Arizona Rains

It’s hard to believe that just a week ago, I posted about the extreme dryness this area of Southeast Arizona has experienced. We had unseasonably warm weather without any significant rain/snowfall in months. One hiker told me that the creeks in Madera Canyon have not had any water running since October.

Well, that has changed! Wednesday morning, the rain began, and it continued until Friday evening. We went from a wide-open view of the Canyon to this one.

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But, the most amazing part of this transformation is one that I can’t share with you. It’s the incredible aroma of Madera Canyon opening up to the rain. It’s as though every tree, grass, and shrub has opened every cell in order to absorb the maximum moisture. In doing so, the most incredible scents have been released – heavy doses of juniper and pine mixed with mesquite and a trace of woodsmoke from our neighbor’s stove. Not just your average “walk in the woods in a rainstorm” scent. (Hey Google! I need an app to capture this – an aromaphoto that I can share. Apple, of course, will call their app iSmell). After the first day of rain, the scent faded away. But it was a fantastic experience while it lasted. In the meantime, green has exploded everywhere. Hillsides full of tough brown grasses are now a pale, hazy green, and the invasive mesquite trees that plague the Arizona landscape have gone from bare skeletons to leafy trees. Does this rapid transformation only happen in extremely dry climates? I don’t know.

When the sun poked out Saturday, we booted up and headed into the Canyon for a hike. It was delightfully cool and fresh. The rushing creek, which we crossed several times was a delight to hear.

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We trekked up the Carrie Nation Mine Trail, where rusted equipment from the copper-mining days of the Canyon, about a hundred years ago, still remains.

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Madera Canyon is full of old mines – we often hike past the Vault Mine, and our rental cabin is on the site of the old Suzi Lode Mine.

Full of energy after being cooped up for three days of rain, we traversed over to the Agua Caliente Trail

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I’m not sure how legal this campfire spot would be, but it had a magnificent view of Green Valley.

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It was just a great day to be out on the Trail.

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That’s Mt. Wrightson in the distance – the highest peak in the area, at about 9700′.

Our half-way point of the hike was Josephine Saddle, where the Boy Scout Monument always makes me pause. Three Boy Scouts lost their lives there in a freak snowstorm in 1958 while on a weekend camping trip.

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The last four miles of our hike were down the Supertrail, where more great Canyon views unfolded. There was much more foot traffic on this portion of our hike – we had the trails all to ourselves on the first part.

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What a great day for a hike!

I’m writing this very late Sunday night (about 3am), and the rain is once again pounding the cabin. We’ve got high wind warnings for Monday, so it’s going to be an interesting day. Desert? Here?

Madera Malaise (the good kind)

Aside

My prediction about (myself) not getting out of the porch swing at our Madera Canyon (AZ) cabin has been self-fulfilling. There really isn’t much to report for the last few weeks.

So far, this year has been very different than last, which was our first time holed up here in the Canyon. Although it’s hard to believe, it is probably 10-15 degrees warmer every day than last year. In addition, the dryness is notable and alarming. For the first time in the nearly 9 years that I’ve been coming to the Green Valley area, (always in February), there is no snow in the upper elevations. Mt. Wrightson, which looms above our cabin, is devoid of snow. There’s no water in the creek which runs alongside the road down to Green Valley. Already, there are reports of two wildfires nearby. While we appreciate the warmer temperatures, the extreme dryness is worrisome. It doesn’t bode well for the long hot summer ahead.

Some things are the same. We’re still chasing the coatimundi away from our birdfeeders. One cheeky dude stands with his feet on the deck railing, and drinks from our hummingbird feeders.20180203_103909.jpgWe put an end to that little trick by raising all of our feeders a few inches – but they still come back and manage to get a snack every day.

While walking Jezzy a few days ago, seven coatimundis ran out in front of us – I thought Jezzy would have a heart attack! To me, coatimundis look like a cross between a raccoon and a monkey, but they can really move when they want to. We love our front-porch view of them every day.20180203_0956021410783041.jpgSpeaking of Jezzy, we have finally unraveled the mystery of her origins. Santa Claus brought her an Embarkvet DNA test, and we have the results. Her mom, maternal grandparents and great-grandparents were pure Boxer. Dad, paternal grandparents and great-grandparents are pure Old English Sheepdog. I guess that makes her an Old English Shebox – 50% Boxer, 50% Old English Sheepdog. Perfect. If you’re interested in seeing the details of her report, or are curious as to what you might find out about your own dog, click here.

It seems like the turkey flock here has grown a thousandfold. As many as 30 at a time congregate in our driveway and yard. One of the big toms has taken a liking (or maybe he wants to fight) our truck. Every morning we hear him banging away at his own reflection in the chrome bumper. It’s crazy.

