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?

Hot Fun in the Sun

It has been a week long on fun, and short on quality photos. There’s a lot to be said about having such a great time that you forget to record anything for future reference. What was all the fun about?

20180126_11331482552024.jpgT@bazona! An annual gathering in the Arizona desert of fun-minded folks who share a passion for camping in their T@Bs, T@Gs, and T@DAs, T@B and T@DA share a common heritage, as they were both manufactured by Dutchman – T@B from 2004-09, and T@DA from 2008-10. Dutchman then got out of the small trailer business, and the T@B line was picked up by Nucamp. It’s more of a traditional teardrop shape than ours is, but loaded with charm and features. A T@G is an even smaller version – about the size of a queen-sized bed, most (?) with a clamshell kitchen.

We registered to join T@bazona last summer, and were fortunate to snag a site in the Usery Park group campground (no electric/water), where we camped with 25 other campers adjacent to the main campground, home to another 30 or so nestled in gorgeous sites with electric/water, firepits, and picnic tables.20180124_1428551804002955.jpg There were probably 80 people in all. This gorgeous county park in Maricopa County (Phoenix) is a a treasure – a maze of hiking/biking/bridal trails encircle the campground.

It’s beautifully maintained – kudos to the folks here who support this wonderful park system with their tax dollars. We’ve stayed at other Parks in the County, and they are all places to which we would return.

T@bazona is socializing with like-minded campers, sharing food, campfires, and the occasional adult beverage, and (of course) camping stories, tips, and tricks.20180127_1816321517153322.jpgThat’s the #1 reason we enjoy these rallies so much – avid campers trick out their rigs, and are proud and happy to show off the results. It’s all about solar, storage, decorative tips, towing, WiFi, and awnings/shelters. We had campers from as far away as Maryland, two rigs from Michigan, and from all points inbetween – everyone has their own style.

We have an organized sort of Parade of Homes, where  we traipse from camper to camper looking at all the cool stuff everyone has done. Most of the attendees were in T@Bs, along with a handful of T@Gs. We were the sole T@DA this year. Here are a few things that I’d never seen before (remember, I warned you that I took very few photos)…

Solar oven. There were cookies baking inside. Not sure how great this would be in Michigan, but it seems tailor-made for Arizona.20180127_144242408289790.jpgHow about this nifty propane radiant heater? Never seen one of these before. This could heat up our little awning on a chilly night.20180131_1713591686625743.jpgWe’re not big on game playing, but who wouldn’t love T@B checkers?20180127_135748656221599.jpgOur next project may be to develop some kind of aerial pole thingy to boost our wifi cell service. In areas where we have a weak signal, we usually wind up putting one of our phones on the roof of the Campsh@ck to boost the signal for our hotspot. I’ve been campaigning for John to mount a flagpole holder on the camper, and put a fishing pole in the holder. We could put the cell phone in a baggie on a hook and raise it up above the roofline to boost signal. Not pretty or elegant, but hopefully effective. John took a bunch of photos of possible projects, but he’s being pretty secretive about sharing them (for now, anyway).

We did get in a hike to the wind cave at Usery, with camping pals Mickie and Kim. 20180126_1020002127100023.jpg20180126_095349926059056.jpgIt was a gorgeous morning for a hike, and we wound up and up along the trail to the cave, about 1000′ elevation over a two-mile hike. Perfect morning to hit the trail, and I’m happy we got our hike done by the time the afternoon furnace-like heat kicked in.

After four days, it was time to leave. We were excited to head to Catalina State Park for a rendezvous with our Vermont friends (and former T@DA owners) Cathie and Jay. They’ve since moved on to an Airstream, but retain a small-camper enthusiasm for the outdoor life. We hoped for a more sedate experience in Catalina than the last time we visited. 

