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.

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.

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!

 

 

Foreign Lands

After traveling around and camping in the US for the past four months, John and I decided to add a bit of international flavor to our trip. So, we jumped on our bikes (from our current base in Carson City, NV) and headed off to the Sovereign Republic of Molossia, a scant twenty miles away. 20160416_115956Never heard of Molossia? I’m shocked!

It all started with an article from Atlas Obscura, which I read just a day or two ago. (I urge you to read this, so you will understand why we needed to make the long trek to a foreign country). It seemed only reasonable to bike up there to see what Molassia is all about. The article linked above indicated that tours would be given on April 16, which just happens to be Obscura Day (whatever that is). We even brought our passports, in hopes of getting the coveted Molossia stamp, which was also referenced in the article.

Well, the welcome mat certainly was not rolled out as we had expected. 20160416_120155No Trespassing signs were everywhere. We were warned not to cross the clearly marked US/Molossia Border, without permission, which we didn’t have. 20160416_120105Inside the Palace or Official Residence, we could hear somebody vacuuming (presumably the President, First Lady, or one of the 31 other citizens of Molossia). We were hesitant to approach.20160416_12032020160416_120426From a distance, we could see the business center of Molossia, which seemed to consist of a Post Office, bank, some kind of t-shirt shop, and a few other sites which were too far away for us to clearly see them. 20160416_120220Fred, the guy at the Border Control station was distinctly unhelpful.20160416_12012020160416_120207After propping our bikes up for a few photos, we sadly pedaled away. 20160416_120251Perhaps if President Kevin Baugh would send the Official State Limo to pick us up, we would consider another visit. Until then – Bah!

On the bright side, we pedaled about 40 miles – checked out Dayton State Park, had a superb (and cheap!) lunch at Compadres in Dayton, and sneaked a peek at some of the treasures stowed away at the Dayton Historical Museum.20160416_130122Here are a few other shots of our day’s adventure around the Dayton/Molossia area.20160416_10365520160416_11185620160416_12564020160416_124921It was a pretty good day.

 

Deep Blue

Sadly, we left the Redwood National Forest, and pointed the Fireball east for the first time in months. Got one last photo of the giant tree in our campsite ‘backyard’. 20160410_174110As close as we could measure this with our Stanley 10′ tape measure, it was nearly 38′ around.

One last pass through Crescent City was in order, as this was our last view of the Pacific Ocean as well. The old lighthouse there (still operating), sitting on its picturesque island is a beautiful sight for any camera lens.20160410_12025720160410_120232 McArthur-Burney Falls State Park was our next stop for a brief overnight. The never-ending county road took us through the Siskiyou Mountains. Bet our average speed for a 40 mile stretch was no more than 25mph, but what a gorgeous route. Sometimes, it pays not to be in a hurry.20160411_112513The campsites at McArthur-Burney were large, secluded, and barely populated.20160411_175254 We wandered down to the spectacular falls. Not only does water thunder over the top of the falls – it also pushes through the bedrock walls on each side of the main falls.20160412_090844 I’ve never seen anything quite so dramatic. Water flow was good, and we could hear the falls back at our campsite, even though it was probably 1/3 mile away. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through this point, so I even got to walk a few hundred yards on this trail, perhaps made most famous by the book and movie “Wild”.

An early start was in order for the next day, as we wanted to check out Lassen Volcanic National Park, and (hopefully) get in a brief hike. Closed!! Even the Visitor Center was closed for the season (doesn’t open until Memorial weekend). We wandered around the area, checking out the early seismograph located there.20160412_101516 For miles around, there are huge chunks of volcanic rock – although I don’t know the history of this volcano, it must have been one enormous eruption, or series of eruptions. It’s a gorgeous area, and we were sad not to be able to explore.20160412_10294920160412_104056 Even the State Highway is closed for the season at that point – we had to backtrack to get to Lake Tahoe, our next destination.

