Moving On

After several years of being in one spot in Green Valley for the month of February, you’d think we would have at least some kind of rhythm for our time there. At the very least, we should have some kind of sense of fleeting time, so that when the last few days roll around, there’s not some insane scrambling to see all the folks we intended to visit, hike all the unhiked trails (I’m talking about YOU, Butterfly Trail…), and cycle to our favorite destinations. Ah, no….apparently we haven’t learned that lesson yet.

The drastic weather change of the last two weeks threw us for a loop.We went from 10 degrees above average, to five days of rain, to two weeks of at least ten degrees below average temps. Plus, just to top everything off, there was a big snowfall the night before our departure from Madera Canyon, so we awoke to this…20180228_0854401701013167.jpg20180228_073805120414573.jpgWhile it was undeniably gorgeous, our immediate concern was getting down the 18-20% grade on our driveway safely. Whew….no problem. I can almost unclench my fists now, three days later.

We appreciated and enjoyed all aspects of our Madera Canyon stay – hiking, cycling, and the chance to do some serious hanging out with family and friends. It’s great to drop in once a year, and pick up where we left off the year before. Green Valley is a great second home for us, and we hope never to lose our enthusiasm for our month-long visit.20180301_165958-1376875323.jpg20180301_1659101142238964.jpgBut, as you know, our passion is camping, and the Campsh@ck calls seductively near the end of the month. Time to roll….

So, here we are at Picacho Peak State Park, about 50 miles north of Tucson. We’ve hiked here several times, but this is our first time in the campground. Although the sites are very large, there is little vegetation, so it feels pretty open.20180228_17064418441007.jpgBut, always looming in the background is Picacho Peak (just above the vent in the camper roof). There’s a challenge issued here, and I am powerless to resist. Although I’ve hiked here three or four times (John several times more), it’s very tough. If you fear sheer dropoffs and steep ascents, this is not the hike for you.

We decided to take a new (for us) trail to the top. The Sunset Trail takes a longer path (than the Hunter Trail) along the backside of the mountain. We cycled to the Trailhead, noting with pleasure that the ride back to camp would be mostly downhill. Thank goodness for that! We were whipped.

After a ridiculously long hike up and down through the desert, (Peak is in the left background)20180301_1128131077881370.jpg20180301_110930447357576.jpg we finally began ascending at a relentless degree up the back side of Picacho. In several places, cables have been drilled into the rock, assisting your climb. There are thin footholds (according to the standards of my size 10 feet, anyway). It’s a matter of trying to prop yourself up with your feet, and haul yourself up with your arms and shoulders. Don’t believe me? Those ‘little’ cactus on the desert floor are probably 25 feet tall. It’s a long drop.20180301_1240441378067337.jpgPerhaps the descent is even worse – John prefers to back down, while I nearly always go forward (it’s the Know Your Enemy theory…).This is much steeper than it looks here.20180301_13583921054951.jpgIn between these cabled spots are some amazing scenic views. You can see John’s white shirt on the far right as he heads down the trail.20180301_1343051549391073.jpg And the lunch spot at the peak is stunning.20180301_130844750705295.jpg20180301_1307041546239957.jpgOddly enough, the hike was yesterday. Today, we are both having trouble putting one foot ahead of the other to walk to the bathroom. Getting old? Nah.

It’s good to be back on the road.

 

Aliens and Unreal Landscapes

It’s been an interesting week. Since leaving the green altitudes of Datil Wells, we’ve been camping in State Parks in New Mexico and Texas. Our camping preferences run like this…1) National Parks, 2) National Forests, 3) State Forests, 4) State Parks/County Parks,   5) Everything else. 6) If we are truly desperate, a parking lot like Walmart or Cracker Barrel (although we’ve never had to resort to that yet). We LOVE pulling into a new-to-us campground for the first time – the anticipation of finding the perfect campsite is always lurking around the next curve.

