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?

Petrified

To a Midwesterner, the big skies and huge vistas of the Southwest have always captured my imagination. What must it have been like to be traveling across the land for months, and stumble across the Grand Canyon (for me, one of the most incredible of all the huge monuments out here)? But, last week, we rolled into the Petrified Forest, and it opened up a huge new world of wonder. This really stretches my imagination.

First, we had to deal with a few logistical items. There’s no camping in this National Park. There are two gift shops on the southern end which offer free camping (dirt parking lot on a highway), but we were happy to have a spot.wp-1492387376719.jpg There really isn’t anything else within 20 miles. So, here was our home for two nights. We opted to have an electric site for $10, so that we would be able to run our air conditioning for Jezzy, while we were gone for a whole day. Bathrooms are available from 11am-6pm. No water is available (“Don’t drink the water. It will make you sick.”) For two days, that wasn’t a hardship, although it would be tough if you weren’t prepared for it.

Since we only had a few hours to explore the first day, we decided to bicycle in, and check out the Visitor Center at the southern end of the Park. It sits in the middle of an astonishing forest of petrified wood. wp-1492387239774.jpgHere’s Petrified Wood 101: Two hundred million years ago, Arizona was at about the same latitude at Costa Rica – about 10 degrees north of the equator. It was loaded with conifer forests. Trees fell, sank into the mud, and were covered with mineral deposits, turning the wood into stone of the most incredible colors. wp-1492387254731.jpgThe color of the stone depends on the mineral in which the tree was buried. It really is indescribable – so different than the petrified wood we saw last year in North Dakota, which was essentially gray, with a woodlike appearance. I couldn’t resist, and purchased about a 50lb boulder at the gift shop. You can see it in my back yard if you stop by.

These mammoth rocks have knots and swirls like live trees. Many have fallen over, and have remained essentially whole and unbroken. The circled rock is a great example of that – the deposits above it have eroded away. Eventually, the deposits below will blow or wash away, and it will fall. You can see the floor below is littered with petrified boulders.wp-1492387568828.jpg Others are segmented, some by natural forces, but others cut by opportunists searching for valuable crystals before the forests were protected. Whether whole or broken, they challenged my imagination.

“Would you walk across this log on a horse for $.25?” 20170413_091138That was the question a Park worker asked John as we viewed the Agate Bridge, a complete petrified tree that had fallen, been buried, and millions of years later, re-emerged from its mineral mountain. Apparently, in the early tourist days, a local gent did just that – collected quarters from tourists, and rode his horse across this narrow bridge above an abyss. The rock has since been reinforced with concrete beneath, but the thought of riding or walking across is harrowing. It’s admittedly difficult to see in this photo.

We drove the length of the Park Drive, from the Petrified Forest on the south to the Painted Desert National Park Visitor Center at the north, which is a totally different change of pace.wp-1492387273437.jpgwp-1492387592159.jpgwp-1492387552889.jpgwp-1492387512441.jpgwp-1492387415831.jpg We pulled in at every turnout, and hiked every little hike. It’s mind boggling.

John has always been interested in astronomy, which led us to our next stop at Datil Wells Campground, just outside the town of Datil, NM. This immaculate BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground cost us just $2.50/night with our Sr. Pass.wp-1492466772645.jpg Our campsite was enormous! There aren’t enough kind words to say about these camp hosts, their friendliness, and their dedication to making this a spectacular spot to camp. We hiked with Jezzy one day, and enjoyed spectacular overlooks from our 8000′ vantage point.wp-1492467053818.jpg

20170415_122546But, our real quest was the Very Large Array, a farm of 27 huge radio telescopes which scan the skies 24/7 for faint natural radio waves from distant galaxies, black holes, and baby stars.wp-1492467244891.jpg wp-1492467305594.jpgThese 82′ dishes can be arranged are mounted on a series of railroad tracks, which enables them to be moved into four different configurations – from 1/2 mile to 13 miles from end to end. Every six hours, the dishes repoint in unison to a new position. Every four months, the entire array is repositoned, using a giant forklift-type of device which lifts, then rolls each telescope to a new position on the grid.wp-1492467321715.jpg It’s amazing. At one point, John thought he was receiving signals from outer space, but it turned out just to be that damned New Mexico wind roaring through the vents in his bike helmet.

A big part of this adventure though, was our bike ride to get there. Google Maps is both our friend and foe. When it’s spot on, there’s no better tool. But, woe be to the cyclist who gets ‘googled’ with faulty directions. In our case, Google suggested that we cycle Highway 60 for a short distance, then turn right on County Road 152. After another short distance we would arrive at “Old Highway 60”, which would take us right to the VLA. What could be more simple?

