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.

 

 

Lonely

It’s been called the Loneliest Highway in America, and whoever coined that phrase sure knew what she was talking about. That’s US 50, running west to east across northern Nevada. In two days, we probably didn’t see 75 cars on the road over about 400 miles. That’s lonely.

My expectations for US 50 were low. Scrubby desert, beige, barren and trashy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was more like driving through Death Valley – an amazing array of colors and textures, punctuated by historical landmarks. US 50 is the Lincoln Highway, after all….

We stopped to see landmarks for the Pony Express, which ran along this route.20160417_134755 Hard to imagine the hard lives of the riders, and also of the men who manned the stations, maintaining fresh horses and supplies.

There was also the occasional huge sand dune, totally out of place against the desert landscape. One huge dune begged for a photo, but I was so disappointed in the result that I’m not posting it. Without anything nearby for scale, the photo has no impact.

Another interesting portion of the Highway, stretching for about 6-10 miles had low sandy banks on each side. People had left messages with black stones – mostly about who loves whom, but some about world peace, high school graduations, and whatnot. It was charming.

We stopped at Grimes Point to view petroglyphs that are nearly 1000 years old. In this small area, nearly a thousand of these ancient etchings existed.20160417_12381620160417_12373220160417_124026 But, some of the rocks have been defaced, and appear to have markings indicating that the petroglyphs  had been chiseled off.

John located a spectacular (free!) campground for us for the evening called Hickison Petroglyphs. In this 16 site campground, we were the only campers. See us in the center of the photo? Do we look lonely?20160417_170138 We picked a site with a great view, and had our own sheltered picnic table and vault toilets. Bad point? The trash. All the bins were overflowing, and previous campers had left their trash on the ground, bagged up for the critters to get into. Idiots and jerks. It was the only low point of this great site. We hiked the interpretative trail, and totally enjoyed this unique BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground.

The next lonely day took us to Great Basin National Park, located in northeastern Nevada. Once again, we found ourselves nearly the only campers in a pristine campground.20160418_150029 I can’t say enough positive things about camping here. It is spectacular. The Great Basin actually covers most of northern Nevada, although the National Park is just a small piece of it. The Great Basin is this huge area where the only water is what falls here, as a result of rain or snow. No rivers flow into or out or it. We’re camped at Baker Creek Campground, high desert at about 7500+ feet. We hear the creek roaring from snow melt from nearby Wheeler Mountain and other peaks, and the wind whistles through the spruce trees, which are everywhere. That’s the only sound. No cars, no generators, no voices. Lots of turkeys, although we never actually saw any of them.

We hiked twice, taking the Scenic Drive as far as we could until it was blocked off. John, Jezzy, and I then hoofed it up the road about 2-1/4 miles to Mather Lookout (about 9200′) where we were treated to spectacular views of Wheeler.We passed a few altitute markers.20160419_11183920160419_122419 Some of the spruce trees here are bursting with pinecones. Many of them had thousands of budding cones – a sight I’ve never seen before.20160419_113137Again, we were the only ones here – how many people get to experience their own private National Park?

This park is home to the Bristlecone Pine, an ancient tree which grows at high altitudes for thousands of years. After it dies, some of the trunks remain for another two thousand years or so, before the wind and elements wear them down. There’s a young (probably transplanted) specimen near the Visitor Center, and it’s the most amazing tree. 20160419_145833 The needles are short and thick with an extra resinous coating to reduce moisture loss. They are incredibly dense. Although I scoured the campground for more Bristlecones, I wasn’t able to find any. In the Park, they are all above the 10,000′ mark, which was inaccessible to us on foot. Photos of the ancient Bristlecones show windblown, hardy trees. It was so sad not to be able to see them, since this seems to be our Trip of Trees.

Today we hiked up Baker Creek, and the South Fork from about 7500′ to just over 9000′ feet. We were thwarted in our original plan, as the Trail forked, and both directions were deeply snow covered, unlike this photo, which is just slightly snow-covered.20160420_112152 Without any other footprints to keep us from wandering off the trail into the wilderness, we felt we had to turn back.We passed this grove of birch trees, which all had a sensuous bend near the ground. Tough to get a good photo, but I hope you get the idea.20160420_122117 So, it was three miles up, three miles back. We passed through alpine meadows and followed the rushing creek, so it was a pleasurable hike in any case.

