month, and we’re hoping for better results, although it’s not too promising.  They are hard to love right now

Our clutter reduction program continues.  Spent the worst two days of my life having a garage sale.  Made a measly $200, but took about two truckloads of leftover stuff to Goodwill.  Good riddance!  The struggle to simplify took a big leap forward.

While John was camping/cycling with his guy friends, I had a girls’ weekend at a friend’s cottage.wpid-20150619_151000.jpg Visited an elk ranch!wpid-20150620_120431.jpgThese enormous antlers grow within a period of just a few months.  Impressive antlers like these begin to grow in late March, and this photo was taken in late June. These enormous bulls were docile enough to eat oats from our hands – but when the fuzzy coating begins to drop off the antlers and rutting season begins, it’s another story. The bulls become very aggressive, and playtime is over!

But, finally…..the Fireball is ready to roll again tomorrow.  We’re heading out for two weeks – first to driveway camp at a friend’s cottage for a few days, then on to our favorite campground at Nordhouse Dunes for 10 days..  The first weekend of the Nordhouse trip is tied in with the Night Shift – a wacky 100 mile nighttime road ride.  We’re the support/chuckwagon for this motley group, and it’s a blast.  After that, we’ll be home for a few days, then off to Brighton Recreation Area (on the east side of the state), camping, taking in another Tigers game, and visiting some long-lost relatives.  Both John and I have a bad Camping Jones right now – time to roll!

Hopefully, at the end of the month, roofers will finally come to put a new lid on Chez Crankshaw.  Ice buildup/backup for the last couple of years has damaged some of our interior walls, and we’re hoping that new roof + insulation will fix this.

All this is prep for a two-month trip to the mid-Atlantic states in September/October.  Can’t wait to visit Boston and Providence.  We’re trying to decide if we’re brave enough to camp near NYC to take in the sights for a week.  Our camp style is to hang outdoors and bike/hike.  Not sure if we’ve got the grit to brave the big city, but there’s so much I want to see.  We are still debating……stay tuned.





Austin, Days 1 and 2

Finally!  We’ve landed in Austin, visited a bike shop (not just any bike shop, but Mellow Johnny’s), and had our first BBQ experience.  Yep, it’s been a good couple of days.

We hit the road early on Monday morning, as the drive to Austin would be more than 300 miles.  That doesn’t sound like much to many of you who are used to driving long distances, but for us, that’s a full day on the road.  The weather was cloudy and listless, with rain showers all along the way.  West Texas is deadly dull.  There is nothing out here.20150309_085731After 200 miles, we finally hit Fredericksburg, and pull up alongside the Brewery for a quick lunch.  My pepperwurst was pretty good, and John enjoyed his stew.  That sausage looks enormous, I know, but it’s not sitting on a dinner plate, but a smaller salad plate.20150309_130443Back on the two-lane highway, we are happy to be out of the cuteness of this town.  I’ve turned into a person who has no appetite for shopping anymore.  Get me outta here!  We briefly discuss going to the World War II (Pacific Theater) Museum, but nix that idea in the interest of getting to Austin.  But, as we’re zooming down the road, the LBJ Ranch comes into view.  20150309_135658Of course we have to swing in for a quick tour.

This site is part State Park, and part National Park.  Although the tour of the Western White House didn’t have much appeal, we did enjoy the movie in the Visitor Center, which was actually a broadcast of LBJ showing the ranch to reporter Bob Schieffer.  It was great – LBJ and Schieffer zooming around the ranch in a big ol’ Lincoln convertible.  LBJ really came across as a very human kind of guy, and one with a deep connection to the ranch that had been in his family for years.  It was well worth the time spent.

My favorite part, though, were some of the letters sent to LBJ.  Hope they make you smile as much as they did me – I doubt if Obama gets such ‘human’ mail.  20150309_14003520150309_14005420150309_14012120150309_14021320150309_140224Before leaving, we did decide to take the quick driving tour around the Ranch.  It’s still a working ranch, so we had to wait for goats and steers to move off the road in spots.  20150309_14415120150309_144438Finally!  We roll into McKinney Falls State Park, in the southeast corner of Austin.  We’ve only been able to get a two-night reservation, and it’s already 5pm of Day 1.The rain we encountered on the road was a deluge in Austin – a record-breaking 2″.  The Park is soaked – the initial site they assigned us to was unacceptable.  The fire pit was surrounded by a moat at least a foot and a half wide.  We would have to have waded to the picnic table.  We drove round and round, finally picking a site that had an elevated picnic table.  It’s pretty choice, and we’re happy.  The best news came on Day 2 – our request for two more nights became a reality, because of a cancellation.  So, we’ve got time to explore.

