Pushing Eastward

The Campsh@ck is now firmly pointed eastward, and our slow trek to Michigan has begun. Some portions of this journey I dread, but we’ve tried to spice it up with some variations in our route that enable us to stay in some new campgrounds while visiting some old favorites (I say old favorites like we’ve been doing this for 20 years.) Hard to imagine that this is only our sixth winter of wandering away from Michigan winters.

Maricopa County AZ (Phoenix area) has several regional parks with great facilities. We’ve stayed at two so far, and decided to swing by White Tank Regional Park to check it out this time. While I don’t think this is my favorite, we enjoyed a few nights camping. It was a big change from the cool California mountains – this campground is hot and sunny. With a bit of blind luck, we stumbled into reserving one of only two sites (#24) that had a bit of shade to offer. What luck – it was really hot! I’ll admit that we were pretty smug watching our neighbors sit outsite in the broiling sun, while we were chillin’ in the shade.

White Tanks gets it name from the watering holes (or tanks) that collect the scarce rainwater here in Ford Canyon for all the wildlife here. So, we naturally decided to hike over there to see them, since they aren’t visible from the campground. The first few miles  of trail were flat and rather boring, as we wound our way to the back of the Canyon. Then, we came upon this odd warning sign – something about hazardous Indians and rumnoel runs – whatever that is. 20180328_1221111478470471.jpgPerhaps we should have been warned, but we forged ahead. The hike became difficult after these point – a sharp increase in elevation had us snaking around obstacles, and wedging toes into tiny footholds. We finally wound our way up then down to the tank area, which was worthy of the effort to get there. There was just a bit of brackish water in some of the deeper holes.20180328_134343799132786.jpg20180402_220211110194482.jpgAfter another mile or so, we decided to turn back, as we had drunk half our water, and the trip ahead was twice as far as the trip back. In hot/dry conditions, we don’t second-guess our water supply. All in all, it was a great hike.

Our next destination was to Fool Hollow State Park (AZ),where we had stayed for a single night several years ago. It’s a beautifully maintained, cool area at about 6300′ in Show Low AZ. We were eager to escape the Phoenix heat (projected to be 95 on the day we left). I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful park. Hard-working camp hosts and attentive staff treat this gem as if it were their own. 20180330_1700181071804728.jpg20180331_1708372085522344.jpg20180402_220447299212989.jpgThe drive up from the Phoenix area was filled with some spectacular rugged territory. This roadside project caught our eye as we passed – it’s hard to see, but that big shovel is very precariously perched as it moves dirt around. 20180402_220317178514275.jpg Not a job for the faint of heart!

We didn’t do anything particulary noteworthy at Fool Hollow, but we did meet Paula and Molly – two single women who are both full-time campers. After sharing dinner and camping tales for two nights, we have two new friends – Paula in her Oliver trailer, and Molly in her Casita. Why are most of the full-time campers we meet women? I can only think of one or two men we have met over the years who live full-time in their small trailers or campers. Interesting….it takes a lot of moxie to sell your home and hit the road fulltime. These ladies have it all together.

Here we are now, camped in the middle of of a fairly young lava field that’s 45 miles long, a mile wide, and 50-150 feet deep.20180402_104106-1435890512.jpg20180402_2206521560201472.jpg And the fact that we’re perched on an island over the top of it – amazing. Valley of Fires ranks among one of the more unique spots we’ve camped.20180401_1935221270226480.jpg Lava has spewed from vents in the earth (as opposed to flowing down a mountain) on at least two separate occasions in the last 1500-5000 years, creating a mysterious, crusty spot to explore. A well-signed scenic walkway winds around a mile or so of the area, with many spots to walk off the path and onto the lava beds.20180402_1152331452944319.jpg20180402_2209001309537280.jpgOur campsite is right in the middle of the above photo. You can barely see the curve of the Campsh@ck to the right of the ramada which covers the picnic table.20180402_1213261767284489.jpg It’s fascinating. I can’t briefly explain the geology to you in a coherent way, but would encourage you to check out the above link if you’re interested. The pristine campground is small (about 25 sites), but inexpensive. We have a big site with water/electric for $9/night with our senior pass. Of course, there are superclean bathrooms and showers.

Our time here is marred only by the strong New Mexico spring winds which we have come to dread every year. It really is no joy to be outside in 30-40mph winds, and there isn’t anyplace to hide from them. Although we have the windows open a bit, we have them tied down with bungies and ropes to keep them from blowing open and tearing off the trailer. Having that happen to us once in Death Valley, we’re not chancing it again.