We’ve hiked a bit, biked a bit. Watched the birds in the feeders. Southern Arizona is a bird-watchers heaven. So many species that we never see in Michigan are hanging out at our feeders here – Acorn Woodpeckers, Arizona Woodpeckers, Mexican Jays, Blue-Throated Hummingbirds, Oregon Junco, and Yellow-Eyed Juncos are regular visitors. It’s delightful.

A week ago, we went on a hike along a four-mile stretch of the D’Anza Historic Trail. The Friends of the D’Anza had a shuttle running, so you could walk from Tubac to Tumacacori and shuttle back. We’d never been on this flat trail, which runs along the (mostly dry) Santa Cruz River, so we headed out with Caroline and Greg. It was a pleasant hike – we met lots of families out for the day, enjoying the great weather. Without the trees in bloom yet, we had mostly a bit of light shade, with a few sections in full sun. 20180204_0929581343161400.jpgA few dicey water crossings added to a really nice hike.20180204_102300649982384.jpgWe ended our hike at the Tumacacori Mission. 20180213_07275675864348.jpgVolunteers had cooked food that was probably eaten by the original Trail travelers – on their journey from Mexico to San Franisco – hoppin John, cornbread, and some type of pudding. It was great. There was also a woman weaving baskets, slowly and patiently, with the most beautiful results. 20180204_111042202089401.jpgOur Vermont camping pals (former T@DA owners) Cathie and Jay have been here for several days. Although I’d have to admit that we’ve spent most of our time catching up on camping gigs and mutual friends, we did decide to venture across the Border to Nogales, Mexico for an afternoon. Folks we consulted said “Don’t do it. Dirty and dangerous.” We found it to be neither. The four-block area nearest the border was filled with Sunday-afternoon families out for a stroll and a snack.

Food vendors were out in force lining the streets, which (during the week) are home mostly to dentists, pharmacies, and eye clinics catering to US citizens crossing the border for inexpensive care.20180211_1326021515109109.jpg Since it was Sunday afternoon, only the pharmacies and restaurants were open, along with the stalls selling t-shirts and trinkets in the outdoor marketplace. But, there were few Americans around with ready cash. All the warnings against travel to the Mexico border towns have taken a toll in tourist traffic, and I’m sure many of the vendors there are suffering financially. But, for a few delightful hours, we wandered around, finishing with a beer/fish taco lunch.

While we were sitting in the restaurant, we did see an open-air Jeep-type vehicle with three heavily armed gendarmes in the back end. Cathie managed to capture a shot of them just as they passed by.img_74111626474770.jpg It was a reminder of the danger of this border city. But, as we wandered a few blocks later, we came upon the gathering of cops/cars, and they were gracious enough to allow Cathie to pose with one of their guys.

One of the cops even used Cathie’s phone to capture the photo. There is a bit of humanity everywhere. We all smiled and shook hands.

Of course, we had to ponder the Wall. Here’s what it looks like from the Mexico side of Nogales.img_74121575077241.jpgIn places, there are benches within a few feet of the wall, many occupied with people – perhaps waiting for their friends or relatives on the US side to connect.

So, that’s the No News Report from Madera Canyon. All is good here, but we’re already struggling with the idea that our time here is already half over! How can that be?

 

 

Keeping It Simple

After a week of nearly perfect camping in Prescott (AZ), we’ve had plenty of time to reflect on why camping makes us happy, and what it is about camping that we really like.

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We’re happiest when everything is simple.

Sounds easy, but it’s really something we’ve had to work at. Our T@DA camper is small – yet we have everything we need to keep us comfy in even the worst of environments (and believe me, we have somehow found them!). In our sixth year on the road, we are still discarding seldom-used items (the cribbage board didn’t make the trip this year), to make space for something we’ll use more. In this spirit, we’ve taken out the television, and replaced it with a basket screwed to the wall where we can accumulate maps and also charge our tablets and phones. Out is the microwave, in its place is a cabinet for food storage. Everything is a compromise.

Yavapai Campground, one of our very favorite sites in Prescott, AZ is a great example of how this works for us. It’s a small campground – 22 sites. There’s no electricity, and just one water pump. A huge benefit is the composting toilets, which use no water or chemicals, and are totally oderless. They are an enormous leap forward over the common pit toilets found in most rustic campgrounds. Sure wish there were more campgrounds using this technology. We love the crisp air (cold and crisp at 5800′ in January!), the large sites, and the quiet. John has rigged 220 watts of portable solar power to keep our lights on and the fridge running.