So, it was with great anticipation that we pulled into Bottomless Lakes Campground near Roswell, NM. 20170417_19154720170418_083819Of course, we wanted to investigate all the UFO business that has been Roswell’s calling card for 70 years. And, we anticipated a really deep series of lakes. Um, not exactly.

“Bottomless” refers to the fact that there are sinkholes here, caused by an underground river. Instead of deep lakes, we found a shallow, swampy chain of lakes, which had an appropriately swampy aroma, and swarms of flies to accompany same. (They nearly drove me insane!) One lake, on which our campground was situated, had enough water to have a picnic/pavillion/swimming area. But, we arrived shortly after Easter weekend, and this area was trashed! After two days, it still had not been cleaned up (same case with the bathroom/showers). Disgraceful. There was crap everywhere!

Roswell is all about UFOs.20170418_10571920170418_110804 There was a reported UFO landing in 1947, which has spawned an entire industry – movies, a museum, and multiple investigations. 20170418_10354720170418_165838Did it happen? Will we ever really know? But, the UFO Museum and Research Center has all the information for you to make your own decision.20170418_10475320170418_10562120170418_11045920170418_170354We spent a couple hours there, reading all the newspaper articles and looking at the photos. It’s all about self-promotion, and selling souviners. John bought an alien fly swatter, in the vain hope of helping to quash to invasion at the campground. We hiked, and wandered around a bit and enjoyed a bit of free WiFi in the campground – a rarity. After two days, it was time to move on.

Ever since our first trip into Palo Duro State Park several years ago, we’ve wanted to return, so we booked a four-night reservation. Sadly, we didn’t get into the campground we had hoped for (full). But, we were assured that this would change later this year, when TX State Park Reservations will allow visitors to make site-specific reservations. As it stands now, you can only make a ‘reservation’, and you’re assigned a site when you get there. We were lucky to get a  pretty decent site anyway. Next year, we’ll get the one we want.

Palo Duro Canyon is called the Little Grand Canyon, as it’s the second largest canyon west of the Mississippi.20170421_13585820170421_135823 It’s spectacular, and mid-April is a gorgeous time to visit. Trees are budding, everything is greening up, and it’s generally pleasant. Two out of our four days did touch 90 degrees (unexpected), but the nights were cool and comfortable. We explored the Park on two great hikes – the Lighthouse Trail was the first.20170420_104953-120170420_105838 This unusual hoodoo is tucked away three miles from the roadway, so the only way to see it is to hike (or bike) in. It’s well worth the effort, which was really minor in the scheme of things).

We also did the Rock Garden hike, another six-mile round trip, which extends from the canyon floor to the rim, through an amazing boulder field. 20170422_13433220170424_10445320170422_114800It really taxes my imagination to  see all these enormous boulders strewn around. Did it all happen in one big explosion, or over the course of thousands (or millions) of years? It’s a crazy feeling to wander through this rock field, as we crawled up toward the canyon rim, about 700 feet above.

We spent the rest of our time cycling around, exploring the nearby town of Canyon, and generally just hanging out, wondering at the beauty of this unexpected place in Texas. At the Visitor Center though, we were taken aback by the appearance of Darth Vader in a diorama with big-horned sheep. 20170421_140955What’s with that? It was in a back corner, and it occurred to us that it might have been placed there by a rogue State Park employee. I was also taken aback by this Unidentified TSM (Texas-sized Moth) which was hanging out in the women’s shower. Yikes!I had to run back and get my camera to get this photo.20170422_202408 (I really didn’t need to rush – he was in the same spot for two days!)

Our last two days have been in Copper Breaks State Park – we are really making the best use of our annual Texas State Park Annual Pass. Breaks refers to the splits in the ground here, which result in a red ‘mini-canyon’ about 50-60′ deep. The surrounding area is absolutely flat. 20170424_134905Although there isn’t a lot happening around here, this is a very pleasant campground, with great spacing between sites and crazy helmetlike shelters over each picnic table. 20170424_195354We are especially pleasant to have nabbed a site with a shade tree. Although it’s been hot – nearly 90 today, we can sit in the shade and breeze and thoroughly enjoy being outside. (As I write this, it’s 9pm, and there’s a coyote party going on not too far away).  We cycled the entire Park, and hiked a few of the trails, although there’s nothing really spectacular to see here. Probably the highlight of the hikes was this former shoreline, preserved in rock, a long way from any current water. 20170424_135203This is the kind of stuff we really love to stumble across on any hike.