What we didn’t know was that Old Highway 60 probably hasn’t seen any car traffic since I was a baby. It consists of an occasional splotch of pavement surrounded by huge clumps of weeds. You can just barely see John in the center of the photo.20170416_105802For a while, it was fun riding.20170416_110601 A pack of Pronghorn Antelopes (fastest animal in North America) ran alongside us, as if issuing a challenge. It didn’t take them long to decide we weren’t worthy of a race. We let ourselves through two wire gates, into increasingly barren partures. At one point, three gigantic horses seemed to take exception to John’s advance (I, of course, stayed back in my role as official photographer). The lead horse was very aggressively advancing toward John, leaping and pawing the ground, when he wisely decided to turn around. wp-1492467155251.jpgAfter that, we had to drag ourselves and our bikes under a barbed-wire fence to get to a gravel road, where we eventually got back to the ‘real’ Highway 60. From there, we still had about 8 miles to get to the VLA.

But, what’s life without a little adventure?

We’re now at Bottomless Lakes State Park in Roswell, NM. Tomorrow we venture into Roswell to explore the International UFO Museum, and perhaps to meet a few extraterrestrials. Rest assured, we won’t be cycling in.

Still More Arizona

It’s’ been a low-key week for us. The best news is that we finally got Jezzy’s stitches removed by a Vet Tech at the Humane Society in Payson, AZ.wp-1491944559513.jpg She’s free of that annoying inflatable collar, and her face seems to be healing pretty well. I hope you don’t hear any more from me on this subject (other than when we find out what the disposition of our case with the Las Vegas Animal Control people comes out). We are moving on….

It was fun to camp in two new (to us) National Forest Campgrounds this week. First was Clear Creek Campground in the Coconino NF. wp-1491944098838.jpgThis small campground was rather non-descript, but had the wonderful composting toilets that are such a treat to run across in a rustic campground (those of you who camp know what I’m talkin’ about!). There are lots of trails around here, which made for a great bike ride, but I was rewarded with a couple of flat tires. Damn thorns.wp-1491944032952.jpgIt was just a pleasant bike ride down to Fort Verde State Historic Park. ┬áThis restored Fort was active for 20 years from 1871-1891. Luckily for us, it was the weekend of the History of the Soldier, so they had re-enactors representing all armed conflicts of the US – from the Revolutionary War to today.

It was sad that the majority of people there were volunteers or the participants themselves – there were hardly a large handful of others there. We feasted on Dutch Oven chili and peach cobbler made on site.wp-1491944155909.jpg One presentation on the Navaho Code Talkers was very interesting – we learned how the codes were set up, and the presenter (Navaho himself) actually read some transcripts in Navaho. The Arizona State Historian, who is kind of a cowboy singer-storyteller also gave a presentation. John really enjoyed this, but it was excruciatingly long. Yawn….

The big excitement of that portion of our stay there happened that night in camp. Apparently, the two guys next to us were doing some very heavy drugs, and OD’d. Every ambulance and cop in the county came rushing in. Both were taken to the hospital and one was arrested as well. We had wondered what was going on over there…..

Houston Mesa Campground in the Tonto NF (Payson, AZ) is our current home. This is one of the most gorgeous National Forest campgrounds we have ever stayed in. We’re at about 6000′ elevation, primarily in a pine forest. Campsites are huge, and quiet. Unfortunately, we’re pretty close to the road, so we do get lots of traffic noise until about 9pm. But, what a gorgeous spot. I have yet to get a decent photo, but will try again later.

One of the main attractions here is the Tonto Natural Arch. After setting up camp, we wandered back to check this out, and were rewarded with great view of this spectacular sight. wp-1491944421248.jpgIt was hard to get a decent vantage point for photos, and the light for shooting them was horrible.wp-1491944497897.jpgwp-1491944474399.jpg So, check these out and magnify them 100x in your mind to capture the real images. It really is a wonderful spot to visit, complete with a hair-raising twisty drive.

We’ve both been stricken with very low energy levels. Seems like we just want to kick back, read a bit, and hang out where we can have Jezzy with us. That included a stroll along the nature trail here in the Campground, where the terrain varied from open slickrock to deep Pondersa forest. wp-1491944613159.jpgwp-1491944648677.jpgA perfect hike for three slackers (I’m including Jezzy in the slacker designation). Our next destination is the Petrified Forest/Four Corners area, and we’ve got some more aggressive hiking targeted. Time to get our camping/hiking/cycling groove back.

Just to make everything just a bit more interesting, I got what is probably the worst haircut of my life today. John’s comment? “Well, probably the worst of it will grow out in a couple of weeks, and we’ll mostly be in Texas until then. Nobody will notice.” So, if you see me, you might not recognize me. I’ll be incognito – wearing a hat.

 

Onward

It’s been a week. That’s putting it mildly.

