Nordhouse Dunes, Part II

Our camping trip to Nordhouse Dunes was divided into two distinct segments.  John and I arrived on Wednesday, established camp, and did our usual hike/bike/read/relax thing.  So wonderful just to park our fat butts and do nothing.  On Sunday, everything changed.  John escaped to head farther north with three buddies to tent camp and bike for five days.  Yea!  Jezzy and I get the Fireball all to ourselves for the first time!

Caroline towed her Camp Inn teardrop trailer up to join us for a few days.  With her mountain bike perched on the car rooftop, she made a splashy entrance into the campground, and he snazzy rig was the object of many envious glances all week.20140720_164415 Everyone wanted to peer in the window, and check out her amazing clamshell kitchen.  With a tongue-and-groove hatch, and stainless countertop, it’s a camping machine. 20140720_164052 She and Greg have thousands of miles on it in the five years (or so) they’ve owned it, including a three month trip to Alaska.

Caroline and I solidified our friendship years ago on bicycles.  We’ve traveled on bikes to Spain and New Zealand, and at least six states.  Riding the beautiful wooded trails and gravel roads in NW Michigan was our goal, and we made the best of it. 20140722_094740 Gravel and sand, sunny and shady, we spent three terrific days on our bikes, precariously riding beyond our capabilities at times.  What a hoot.  Lots of great sights on lightly traveled roads/trails.20140722_10372620140722_104116

On one of the trails near the campground one day, we happened upon two hikers.  One of them had picked up a ‘hitchhiker’ on her shoe.20140722_093055

Great food.  Happy campers.20140726_07545320140720_174016

Did I mention that I finished four books in 10 days?  (one was 700+ pages).  Bliss…..

Caroline had to leave after a few days, so Jezzy and I had a bachelorette pad for three days of our own.  Lucky Jezzy had endless hours on the the leash, with me catering to every whim of sniffing this leaf and that stick.  What I didn’t cover on two wheels, I walked with Jezzy.

One interesting sight in camp involved a large motorhome, in which lived two adults and three enormous dogs.  20140722_115001These folks actually had to run their generator in order to power their dog’s blow-dryer.  Not sure how I feel about that (but the dogs were adorable – a Newfie and two Leonbergers.)  We were pleased to be able to keep the Fireball powered up for 10 days with our 120W solar system, despite the challenges of a VERY shady site.

John was finally delivered back to camp by his friends, after five wonderful days in Empire.  Great cycling in the area of Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.  Most beautiful area in Michigan.

Now we’re back home, and find that we’ve got mutant squirrels living nearby.  I thought I had spotted an albino squirrel one day while walking with Jezzy.  Not albino, just squirrels with white tails!  Gary Busey has kind of a mangy tail, and is easy to spot.20140730_123203 Farrah Fawcett has a huge, fluffy tail.20140730_123239 There are two more, but this is the first time I’ve seen any two together.

Should be an interesting weekend coming up, as we’re heading out in the Fireball.  Going to crew for a bunch of crazy cyclists riding 100 miles of dirt roads and two-tracks on The Night Shift.



Biking to a BBQ Throwdown

So, what to do on a warm sunny Saturday in southern Arizona? 20140208_122602 Cycle to a sanctioned Arizona BBQ Throwdown, that’s what! Burn up a few calories on a rather testy 30 mile ride into Tucson, peruse some of Arizona’s best BBQ, then burn the calories consumed on the 30 mile return ride.

My Tour de BBQ bike jersey attests to my BBQ creds!

My Tour de BBQ bike jersey attests to my BBQ creds!

Craziness abounds at these events. You see every size, shape, and configuration imaginable of grills and smokers.20140208_12180820140208_12203620140208_120418 Competitors often have thousands invested in trailers, gear, and signage.20140208_121648 By judging time on Saturday afternoon, they’ve been up for hours, having put meat on the grill at 3am.  There’s chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket to be presented to the judges, and these guys are dead serious about winning.20140208_121946

This BBQ Throwdown was hosted by Freedom RV Sales.  So, while waiting for BBQ samples,we wandered through motor homes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, congratulating ourselves on our good taste and fortune in having our T@DA Fireball.  We try to operate on the KISS system, and that’s very apparent in our camping choices.  Different strokes, I guess.  It’s entertaining to see all the glitz that manufacturers put into the big rigs. Seriously?  You CAMP in this?

