Around and About

I can practically hear Juliette Gordon Low rolling in her grave.  What the hell is going on here?  Relax, Juliette…’s just a party in Tucson at the Tap & Bottle to explore pairings of Girl Scout Cookies and beer.  Sounds odd, and it was.  We sampled four different GS cookies, which were matched with distinctively different beers – hopefully to complement flavors.  20150208_151347Not so sure about the success of the pairings, but it was a terrific afternoon with camping pals Vern & Ilene.  Tap & Bottle is a superfun spot to spend a few hours, and they did the Girl Scouts proud – there must have been 200 people jammed inside, and everyone bought a box or two of cookies in addition to the samples that came with the beer.  The table next to us (of guys, naturally) brought their own cookies in – we saw two different bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies and potato chips that they were pairing with their own beer choices.  This was a good-hearted event that had support from all parties – marketing folks from the Girl Scouts, beer drinkers, local college students, and a full complement of tiny little Girl Scouts earnestly hawking their wares (safely outside the bar on the sidewalk, with their parents).

We decided to take the newly christened Tucson Streetcar for a full-circuit ride.  What a gem this is!  Running through the entertainment/club district to the University, to the downtown business area and out to the Expressway edges of town, it serves a diverse population.  Our $4 daily pass gave us unlimited on/off privileges.

20150208_163320We hopped off to get John a nitro coffee at Ilene’s favorite coffee stop.  Those of you who are fans of the nitro taps in a brewpub can perhaps relate to this.  The coffee wasn’t great, but we (perhaps, generously) attributed this to the fact that it was late on a Sunday afternoon, and it might not have been at its freshest.20150208_165817

Tucson has many great sights, and so much history.  We decided that we need to spend a few days just cycling around town and enjoying some of the oddities that make this such a cool spot to visit. 20150208_162622

Having running commentary from Vern as to what we were seeing from our streetcar seats made this a most enjoyable tour.

We’ve fallen into our regular Green Valley routine.  We hike a bit, bike a bit, and do nothing A LOT!  The weather here has been spectacular!  Well above normal temps, which puts it into the mid-70s (and sometimes into the low 80s) nearly every day.  Bright sunshine.  We hiked up to Rogers Rock in Madera Canyon one day this week.  Perfect weather made the eight mile round trip pretty easy.  This is one of our favorite hikes every year.20150209_10124520150209_10293620150209_111618Seven of us + two dogs made the trek to a spectacular spot for lunch.  The light spots in the background are the enormous piles of mine tailings in Green Valley – the copper mines are running full force, and the tailing piles significant.  Mining is a huge industry in this area, and it has some benefits, I’m sure.  But, the downside is that it sucks an enormous amount of the precious water resources of the area, the environmental (and visual) effects are a significant downside.

Of course, we’re cycling often.  Thursday was a first for us – while John and I were cycling to the meetpoint for our regular Thursday ride, a coyote darted out from the roadside, and nearly had his snout in my front wheel before I shouted STOP! or HEY!  (not sure what happened here).  He and I both braked severely!  Never have I seen a coyote so close up.  It was unnerving.  Twenty minutes later, our group was rolling through Quail Creek, an upscale golf course/housing development when three coyotes appeared on the narrow strip of ground between the pavement and the walled back yard of the nearby house.  Our 10 bikes couldn’t have been more than eight feet away from these guys!  It was breathtaking.

Our rental house is in a development where the abundance of birds has been such a pleasure.  Every morning we hear cactus wrens, and curved-billed thrashers call.  It’s amazing to hear them sing out.  Areas covered by low-lying prickly pear cactus are havens for the Gambel’s Quail.  As I stroll with Jezzy in the early morning, I can hear them grumbling, although I usually can’t spot them.  All of the sudden, one will dart out, and a whole stream will follow.  They are amazing to see.

The daily sights and sounds of the Arizona desert never fail to delight.  Although the cactus aren’t yet flowering, the prickly pear are loaded with fruit.  Around here, it’s common to find jams, jellies, and salsa made with prickly pear.  A gorgeous napolito (thornless) prickly pear is right around the corner from us.  20150213_093733This particular plant is also a coveted snack for one of the meandering javalinas who patrol the neighborhood at night.  If I were a javalina, I would also chose spineless!20150213_093804The Gila woodpecker makes it home in the Sagauro cactus.  The Saguaro survives this invasion by totally isolating the hole in an oblong capsule.20150213_092934 We observed a pod collected from a dead Saguaro in the Visitor Center at Organ Pipe Cactus National Park – it’s an amazing adaption.