The next two weeks are taking us to several new campgrounds as we move across the vast state of Texas. Hope our nasty winds subside, and I hope spring is finally going to move into the Midwest and Northeast. You have paid your winter dues in spades, my friends. Enough!

 

 

 

Arizona Rains

It’s hard to believe that just a week ago, I posted about the extreme dryness this area of Southeast Arizona has experienced. We had unseasonably warm weather without any significant rain/snowfall in months. One hiker told me that the creeks in Madera Canyon have not had any water running since October.

Well, that has changed! Wednesday morning, the rain began, and it continued until Friday evening. We went from a wide-open view of the Canyon to this one.

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But, the most amazing part of this transformation is one that I can’t share with you. It’s the incredible aroma of Madera Canyon opening up to the rain. It’s as though every tree, grass, and shrub has opened every cell in order to absorb the maximum moisture. In doing so, the most incredible scents have been released – heavy doses of juniper and pine mixed with mesquite and a trace of woodsmoke from our neighbor’s stove. Not just your average “walk in the woods in a rainstorm” scent. (Hey Google! I need an app to capture this – an aromaphoto that I can share. Apple, of course, will call their app iSmell). After the first day of rain, the scent faded away. But it was a fantastic experience while it lasted. In the meantime, green has exploded everywhere. Hillsides full of tough brown grasses are now a pale, hazy green, and the invasive mesquite trees that plague the Arizona landscape have gone from bare skeletons to leafy trees. Does this rapid transformation only happen in extremely dry climates? I don’t know.

When the sun poked out Saturday, we booted up and headed into the Canyon for a hike. It was delightfully cool and fresh. The rushing creek, which we crossed several times was a delight to hear.

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We trekked up the Carrie Nation Mine Trail, where rusted equipment from the copper-mining days of the Canyon, about a hundred years ago, still remains.

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Madera Canyon is full of old mines – we often hike past the Vault Mine, and our rental cabin is on the site of the old Suzi Lode Mine.

Full of energy after being cooped up for three days of rain, we traversed over to the Agua Caliente Trail

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I’m not sure how legal this campfire spot would be, but it had a magnificent view of Green Valley.

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It was just a great day to be out on the Trail.

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That’s Mt. Wrightson in the distance – the highest peak in the area, at about 9700′.

Our half-way point of the hike was Josephine Saddle, where the Boy Scout Monument always makes me pause. Three Boy Scouts lost their lives there in a freak snowstorm in 1958 while on a weekend camping trip.

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The last four miles of our hike were down the Supertrail, where more great Canyon views unfolded. There was much more foot traffic on this portion of our hike – we had the trails all to ourselves on the first part.

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What a great day for a hike!

I’m writing this very late Sunday night (about 3am), and the rain is once again pounding the cabin. We’ve got high wind warnings for Monday, so it’s going to be an interesting day. Desert? Here?

Saving the Best For Last

And, all of the sudden, we were back in our own driveway. Can’t believe six weeks slipped away already.

But, it appears that we might have saved the best for last, as our Southeast Tour finished with a bang. The last week (plus the Hatteras days) was probably our favorite of the entire trip. Here’s why…

So….onward we go to Portsmouth, Virginia where we camped at the home of our T@DA friends Gail and Sid. Perhaps the Campsh@ck has never had a more lovely site to rest her wheels.20171028_1718081398289939.jpg On the way there, we stopped at the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kill Devil Hills, NC. 20171028_123114324045352.jpgAlthough the Visitor Center is undergoing restoration, a fantastic Ranger brought the Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk experience to life. Markers chart the distance of the first four flights on December 17, 1903. Flight one was 120 feet. The fourth flight was over 800 feet. That’s a pretty impressive improvement for a single day. One the edge of the area is a series of full-sized bronze statues of Wilbur, Orville, the plane, the photographer, and a few other spectators of that historic day. It’s an inspirational place to visit.

