It was with relief that we moved to the cool, clear air of Payson AZ from the yellowish smog of the Picacho Peak area. Being at a much higher elevation (about 6000′), it seemed obvious that we should spend our time exploring the many hikes in the area. So, we did.

Our base for four nights was the Houston Mesa Campground in the Tonto National Forest. Other than the Camp Host, we were the only campers in this 100 site campground. What a change from the packed Picacho Peak State Park! This campground is a gem.

Day One: The first hike we selected was a bust. Called the Monument View hike, we hoped for something with sweeping vistas of the Mogollon (Muggy On) Plateau. Nope. What we got was a walk through a hard-packed ravine where trail motorbikes must often race around. 20180305_1221191162682630.jpgIt was quite a disappointment. The best thing was this huge boulder alongside the road. It was impressive, just sitting there all by itself.20180305_133210117398971.jpgThe rest of the hike? Meh…

Day Two: It seemed like a good idea to take a hike with a bit of elevation involved, since our legs had finally recovered from hiking at Picacho. So, the Military Sinkhole Trail seemed like an obvious choice.20180306_1248171357081767.jpg We started at the bottom, and hiked a rocky trail up and up. 20180306_1206231361577040.jpgThe number of downed trees in the forest was amazing – I understand now how all this brush can fuel a forest fire – some of these trees had obviously been down for years, if not decades.20180307_124845119157993.jpg Thick carpets of pine needles and leaves made the path soft underfoot. When we finally arrived at the top, we were puzzled as to where the sinkhole actually was. John consulted Google, and we located it across the street from our scenic lunch spot. 20180306_121912369153406.jpg20180306_1218501013557682.jpgSadly, the sinkhole itself wasn’t photogenic in the least – there really was nothing there to see. But, what a gorgeous hike.

Day Three: The most popular hike in the Payson area is the Horton Spring Trail, according to Alltrails.com. Why not? This was totally different than the other two, as it followed Horton Creek up to its source. For four miles we followed along the rushing, cool creek – past small waterfalls and rocky outcroppings in the creek. 20180307_1148421088939701.jpg20180307_122622357031273.jpgAt one point, we passed two large wooden teepees. This photo doesn’t do them justice – somebody had to work hard to erect them – the logs in the big one were huge! I’m hoping it was a Scout project of some type – I really wanted to wade across the creek to examine them more closely, but there just wasn’t a spot where I felt I could cross without likely falling and filling up my boots!20180312_121604922202610.jpg Horton Spring is at the end of the hike – the water pours out of a rock from an artisan spring. Amazing. Most of my photos were a bust, so just take my word for it that it’s a gorgeous area, and a cool walk in the woods was the perfect activity for the day.

We were really sad to leave the Payson area after four nights. There’s a lot to explore here, and the cool air was much to our liking. But, we had a return date at Lost Dutchman State Park for a few nights. We took in a Cubs spring-training baseball game (Cubs beat the LA Angels 6-1). In case I don’t get to see the Detroit Tigers this year, this may have to satisfy my baseball game watching urge. We had pretty mediocre seats, but it was still fun.

Lost Dutchman has a trail that has intrigued us since the first time we saw it. It reaches from the campground up to the Flatiron – a peak at about nearly 3000′ above. 20180308_14364265722636.jpgIn a distance of about 3 miles, that’s a lot of elevation! It truly was the hardest hike I’ve ever done – the Trail was crowded with adventurers on a Saturday morning. There were even some paragliders out early on that Saturday morning. You can barely see one of them in this photo.20180310_084531-1144373445.jpg The crowds made things easier and harder at the same time. It was beneficial to have others around to point out the best handhold or route up an uncertain path, but it also led to a few logjams where we had to wait for our turn to haul ourselves up a particularly rough area. It took us exactly three hours to get to the top, and my legs were like jelly! Wow – what views! But, I never want to hike that one again. Once and done!20180310_0957441415430516.jpg20180310_1231401012063050.jpg20180310_112648-1939817177.jpg20180310_1133121389221668.jpgNow we’re holed up at Indian Cove Campground in Joshua Tree National Park. It would be tough to find a more beautiful campsite.20180311_155250-12087199245.jpg20180312_094446-11588087552.jpg We’ve got five days to explore the area – revisit a few of our favorite spots, and find a few hidden gems.