Cactus shapes never cease to amaze me.20150209_085726The colors in morning and evening are especially lush.20150213_090513We noticed a chiminea (a free-standing, clay fireplace) in the patio area of our rental house.  We asked our landlords if they would mind if we actually used it (looked as though it was new, although it had a crack).  With their blessing, we have thoroughly enjoyed our evenings on the patio, watching the sun set on the nearby Santa Rita Mountains.  20150210_182331We even rescued the hotdog forks from the Fireball and roasted hot dogs one evening.

Our new refrigerator has arrived, been installed, and appears to work just fine.  Yay!  We’ve received the new regulator for our Camp Chef stove, so we’re back in business on that front.  We’ll be ready to hit the road again on March 1.

To top it all of, I noticed this seasonal greeting on my morning stroll today.20150213_090212All is well here – hope the same is true for each of you.

Highway 61

Lake Superior is so alluring that we find ourselves unable to resist her call.  Instead of heading northwest toward International Falls (for no other reason than to say we’ve been there), we decide to creep up into the Arrowhead, the northeast portion of Minnesota.  We’re congratulating ourselves on what appears to be a brilliant decision.

Although very cold and windy at night, the last couple of days have warmed up to be perfect for outdoor activities.  So, off we go from our base at Gooseberry State Park, where we snagged an incredible campsite (easy to do, because the campground is only about 10% populated).20141007_162854The Gitchi-Gami State Trail runs about 15 miles alongside Highway 61 from Gooseberry Falls SP to Beaver Bay, past Split Rock State Park, where the lighthouse of the same name is located.  We decide to cycle north to the end of the Trail before doubling back to check out the lighthouse.  Although we’re freezing at the onset of the ride, we quickly get in the groove.  The Trail is perfect.  We’re either climbing or barreling downhill – there are few flat sections.  Rarely are we more than 200 yards from the Lake, and scenic stops abound.20141008_12194820141008_12574520141008_120607 The combination of a great bike route, perfect riding conditions, and the most unbelievable scenery have us cruising leisurely along in a most happy way.20141008_121335At the tiny town of  Beaver Bay, the Trail seems to peter out.  We stop for coffee, and peek into a rock shop.  In my next life, I’ll be a geologist.  We double back toward Split Rock, anxious to see the lighthouse which has been recommended to us as a great stop.  The smallish lighthouse was built in response to a string of years marked by significant numbers of shipwrecks on the rocky shores.  Twenty ships were damaged or destroyed in a single disasterous storm in November 1905, resulting in nearly three dozen deaths that day alone.  Shipping company owners petitioned Congress for funds to construct the lighthouse, and $75,000 was appropriated.  (Once the lighthouse became operational in 1910, there were no more shipwrecks along that stretch of Lake Superior coast.

The Lighthouse is neither tall nor elaborate. The location is magnificent.20141008_145729 20141008_145639But, its construction story is remarkable.  Because of the general inaccessibility of the site by land, all materials had to be brought in by ship, then hoisted to the cliff.  The French-built Fresnel lens and its supporting assembly weigh nearly 6.5 tons alone.20141008_145939 Interested in the lens?  I’d suggest that you read this blog post from an Oregon lighthouse volunteer , which gives an excellent description and history of the Fresnel lens.  The lens rotated every 20 seconds, powered by a weight-driven mechanism, similar to a grandfather clock.  The 200 pound weight had to be wound every two hours, by a team of three keepers.  The grounds are immaculately kept.

This shot is odd, because I had to shoot it through the screen in the Lighthouse window.20141008_15003020141008_150211

We rolled back to camp into the teeth of a howling wind.  As soon as the sun gets low, the temperature drops rapidly.  We could hardly get showered and positioned in front of our smoky campfire quickly enough.  Our campground is very quiet – there is just us, and one other campsite occupied – a blessing when you’re using the campground showers.  Dry, hot, and no waiting.  Doesn’t get any better than this!

The main attraction at Gooseberry Falls are, of course, the waterfalls.  We explored these a bit when we first arrived, but decided to take a long, slow tour of all the falls, and the unusual shoreline.  Again, we were treated to perfect conditions for our hike – bright blue skies and clear, bright air.  The photos haven’t been color corrected at all – we actually were treated to this wonderful fall display.  Most of the trees here are birch, so the predominant foliage is bright yellow, combined with the varying green fir trees.  There’s an occasional bright splash of red or orange, but it’s not the same barrage of color that we’re so used to seeing in Michigan.