Tomorrow we head into Oklahoma. We want to escape any serious prolonged heat, so we’re creeping north a bit. The weather forecast for the upcoming weekend looks dangerous in the Oklahoma/Arkansas area, so we’re going to have to be willing to change plans on the fly if necessary.

Back Again

It’s been forever since my last blog post – seems like home life got in the way of camping life this summer, so there hasn’t been too much to write about. Happily, we are finally on the road again.

What kept us so damn busy that we couldn’t camp?

Yard work – check out our newest addition to our Backyard Bicycle Sculpture Park.

Bike stuff – volunteer duties for our weekly bike club Time Trials, John’s weekend on the National 24 Hour Challenge, and our SAG duties for the Night Shift (100 mile nighttime gravel road bike ride + camping extravaganza).wp-1475114600152.jpg This was our only camping trip since May, and we made the best of it. The down side of this 10 days of camping was that it rarely got below 90 degrees. Even though we were camped on the shores of Lake Michigan, it was ridiculously uncomfortable (but oh so fun…!)wp-1475117531960.jpgwp-1475117416439.jpgFireball repairs – the window that blew out in a freak storm in Death Valley was finally replaced. Whew! We sweated that one out….John wound up taking a trip with the Fireball to Ohio, where a slightly larger window was installed. Since it involved cutting the actual panel of the Fireball to make it fit, he didn’t want to tackle it himself. Pleasant Valley Trailer did a fantastic job. They also installed diamond plate on the front protect the front from stone chips. wp-1475117491721.jpgJohn installed a small 10W solar panel on the battery box to use as a trickle charger to keep the battery up when the Fireball is in storage. Hopefully, we’re done with Fireball repairs for the next year or so. Repairs can suck the joy out of camping, for sure.

Our friends Gail & Sid from Virginia camped in our driveway with their T@DA. Double trouble! We were the talk of the neighborhood.wp-1473178554171.jpg

I had surgery on my right thumb which kept me off my bike and very grouchy (I know that’s hard to believe).wp-1475114514065.jpg After nearly three months, I’m trying to wean myself out of my hand brace, and bring full functionality back. Being able to ride my bike is huge, although not without its trials. I’m finding that riding my road bike is ridiculously painful, so (for now, anyway), I’m sticking to my mountain bike. Not having an opposable thumb for a couple of months is no laughing matter. I wasn’t much handier for day to day chores than Jezzy.

But, enough of that!

I’m a crazy Detroit Tiger fan, so we splurged and bought tickets to two Tiger games last weekend.wp-1475120571787.jpg Although (pitifully) the Tigers managed to lose both games and severely hamper their ability to get into postseason play, we had a great time. We ate coney dogs, drank craft beers, and wandered around Detroit. In addition, we sat behind the cutest Miguel Cabrera fan EVER on Sunday afternoon.wp-1475068847132.jpg Here’s a sampling of the sights.

Nemo’s Bar – a classic old tavern near the old (demolished) Tiger Stadiumwp-1475068879253.jpgHart Plaza on the Detroit Riverwp-1475068711779.jpgwp-1475068659963.jpgGM Headquarters, where we tried to negotiate pension raises for our GM retiree relatives!wp-1475068639748.jpgConey dogs! My favorite was American Coney Island, John preferred Lafayette. Yum!wp-1475068617449.jpgCoolest handmade townie bikes. I want one! Custom Faygo pop colors had sparkles!wp-1475068557796.jpgTree growing on the roof of an empty building downtown. wp-1475068529293.jpgNow, we are finally on the road again for a month or so – heading to the Dakotas to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and everything else in between. Our plan is to generally follow US2, which means we went across the Mackinac Bridge – always a thrill.wp-1475119570125.jpgWe spent our first night at Young State Park in Boyne City, MI.wp-1475119612711.jpgwp-1475068408220.jpg The Park itself is gorgeous, perched on the corner of Lake Charlevoix. It’s easy to imagine total mayhem in the summer months though, as the sites are mostly small and very close together.

