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

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

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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.

 

 

And…We’re Off!

It’s always a good thing when a long trip gets off to a good start. Although it’s kind of a mixed bag for us so far (five days), we’ve had magnificent weather, which makes up for plenty of other shortcomings. And, for this post, we won’t talk about those at all.

Leaving home in a snowstorm is never a good thing, but for us, it’s better than sticking around because we pulled out of the driveway, put on the windshield wipers, and never looked back. Less than a hundred miles out of town, the roads were dry, and all the snow was gone after another 100 miles after that.

We spent our first two nights at the Evansville Spa (our name for John’s brother’s posh home). Our time there was marred only by the fact that they were both sick with hacking coughs/colds. Is it better to get sick before the holidays, and get it over with, or wait until January? The Evansville duo apparently went the pre-Christmas route. Modern pharmacology is hopefully speeding them toward recovery.

Our first camping night was at T.O. Fuller State Park in Memphis. When we stayed there in the spring, it was jam-packed, so the nearly-empty campground was a pleasure for a quick stop. Our sunny day turned into a brisk night (temps in the low 30s). Deluxe sleeping weather for our deluxe new flannel sheets. Two days later, we found that Jezzy also loves these new sheets. She had very neatly unmade the bed so that she could sprawl in warm comfort on the warm sheets. Are all dogs such princesses, or just ours?

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Since our goal is Christmas in Vegas with my entire immediate family (all ten of us), were doing a bunch of one-night stops. So, the next night finds us at Arlie Moore Campground, near Texarkana AR. What a gorgeous campground! Our large site was near the water, and we enjoyed a another quiet, cold night.

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For sure, we’ll be back to this spot – $9 with our America the Beautiful Senior Pass.

After a long day on the road through beautiful Arkansas and Oklahoma State highways, we arrived at Buckhorn Campground, at Lake of the Arbuckles in OK. It’s part of the Chickasaw Recreation Area. Tonight, our rate for  this spectacular spot for just $12. (Every now and then, it pays to be old!)

20171215_171938442154091.jpg20171215_171758740144347.jpgAnd the bonus? For the first time, I saw a (live) armadillo! In the past five years, there have been plenty of unfortunate armadillos along the roadside, but this beauty is alive and well. I named her Arnette.20171215_172119882436188.jpgI especially like this photo of her with her natural camoflage, standing next to a corrugated pipe. Looks very organic, doesn’t it? 20171215_193732995633263.jpgAlthough you can’t really see it in these photos, armadillos have very cute little cone-shaped ears. She was much bigger than I would have imagined.

We’re taking a little highway hiatus for the next three days after we get to our next destination. Palo Duro State Park near Amarillo is a spot we have enjoyed in the past, and were hoping to (finally) snag a site in the Juniper CG there for the next three night to hike and bike, and just generally get out of the truck for a few days. In past years, we’ve never been able to get a site in this area. Hopefully the camping gods will see fit to help us out this time. The other campgrounds are fine, but we really want a site in this smaller campground, nestled back in the rocks. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Hope you all have something to look forward to over the holidays, whether it’s time with family and friends, or maybe an extra day or two away from work.

Saving the Best For Last

And, all of the sudden, we were back in our own driveway. Can’t believe six weeks slipped away already.

But, it appears that we might have saved the best for last, as our Southeast Tour finished with a bang. The last week (plus the Hatteras days) was probably our favorite of the entire trip. Here’s why…

So….onward we go to Portsmouth, Virginia where we camped at the home of our T@DA friends Gail and Sid. Perhaps the Campsh@ck has never had a more lovely site to rest her wheels.20171028_1718081398289939.jpg On the way there, we stopped at the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills, NC. 20171028_123114324045352.jpgAlthough the Visitor Center is undergoing restoration, a fantastic Ranger brought the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk experience to life. Markers chart the distance of the first four flights on December 17, 1903. Flight one was 120 feet. The fourth flight was over 800 feet. That’s a pretty impressive improvement for a single day. One the edge of the area is a series of full-sized bronze statues of Wilbur, Orville, the plane, the photographer, and a few other spectators of that historic day. It’s an inspirational place to visit.

OK, back to our visit to Portsmouth. The nearby town of Newport News is the home of The Mariner’s Museum, which is where we decided to spend a cool, rainy afternoon. 20171029_130658894841538.jpgDesignated by Congress as the National Maritime Museum, there are exhibits to capture the imagination of anyone – young or old, landlubbers or sailors. If you’re of a ‘certain age’ like me, you learned about the battle of the Union’s Monitor and the Confederate States’ Merrimack (actually the CSS Virginia) in the Civil War. (I swear that I learned the Monitor had won this battle. Not true, says the Museum – they battled to a draw.) The Mariner’s Museum is the home of the USS Monitor – pieces that have been raised from the spot where it sank off the Hatteras Coast have been restored onsite, and are displayed here. The history of these two ships, the story of their construction, and the battle are brought to life here in a variety of media, artifacts, and exhibits.20171029_143132984290267.jpg 20171029_140318419007988.jpgImagine these two ironclad ships pounding each other with cannons from a distance of a mere 100 yards. The unique revolving turret of the Monitor provided a difficult target for the Merrimack to hit, and the lighter artillery of the Monitor was unable to land disabling blows to the Merrimack.