Most importantly, Jezzy is doing well. Before we left Las Vegas, we returned to the Vet, and he removed the drain from her eye socket, which must have been extremely uncomfortable for her. We also ditched the rigid plastic Cone in favor of a Boo-Balloon, which is an inflatable collar.wp-1491537425604.jpg It keeps her from digging at her face with her feet, but lets her navigate a bit better, because she can actually see where she’s going. It also enabled us to hit the road in the Fireball. She would not have been able to turn around wearing the Cone, as the diameter was at least as wide as the available floor space. Anyway, it’s going well. Her stitches come out Monday (writing this Thursday). Sister Gail has a friend in Payson who is a steadfast volunteer with the Humane Society. She’s arranged for a Vet Tech to remove Jezzy’s stitches. I love this option, since Jezzy came to me via the Humane Society in Michigan. Wonderful folks. Great organization. We are anxious to try to put this horrible incident behind us. She felt well enough the last night to help John with his NY Times crossword puzzle. That’s got to be a good sign.wp-1491536344772.jpgOur usual leisurely travel schedule was tossed aside, since we had only two days to make a reservation that we had planned for a five day trip. So, we relaxed for one night at Burro Creek Campground, a gorgeous pull-off spot near Wikieup, AZ. wp-1491536696137.jpgThis beautiful quiet canyon was the perfect spot for our first night back on the road.

Yavapai Campground in Prescott, AZ is one of our very favorite spots to camp. We’ve been there four times in the five years we’ve had the Fireball. Sadly, our four night stay was condensed into one night, and what a night it was! We went from warm sunshine to clouds, wind, sleet, snow, then back to rain. All in about an hour, and all during the time John was outside trying to grill dinner. It was wild! We had enough time in the morning for a quick hike with Jezzy before heading to Cottonwood, AZ and a three night stay at Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

This park has a crazy variety of sites. Our loop had a few stunted trees and small sites, but was more expensive than the larger, unprotected sites up on the hill. wp-1491536574188.jpgI guess that’s because this IS Arizona, after all, and summer must be beastly here. The Park is immaculate, and has hiking, biking, horse trails everywhere. It’s a place we certainly will revisit. One benfit to having a tree onsite is that it gives us a spot to hang a cooking light. (It was grilled pizza night!)wp-1491535722709.jpgOur first day, we cycled around a bit, and visited the Tuzigoot National Monument, a pueblo built by the people of the Sinagua culture between 1000 and 1400. wp-1491536506592.jpgwp-1491536438946.jpgwp-1491536373197.jpgLike many of the other Arizona pueblo societies, it seems to have dissapated around 1300, due perhaps to climate change, which made farming unsustainable. The Visitor Center was well done, and featured some huge pottery vessels.wp-1491536470019.jpg The site was excavated by unemployed miners under the supervision of college archeology students in the 1930s. That remarkable achievement alone makes it worthy of a visit.

On Day 2, we hopped back in the truck and went back to explore the old mining/new hippie community of Jerome. During peak copper mining years, Jerome sported a population of about 15,000, which dwindled to about 1000 in the 1950s, and then finally down to about 50 inhabitants when it was declared a Ghost Town. That’s when the hippies discovered it, rehabbed many of the buildings, and set about making it a vibrant tourist spot. It’s a quirky place – old mining culture meets wine tastings.

We enjoyed wandering around for several hours. Jerome looks like it’s about to tumble off the mountainside at any moment, and a few churches (and the jail) have indeed been relocated by landslides.wp-1491536136999.jpgwp-1491536101472.jpgwp-1491507902281.jpgwp-1491507858594.jpgwp-1491507709606.jpg wp-1491536282397.jpgMy mediocre photos aren’t really representative of all the unusual sights here. The sun was high and hot. Too bright to get any kind of decent shot. But, there’s lots to see here, and plenty of places to poke around and spend money (we refrained). The Historical Society Museum is well worth a visit – it’s full of tidbits about prostitution, medical care, education, and the like. It’s the best $1 we spent all day.

Tomorrow (Friday) morning, we leave our civilized campsite at the State Park, and head back off into the Coconino National Forest for several days of camping. We are hoping to regain some of our happy camping vibe, and are optimistic that Jezzy will perk up after Monday, once she no longer has to drag her inflatable collar along. We need our happy girl back, and are pretty sure we can coax Jezzy into being our laid-back camping buddy again.

Thank you for reading, and for all the kind thoughts you’ve passed along during this very stressful time. John and I really appreciate your comments.

City Life

March has been a crazy month – after leaving our cushy mountain cabin, we immediately headed out into the desert. But, all along, we were pushing toward three days in Yuma, where we planned to meet up with Caite and Glenn, Texas full-timers we had met in Austin a few years ago, and with whom we have kept in touch (blogs make that so easy…). It was great to catch up with them, trade camping stories, and see their brand-new, deluxe truck camper. Oh yeah, I have camper envy – Big Time! They have a great system going.