Go for a hike? Sure? We wandered up the trail with Jay to Romero Pools, which we have visited a few times in the past. It was shocking to see how little water there was.20180129_110405959072727.jpg20180129_110647-11827750297.jpg Where’s the pool? Other times we have visited, we’ve been treated to the delightful sound of running water down the mountainside into the pools, and dozens of hikers cooling off hot feet in the cool flowing water. This was a very different experience. Nearly barren. It was hot on the trail – we suffered.20180129_115821-11850123116.jpgEverything here is so dry – we are one matchstick away from a catastrophe, it seems. In the seven or eight years I’ve been coming to this area, this is the first time where there has been ZERO snow in the upper elevations. Mount Lemmon has an elevation of about 9200′ – there should be some snow up there in January. Seems like this is a bad sign for the area in the coming months.

Ahhhh….we’re now in the comfort of our Madera Canyon cabin. If you are a reader of this blog from a year ago, you’ll recognize this view.20180131_170553-11329694649.jpg Yep. For the next month, we are stretching out. Hike. Bird-watching. Coatimundi. Time with my sisters (who are both in the area for this month). SuperBowl. Cycling. If you want to find me in the next month, I’d suggest you look on the porch swing on the right.

We began our first day here with the most incredible views from of the supermoon eclipse. Set our alarm for 4:30 am, and sat outside with coffee, watching the eclipse develop over the mountainside. For the second time in a year, I was very sad not to have photography equipment up to the challenge of a celestial event. It was magnificent.

Feeling very peaceful….wishing the same for you.

 

 

Down South

What a pleasure to visit to these two scenic antebellum (pre-Civil War) cities – Savanah and Charleston. Nothing in my experience compares to these graceful places, full of beauty, and dark history. We loved the lessons here.

Our headquarters for Savannah was Skidaway Island State Park, a gorgeous campground that just whispers Old South. Heavy tree limbs drip with moss and a mixture of pines and live oaks add a sense of mystery.20171014_125041549243403.jpg Super camping. A bonus was meeting another T@DA camper for the first time in five years. We loved meeting Laurie with her socutecamper.com 20171021_065211465471828.jpgTo explore Savannah, we opted to drive a few miles from the campground through narrow causeways and lowland highways to a spot where we could comfortably cycle into the City. It was a perfect combination of low-stress touring for us. Old historic Savannah is crammed with (other) camera-toting tourists, horse drawn carriages, pedicabs, and open-air trolleys – each vying for the best view of the myriad city squares and historic sites. 20171014_124939757713312.jpgThere are so many beautiful sights.20171014_122649-2439994220.jpg20171014_1408181776209822.jpgAt Skidaway, we also enjoyed a hike through the steamy low country. 20171015_120205781837956.jpgThe Park trail took us past the remains of an old still (with axe marks where the US Agents chopped it up!) and some beautiful coastal views.

We also saw trenches, hand-dug by slaves, which were built to shelter the Confederate troops who were guarding the coastal waterways. What a difficult life this must have been – even the task of supplying fresh water to these areas must have been monumental, not to mention food and shelter.

Tybee Island was a nearby beach-y town recommended by a few friends. Beautiful beach and lighthouse, but the heat and humidity were still killing us. 20171016_1152571044692995.jpg 20171021_064814788401094.jpgIt’s HARD to enjoy a calm ocean when there’s no breeze, and the sweat is ruining your eyesight. It was still nearly 90 degrees and a dew point in the mid-70s. Plus, the beach just isn’t my idea of fun. But, still a pretty wonderful view, isn’t it? (Temps finally returned to a more normal mid-70s on our last night in Savannah, and have been perfect since. Whew!)

We decided to visit Fort Pulaski National Monument on the way back to camp, not knowing what to expect. Named after Revolutionary War hero Casmir Pulaski, the moated Civil War-era fort is a thoughtful history lesson. 20171016_1330531126798860.jpgOver 20 years in construction, it surrendered in its first fight with Union forces in 1962, and then became a prison for Confederate soldiers. Its demise? It was armored with cannons which had a 1/2 mile range. 20171016_135142268435691.jpgBut, by the time the War began, the Union forces had rifled cannons which could reach 1-1/2 miles. After just two hours, the fort’s interior walls were breached with cannonfire, and the Fort surrendered. It was converted into a prison for the remainder of the War.