Jezzy has spent lots of time in the truck this past week, so we decide to explore the Falls around the park with her before leaving for the afternoon.  In terms of waterfalls, they’re not much, but the riverbed is an old lava field.20150310_095908 All of the little craters in the surface were water-filled.  It’s REALLY wet around here!20150310_095946Finally, we pump tires, and plot out a route into downtown Austin.  Should be about a 45 minute ride, in this bicycle-friendly town.  Most of the route is on roads with bike lanes, and the rest is on bike paths.  Well, mostly……

We’re navigating a tricky section where the bicycle lane suddenly vanishes, leaving us to fend for ourselves on a four-lane highway passing beneath the expressway.  There’s a beatup pickup truck stalled, and one guy is trying to push it.  “We should help”, I said to John, so we leaned our bikes on a bridge support, and moved in to provide a little muscle.

Let me set the scene for you a bit.  John and I are wearing our bike shoes (and our geeky helmets).  We are joined in our pushing effort by the frail-looking guy selling newspapers on the corner.  This is not the most prosperous side of town.  “WE RUN OUTTA GAS!!!!  JUS’ NEED TO PUSH ‘ER AROUND THE CORNER TO THE SERVICE STATION!!”, shouts the guy who was Pusher #1.  I’m on the side of the truck behind the driver, and he looks like he’s having the time of his life.  Laughing and smiling encouragement to me in the rearview mirror.  John and I sound like Budweiser Clydesdales in our bike shoes.  KLOP!  KLOP!!  Must have looked ridiculous.  Things are going okay until we have to go around a corner, and it’s ever so slightly uphill.  The newspaper guy, Pusher #2 is wheezing and panting – I’m not sure if he’s going to make the last 100 yards into the gas station.  We finally get the truck up into the lot, and the driver coasts up to a pump.  Pusher #2 is bent over, hands on knees, trying not to throw up.  We wave, and go off to retrieve our bikes.  Good deed for the day is done.

On we go.  Rolling down a smooth street with a nice wide bike lane, we pass a bus stop.  A crazy-looking guy wearing three hats, clutching a bottle in a brown bag leaps off the curb in front of John and hollers, “LANCE ARMSTRONG CAN KISS MY ASS!”  Well……ok.  We’re off to a fine start here in Austin, TX.

The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful, not counting the flat tire on John’s bike.  Repair went quickly, and we resumed our journey, ironically, to Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop.  20150310_142252Lance Armstrong was a partner in this shop at one time, and it’s full of bikes that he and other teammates rode.  The first Livestrong bike is there, many signed yellow jerseys, and other stuff.  20150310_143856It makes me sad and angry to think of what a jerk he bacame.  End of editorial.  But, it’s a pretty cool bike shop.

Time to begin our Brisket Quest.  John has picked La Barbecue as Stop #1.  Once again, we are so happy to be on bikes.  This joint is a gravel parking lot with a few tent-covered picnic tables.  Two huge smokers are in trailers, an another smaller trailer is used for the food service window.20150310_15091420150310_150653We’re there late for lunch (around 2pm), and most items are sold out.  We do get a chopped brisket and a pulled pork sandwich, and a side of pinto beans to share.  Beans great, brisket great, pork fair.  That’s my review.  John goes crazy and decides that he wants to get ribs to take back to the Fireball for dinner.  Sold out.  The only thing available is (the last) beef rib.  At $20/pound, this little treat comes to $38!!  Want to see what $38 worth of takeout beef rib looks like?ribToo bad we didn’t photograph it on its greasy butcher paper.  It was stellar.  Crusty and chewy, the meat inside still moist and tender.  La Barbecue knows what they’re doing.