Yuma is big! Been a long time since we’ve been in a town of nearly 100,000 with all the retail, traffic, and noise that goes along with size. There are acres of RV parks, mostly ‘age-restricted’, which means you have to be 55+ to stay there. Although activities and events abound, I don’t think this would be my first choice of locations – not much hiking, and cycling was tough, due to traffic, and lack of bike lanes. Nevertheless, we had a great time.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Park is one of the premier attractions in the area. We cycled over there – about 25 miles round trip. That was an experience in itself, as Google maps tried to send us down several roads that didn’t exist. We wound up passing through farmlands on dirt roads, primarily used for trucks and tractors. So happy to have our sturdy mountain bikes! Check out this photo from a lettuce farm. There’s a lesson here.20170309_135456.jpgThere are eight tightly packed rows of lettuce separated by a gap on each side. In this photo, there’s a curly green on the left and a dark red on the right. I think this is so that they can harvest the entire eight rows, and that’s your mixed salad bag in the grocery store. I had always assumed that they were grown separately, harvested, and mixed, but seeing the fields has changed my minds on this. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but there’s a definite separation every eight rows. Grow, harvest, wash, bag. Direct to table – no mixing necessary. Genius!

The Territorial Prison was interesting – built in the 1870s, it held nearly over 3000 prisoners (30 of whom were women) until it was closed around 1910. Grim stone cells with iron bars and bunks still stand. It’s amazing that a prison of such size could be supported in the desert all those years. Basically everything used in the prison was made there, and supplies came in via the Colorado River which runs alongside, or by rail. In any case, it was a harsh existence. It was hard to get any decent photos – the bright, harsh sunlight was not my friend. One of the standout features was the guard tower, which was built over the water well, to help prevent evaporation. wp-1489092737493.jpgHere are a few other photos. It was grim.

We tried to wash away the prison taste with a beer at Prison Hill Brewing Company. Happy to report, that was a successful endevour. I was intrigued by their vodka, but wisely refrained from a sample, due to the hot 15 mile ride back to camp.wp-1489092726291.jpgWe did manage one excruciatingly difficult hike in Yuma. Telegraph Hill is the name of the ‘hill’ where all the electronic towers are located. Glenn said it was an “aggressive walk”. OMG! I’ve never been on a steeper road in my life. Here’s the view looking down.wp-1489376836146.jpg The first mile of dirt trail rose a few hundred feet – no big deal. The second mile added about 1000′ of additional altitude, up a busted semi-paved road. It was ridiculous, but the view at the top amazing.wp-1489376850382.jpg We wished that we had started a few hours earlier so that we would have been done before the day really heated up – no shade for the Crankshaws! We roasted.

We were than ready to head toward Coastal California, with its promises of ocean breeze after a few days in Yuma.wp-1489373282778.jpg We love Sweetwater Regional Park, where we’re currently camped. Green grass, shade, and cooler more humid air all seems very welcome. After our last visit a few years ago, we kicked ourselves for not touring the USS Midway Museum, a mothballed WWII-era aircraft carrier which is a permanent museum in San Diego harbor. It’s BIG!wp-1489378194375.jpg The flight deck has planes of all types, including an F-14, helicopters of all varieties, and various other warplanes.20170312_194447.jpg It was quite a contrast to the tiny two-seater open cockpit fighter planes down below which actually were used at the Battle of Midway. The USS Midway, named after the Battle, although it was not a participant, was active from 1945 to 1992 – making it the longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century.

I was overwhelmed by the scale and power of war machines. Bombs and torpedos are stacked up everywhere. The Greatest Generation gave everything unquestioningly to the war effort, and there are tens of thousands of heroes. Many vets are volunteers here. At any given time, they are making presentations about aspects of Navy life in WWII and specifically aboard an aircraft carrier. But, I’m done with war museums. They are interesting to see, but depressing as hell. I need to visit a Peace Museum, but I don’t think there are any. Here are a few photos of areas that caught my eye.wp-1489373301193.jpgwp-1489373124090.jpg20170312_194401.jpg20170312_194059.jpgwp-1489372648950.jpg

Another hot hike today in very hot, humid conditions. John and Jezzy turned back about halfway up, as the heat and unrelenting sun were just too much for Jezzy. We should have left her home. I pressed on to Rocky Point, and was rewarded with the flag at the top, and a few great views.wp-1489373240443.jpg Most of the area was covered with a thick blanket of humidity/smog, which made it a challenge to get any photos. It took several hours this morning for the fog to burn off enough for us to venture out on our hike.wp-1489373259766.jpgMonday is our last day here, and we plan to cycle into San Diego again, and take the ferry to Coronado Island to explore a bit. Cycling here is a blast – trails and bike lanes are everywhere. We’re happy not to have to drive/park in the Big City. We’re much better off on two wheels