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.


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.




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.


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



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


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


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.


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.



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.



Days of Good Decisions

For folks who travel thousands of miles every year in a pickup with a camper in tow, we really aren’t good at spending hours at a time on the road. By the time we hit Palo Duro State Park, near Amarillo, we were more than ready to stretch out for a few days. This is our third time in this park, and it’s obviously the charm – we finally scored a campsite in the Mesquite campground at the southern end of this massive canyon. 20171216_1634481615310199.jpgOther than the ‘rustic’ (translate: horrible) state of the bathrooms, this is a fantastic campground. Bonus? Of the roughly 25 sites, not more than five or six were occupied. The silence at night was complete – a few yipping coyotes and roaring wind were the only sounds.

Pleasant daytime temps (in the low 60s) prompted us to hike on Day 2. We decided that a stroll to the Canyon rim was in order. It’s laughable that we really didn’t see that we were in no shape for a hike of this length (about ten miles). But, it was so worth the aching legs. The Can20171221_101541225290091.jpgThat’s a lot of footsteps for our first hike in months. But, it was Mission Accomplished, as the goal was to stretch our legs for the day.

Day 3 was a maintenance chore day for John, and a bike day for me. I explored a few of the CCC-era stone cabins that can be rented there. They are exquisitely sited, and would make an excellent weekend retreat for non-campers.20171218_1137002114958094.jpg



I really wanted to cycle to the top of the Canyon (the entrance station), a steady upward grade for about six miles, followed by a mile or so of 10% grade.  I don’t mind telling you that it kicked my ass! (but I did ride the entire way). I arrived at the Visitor’s Center gasping for breath, but one old geezer did compliment me on my achievement of cycling up the grade. They had passed me about halfway up the Canyon road in their RV.


My reward at the top was a visit to the Texas longhorns that are housed at the Park. Although these perhaps are not the largest, most impressive longhorns in the Texas herd, they are still quite astonishing to see.20171221_1018191056158901.jpgAfter three nights, we were ready to hit the road again, in our quest to get to Las Vegas for Christmas. But, before leaving the area, I wanted to make a stop at Cadillac Ranch, where about ten 60’s era Cadillacs are buried nose-first into the Texas prairie. At some point in the lifespan of this iconic attraction, it was determined that it was futile to prevent vandals from spray-painting the cars. Today, it’s allowed – even encouraged. I was anxious to leave a sign of peace and hope to the world from the Crankshaws (quit your sniggering). We purchased a can of sparkly gold spray paint, and headed out to try our hand at tagging. Who knew it was so hard? Spray painting in 20mph winds isn’t easy, and (apparently) I have no artistic ability.20171219_094931440678259.jpg My first try at painting a gold Christmas tree was a flop. So, I decided just to paint a sweet gold heart. FLOP! 20171219_0949041969897322.jpgOh well, we had fun, and I made one young woman very happy when I handed her my nearly full can of gold paint to go with the blue she already had.

Hours later, we arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park (NM) for a one-night stay. Man, it was cold up there! A gradual climb to 7300′ went largely unnoticed until we got to the top, and it was bitingly crisp. Being on the eastern end of the time zone, and near the winter solstice, it was nearly dark by 4:30! We sat outside in the dusk and bitterly cold dry wind before admitting defeat and retreating inside for the evening. 20171219_1706131831860055.jpgThis time, we were the only campers in the entire State Park. The decent bathrooms and warm showers we had hoped for didn’t materialize – the bathrooms were all locked, except for one pit toilet all the way across the campground. Oh well.

Our plan for the next day was to overnight in Flagstaff, a distance of only 225 miles, then travel on to Boulder Beach (near Vegas) for a few nights before showing up at my sister’s house. But, the weather forecast for Flagstaff was brutal – 50mph winds, blowing snow, and temps dipping down to 10 degrees. That is NOT good camping weather. We can camp below freezing temps without having to winterize our water system, but that combination of wind and weather wouldn’t allow that. Plus, our big fear was that I-40 would be shut down for weather reasons, and we could be stranded in Flagstaff. So, we decided to make a run for a lower elevation. We got off to an early start, and passed through Flagstaff around noon. Boulder Beach was another 225 miles, but the weather was still awful there – warmer, but 30+mph winds. So, we called my sister, gave her a bit of warning that we’d be landing on her doorstep that afternoon, and powered through the miles to Vegas. Headwinds reduced our fuel efficiency to a ridiculous number (less than 8), and we were numbed by the strain of all those hard miles.

But, there’s a happy ending. The rest of the family arrives on the 23rd and 24th, and we’ll all be together for only the second time ever. We’re happy with our decision not to camp – the first night here, we had wind gusts of 60mph. The dust from the desert was awful – visibility was severely impaired, and it was just generally miserable to be outside.

Hope your holidays are bright and warm.