The high and low point of the day was the bike ride.  There aren’t many road choices for the trek into Tucson.  Nogales Highway is a two and four-lane state highway.  Parts are smooth and wonderful.  Since it’s a pretty flat stretch between Green Valley and Tucson, it should be a dream run, especially with the tail winds we had (both ways!) today.  But, the road shoulder for about 20 miles is so chewed up that enjoyment really doesn’t factor into the ride.  It’s more like survival.  Every ten feet or so, there are cracks similar to frost heave, which provide a painful ‘thump’ with each wheel.  How many ten foot sections are in 20 miles?  My butt could probably count them for you.

Anyway, a fun, interesting day.  We sampled some tasty ribs (best in our opinion were prepared by Badcats Backyard BBQ).20140208_12260820140208_122602 John heard angels singing when e was pulling the succulent meat off the bone.  High praise from a guy who really knows his BBQ!

In the meantime, we are still loving our rented house.  Room to stretch out and relax 20140207_124748for all of us, and fantastic sunrise and sunsets (yes, we’re always up for both!)20140206_070438

Lows to Highs to Lows

This has been revised and reduced as time has passed.  Posting only once in so many days has changed the way I’ve viewed these events.  Hope you enjoy the photos – it’s been a scenic week, and I’m feeling that I missed shooting the very best parts.

Crazy week.  From San Diego, we head to the crazy beach communities that all of us, who are not native Californians, mock.   I actually heard one surfer use the word ‘gnarly’.wpid-20140125_113248.jpg For us, it was about family, and a chance to see my nephew Mark Zeider and his family. Tatsumi, and kids Erin and Shaw.  We watched Erin’s basketball game, and had an incredible dinner at their new Laguna Hills home.  Tatsumi is an incredible cook – we feasted on BBQ Korean chicken and jambalaya with Japanese vegetables.  AND, we got leftovers to take with!  Can it get any better?  Can’t believe I didn’t take any pictures.  Too busy catching up, I guess.

We camped at Crystal Cove SP, a gem in the California SP system.wpid-20140124_144525.jpgwpid-20140125_103824.jpg

view from my camp chair, under our Alps sun awning

view from my camp chair, under our Alps sun awning

What people pay $5 million for a view, we had for $40 in our campsite.  200′ above the beach.  Surfers.  Waves. Whales. Seals. Birds. Can’t get much better.wpid-20140124_141352.jpgwpid-20140125_112751.jpg

these folks are serious about their beach buggies!

these folks are serious about jogging on the beach with their babies

After two days, we opt for a change of scene, and head to Mt. Palomar.  Home of the first 200″ Hale Telescope in the world. wpid-20140126_143307.jpgwpid-20140126_144203.jpgwpid-20140126_145216.jpg We had a harrowing drive up a very steep (4500′ elevation gain in 7 miles) winding road to Palomar Mountain SP, at about 5200′. Every climbing cyclist and motorcyclist in Southern California was on this road on a Sunday afternoon.  We happened to have a cowbell in the truck, which we used vigorously out the window to encourage the riders working their butts off to make the climb.  Our rustic campsite at Palomar Mountain State Park, complete with fire pit suited us perfectly.wpid-20140126_155839.jpg

Highs to lows.  The next day(Monday), we descended to the Salton Sea, 200′ below sea level.  Our intended destination was Joshua Tree National Park, but as we passed the Salton Sea SRA (State Recreation Area) and decided to check it out.  It’s a section of shoreline designated as a bird sanctuary.wpid-20140128_081327.jpg  There were thousands of waterfowl camped there, so we decided to join them.  White pelicans, seagulls, egrets, blue herons, and many other shore birds that I don’t know were there.  Camping was rustic, to say the least.  Walking along the beach was both satisfying (from the crunch of old shells under my boots)

sections of the shoreline are nothing but old shells

sections of the shoreline are nothing but old shells

and disgusting.  Took me 45 minutes to clean the gunk off the soles of my hiking boots, and they are now banned from the interior of the Fireballs! The guano smell from the birds was overpowering at times, but the beauty of the site special enough to overcome.wpid-20140127_154015.jpgwpid-20140127_170319.jpg The motion of the birds, ascending in mammoth flocks, and skimming along the water was calming and amazing.