On to Charleston, where we scored a site at the very busy county park at James Island where we met up with a bunch of T@B campers, at the beginning of their 12-day Coastal Caravan Tour. We didn’t spend a lot of time together, having our own plans set to explore this new (to us) city, but we did have a very memorable dinner together at Home Team BBQ. We actually had rolled in for lunch there one day, and went back for dinner with the group the next. You know it was GOOD!20171018_141530115475423.jpg Great food, Motown, Aretha, and other awesome R & B. And a fabulous selection of whiskey (of which we did NOT partake).

Charleston blew me away. The Battery section of the city along the waterfront is an amazing collection of gigantic, gracious antebellum homes. 20171021_065419567180488.jpgThere are beautiful architectural details everywhere. I’ve got dozens of photos I’d like to share, but am limited by bandwidth restrictions to upload. 20171018_132846512663229.jpg20171021_065627257959914.jpg20171018_133233198544850.jpgAs in Savannah, we drove into a City park, then unloaded our bikes and pedaled from there on. The very first unexpected sight we stumbled on was The Citadel.20171018_1040291868736530.jpg This gorgeous military academy campus was curiously quiet. We cycled around the perimeter, but most of the buildings were off-limits (including this one).20171021_065331950025628.jpgWe had earmarked a possible tour of Fort Sumter, which we ultimately decided not to take. It involved a boat ride across some fairly choppy waters (I’m not a fan). The Fort Sumter Visitor Center was informative, and clinched our decision not to visit the actual Fort.

The Charleston Slave Mart was another site we earmarked for a visit. 20171018_1248251436511372.jpgWe were surprised to find it on an historic cobblestone street, which was tortuous to ride on our bikes (so happy we had our mountain bikes, not our skinny-tire road bikes!!). The surface of this street, probably restored many times, is likely 200 years old. 20171018_1207161900907274.jpgThe Slave Mart operated as an actual auction house for slaves. South Carolina had a big stake in slavery – it was the first State to secede from the US. Of the 15 plantations in the US with more than 500 slaves, 7 were in South Carolina. No photos are allowed inside the site, but there are so many shameful artifacts of slavery, I was glad not to take any photos.

Churches, homes, parks – there are plenty of amazing sights to feast upon in this beautiful, graceful old city.20171018_142800565955746.jpg20171014_1334041264106961.jpg20171018_1726591009986668.jpgTwo other brief Charleston expeditions – by bike to the Angel Oak Tree, which is probably the largest living organism east of the Mississippi. This enormous live oak tree has a branch which extends 187 feet from the center.20171019_11312458226141.jpg20171019_1132041048024302.jpg It’s amazing to see, on a par with the giant Sequoias and Redwoods of California. With a lifespan of 900 years, the Angel Oak is in mid-life. Heavily damaged in the 1990s by Hurricane Hugo(?), it still thrives, although most of the limbs on one side are missing.

Our other outing in Charleston was another beach visit to Folly Beach. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a stroll through the beach town. 20171019_183402459638010.jpgIt was the perfect way to end our stay in Charleston.

Now it’s Friday night (10/19). We had reservations at nearby Givhans Ferry State Park, a short drive from Charleston. We arrived, set up, and proceeded to enjoy a beautiful afternoon in a quiet park. Around 5pm, a Ranger drove up and said we were occupying a site reserved by another camper. What??!! I had the site reserved (or so I thought). Apparently, my reservation was not confirmed. My first Reservation Screwup in five years! No other sites were available at this small park, nor at any of the other parks within 30 miles of here. We finally secured a site for one night (the last one of 150 campsites) at Santee State Park. What a circus this campground is! We checked in and set up in the dark. (First time for that, and I hope it’s the last!). Tomorrow we will be homeless (no sites available) and will have to search out a new spot. Oh well, lots of time to work that out.