This was one of the rare times we really didn’t know where we were going to ‘land’ the Fireball. We had pinpointed several campgrounds in the nearby National Forest, but all are closed for the season. We finally found one state park on the west side of the Lake, which had probably a dozen open campsites. So, Ed Z’berg Sugar Point Pines State Park became our home for three nights. What an interesting spot. This is a huge State Park with over 175 campsites. But, we were the only campers there. Showers were all locked up, but we did have flush toilets. Solitude, very cold windy nights, and a huge starry sky. Bonus – we woke up on Day 2 to snow.20160414_071457Lake Tahoe is deep and cold. It holds 39 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover the state of California with 14″ of clear, drinkable water. It’s an amazing sparkling deep blue color.20160413_121931image The average depth is 1600′ feet, which I find incredible, since Lake Superior has an average depth of less than 500, and is about 1350 at its deepest spot. We hiked, biked, and wandered everywhere we could. It was difficult not just to sit and appreciate our good fortune for being able to land in such a spectacular spot.20160414_11345820160414_104152One point of interest was Vikingholm, a large Scandinavian style home built on the southern shore in the 1920s.. Dappled light made photos difficult, and I was disappointed not to get a great photo of the snow-covered sod roof which covers a section of the home. 20160414_12284320160414_12231220160413_124015Completed in 1929, it now is part of the Park, but was closed (nothing apparently opens until Memorial weekend). But what a pleasure to walk around.

Saw this notable cedar of some type with its curly bark, and a large pine tree with an unusual repair job to cover up a wound.

The rest of our time was spent viewing the lake from every possible elevation and angle. With the bright clear skies brought on by the prior night’s snowfall, it was a photo dream. I could probably post a hundred photos, taken just because I wanted to imprint these images on my brain.

Lake Tahoe was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and part of them took place right on the trails in our campground. How could we resist taking our mountain bikes (and rifles – HA!) and heading out to the biathlon course?20160413_114121 We got off to a great start, but soon ran into old icy snow piles. Wham! Suddenly I was face-planted in the cold icy stuff. Luckily John didn’t see it, but he did ask me to recreate the scene for a photo. NOT! I managed to biff a second time before we came to a huge (50 yards long) deep muddy hole. There’s no way we could tell how deep it was, and there was no way to bypass it, so we turned back. Yes, I did fall once again on the return. For my efforts, I have a sore knee and a bit of ice burn on my leg. Badges of honor on an Olympic course – I’m proud.

The Donner Party met its demise in this area, so we headed to Donner Lake State Park to see the new Museum there, which just opend in Fall 2015. The Donner Party was a group of 89 pioneers headed to California in 1846-47. They took a ‘shortcut’ which didn’t turn out to be that, and bogged down for months. The upshot was that about half died along the way, and their bodies were consumed by others in a desperate attempt to survive. Only 47 of the original 89 survived that brutal winter, the worst in 100 years. Other areas of the museum are dedicated to the Chinese laborers who cut the railroad tunnels through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the 1860s. The labors of these workers are finally being appropriately credited to them, after years of silence for this achievement. The Museum doesn’t really lend itself to photos of these exhibits, but a statue outside, dedicated in 1918, pays tribute to all those California pioneers.20160414_145408We left much unseen in the Lake Tahoe area, in the hopes that we’ll make a return trip.image 20160414_121830Hard to believe, but we’re already feeling the pressure of moving eastward to make our deadline of being in Maggie Valley, NC on May 18. How are we going to cover all of those miles in a mere month?

We’ve rolled into Carson City NV for a few days. No more camping in the woods by ourselves – we’re in a crowded RV park.20160415_141906 But there’s WiFi! Showers that aren’t coin-operated! Electricity and water. All the things we haven’t had but for a day or two in the last two months. If it wasn’t for all the traffic noise, other campers, and barking dogs, it would be great!

The trek eastward continues.