Tuesday morning we departed, intending to go to Joshua Tree.  But, we’re tired of driving, camping for a night, then moving on.  We decide to make the epic drive to Catalina State Park, near Tucson.  We can camp there for four days, then move into our rented condo for a month.

Can you believe it?  No room! The only time in a month we not had a reservation, and we pull into a park with no spare campsites.  We’re camped in the overflow lot, with the promise of a rustic campsite in two days.  But, hiking here will be fantastic, there are wide bike lanes on the roads leading to this spot, the bathrooms are ridiculously wonderful, and we’re super happy not to have to drive anywhere for four days!

Two Great Days in New Mexico

Like wind? You’ll love New Mexico.wpid-20140113_173405.jpg

That’s our theme for the past couple of days.  We headed toward Oliver Lee SP with me at the wheel, which is an infrequent event. I’ve only driven while towing the Fireball a couple of times, but I do want to become more at ease with this, so I appointed myself the driver for this leg of the journey. On the map, it looked easy – about 160 miles with only about four or five turns. No big deal. I didn’t realize that we had to drive through a mountain pass – nearly 8700 feet. Snow. The ascent wasn’t so bad, but I’m not sure which of us had the whitest knuckles on the descent. The really bad part was when we saw a sign that said “Tunnel – ½ mile ahead”.wpid-20140113_123054.jpg

Not sure why, but I freak out in tunnels. Can’t ride a bicycle through them without sheer panic. The orange lights inside long expressway underpasses make me ill. Heading into Yosemite last year, we had to drive through a very long tunnel. I put my head down, and closed my eyes. John let me know when we were through. Mercifully, this was a short tunnel, and we escaped unscathed, although we did stop so I could compose myself on the far side. Crazy.

The white in the distance is White Sands National Monument.

The white in the distance is White Sands National Monument.

Oliver Lee SP is gorgeous – I would recommend it to anyone. Campsites are large and the view is expansive. The bathroom is clean, not prison-like at all. wpid-20140113_143149.jpgwpid-20140113_143241.jpgwpid-20140113_173724.jpg We went for a hike, and spent time meeting our Airstream neighbor, a single guy, full-timing in his gorgeous new 19’ Airstream Bambi. To top it off, he works for Adventure Cycling, leading bike tours. Can it get any better?

The next morning we headed out – first stop White Sands National Monument. The white sands are actually gypsum dunes, and they are gleaming, stunningly white. wpid-20140114_110309.jpgwpid-20140114_103727.jpgwpid-20140114_105113.jpgThe wind was whistling at about 25mph, causing the air itself to have a weird white sheen. It is spectacularly beautiful. We weren’t able to visit the Trinity Site, Ground Zero for the world’s first nuclear explosion in 1945. That area is open only one day a year, and unfortunately, this wasn’t the day. But, as folks who have seen lots of sand dunes, we were amazed at the beauty of White Sands. Go. Get out of your car and walk around. It’s like nothing you’ll ever see.wpid-20140114_111113.jpgwpid-20140114_110103.jpg

We pushed westward thru Las Cruces, stopping for food and groceries at Pro’s Ranch Market, a fantastic Mexican grocery story. We feasted on gorditas and tacos at their deli area, and loaded up with homemade tortillas, sausage, bread, and other goodies to get us through the next few days. This store is such a treat – lots of foods that I don’t cook and am unfamiliar with – every kind of tripe and menudo one could want. But sopas, fresh salsas….we bought a huge bag of roasted peppers to enjoy on sandwiches and with eggs and tortillas. Such a treat – we love finding places like this on the road.