This is an interesting neighborhood.  Apparently, this guy has a fascination with wheeled stuff, which he displays in his yard.  20150310_152958He’s also a bird lover, and buys big boxes of donuts which he puts on a big spindle on the vacant lot across the street (this we learned from his sister, who was in the car behind John).  She invited us to come back with a big truck and take all the crap we wanted out of the yard.  Wonder what his neighbors think?

Just down the street was another interesting sight.  20150310_15324420150310_153410Seems like anything goes in Austin!

We’re getting back on the bikes this afternoon, heading back into the city for more treats and eye candy.  Sure wish the sun would come out for a bit.



This is Why People Don’t Like Michigan

Back in Michigan, and back in the Eastern Time Zone, we find ourselves nearly drowning, then freezing to death.  Grim weather is sparking discussion of whether we should just point the Fireball toward the Bridge, then home.

We left Wisconsin in the pouring rain, and headed to FW Wells State Park in Michigan.  Two days of rain had left many of the sites there submerged. 20141015_142956 Luckily, the park was deserted, so finding a spot above the waterline wasn’t a problem.  The view would have been great – we were 40′ from Lake Michigan, but gray/rain/wind doesn’t make for many great photos.20141015_144029On to Fayette State Park, a spot we designated as a ‘must’ when planning our trip.  We snagged a campsite elevated from most of the mud, and put up our awnings, hoping for a dryout during our two-day stay.  Again, we had the park to ourselves. 20141017_152949 The last of the yellow maple leaves were falling in earnest, pushed by gusty winds.  A hundred yards away, Big Bay de Noc was roaring – smallish waves very close together smashing on shore.

Fayette was a mining town from 1867 to 1890, when the smelter ran for its last day on December 1.  For the next 50 years, there was a bit of hunting/fishing tourism business, before the State purchased the entire area and designated it a Historical State Park.  What a treasure! 20141017_132702 The entire town is there to wander – the gorgeous house of the mine Superintendent, homes of the foremen, businesses and community buildings, and one reconstructed home of a laborer.  Rather than spit out a history lesson, I’ll just show the photos.

The heart of the operation was the smelter.20141017_121849The smelter was fed by huge kilns which held 35 cords of wood each, producing charcoal to run the blast furnaces.  The wood was loaded into the kiln, set afire, then left to heat for 6-8 days, producing charcoal.  Here’s the outside of a kiln.20141017_122852And the inside….20141017_122926The Superintendent’s home from across Snail Shell Harbor.20141017_123407The town center included a music hall, community buildings, and company stores.20141017_120501As well as an enormous hotel.20141017_113732Here are a few other random shots from the day.20141017_11550820141017_12363420141017_12522420141017_13153520141017_12040920141017_12374820141017_11371720141017_110559Along the Trail to the Park, we found this ancient cedar, which has obviously been the setting for many a photo.20141017_115605We were lucky to get there when we did.  At the Visitor Center, we learned that the Park would close for the season the next day.

Of course, I had to wander down to the St. Peter The Fisherman cemetery.  Set at the end of a muddy trail, it was a serene, if somewhat decrepit resting spot.20141017_15153820141017_151301We left Fayette after five straight days of rain.  Luckily (I guess we have to look at it this way….), when the rain stopped, the wind picked up, and dried out our awnings before we had to pack them up.  But, oh did the wind ever howl!  The temperature as we packed up was in the low 40s.  Winds were 10-20mph, gusting to 30.  Top that off with gray, overcast skies, and you’ve got yourself a day when you really want to just cover up and stay in.