Today, we’re in Little Bay de Noc Campground in the Hiawatha National Forest, on the northern shore of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. This is camping at its finest.wp-1475119452139.jpg We have a huge site in a 38 site campground, which we are sharing with only one other trailer, plus a camp host. The wind is roaring, and we can hear the waves lapping on the shore. Along the way today, we stopped at Seul Choix Point, and wandered around the lighthouse, which was built in 1895.wp-1475113118477.jpgwp-1475113147430.jpgI’m a bit shy on photos for this post, but I’ll try to better going forward. It’s so great to be rolling again.

Let the camping begin!

 

 

Spring in the Smokies

It’s the home stretch, baby. Just two more nights in North Carolina, two furious days on the road, and we’ll be back home. My bet is that I’ll be wishing we were back on the road again in about a week. The glow of being home sometimes wears off quickly.

Leaving Evansville, we headed to Big South Fork NRA in Tennessee. This turned out to be a fabulous spot to camp – quiet, great bathrooms/showers, and well-spaced campsites in the trees. I’d go back in a heartbeat.20160514_133149This area is loaded with hiking trails, so we opted for a 6.5 mile jaunt to one of the original homesteads in the area.20160514_12214620160514_12052720160514_12194020160514_120941

 

Magnolia trees with gigantic leaves are scattered along the Trail – they were gorgeous to see, and would be truly spectacular when they bloom.20160514_105548Perhaps best of all, this was a walk on which we could take Jezzy. I totally understand the ban of dogs on trails in the National Parks and many State Parks, but we jump at the chance to include her on our hikes where we can.

Moving on, we decided to revisit Smokemont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This was our third trip to GSMNP, and our second to this campground – in fact, we had the same campsite as our first visit. There were few campers in the Park, although the road in was jammed with cars near any trailhead or attraction when we arrived on Sunday. I really thought that we would be able to see blooms on the thousands of rhododendrons in the Park. Nope! We were STILL too early in the season – a huge disappointment. We saw a few meager blossoms.20160514_104449Our seven mile hike took us along a trail dense with rhododendrons on each side, limiting our views out into the Smokies. So, I had to concentrate my camera on some of the small sights instead of the big scenes. Macro photography is not my specialty, but I did spy a few things I wanted to share. Check out this pink moth. The flowers on the Salomon’s Seal were nearly ready to open.

Most of my flower shots were stupid-looking, so I’m not even going to bother to post them. BUT, the real show came as we trudged back to the campground. As we passed the RV dump station, we noticed dzens of yellow swallowtail butterflies clumped together in pools of liquid on the ground. Whether this was fresh water from the spigots or a bit of drizzle from some RV’s gray or blackwater tanks, I don’t know. But the butterflies were everywhere.20160516_132106Nearby was an even more curious sight. At the base of a tree near our site were other clumps of swallowtails, but I’m not sure what was happening here. But it was butterfly carnage – torn wings and pieces and parts of butterflies were everywhere amid the clumps of fluttering wings. Were they mating, and then the females eat the males? I have no idea. It might be hard to see in the photos, because the ground cover masks the pieces of wings, but look closely and you’ll see what I mean. I’m anxious to get to a spot where I can have enough Wifi to do a bit of research on this – it was crazy to see.20160516_16070320160516_160753We checked out the Visitor Center and wandered through the reconstructed settlement there. Original buildings from various areas of the Park have been moved here, and restored. It’s gorgeous, and the perfect, picturesque setting.20160517_121553.jpg20160517_121636.jpgAnd, how could you NOT want to just settle in and hang out on the veranda of the Visitor Center for a spell?20160517_123858.jpgNow, we’re in Maggie Valley, NC for a ‘rally’ with our T@B and T@DA pals. There are probably 50 campers here, from as far away as New England and Seattle. It’s great to connect with old friends and greet new ones.