Our camping reservations were for City of Rocks SP. Like camping on Mars!wpid-20140114_172519.jpgwpid-20140114_162622.jpgwpid-20140114_175356.jpg We’re perched among giant boulders of ash from an ancient volcano. These look like lava, but aren’t. The volcano erupted for a period of as long as two years, and when the super-heated ash finally came to rest in this area, it compacted into these enormous lumps, which have been ground away by the wind over the years. It’s beautiful. We’re in a rustic site – not too far from a pit toilet, but no electric or water. It’s perfectly quiet up here – no one around but us. Can’t imagine a more beautiful site for the Fireball. We spent a couple of hours, wandering around the Park among the boulders.The campsites here are tucked close into clusters of the rocks, creating private little coves for camping. It was spectacular. $10/night.   The setting sun lit everything up to an incredible pink/orange glow. Ahhh.wpid-20140114_172421.jpg
Sad to leave here tomorrow. We’d like to hang out another day or two and explore. We’ve already decided that next year we’re not going to make reservations, except for the weeks right around spring break. We’re moving faster than we want to, and leaving too many intriguing spots unexplored. But, we didn’t really know…..and we’re learning about this whole ‘being on the road thing’

Life is a Beach

This is our first time, since we began traveling with the Fireball, to find ourselves camping in a place we’ve already camped.  But, here we are at Galveston Island State Park, camped in the sand, not 100 yards from the roaring Gulf.  It’s crazy.wpid-20140108_094018.jpg

By the time we arrived on Tuesday and got our campsite setup, it was late afternoon – time for a long walk on the beach with Jezzy.  Tuesday was cold.  Not the bone-shaking cold our friends and family in Michigan are having to endure now, but cold.  We’re wearing winter coats, hats, and gloves.  wpid-20140107_150154.jpg

During the night, the wind picked up significantly, building to a howl by daylight.  But, the temperature had climbed into the 50s, so it was still pleasant to head outside.  Our plan had been to ride bikes today – last year we rode right on the beach for miles, grinning all the way.  Today, the whipping wind (20-30mph gusts) would have made that most unpleasant.  wpid-20140108_092846.jpgSea foam, residue from waves left on the shore, was blowing ropey strands across the beach, and the screaming wind made it difficult to think coherently.  A bike ride didn’t seem to be the most sane choice.  So, we elected to drive into town, grab a map for the tree sculptures (I’ll explain in a moment) and explore on foot.

Hurricane Ike in 2008 devastated Galveston Island. wpid-20140108_123046.jpgThe plaque on the stairway denotes the high water mark of Ike. Powerful winds and storm surge uprooted many of the city’s trees immediately, and ultimately killed thousands of others.  Many of the dead trees left huge stumps.wpid-20140108_123656.jpgwpid-20140108_121914.jpgwpid-20140108_111315.jpg  Instead of removing them, many were carved into sculptures – in front of houses, public buildings, and in parks.  Armed with a map of the East End Historic District showing the location of sculptures in this area, we set off.  What a great way to make something out of enormous devastation.wpid-20140108_115116.jpgwpid-20140108_121125.jpgwpid-20140108_120258.jpgwpid-20140108_110031.jpgwpid-20140108_104323.jpg

We wandered around for about three hours.  Many of the older Victorian mansions have plaques on the doorway indicating that these houses had also withstood the 1900 hurricane, which killed thousands on the Island.  Galveston Island must have been an incredible city in the 1870’s, when many of these homes were built.wpid-20140108_122836.jpgwpid-20140108_122524.jpgwpid-20140108_123314.jpgwpid-20140108_121431.jpgwpid-20140108_122923.jpgwpid-20140108_111341.jpgwpid-20140108_114949.jpg

Tired and thirsty (of course), we located Brews Brothers, which was listed as a brewpub in the old downtown district.  Wrong!  But, it was an interesting old bar with about two dozen taps.  We were the only customers, and talked with the bartender and brewmaster (they’re waiting for their license) about beers and bikes.  He steered us to Leon’s BBQ for lunch.  wpid-20140108_134927.jpgWhat a great choice!  We split a three-meat platter – selecting ribs, brisket, and sausage.  All terrific – the ribs were stunningly perfect.  Side dishes of BBQ beans and turnip greens tempered this meatfest.

Headed into the heart of Texas tomorrow for a one-night stop.  Going to hop across this enormous state in three more days, landing near Carlsbad Caverns National Park on Friday.