I’ll shut up and just show the photos….20141009_11480720141009_10501620141009_10572020141009_10463920141009_10410920141009_10362020141009_10290620141009_10534620141009_10371820141009_10290620141009_10055320141009_100743The beach and picnic areas at Gooseberry Falls SP are spectacular.  Bare lava rock rolls right into the water, adorned with patched of hardy grass.  Stone picnic tables, built by the CCC back in the 1930s lend their sturdy presence to the shoreline.  The Lake was calm, and the bright sunshine made for a spectacular morning.20141008_16270620141009_11245620141009_11324520141009_112153In case you’re wondering, yes, we DID find a brewery to visit.  Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors.wpid-20141009_160200.jpg Wonderful ales.  Curiously offered in 11oz or 18oz servings.  Why not try two different beers each?  While hanging around the town, (doing laundry), we noticed a freighter pulling in at the ore dock. wpid-20141009_154511.jpg Now we’ve seen everything!  It took him far less time to land that gigantic freighter than it took me to back the Fireball into a campsite!

Tomorrow (Friday), we’re going to reluctantly point the Firetruck south on Highway 61, and begin our slow descent southward to home.  I’m reluctant to leave, feeling that we are leaving too much unexplored.  Will we ever get back?  We’ve visited Highway 61, and like Dylan, hope to revisit.  (okay, okay….I just couldn’t resist.)

Anyone Still Out There?

Yep, I’m still here.  At Home Judy is not as much fun as On The Road Judy, for sure.  Seems like I really have to scrape to find anything to post

May and June are full of bike events that are important to John and me.  Up until my retirement in January 2013, I worked every Saturday and Sunday.  So, while everyone was having fun doing these events, I was lugging books at the bookstore. I’ve been a busy volunteer – anyone who knows me knows that I’ve done some serious arm-twisting for volunteers on bike events in the past.  So, it’s been a good chance for me to reciprocate. One of the funnier volunteer gigs was pouring beer (as a volunteer worker for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) at the Motley Crue/Alice Cooper concert.  Omg – it was deafening!  CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW????  My hearing may not recover for months!

We are lucky in Grand Rapids to have the New Belgium Film Clips and Beer Festival come to town.  This is an traveling outdoor film extravaganza of short clips, augmented by great beer – set in Ah-Nab-Awen Park in Grand Rapids, right on the downtown riverbank.  Best of all?  100% of the proceeds from this event – beer sales, merchandise sales, raffle tickets (our friend Troy won a $4000 custom fat bike!) go to support the Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition.  Nearly $14,000 this year!  So, one very hot sticky day was donated working setup for the event – I helped push up probably 20 Easy Up tents.  My shoulder was so sore the next day, I could hardly move!  Worth all the effort – what a wonderful event.  Grand Rapids is so lucky to be one of 25 (give or take) cities on this Tour.  Here’s our site from under one of the Easy Ups….20140627_111056The crowd gathers….20140627_212659Showtime!20140627_222408

The day after the Festival was the Gran Fondo (Italian for Big Ride), a chip-timed 40 or 80 mile bicycle rie from Grand Rapids to the Lake Michigan lakeshore and back.  Now in its second year, the Fondo is a fund-raiser for the MSU College of Human Medicine.  It was great fun to be a volunteer at the first rest stop on the 80 mile leg – although many of the early riders were in race mode, and didn’t stop. 20140628_08445320140628_084343 Downtown Grand Rapids was transformed to a big street party following the Fondo, punctuated by the Grand Rapids Criterium (bike race) for the afternoon.  It was a great weekend for cyclists.

Remember drag racing on your bike when you were a kid?  Lining up with another kid, yelling go, and racing to some pre-determined point down the block.  Exactly what the Blue Bridge Hustle promised to be.wpid-wp-1402834038027.jpeg This new event seemed like too much fun to pass up, so I paid my $20 entry fee to race.  I’m not fast, but adult bicycle drag-racing just made me laugh to think about it.  John was like, “Seriously?  You’re drag-racing?”  It helped that he was out of town that weekend…..Long story short – I won my division.  Check out my prize.20140626_154034Nine $40 gift certificates to some of the best restaurants in the area.  John has changed his tune to, “I’m really proud of you for entering”, but his little act isn’t fooling me.  Now all I have to do is figure out who Judy Crenshaw is…

In the meantime, there has been lots of work to do on the Fireball.  After losing license plates in Utah (2014) and Texas (2013) due to the flimsy license plate bracket that was part of a taillight assembly, John rigged a new bracket.  This is our LAST license plate!20140709_134755Taillights were another issue.  If you had ever followed at night, we weren’t very well lit.  All changed with our new LED configuration.wpid-20140709_134738.jpg