There are many other amazing sights in this remote National Park. As we drove in, we thought there was a deer on this small bank. 20160419_144914It actually was a stone statue of a giraffe, although one of its horns was busted. Giraffe? Nevada? In the Visitor Center, there’s a 132 year old Winchester Rifle which was found leaning against a tree in a remote area in 2014. Imagining the story behind this sets my imagination racing. The rifle has been restored, and sits in a protective glass case.20160419_102300

I have to be honest and admit that the very first part of our drive leaving Carson City was not so lonely. We decided to detour to Virginia City, an old-timey Western mining town. Part of the silver rush in the late 1850s and 60s, it was a bustling mining town. A devastating fire demolished most of the town in the early 1870s, but it was quickly rebuilt, and it has remained in that state since.20160417_10133420160417_101002 The old buildings, which have been updated somewhat to accommodate electricity and modern plumbing look like another fire waiting to happen.20160417_100849 There are huge timbered facades and wooden sidewalks. Miners, cowboys, and saloon girls in period clothing wandering around. 20160417_102202It was quiet when we wandered through on Sunday morning, but this is certainly a spot which would deserve a second visit.

We head out tomorrow for Bryce Canyon. Our campground will be at 9200′, so we are keeping our fingers crossed for continued great weather. Don’t want to have to winterize on the fly, but we will if we have to!

 

 

Foreign Lands

After traveling around and camping in the US for the past four months, John and I decided to add a bit of international flavor to our trip. So, we jumped on our bikes (from our current base in Carson City, NV) and headed off to the Sovereign Republic of Molossia, a scant twenty miles away. 20160416_115956Never heard of Molossia? I’m shocked!

It all started with an article from Atlas Obscura, which I read just a day or two ago. (I urge you to read this, so you will understand why we needed to make the long trek to a foreign country). It seemed only reasonable to bike up there to see what Molassia is all about. The article linked above indicated that tours would be given on April 16, which just happens to be Obscura Day (whatever that is). We even brought our passports, in hopes of getting the coveted Molossia stamp, which was also referenced in the article.

Well, the welcome mat certainly was not rolled out as we had expected. 20160416_120155No Trespassing signs were everywhere. We were warned not to cross the clearly marked US/Molossia Border, without permission, which we didn’t have. 20160416_120105Inside the Palace or Official Residence, we could hear somebody vacuuming (presumably the President, First Lady, or one of the 31 other citizens of Molossia). We were hesitant to approach.20160416_12032020160416_120426From a distance, we could see the business center of Molossia, which seemed to consist of a Post Office, bank, some kind of t-shirt shop, and a few other sites which were too far away for us to clearly see them. 20160416_120220Fred, the guy at the Border Control station was distinctly unhelpful.20160416_12012020160416_120207After propping our bikes up for a few photos, we sadly pedaled away. 20160416_120251Perhaps if President Kevin Baugh would send the Official State Limo to pick us up, we would consider another visit. Until then – Bah!

On the bright side, we pedaled about 40 miles – checked out Dayton State Park, had a superb (and cheap!) lunch at Compadres in Dayton, and sneaked a peek at some of the treasures stowed away at the Dayton Historical Museum.20160416_130122Here are a few other shots of our day’s adventure around the Dayton/Molossia area.20160416_10365520160416_11185620160416_12564020160416_124921It was a pretty good day.

 

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!

 

 

 

Redrock Nevada

Is it possible to have too much camping surrounded by red rocks with bright blue skies overhead?  A resounding NO!20140309_140026Perhaps our Michigan white-sand backgrounds are coming back to bite us, but we are entranced with solitary off-the-grid camping in the desert Southwest.  After leaving Las Vegas, we headed to Valley of Fire SP, about 50 miles north for a few days of quiet camping.  Due to a nearby NASCAR event, we found the campground fairly crowded, but managed to find a spectacular, secluded site in the primitive area (no electric, pit toilets, bring in your own water).  Right up our alley. What better place to deploy our new 120W solar system (you can see it in the photo).  It kept pace with our power needs for three days.

We hiked and biked every trail in the Park, pondered every petroglyp20140310_154756

and admired petrified logs and unusual rock formations.wpid-20140310_143915.jpg20140311_114240

The best red rock formations earned their own Campshaw nicknames.

Darth Vader20140310_101329

Alison, wearing her helmet20140309_175940

The scrub Nevada desert was beginning to bloom.  Tiny flowers everywhere.wpid-20140310_121627.jpg20140311_114134 Bare windswept rocks, some with mysterious stones piles atop.20140311_114827But, the best of all was the desert tortoise we came across, carrying a grass snack to an unknown destination.20140311_132619  He resolutely passed me, and headed off to his home somewhere in the desert. 20140311_133723 Never thought I would see one of these endangered tortoises, and feel incredibly lucky to have been in the right place in the right time.

The best things in Nevada aren’t all about casinos and money.