Hottest. Lowest. Driest

Gee, can they make Death Valley sound any more attractive (in addition to such an enticing name?) What a great slogan. It owns the hottest recorded temperature in the world (132 degrees Fahrenheit, I think. Back in 1913). It’s the lowest spot in the world at Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level). But, I’m willing to argue about it being the driest. We’ve camped there three years – one in early January, once early March, and this time in late March. Each time, we have endured substantial rainfall. Fun-killing, stormy rainfall. So, the feeble claim of “less than 2 inches of rainfall per year” isn’t really sounding too factual to us. But, what an amazing place to explore and camp.

For the first time, we spent three nights in the northernmost campground called Mesquite Spring, and it’s now our first choice of campgrounds.wp-1490669090641.jpg It’s about 35 large sites, tucked in along the Death Valley Wash. We had the perfect campsite – our door faced east, so our awning offered abundant afternoon shade, which was the envy of every camper there.

The Ubehebe Crater there is probably my favorite place in the entire Park. This huge crater is over a half-mile in diameter.wp-1490669158422.jpg Black cinder sides (up to 150 feet thick in spots) make an easy walk down to the botton 600 feet below, and a heart-pumping hike back to the rim. It’s gorgeous, and the walk around the rim’s circumference is not to be missed.wp-1490669171036.jpg For the first time, we cycled to the Crater – not a great distance, but with some long steep grades punctuated with strong swirling winds. It was a great day.

We decided to hike the next day at Fall Canyon, which we had never yet visited. wp-1490669048443.jpgTowering colorful walls line the canyon, which narrows to about 15′ wide at points. wp-1490998951249.jpgThe hike deadends at a dry waterfall about 3-1/2 miles from the parking lot. Although this doesn’t sounds tough, it’s a steady uphill trek through a gravelly, sandy wash to get there. It was a big relief to get to the end, and find a shady spot to site along the wall while we ate lunch.

After three nights, we were ready to move on to the southern end of the Park. The temperature difference was astonishing – Mesquite Falls is about 1800′, and Furnace Creek (appropriately named) is about -200′. There was about a 15 degree difference in the temperature. When we tow, we keep our window shades up, to prevent them from accidentally snapping up and breaking. Unfortunately, that also lets the sun beat in. By the time we secured a site at Furnace Creek and set up camp, it was probably well over 100 degrees in the Fireball. Of course, it was absolutely dead still, without a whisper of air to help push out some of the heat.20170327_194152.jpg Our puny ceiling fan really couldn’t help much. So, we parked our camp chairs in the shade of some large nearby shrubby trees, and waited for the sun to go down, and for things to cool off. It remained uncomfortably hot inside the whole night. It felt like this.20170327_194112.jpgOur campsite was only available for one night, so in the morning, we quickly cycled to Zabriskie Point to enjoy the color explosion there.wp-1490668553298.jpgwp-1490668567860.jpg We decamped for Las Vegas, taking the long route out, stopping at all the points of interest in the south end of the Park, and had a thoroughly enjoyable day on the road. Devil’s Golf Course was our first stop. These salt-encrusted mounds are stiff and prickly. You wouldn’t want to have a misstep and fall – it would be pretty painful.wp-1490668451319.jpgNo trip to Death Valley would be complete without a stroll at Badwater, the lowest spot in the world. A thick, dusty salt plain stretches as far as you can see. In the bright sunlight, it’s blindingly white. It’s a crazy experience.20170327_193158.jpgwp-1490668287193.jpgwp-1490668254541.jpg At the very southermost edge, we encountered a strange plant called Dodder, or witches’ hair, for the very first time. This wiry orange tangle of springy vine attaches itself to a host plant. It’s very odd to see, and even more unusual to touch, having kind of a dry, yet spongy feel.20170327_192532.jpgOn to Las Vegas, where we are visiting my sister Gail and Dan. We’re overdue for a few repairs (including the installation of a new converter), and a much needed total cleanup. Everything in and about the Fireball is looking pretty raggedy, and we were almost looking forward to the job of a good cleaning overhaul. A bit of quality family time, and some quality grilled goods (Dan’s fantastic outdoor kitchen + John’s great grilling skills) were all on the agenda.

Sadly, every good thing about being here has been overshadowed by the fact that Jezzy was attacked by a stray pit bull, while she and I were walking Thursday morning. It jumped her from behind, and had her down before I ever even saw him. You’d be surprised at how loudly I can yell, while kicking that beast as hard as I could. Two guys who were painting the house across the street ran over and were banging on the pit with an aluminum ladder, while I continued to kick and snap him with my leash. All this was to no affect whatever. John finally heard my screams and came charging out into the street. He grabbed the pit by the neck from behind, and dragged him off Jezzy. I was so relieved to see her spring up and run toward the house.