But, no……off we go to Palms Book State Park, home of the Big Spring, Kitch-iti-kipi, a 200 foot wide, 40 feet deep freshwater spring. 20141018_115437 The cool thing here?  You see the spring from a big square barge-like raft with a viewing hole in the middle.  It runs across the spring on a huge cable which is powered by turning a large captain’s wheel.20141018_115605 Out in the middle of the spring, the bright green clear water is teeming with huge trout. 20141018_121138 The circles on the bottom are the spring boiling up through the silt.  It’s eerie.20141018_120636 This would have been the perfect spot for me to shoot a brief video, but leaning over the water with a death grip on my camera, it didn’t seem like such a good idea at the time.  (That’s the bad thing about a cell phone camera – no strap to hook it to your wrist for these situations!).20141018_120524Captain John drives the barge back to the dock.  Interesting group of passengers…20141018_121550There’s nothing else at this State Park to see or do, so we head to nearby Indian Lake State Park to camp for a night.  The wind is howling, and it’s bitterly cold outside.  Once again, we find ourselves a day ahead of the Park closing for the season.  We hope somebody appears at this cool Alta camper, so that we can get a peek inside.  The black parts are all smoked plexiglass, so the entire inside of the camper is a panoramic view.  This would be a gorgeous camper to have in some of the big National Parks in the Southwest.  As it was, these folks just have a view of a gray day through black windows.  20141018_174723 Like idiots, we had planned a Dutch oven dinner, so we sheltered the oven as best we could from the winds blast and cooked dinner.  Great dinner, but a really unpleasant cooking experience.  This morning, it’s 26 degrees outside, as I write this.  But, sunshine….we are encouraged.

We’re finding that many of the State Forest and National Forest campgrounds are closed for the season.  Our plans had been to skip along the Lake Michigan shoreline, as we did Lake Superior, checking out the changing views, finding a hike or two, then moving on.  Now, we’re uncertain.  We are tugged toward throwing in the towel and heading home, but hesitant to do so.  Hoping that a day or two with decent temperatures and a bit of sunshine will keep us on the road.  We’ll see….


Wandering Wisconsin

While pouring over maps trying to decide our destination for the next couple of days, we spot an attraction called Wisconsin Concrete Park.  “Nah”, I said to John, “it’s probably just a big skateboard park.”  Wrong-o!  It’s a sculpture park, all works by Fred Smith, who lived and worked in the area until his death at the age of 89 in 1976. 20141013_105311 The Park is now part of the Price County Park system, and includes the Smith family home.  It’s a curious spot, well worth a visit.  The sculptures are concrete, inlaid with pieces of glass, which seem to be primarily from colored bottles.  20141013_110915Apparently, he used real horse skulls in some of the horse sculptures to ensure that he had the heads shaped correctly. 20141013_10402720141013_105052This one was called Double Wedding.20141013_104834This one was Sun Yet Sen, a “China Woman”.  Not sure what’s with the mustache.20141013_104501 Many of the sculptures are still in need of repairs to replace fallen-out pieces of glass. Others have been restored. 20141013_10412920141013_10533620141013_110709 This one was my favorite because of the old Standard Oil Red Crown on the driver’s head.  My dad was a Standard Oil agent for many years, and we had a Red Crown (from the top of the old gas pumps) in our garage for years.20141013_105442Moving on, we steam toward Governor Thompson State Park.  Along the way, we notice a variety of fir tree which is bright yellow.  They are gorgeous.  But, after a bit of internet searching, it seems as though these trees may be on death’s door, as the result of some type of mite.  In any case, we saw hundreds of them along the road.  I hope they are just some variety of ‘evergreen’ which isn’t, but I fear they are doomed.20141013_115559As the miles pass, we reflect that we’ve stayed in lots of pretty cushy campsites lately, and have gotten away from the National and State Forest campgrounds we love.  So, as we pass a sign pointing to a National Forest Campground, we make a snap decision to change plans.  And so, we find ourselves camped at Richardson Lake Campground in the Nicolet National Forest, near Wabeno, WI.  Great decision!

We pull into an empty campground, having our choice of 27 spectacular sites.  We drive twice around, and finally pick site #1. 20141013_160228 All the sites are HUGE, well wooded.  The pit toilets are pristine – it looks like no one has camped here for quite some time.  There are some yellow leaves on the treetops, but the paths into each campsite have not been driven into.  We quickly established camp before the rain began.  It rained for 14 hours straight, quit for about six, and has been raining every since.  Oh well…..we set up our Thermarest awning (attaches right to the Fireball) and also another awning over the picnic table for some cooking space.  We created a Dutch oven dinner of short ribs braised in red wine with carrots, butternut squash, and dried shiitake mushrooms.  Enough for two days.  Yum!

During the lull in the storm, Jezzy and I strolled around, hiking out to the highway where we saw these two amazing barns on a nearby farm.  They were enormous.20141014_14014020141014_140052Tomorrow will take us back into Michigan, as we begin to wind down our northern adventure.  No hurry, but we gotta get home one of these days….