OK, back to our visit to Portsmouth. The nearby town of Newport News is the home of The Mariner’s Museum, which is where we decided to spend a cool, rainy afternoon. 20171029_130658894841538.jpgDesignated by Congress as the National Maritime Museum, there are exhibits to capture the imagination of anyone – young or old, landlubbers or sailors. If you’re of a ‘certain age’ like me, you learned about the battle of the Union’s Monitor and the Confederate States’ Merrimack (actually the CSS Virginia) in the Civil War. (I swear that I learned the Monitor had won this battle. Not true, says the Museum – they battled to a draw.) The Mariner’s Museum is the home of the USS Monitor – pieces that have been raised from the spot where it sank off the Hatteras Coast have been restored onsite, and are displayed here. The history of these two ships, the story of their construction, and the battle are brought to life here in a variety of media, artifacts, and exhibits.20171029_143132984290267.jpg 20171029_140318419007988.jpgImagine these two ironclad ships pounding each other with cannons from a distance of a mere 100 yards. The unique revolving turret of the Monitor provided a difficult target for the Merrimack to hit, and the lighter artillery of the Monitor was unable to land disabling blows to the Merrimack.

Anyway….the Monitor sank while being towed on December 31, 1862. It took until 1973 for the wreck to be located, and it has been partially salvaged. That’s what’s in this Museum, and it’s incredible. (The rest is a protected underwater sanctuary where it went down). The anchor, ship’s wheel, the entire revolving turret with its two cannons, a lantern, and other artifacts are here.20171029_1318141907314660.jpg20171029_150637166493276.jpg20171029_1455351612396724.jpg20171030_09203843795966.jpgAbove is a full-scale model of the turret (complete with the guns inside) exactly as it looked when brought up from the bottom of the sea. Restoration is being done onsite at the Museum, and some pieces and parts are still submerged in a series of baths in order to stabilize the metal. Here’s a shot of the cannon in the above photo in its tank where it’s being rehabbed.20171029_151520787025923.jpg It’s thrilling and chilling to see all of this. The photos don’t do it justice. There’s also a full-size model of the Monitor outside, which I visited briefly in the pouring rain (everyone else stayed inside).

But, there’s more. The Museum also is home to the hull of the Oracle Team USA wing-sail catamaran, which won the America’s Cup in 2013 by defeating New Zealand in an unprecedented seven races after being one race from elimination. It is HUGE! It’s hanging from the ceiling, and the the size is just jaw-dropping.20171029_1546231371569811.jpgFilms from these races are thrilling. 20171029_1547491912918346.jpgYou can test your own power output on a winch (a professional World Cup participant can generate 500+ watts of power.) I managed about 90 for a very short period of time.

There are dozens of amazing models of nearly every kind of ship. Some are gigantic. All are precise and handmade.20171029_154314680577239.jpgIf you get a chance, go to The Mariner’s Museum. Plan to spend a whole day, then go back the next day to see everything you missed. It’s fantastic.

Somehow, Gail and Sid fell for our plea to join us at Shenandoah National Park for a few days of camping. 20171101_1059431509727254.jpgThey quickly packed up, and we all headed out to this amazing National Park in NW Virginia, along the Skyline Parkway. The Appalachian Trail runs through here, as well as many other trails. 20171031_1216431243448137.jpg20171031_1456211242352886.jpg20171031_1456561230823211.jpgWe watched a fantastic demonstration/concert of a hammered dulcimer.

The day after Gail and Sid headed home, we wandered a short section of the Appalachian Trail. What spectacular views! 20171101_1329001086048871.jpg20171101_134518305485962.jpgWe braved howling winds and the only really cold temps we had in our six weeks of camping to hike to a stunning waterfall. I can’t wait to go back – we hope to be able to camp at all of the Shenandoah campgrounds next year (four?) It looks like an intriguing place to explore.

One more spot – I’ll try to be brief. Hocking Hills State Park had been on our radar for a few years – fantastic photos have been posted by folks in our camping group. Travel and Leisure Magazine rated it the #1 spot to camp in Ohio. It was a dreary late afternoon when we rolled into the campground, expecting to have our choice of dozens of sites since it was mid-week/early November. Not so fast….apparently Ohioans love this park. It was booked full for the weekend, but we did find a promising site among the 20 or so non-reservable sites. 20171102_172201866132385.jpg20171103_10294839296417.jpgOur first impressions were not too positive. Hard rain the day before had left standing water everywhere. The entire campground is in need a several hundred trucks of fill to level out the low spots. The paved pads at each campsite were a few inches higher than the surrounding ground (at least on one side), leaving a mess of slick mud. Attemps had been made to cover up some of the low spots with bales of hay – we gathered up some excess hay from surrounding sites to try to keep us above the mess, with mixed results.