 

 

Real Camping Life

Since leaving StinkBugLand, aka Ohio, our camping fortunes have greatly improved. We wandered across the border into Virginia, and holed up for three nights at Stony Fork Campground in the Jefferson National Forest. A green shady (mostly) quiet oasis. After just a few days on the road, we were already mighty tired of peering through the windshield. A few days in the woods were exactly what we needed.

Sadly, I don’t have photos of this campsite, due to my own incompetence and lack of understanding between the relationship of my Android photos, Google photos, WordPress, and (perhaps) Windows 10. Stuff I thought was uploaded has disappeared. Oh well. Wait, John had one – here it is.IMG_0887We strapped on our hiking boots and hit the Seven Sisters Trail for some much needed exercise. Although big panoramic views were blocked by the trees, we enjoyed the ascent and stroll along a winding ridge, up to an elevation of just over 3300′. Happy feet!wp-image-1867635873Some of you readers may have seen a Facebook post from this location, where I mentioned my displeasure with one aspect of this campsite. In a National Forest campground, the policy apparently is that camp hosts MUST blow leaves from the streets using. While this was roundly discussed on the FB pages, I still am amazed at this policy. To blow leaves off the streets in the forest seems stupid and needlessly disrespectful of the quiet nature of camping in the woods. The arguments about safety, potential lawsuits, and the beauty of a pristine setting unsullied by leaves on the street just don’t cut it with me. It’s a Forest! Leaves fall. Let the wind push them around, but leave the gas-powered blowers off.

After two days of sitting in the woods, we decided to venture into the nearest town for a meander, and to gather a few supplies.First, we headed to the Walker Mountain Lookout, where we paid $6 to climb a tower a few hundred feet up into the wind. wp-image-2003259020The views up there were incredible, although the wind velocity made me a bit uneasy. I could imagine myself sailing over the fence like a Yugo over the Mackinac Bridge.wp-image-1063929515On into the town of Wytheville (pronounced Withville), we went. Of course, that meant a stop for a hotdog at historic Skeeter’s (over 9 million hotdogs sold!).wp-image-110177072 While perched at the lunchcounter enjoying our hotdogs, we learned that the Skeeter’s building was the childhood home of Edith Wilson, the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson. In fact, next door was the Edith Wilson Museum. Of course, we had to go in, where we were greeted by one of the most enthusiastic, theatrical volunteer docents we have ever met. We watched the ten minute film, explored the artifacts, and learned a bit about the only First Lady ever to come from Appalachia. It was a quality afternoon.

Next up is Jordan Lake Recreation Area in Pittsboro NC, where we once again joined up with a gang of folks with T@DAs and T@Bs for a few nights. We were impressed with the quality of the campground at Jordan Lake, a State Park. We had a huge site with our own private little water’s edge sitting area.wp-image-1592096609 Most of our friends were all in the electric/water sites, while we chose a site in the rustic area, relying on our solar panels to keep the lights on and refrigerator running. With just a few tent campers for neighbors, it was calm and beautiful.wp-image-2044354567We did the usual catching up with old friends – sharing potluck breakfasts and happy hours. Here’s a photo of our hostess Jen with her ‘Easy Bake Oven’ – a propane campstove/oven combination.wp-image-470438259 John and I laughed about how shiny and undented it was, knowing that if it were ours, it surely wouldn’t be so pristine! A few other folks brought bikes, so we wandered off on Saturday morning for a 30-mile roll. Perfect weather and a lively pace made it a great ride. We met lots new friends, and picked up info on a few promising-sounding campgrounds for future visits. We find that folks camping in small trailers like us are an agreeable and friendly group, and we’ve made many real friends among them.

Now it’s Sunday afternoon, and nearly all the other campers have left, headed toward home and Monday workdays. We’re here for one more night, then we’re going to move on to nearby Raleigh to explore the state Capitol, and nose around a city that’s new to both of us. After that, we’re pointed to Asheville, southern NC, then on toward Atlanta.

Hoping for better luck with photos and technology!

 

Arizona, Ammo, Axle

Like a big sodden blanket, inertia has settled in at Camp Fireball. Seems like we barely move some days – gotta shake this off!