We love our quiet power source, and it works especially well in the sunny Southwest.

Thank goodness we’re not clothes hounds. Funny, but if you look back over five years of these posts, you’ll see that we wear the same clothes year after year, adding a favorite new t-shirt one year/retiring one. John has his favorite fleece pullovers – the pumpkin one and the red one. I bring the same pink fleece vest, blue hoodie, and cardigan sweater, which I wear every day. This year, I retired my old one, which was threadbare, and replaced it with a brand new one. Heaven! Heavy duty sandals, hiking boots, and cycling shoes account for our footwear (plus shower sandals for public showers). I’d rather go without something than frustrate myself everyday by carrying too much stuff. This certainly isn’t everyone’s system, but it works for us.

We have a small shower we use when there’s not one in the campground, as at Yavapai.20180115_100524.jpgOur 22 gallon water supply, and six gallon gray water tank don’t allow us the luxury of a long shower. In fact, we took four showers, plus used small amounts of water for other things, and still didn’t fill our 6 gallon tank. We have two one-gallon jugs we fill at the pump for drinking water, and water for dishwashing, which we usually do outside. John has rigged a system for shaving and haircuts using the truck mirrors, which is downright comical to watch.20180115_100205513767212.jpg Seems odd, but when there aren’t other mirrors around, it’s all we have.

But, we sure do eat well. We carry a Napoleon propane grill and a CampChef Everest stove along, and use either or both every day. Instead of using individual one-pound tanks, we have a three-pound aluminum tank with two connections. Saves us a ton of money, and we don’t have all empty cannisters to recycle. We often Dutch Oven large batches of stews and chilis, which are wonderful after hikes or bikes rides when we’re hungry and cold.20180117_1742081704686970.jpgWe do cheat a bit and put the Dutch Oven directly on a burner set with as low of a flame as possible. Then, we augment the heat to oven-style by putting heated charcoal briquettes on the lid. Sure, it’s cheating, but we like not using so much charcoal.

There are great hikes in Prescott. The first one on this trip was a new trail (for us) near the campground – about four miles, which meant we could take Jezzy along. There were still remains of a recent bit snow along the trail, which turned the surface into a thick sludge. So much collected in-between Jezzy’s toes that she eventually plunked herself down, and refused to walk any further until John pressed out some of the huge clods, relieving the pressure.20180113_1159431177451577.jpg Back at camp, she needed a footbath which she patiently endured, although it obviously is not something she enjoyed.20180113_1424061900364621.jpgWe drove a bit north to the Watson Lake Recreation Area, for a spectacular hike a day later. Massive granite boulders circle the lake, caused by wind and water erosion. 20180116_114142199644124.jpgRough and gritty, they are perfect for clambering around. We took the trail that circumnavigated the lake, and were treated to stunning views. It was really a fun hike.20180116_122853548826146.jpgImpossible for us to be in Prescott without climbing Granite Mountain, a 7600′ peak that looks over the campground. While not a difficult climb, it’s relentless. We were so happy to get to the top and eat peanut butter sandwiches and Starbucks Double-Shots. Oh yeah.20180118_141301301282709.jpg

On to Lost Dutchman State Park, where we met up with Vern and Ilene, friends from the Phoenix area.20180119_1739441326314844.jpg

20180119_173857.jpgThey were the very first people we met who who also owned a T@DA, and we’ve still maintained a close friendship, even though they’ve moved on in the camping world to a larger motor home. Before the rain and cold moved in, we had one perfect night for a grilled pizza and campfire. There’s lots to catch up with when we only have an annual visit.

The best part? Ilene and I went into Phoenix, where we joined 20,000 other men, women, and children for the Women’s March. 20180121_105917516606138.jpgIt was exhilarating.20180121_1101541533296170.jpg One of the best moments was when we came upon this group of 15 women, all wearing the red gowns and head gear of The Handmaid’s Tale. 20180124_104629-11288863792.jpgThere was a young father pulling his four-year old son in a wagon at about the same point. We heard his plaintive voice, “Who are these people? What is the point?” Ilene and I cracked up. I said to the father, “Good luck with the next 15 years.” He grinned ruefully and replied, “Oh, it’s going to be an interesting discussion at lunch”.

Today, were moving to Usery Mountain Park, where we’ll join about 70 other T@Bs and maybe a T@DA or two for a few days at an event called T@bazona. Some of these folks here we’ve met along the way somewhere, but most of them are unknown to us. We’re looking forward to picking up new tips and camping hacks, and discussing favorite campgrounds. T@B owners are always a lively bunch, and we’re happy to be included in any of the gatherings. Our best camping friendships have resulted from these types of gatherings.

 

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