Anyway….the Monitor sank while being towed on December 31, 1862. It took until 1973 for the wreck to be located, and it has been partially salvaged. That’s what’s in this Museum, and it’s incredible. (The rest is a protected underwater sanctuary where it went down). The anchor, ship’s wheel, the entire revolving turret with its two cannons, a lantern, and other artifacts are here.20171029_1318141907314660.jpg20171029_150637166493276.jpg20171029_1455351612396724.jpg20171030_09203843795966.jpgAbove is a full-scale model of the turret (complete with the guns inside) exactly as it looked when brought up from the bottom of the sea. Restoration is being done onsite at the Museum, and some pieces and parts are still submerged in a series of baths in order to stabilize the metal. Here’s a shot of the cannon in the above photo in its tank where it’s being rehabbed.20171029_151520787025923.jpg It’s thrilling and chilling to see all of this. The photos don’t do it justice. There’s also a full-size model of the Monitor outside, which I visited briefly in the pouring rain (everyone else stayed inside).

But, there’s more. The Museum also is home to the hull of the Oracle Team USA wing-sail catamaran, which won the America’s Cup in 2013 by defeating New Zealand in an unprecedented seven races after being one race from elimination. It is HUGE! It’s hanging from the ceiling, and the the size is just jaw-dropping.20171029_1546231371569811.jpgFilms from these races are thrilling. 20171029_1547491912918346.jpgYou can test your own power output on a winch (a professional World Cup participant can generate 500+ watts of power.) I managed about 90 for a very short period of time.

There are dozens of amazing models of nearly every kind of ship. Some are gigantic. All are precise and handmade.20171029_154314680577239.jpgIf you get a chance, go to The Mariner’s Museum. Plan to spend a whole day, then go back the next day to see everything you missed. It’s fantastic.

Somehow, Gail and Sid fell for our plea to join us at Shenandoah National Park for a few days of camping. 20171101_1059431509727254.jpgThey quickly packed up, and we all headed out to this amazing National Park in NW Virginia, along the Skyline Parkway. The Appalachian Trail runs through here, as well as many other trails. 20171031_1216431243448137.jpg20171031_1456211242352886.jpg20171031_1456561230823211.jpgWe watched a fantastic demonstration/concert of a hammered dulcimer.

The day after Gail and Sid headed home, we wandered a short section of the Appalachian Trail. What spectacular views! 20171101_1329001086048871.jpg20171101_134518305485962.jpgWe braved howling winds and the only really cold temps we had in our six weeks of camping to hike to a stunning waterfall. I can’t wait to go back – we hope to be able to camp at all of the Shenandoah campgrounds next year (four?) It looks like an intriguing place to explore.

One more spot – I’ll try to be brief. Hocking Hills State Park had been on our radar for a few years – fantastic photos have been posted by folks in our camping group. Travel and Leisure Magazine rated it the #1 spot to camp in Ohio. It was a dreary late afternoon when we rolled into the campground, expecting to have our choice of dozens of sites since it was mid-week/early November. Not so fast….apparently Ohioans love this park. It was booked full for the weekend, but we did find a promising site among the 20 or so non-reservable sites. 20171102_172201866132385.jpg20171103_10294839296417.jpgOur first impressions were not too positive. Hard rain the day before had left standing water everywhere. The entire campground is in need a several hundred trucks of fill to level out the low spots. The paved pads at each campsite were a few inches higher than the surrounding ground (at least on one side), leaving a mess of slick mud. Attemps had been made to cover up some of the low spots with bales of hay – we gathered up some excess hay from surrounding sites to try to keep us above the mess, with mixed results.

But what the campground lacks in charm, the surrounding area makes up for a hundredfold. We wandered around Old Man’s Cave, a spectacular limestone overhang which was inhabited in the 1800s by (of course) an old man and his two dogs.

Trickling water, waterfalls, weeping hemlocks and splashes of fall color made for spectacular viewing as we hiked about eight miles along the river from the campground to Old Man’s Cave, to Cedar Falls and around.20171103_1138161124243528.jpg20171103_1142282183531.jpg20171103_1142451265623605.jpg20171103_1201331507912173.jpg20171103_1204561752362669.jpg20171103_1216451342265296.jpg20171103_1229591570857113.jpg20171103_1308501422250300.jpg Wow. The scale of these limestone caves is so impressive – for once, I was happy there were other people in the photos to get a size perspective. We were just sorry that we hadn’t been there a week or so earlier, because the best fall color seemed to have already passed. Sorry if I bombed you with photos, but I couldn’t decide which to post.

Not surprisingly, it rained all the way home, and the sun hasn’t peeked out in two days since. The lawn’s a mess, and garden and perennials all need work. So, why can I only think of planning our next escape?