Leaving Joshua Tree NP, we headed to Lake Pleasant Regional Park near Phoenix for a rally with a bunch of T@Bs and T@DAs.20160122_173957 It’s always great to meet folks with like-style campers. We never fail to pick up tips for storage, cool spots to camp, and new gadgets to jazz up our camp. A cool little swivel table we saw here will be our next Fireball addition. But, we’re still not ready for exterior customization like the T@DA Goldie.20160123_104759 Outrageous graphics +glued-on jewels set Goldie out in any crowd.

Jezzy HATED Lake Pleasant. Our campsite was perched on a ridge at the far edge of the campground.20160122_174514 Sounds from a shooting range five miles away had her quivering and scared 18 hours a day. We probably wouldn’t go back here – the lake is the big attraction, and we’re not watersport people. There really wasn’t much else in the area that appealed to us.

We did venture into Phoenix one day to visit the Capitol.20160125_125752 The original Capitol building is now a museum, flanked on both sides by more modern buildings where government building is conducted. “East Germanesque” is how one website described these facilities. Here’s the photo – you decide. 20160125_130422The inside of the Capitol/museum is very plain. There’s a dome, but it’s painted pure white inside – no Greek goddesses holding scrolls of wisdom here! My favorite exhibit was the Arizona Lego Flag. It’s constructed of 114,000 Lego blocks, one for each of Arizona’s square miles.20160125_121307One whole room of the museum was dedicated to the USS Arizona, which was sunk at Pearl Harbor. I was astounded to learn that the Arizona had a custom-designed Reed & Barton silver service, which had not been onboard at the time of its sinking (it had been removed for refurbishment). These ornate pieces are displayed here, and they are gorgeous.20160125_12541520160125_125220A huge memorial plaza surrounds the government buildings. Here are memorials to soldiers fallen in each of the conflicts since Arizona became a state in 1912. In addition, there are memorials dedicated to the WWII Navaho Code-Talkers,20160125_130709 fallen firefighters and police officers, police service dogs, and 9-11. Remember the 19 Prescott firefighters killed in 2014? It was startling to see such a large group of names engraved on the memorial. The mast of the Arizona, as well as a 16″ gun are also installed in the Park. The entire area is beautifully executed with life-sized bronze figures, sculptures, and signage. The sheer size of the monuments and the bright sunshine made photos difficult.

We were happy to move on to Gilbert Ray Campground in Tucson. 20160129_150605Set in the Tucson Mountains near the Desert Museum, this huge county park offers a great selection of trails for hiking and biking. We’ve got a great site, although once again a nearby shooting range has Jezzy cowering. What is it with Arizonians and their guns, anyway? (OK, let’s NOT get into that!)

We hiked up Brown Mountain and enjoyed views of the Tucson Valley, even though it’s shrouded in smog-like dust. 20160129_13020620160130_10463820160130_11584520160130_103323 We cycled around Saguaro National Park West. 20160129_130250At Signal Hill, ancient petroglyphs still adorn the rocks here, created by the Hohokam hundreds of years ago.20160129_13350920160129_133439One bad thing? It seems as though the Saga of the Fireball Axle has at least one more chapter to be written. John has been watching our tire wear – we replaced one tire on our trip last fall. That tire is already showing signs of wear, and the tire on the opposite side with about 12,000 miles is nearly shot. He called the shop in Grand Rapids where we had the axle installed. Whoops – they no longer have a service department. So, we got a recommendation for a frame/axle shop in Tucson, and rolled in for a consultation. The guy took one look at things and said “I can see right away that this isn’t right”. He’s going to contact Alko, the axle manufacturer, and attempt to get a replacement under warranty. (We just had it installed in May 2014). If not, we’re going to have to get another new axle. Apparently, there’s a camber problem that cannot be repaired. Incredible.

Monday, we move on to Green Valley for a month. This will be a different kind of camping for us, as we’ll be installed in an RV park with nearby neighbors. A social experiment?