Caulking the underside? Check!  Cleaning/waxing? Check!  My project list included recovering our dinette seats and painting one wall.  I’m very happy with the results.wpid-20140709_134919.jpgTask list for the Fireball still includes updating the flooring and the radio.  But, in the meantime, we’re finally going to hit the road for about 10 days.  Heading to Nordhouse Dunes, our favorite camping spot in Michigan.  After five days, John is leaving to go tent-camping and cycling with the boys in Empire (near Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore), and Caroline is coming to camp with her teardrop trailer and her mountain bike.  Should be big fun.  She can only stay a few days though, then it will be Jezzy, me, the bears, my mountain bike, and the beach for a few days until John reappears.  Back to the good life!


An Eye on Tucson

Great outdoor weather continues here, and we have really taken advantage of it – cycling or hiking every day.  I’ve tried to look at AZ with new eyes – seeing what a visitor might see, instead of seeing the same sights that I’ve enjoyed for the last five years.  Amazing what you can see if you really look!

Cactus – one of my favorite sights are the majestic saguaro cactus, which grow abundantly here in the Sonoran Desert.  For unknown reasons, some of the saguaros develops elaborate crests on the top, instead of developing arms.  They aren’t terribly common – about 1/1000 has this aberration.  This week, I’ve seen three new crested saguaros, bringing my life total to about seven.  Check these beauties out….this one is especially bizarre, because it seems to be crested and armed.20140216_103143wpid-20140216_111545.jpgAnd how about this warning?20140218_122145Bicycling on the Interstate still makes me nervous.  It’s the only way to get south to Tubac, a frequent destination, but it still seems weird to me.  This time it was REALLY odd, because the side of the road where we cycle was full of horse turds! horses The group came upon this grizzled rancher on down the road a bit.  We figure it was his horses that decorated our path.  20140218_101453
With Michigan friends in town for a week, we decided to take a bicycle tour of Tucson.  Tucson is a Gold Level cycling city, designated by the League of American Bicyclists.  That means that their cycling facilities are superb – plenty of well-marked bicycle routes thoughout the city, and lots of designated bike lanes and bicycle or multi-use paths.  It’s such a pleasure to cycle in such a place.  We wove in and out through the City, on a route of about 15 miles.  In that distance, only about 1/8 mile was on a road that did NOT have a separate bicycle lane.  As much as is possible, I feel very safe and secure cycling there.  We’ve got our own place to ride, cars/trucks have theirs, and everybody respects that.  It takes all the stress out of cycling in an unfamiliar city.

John designed our route – we probably visited nooks that even Tucsonians don’t know exist.  So, here we go….first stop is St. Augustine Cathedral.  First constructed in 1776, enlarged and remodeled several times, and extensively remodeled from the ground up just a few years ago.  Full of color in paintings, mosaics, stained glass, and a 600 year old crucifix from Spain, it was pure wonder.  The paintings which had a 3D effect, were especially captivating.  Mother Theresa was so real. I could have touched her.20140219_111701wpid-20140219_111052.jpgwpid-20140219_111024.jpgwpid-20140219_111035.jpgOn through some very colorful neighborhoods.  Tucson has more vibrant color than any city I know.  Houses, mosaics, murals, fences, bridges – color abounds.  Here’s a sample.4th Street - the Eastown like area of Tucson20140219_12461720140219_110508wpid-20140219_130354.jpg20140219_13030820140219_124109wpid-20140219_112546-1-1.jpgwpid-20140219_121816-1.jpg

We crossed two pedestrian/bicycle bridges that span I-10.  The most curious (to me) is the Rattlesnake Bridge.  In the past, as one would pass the tail end, you would ride under a sensor that would make a rattlesnake noise.  This time, that didn’t happen – a huge disappointment. Rattlesnake bridgeRattlesnake BridgeWe also crossed over the Basket Bridge.wpid-20140219_131241-1.jpgTucson also seems to have lots of religious parks and memorials.  One of the more unusual is the Garden of Gethsemane. wpid-20140219_120053.jpg Here one finds three works created by a sculptor who was gravely wounded in WW1, and upon his recovery, decided to spend his remaining years carving religious statues.wpid-20140219_120154-1.jpgOn to the El Tiradito Wishing Shrine.  The wall here has dozens of cubbyholes, which are filled with notes, poems, and other remembrances. wpid-20140219_113337.jpg The area is filled with floral decorations.  Nearby is a tiny historical Tucson museum, but it was closed the day we were there.wpid-20140219_114143.jpgOn to the Presidio San Agustin del Tucson, one of 17 Presidios from Sonora to Texas, created to defend the northern settlements from Apache and Comanche attacks.wpid-20140219_122126.jpgwpid-20140219_122255.jpg This settlement was established in 1775, and was the westernmost of the US Presidios.  Signage and artifacts provide a pretty good idea of life during this period.