Long story short, we took her to my sister’s vet, where she had surgery that afternoon to close up her eye socket, which had been torn to the bone. She’s got a bunch of stitches under the eye, and a drain to help with the blood/fluid in the deep pocket that has resulted. Fortunately, her other injuries were superficial. The vet at Cheyenne Tonopah Animal Clinic was fantastic, and there staff provided comfort to the three of us, who were badly shaken. Here are pre- and post-surgery photos of Jezzy.wp-1491000060535.jpgwp-1490999047380.jpgShe may have some permanent nerve damage (can’t blink fully), but we won’t know that for months. Las Vegas Animal Control was also wonderful. The officer who picked the dog up was kind and sympathetic. Actually, the dog was very docile once removed from Jezzy, and was wagging his tail happily as he was loaded into the Animal Control truck. We’ve filled out all the forms, the owner has been identified. We’re not sure what may happen next. We may get restitution for medical costs, but that’s not a major issue for us. We want Jezzy well, want to get rid of the Cone (my brother-in-law Dan calls Jezzy “Motorola”), and try to put this behind us. For sure it will take me a while. I’m on the verge of tears every minute. It’s painful to see Jezzy colliding with walls and chairs, trying to navigate around the house, but she’s doing pretty well. We’re keeping the pain meds poured on, as often as prescribed, so we hope she’s not too uncomfortable, even though she seems pretty confused.wp-1490993109530.jpg It’s going to be even more difficult in the Fireball, as the Cone is as wide as our floorspace, meaning that she won’t be able to turn around. Somehow, we’ll make this all work. We’ve extended our stay here in order to take Jezzy back to the Vet for removal of the drain, but hope to be moving on again Sunday.

Yeah, onward.



California Days

Boy, have we ever covered a lot of ground since my last post. Funny how a bit of time trivializes all of the things we did – it seems really silly to detail activities to the extent that I usually do. So, we’ll go with the Cliffs Notes version here – bits of commentary. Photos. And California is so beautiful that I have dozens that I would like to share.

Before leaving Crystal Cove State Park, we had to take one extended bike ride to Coronado Island to see the iconic Hotel del Coronado. Wow. I couldn’t take any photos from a vantage point that made any sense, so you’ll have to enjoy the linked ones instead. There is even a sand sculptor on the beach there, creating fanatastical castles.wp-1489722400006.jpg It really is a look into another vacation world. Our bike ride took the biggest chunk of a day, and covered 50+ miles. Loved the fact that probably probably 45 miles of this was on dedicated bike paths, AND a brewery was right along the route.

Moving on to San Clemente State Beach was interesting, as noted in my last post. Our campsite was overgrown with weedswp-1490289949242.jpgand a couple of feral cats seemed to adopt us – drinking from Jezzy’s outside water dish, hanging out by the warmth of our campfire, and sitting on our picnic table.wp-1490289471717.jpg And yet? What a great campground – kids, bikes, tons of tent-campers. The campground itself is perched atop some delicate-looking sandstone cliffs. wp-1490289999739.jpgIt’s amazing (to me, anyway) that these cliffs are still standing – you can scratch them with your fingernail. But they are beautiful, especially strewn with spring wildflowers. wp-1490289917234.jpgwp-1490289739477.jpgWandering down the beach, we spied on Nixon’s old house – Casa Pacifica. wp-1490289890597.jpgwp-1490289864289.jpgLots of surfers. wp-1490289851524.jpgwp-1490289830255.jpgWe cycled down a beach path, and wandered out on the San Clemente pier. wp-1490289812166.jpg20170323_102117.jpgwp-1490289621329.jpgwp-1490289588089.jpgSan Clemente vs Laguna Beach? Old money vs new artsy money. Both fun.

It was a shock to leave the beach and head back into the Mojave Desert, but that’s what we did. Owl Canyon Campground near Barstow, CA was our next stop. With our senior pass, camping was $3/night. It couldn’t have been better.wp-1490669231753.jpg About 80% of the 30 campsites were empty, so we grabbed a good one, and set up for two nights. Ahhhh, so quiet. Huge, starry sky. The only bad thing was that it was super windy, so we couldn’t enjoy a campfire, or even an evening cookout. The wind was howling!

We did hike into the Canyon the next day, taking Jezzy on the two-mile loop.wp-1490669266731.jpg Sadly, as we neared the end, we found a rocky wall obstacle. We could have gotten up and over, but there was no way we could have boosted Jezzy over. So, we had to turn around and trudge back. There’s not much else out there – we learned that we were lucky not to have been there on a weekend – it turns into a Jeep off-roader wild party. So happy not to have blundered into that!

Death Valley was our next stop, but that deserves its own post.


After camping for three days in the pristine beauty of Crystal Cove State Park, moving to San Clemente State Beach is like being thrown into a wolf den. The Park is sadly in need of a bit of TLC, beginning with a bit of weed-whacking. It’s a touch overgrown.