But what the campground lacks in charm, the surrounding area makes up for a hundredfold. We wandered around Old Man’s Cave, a spectacular limestone overhang which was inhabited in the 1800s by (of course) an old man and his two dogs.

Trickling water, waterfalls, weeping hemlocks and splashes of fall color made for spectacular viewing as we hiked about eight miles along the river from the campground to Old Man’s Cave, to Cedar Falls and around.20171103_1138161124243528.jpg20171103_1142282183531.jpg20171103_1142451265623605.jpg20171103_1201331507912173.jpg20171103_1204561752362669.jpg20171103_1216451342265296.jpg20171103_1229591570857113.jpg20171103_1308501422250300.jpg Wow. The scale of these limestone caves is so impressive – for once, I was happy there were other people in the photos to get a size perspective. We were just sorry that we hadn’t been there a week or so earlier, because the best fall color seemed to have already passed. Sorry if I bombed you with photos, but I couldn’t decide which to post.

Not surprisingly, it rained all the way home, and the sun hasn’t peeked out in two days since. The lawn’s a mess, and garden and perennials all need work. So, why can I only think of planning our next escape?

 

 

 

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.

Settling In

As much as we love the camping life, I can’t tell you how good it feels to sprawl (and I do mean sprawl) out in our rented mountain cabin. It’s fabulous.

We’re tucked into the side of Madera Canyon at about 5200′. Although it’s about 10:15am, the sun is just peeking over the mountains, and hitting our desk.wp-1486302085679.jpgThere’s a big fight right now at the thistle feeder – about 15 finches vying for breakfast, while a Downy woodpecker works over the suet. For the moment, nobody is sitting in the sunflower seed feeder, which had been emptied out a day ago by a meandering coatimundi. I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo, but this is what it looks like (Google image).coatimundi-imagesWe can’t get over our good fortune in finding this spot. It’s hard to get great photos, as the house is built on a narrow ridge, at the site of the old Susie Lode Mine. In fact, the house actually adjoins the mine – must have been quite a job to site survey and prep.wp-1486302251142.jpgThere are old mining implements scattered around the property.wp-1486302273080.jpgwp-1486302262246.jpgAfter the first hair-raising incident getting down the short (200 yard) extremely bumpy road, our concrete driveway rises straight up into the air. Now that we’ve been up and down a few times, it’s (hardly) scary anymore.wp-1486302367144.jpgOur neighbor down the street obviously has a wry sense of humor.wp-1486301400346.jpgOne of my favorite things (other than that fabulous deck) is our ourdoor kitchen. There’s a huge gas ring and a big ol’ smoker out there that John is fixin’ to use. For now, we’ve installed our own grill out there.wp-1486302396138.jpgInside, it’s all luxury to us. The king-size bed is the side of an aircraft carrier deck to us, since we are so accustomed to curling up (with Jezzy, of course) on our 50×70 mattress in the Fireball. Omg, I’ve got a dishwasher in the big kitchen. There’s a loft with its own separate full bathroom, and a cozy deck.20170205_064516.jpgCustom woodwork is everywhere – I love the lines of the staircase that goes from the loft to the upper deck. OK, you get the idea – we’ve got it made here. Yesterday we took a long hike around the end of the canyon, and across the side directly from the house. You can’t really see the house, but it’s circled in the photo.20170205_063755.jpgFor a couple who have been pretty sedentary the last few weeks, the hike was a sufferfest. Part of the trail was snow-covered, and there were some tricky icy spots to navigate.wp-1486301699819.jpgwp-1486301930363.jpgUneven footing had my feet and knees screaming after five hours.wp-1486301602283.jpg But, there are so many fabulous views up here. The highest spot we got was Bear Mountain at about 7400′.wp-1486302030394.jpg20170205_063934.jpgGreat views were everywhere. wp-1486301745335.jpgSeeing the memorial at Josephine Saddle for the three Boy Scouts who perished in a freak snowstorm in 1958 is a sobering reminder at just how badly things can go wrong on the trail. It’s not an environment to take too casually.20170205_063359.jpgIt was a great day to be on the Trail. We left Jezzy at home for this hike – now that she’s 11 years old, its tougher for her to hike and scramble for long distances with us anymore. She wants to go, but we just don’t want to take any chances of injury. Fortunately, we are close to the Madera Canyon Nature Trail, which is about a 3 mile round trip from the house. Perfect for the Jezzmeister.20170205_062905.jpgSo, that’s the report for Week 1. We are living large.