Nearby Presidio Park has war memorials, and a huge public space for strolling and lunching.wpid-20140219_125023-1.jpgOn we rode, down a long bike path past the enormous rail yards.  We wound through a linear park cycle path, which also featured a fitness course with various stations to test strength and fitness.

We started and ended our tour at the Barrio Brewery.  Good beer, not such great service.  John decided to “fire” them, and return to our favorite Tucson watering hole, Nimbus Brewery, going forward.

And, perhaps best of all, this is probably the best cycling jersey I have EVER seen.  Wild west cowboys, and cycling cowboys – all in one.  I want one!wpid-20140218_095521.jpgIf you get a chance, go to Tucson.  Rent a bike.  Check it out.

Exploring the Neigborhood

We’ve had an exceptional week, weatherwise here in Green Valley, AZ.  The temp is about 15 degrees above normal, putting daytime temperatures in the upper 70s to mid 80s. 20140214_110724It’s cool and night, and still pretty cool when we take off in the morning to hike or bike.  Perfect – quite a switch from this time last year, when it didn’t seem to get out of the mid 50s.

Started our week on Monday with an 11 mile hike – quite a surprise, since it had been posted on the hiking board as a 6.5 mile trip.  We were dragging by the time we finished – good thing the terrain was fairly flat.20140210_114039 Not the most interesting or scenic, but always fun to explore new area.  Part of this took us through an open range area, which is common out here.  It’s unnerving to find a big steer in the middle of the trail.  Mostly, they just passively watch us and chew slowly as we pass.  Many don’t even bother to glance up.  But still….

Cycling this week has been perfect.  It feels so good to really reach – ride nearly as hard as I can to keep in the paceline, or maintain decent speed up Helmet Peak Road, a 5 mile climb (probably 4% grade).  It’s nothing severe, but certainly a longer climb than we find in Michigan.  Once we hit the top, there are 5 miles of good rollers, then 5 miles downhill.  Tomorrow’s ride to the Mission San Xavier involves about a 10 mile downhill on a fabulous stretch of new pavement, then uphill on the way home.  One of my favorite rides.  It’s why we love coming here.

It’s been wildlife week here at our house.  One evening, two huge javalinas strolled down the street.20140209_174544 I grabbed my camera and headed off after them, anxious to get a good photo.  They are often called wild pigs, but are actually members of the rodent family.  In any case, no one who ever call them handsome!20140214_110547Yesterday, we were heading out in the truck, and saw a bobcat race across the street in front of the truck, and climb over our neighbor’s garden wall.  John slammed on the brakes, I grabbed the camera and high-tailed over to get a photo.  Very suspicious – me stalking the bushes around the yard, wanting to see the bobcat again, but fearing that it would see the leaves rustling and come leaping back over the wall.  Our other fear was that it would go from the neighbors yard, over the 3′ wall to our yard.  We had left the sliding doors to the patio open.  Visions of Jezzy seeing the bobcat, tearing through the screen, and the two of them jumping over the wall and out into the desert passed through our minds.  Bye-bye security deposit!  Worries (whew!) unfounded.  Lynn says that since we didn’t get a photo, it doesn’t count as a sighting.  Bah!

20140214_110056Today, I srolled to the Arid Garden, a project of the Green Valley Gardeners, right around the corner from us. It’s a beautiful desert garden, with all the cactus variities labeled and lovingly tended.

Chaste Tree


African Sumac

Fishhook cactus

Fishhook cactus

African Daisy

African Daisy

20140214_110214I need to make another trip or two early or late in the day when the sunshine is not so intense.  Flushed up a bevy of quail in the desert on the way home.  Such a ruckus!

T@DA friends Vern and Ilene Baker shared a beer with us at Barrio Brewery – a new watering hole for us.  Great beer (Ben’s IPA!) and wonderful fish tacos.  We will be back. 20140213_170827 We were hoping a train would pass through while we were sitting there (note the special price on the bottom of the menu), but it was not to be.

And today is Valentine’s Day.  Grillin’ on the patio with friends and family.

Been a good week… is treating us very well right now.