But, listening to our neighbors (we’re camped in a crowded section of primarily tent campers) is a treat. Here’s how it sounds….

Wild panicked high-pitched shrieking…

     Authoritative male voice: Nathan, calm down.

Kid voice: How about we sneak up on….

     Authorative male voice: No, no, and NO!

LOUD female voice: Anybody lose a shoe out there?

Kid:…(unintelligible)….Making babies….(unintelligible)

Patient male voice: Avery, he has a cot, you have a cushion – that’s better!

Sound of car leaving…male voice: It’s not she’s like going to the grocery store, Dude. She’s gone…..

     Car returns 20 minutes later – chipper female voice: We have baby wipes and hand sanitizer now!

Male voice: Where’s the mosquito spray? ( Author note, there are no mosquitos out there)

     Female voice: omg…Did I spray that in your eye!!?

     Male voice: I looked it up -there are no mosquitos here. They are crane flies.

Female voice: Avery, get down from there right now! (It’s pitch dark out there). The campground is perched on a steep cliff.


It’s total mayhem here. Gonna be a long weekend.

The shrieking continues….

Nixon, Revisited

Move over LBJ. We may have just replaced your Museum with a new favorite, and an unlikely one, at that. We visited the Nixon Museum two days ago, and were absolutely blown away. It starts with the gigantic portrait by Norman Rockwell inside the door.20170317_094411.jpg As always, we began our investigation of the Museum by watching the introductory film. No pussy-footing around here – the opening scene is Nixon’s emotional exit speech, and we see him and Pat getting into the helicopter. President Ford wipes a tear from his eye. Bang! What a beginning. This scene is echoed in another exhibit as well, showing Nixon from inside the chopper looking out.wp-1489722399890.jpgClosed for six months last year while the Museum’s exhibits were re-tooled, I can only say that the results are stunning. There are all sorts of interactive displays, and huge sections both on Watergate and Vietnam. Timelines on both are really helpful in sorting things out.wp-1489772426258.jpgIt was disquieting to see the weekly Vietnam stats that were kept in a safe. Take a close-up look at the document on the right.

Actual conversations can be listened in on using old-style big push-button phones. We found things to like about Nixon – things that we forgot, or that had been overshadowed by Watergate. He signed Title IX into being – ending gender-based discrimination in education and sports programs. Anyone who went to school in the 60’s knows how huge that was. When I was in high school, there were ZERO sports for girls. None. Nixon also abolished the draft, and ushered the all-volunteer army into existence. Loved the photo showing mail and telegram response he got after referring to support of his Vietnam policy by the Silent Majority.wp-1489722399830.jpgThe War on Cancer. The opening of diplomatic relations with China. The introduction of the Space Shuttle program. Signing of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) with Russia.wp-1489772405859.jpgThe creation of the EPA. And, surprisingly, Nixon championed a health insurance program, with subsidies to help everyone afford coverage, which was shot down by the Democratic congress. It’s interesting to remember all the things we’ve forgotten. Here are a few other photos from the Museum. I think these are the same drapes Trump is currently using.wp-1489722399676.jpgwp-1489722399529.jpgwp-1489772488550.jpgwp-1489722399372.jpgNixon was a voracious note-taker, and went through thousands of yellow legal pads during his career. His college roommates nicknamed him Iron Butt, for his ability to sit in one chair for hours, making and reviewing notes. Maybe that’s how I’ll remember him. Make it a point to visit this spectacular site if you’re near Yorba Linda, CA.

Our home for the last three nights has been Crystal Cove State Park, perhaps the most beautiful campground we ever stay in. wp-1489722399742.jpgwp-1489722399716.jpgwp-1489722399395.jpgThis is our third time here, and each time we make plans for another visit. Our campsite is perched right over the Pacific Coast Highway, and the pounding surf lulls us to sleep every night. One oddity this trip has been the dense fog, which rolls in after dusk every night, and doesn’t clear off until after noon. Makes for a short day to whale watch. While wandering down the beach, we did see this sand castle, which pales in comparison to the professionally crafted one at Coronado Island that we saw a few days ago. But beautiful, nonetheless.wp-1489722399306.jpgwp-1489722400001.jpgWe are heading off today to a new camp at San Clemente State Beach, just a few miles to the south of here. San Clemente was the site of the Western White House in Nixon’s time. wp-1489722399527.jpgThe Nixons spent many weekends there while he was in office, and returned to San Clemente after he left. We’re looking forward to exploring a new Park – camping on the CA coast is astonishingly expensive. Our basic site – no water or electric is $50/night. Showers are coin-op. It certainly is the most we have paid for any state park camping, but it is oh so worth it for a week.wp-1489722399181.jpg

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