I  think my phone is trashed – I inadvertently left it on a chair under our awning last night. It rained, and some of the rain funneled directly into the chair where it pooled around the phone. Damn! I’ve dried it out as best as I can, but nothing seems to be happening. It was due for replacement when we get back home, but I’m sad that it may have bitten the dust a bit prematurely. I’m definitely not relishing the learning curve of a new phone.

Big

Big Brutus. Big Barges. Big Storms. Big Fun. We’ve had it all this week – perhaps a case of trying to cram everything in the remaining days of this trip.

Big Brutus may have been a new high or maybe a new low in our camping experience. It certainly is among the oddest experiences. I’ve never really associated Kansas with coal mining – probably not many people do. But in the 1960s and 70s, coal was surface mined here, near West Mineral. Big Brutus was the shovel which scraped the top layers of dirt and rock which covered the coal seams 25-30 feet below the surface.20160506_135347When it was built in 1962, it was the second-largest electric shovel in the world – truly deserving of the name ‘Big’ moniker. Brutus could scoop up 90 yards of earth, swing around to dump it in a designated spot, and be ready to reload the bucket in a minute. It was assembled on site, then worked its way backwards across the top of the coal seam until it was retired in April 1974. It’s huge in every dimension – 16 stories tall,  11 million pounds, ballast tanks which held 1.7 millions pounds of water to keep the shovel from tipping. Check it out against an older steam shovel which is also on display.20160506_14363020160506_14424120160506_144241The pit now is a recreational area for fisherman, although it’s illegal to swim there – subject to an $80 ticket. 20160506_145404We camped on site (the only ones there), and it was an unusual experience, for sure. See us in the distance?20160506_145159 We could shower in the adjoining Mining Museum bathroom, as long as we were done by 4:30 when it closed. We set up camp, grilled dinner, and watched the sun set on Big Brutus. Big Brutus and the land on which it sits were donated by the P & M Coal Mining Company in 1984, and the Mining Museum opened in July 1985.

It was tough to find an act to follow Big Brutus, but we managed. How about camping right on the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi Rivers, watching the river traffic pass by all day long? Our campsite at the Kaskaskia River Project provided just that. We were just 200 yards from the Kaskaskia River locks, and 1000 yards from the Mississippi River.20160508_132813 We watched this tug maneuver 35 barges along the bend. It’s hard to see, but the tug is on the far left, and the front of the barges on the right.  Five barges across, seven deep!20160508_140040The Locks were fairly quiet when we were there for 1-1/2 days, but we did get to see traffic heading up the river (empty), and out to the Mississippi (loaded with coal). Interesting – my photos are not great – it was gray and gloomy on the full day were spent there.20160509_080951And boy – did it ever rain! For five or six hours at night it was like living under a waterfall. The rain just thundered down. After a brief respite in the morning, it picked right back up where it left off. I don’t think we have ever camped in such hard rain. We kept a nervous eye on our broken window, but the many layers of duct tape we’ve plied on in the past four months kept the water out. Whew!

The Big Fun part of this week is our current lodging at John’s brother’s house in Evansville. What a great spot to hang out for a few days – Evansville is a BIG small town – smaller in population than Grand Rapids, but twice the size in so many ways.20160511_101654This is the stopover with the 1500 count sheets, and towels so thick and heavy that it’s a workout to take a shower. More big storms are ripping through this area in the last two days – huge thunderstorms with a tornado or two thrown in for excitement. Poor Jezzy – she’s practically worn her Thundershirt out.

So, tomorrow (Friday) we head out for our last 10 days of camping. Hard to believe it’s that time already. Homeward bound.