California Dreams

Before we move on to a new spot, I wanted to share a few more photos of the gorgeous Monterey area. We’ve got a bit of WiFi now, with bandwidth to burn, so here’s a bit of California eye candy. It truly is a magnificent area. Also, if anyone’s interested, I found that the video of the elephant seals in the previous post was not the one I had intended to insert. The one there now is different, so go back and look, if you are so inclined…..20160312_10540920160312_11115420160312_12295220160312_12321020160312_13025420160312_13100020160312_13245520160312_133054Without really leaving the Monterey area, we moved on to a new campground north in the Laguna Seca Recreation Area. The campground there is located near the Mazda Laguna Seca Racetrack. We had a choice of being in a site nearer the track, or one nearer the shooting range. We decided that Jezzy would appreciate racin’ more than shootin’, and picked a site accordingly. Our front row seat was run for a couple of days. Loud, but fun.20160315_094709The first day was motorcycle racing. These guys are nuts! The fastest time we clocked was 1:37 around the 2.3 mile track. Day 2 was two guys running practice laps in Ferraris. Equally nuts. The high point for us? On the evening of Day 2, it was bicycle night on the track! A mere $10 got us and our bikes on the tracks for as many hot laps as we could stand. What a hoot! The track has a very steep climb, followed by an equally steep corkscrew downhill – first an inside turn, then an outside turn – into a long straightaway, and a couple of hairpin turns. Yowza – we had a blast.20160316_18013420160316_175748The LSRA is bordered by the Fort Ord National Monument, so there were miles and miles of gorgeous open trails for hiking and mountain biking. From our start point, the trails were beyond my mtb capabilities, in addition to being horribly washed out by the torrential rainfall of the previous week the start was STEEP! But, Jezzy and I enjoyed strolling along – even though we occasionally went ankle-deep in mud.20160315_091835Nearby Salinas is the home of the National Steinbeck Museum. I decided to pedal the 15 miles there,, and it was a rewarding ride. I passed acres of farms, which still hand ponds of standing water, even though the last rainfall was four days prior. One fieldhand was hand-shoveling soil into pools of water between strawberry rows. I could see many ripe strawberries buried in mud as I cycled past. What a mess.20160316_115201The Steinbeck Museum itself? Not so interesting. We really didn’t find much to catch our attention for more than an hour, although we did decided to hoof it over to the cemetery to see Steinbeck’s burial site. A plain marker. Ha – joke on us. It was a four mile round trip on foot. Loved the little sign pointing to the burial plot, though….20160316_133841Two days was enough time camping at a racetrack, especially since there was a big sportscar race coming up for the weekend. We headed north to Sunset Beach State Park, quiet and beautiful. The Fireball is right in the middle of this photo…20160317_14022120160317_19002220160317_19074120160317_191736_HDR20160318_11214620160318_11310620160318_113449We rode our bikes down, and pedaled along the sand for miles each way. For the most part, we had the entire beach to ourselves. Such a pity that Jezzy was not allowed on the beach to join us.

The pine trees there have an unusual cone formation – they grow in clumps, as well as individual cones. Perhaps, they were just rainsoaked, but some of the clumps were surprisingly heavy. I believe these are Monterey Pines, but am not certain of that.20160318_172900This  State Park is in Watsonville, which seems to be the strawberry capital of the world. Bordering the campground were acres of strawberries – again with some severe water problems. For the days that we were there, the farmer had pumps and generators running 24/7, trying to remove the excess water from the fields.20160318_11130220160318_111128We’re now camping in San Francisco – time to move our bikes and boots into the city. This segment of our adventures will require its own separate post, but let me just say that our rain gear isn’t getting any rest. Enough!!







Wild and Woolly

There’s an old saying in Michigan (probably in every other state, as well) that goes something like this….”If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes – it’ll change.” So true!

The weather news had been full of high wind warnings for the latter portion of the week. So, I bustled around in the early days (warm, bright, and sunny) getting yard work done. November has been a spectacular month weather-wise, with many days where it was warm enough to enjoy being outside without a jacket. Rare, indeed. But that all came to a screeching halt on Thursday when West Michigan got walloped with cold and wind.

So, what do we do when it gets windy like this? Head to Lake Michigan to watch the action, of course. Wind gusts of up to 40mph for a couple of days had the Lake whipped up like I’ve not seen in years.20151113_132506 How windy was it? So windy that the current in the channel was actually running backward – IN from the Lake, instead of OUT to the Lake. Incredible.20151113_132312So, I braced myself as well as I could and snapped a few photos. The beach was full of folks with camera with huge lenses – there have been lots of terrific photos posted on Facebook this week. 20151113_131415We hung around for awhile, and left when it started to sleet. It felt like the wind was driving the ice pellets right into my face. Nasty!

Here’s the best of the photos I took. The lighthouse at the end of the pier stands 36 feet high – and waves were smashing up over the top.  What a crazy Michigan day.20151113_130746There was so much sand blowing around that the City was running front end loaders up and down the street, plowing sand.20151113_133222For those of you who have never camped in a Michigan State Park, this is what passes for a campground along the Lake Michigan lakeshore. I know, it looks like a parking lot – incredible that the competition for these spaces is intense in the summer. We met some folks from Indiana who mentioned that they were so close to their neighbors that they were unable to put out their slide. We don’t camp here.20151113_132622And, a few more videos, just to top things off. As I write this, it’s beautiful and sunny. Temps back up in the low 60s.  For now, I’ll take that.