In the Shadow of the Moosedog

There are probably lots (or at least a handful) of readers of this blog who aren’t camping enthusiasts. You’re the folks who read this stuff and wonder, “When is she ever going to shut up about the perfect campsite, blah, blah, blah…” If you see yourself in this statement, take a few extra moments to stare at this photo. 20160121_124408This was our perfect campsite in Joshua Tree National Park. No neighbors for hundreds of yards in any direction. Absolute silence at night. Huge star-filled sky. It was amazing. Such a great place to spend five days. (And, yes, I did scramble up those boulders to capture this photo.)

Joshua Tree seemed to be a great place for a hike, so after getting settled in on Day 1, we dragged out our bikes and coasted downhill to the Boy Scout Trail Trailhead. Truly, from our campsite, we could nearly have glided the entire three or four miles to the Trailhead. This did not bode well at all for the return trip. But…

We’ve been on more exciting hikes. The first couple of miles was a soul-sucking trek through pure flat sandy desert. A few desolate creosote bushes lined the path. No Joshua Trees, no wildlife. Nothing. It was hard to stay awake while plodding forward. Finally, we climbed up, over, and into a narrow canyon, where things became a bit more interesting.20160119_142906 20160119_121534At that point, John decided to turn back. He’s been battling a cold since Christmas, and the dry air combined with his hacking cough was making his hike pretty miserable. We split up, agreeing that I would continue on for as long as I pleased, then pedal down to the Ranger Station at the entrance to fill up our two gallon containers with water. I will say now that it was Stupid of me to agree to that. Joshua Tree is unique in our experience in that there is no water available at ALL inside the park, with the exception of one other campground. No concessions, no bathrooms with running water, no pumps in the campgrounds. Requires a bit of planning….

I hiked for 5-1/2 miles before turning around – far enough to get through the canyon, 20160119_123310wind up and around to the plateau, where there at least are a few Joshua Trees.20160119_12552820160119_124902 These are such curious plants – spiky and very, very stiff to the touch. 20160120_134221They can live for 200-300 years. They grow about 3 inches a year for the first ten years, then level off at about 1-1/2 inches a year for the rest of their lives. Like the saguaro cactus, it may take them years to branch a limb off the main trunk. They grow only in the Mojave Desert and the surrounding area.

For Day 2, we decided to drive into the main portion of the Park, and explore a few areas with short hikes. First up was the Lost Horse Mine, the most productive of the many gold mines within JTNP. Over a period of about 70 years, this mine produced approximately 9000 ounces of gold. More interesting to me was the trail that led up to the Mine.20160120_124106 It passed through an area that had burned in the 1990s (the Ranger I quizzed didn’t know the exact year of the fire, but it’s about 20 years ago. Give or take a few.) As far as we could see, there were only charred Joshua tree stumps punctuated by a few creosote bushes and an occasional short Joshua tree.20160120_125234 It’s amazing to realize how slowly things grow in the desert.

Keys View was our second stop for the day, where we had a great view of the San Andreas Fault from nearly 5200 feet. If The Big One would have happened at that moment, we would have been safely on the side still attached to the continental US. The fault runs right through the middle of the photo, where the color changes from brown to yellow.20160120_113951For our last big stop of the day, we elected to climb Ryan Mountain, a steep ascent with spectacular views from the top. 20160120_150423We really huffed and puffed – my legs were screaming from the prior day’s hike, and John’s lung power hadn’t improved overnight either. But, the view from the top was worth the effort – an eerie landscape of rock piles that appear to have been extruded by a crazed architect.

Our last full day in camp was a lazy one. We wandered around, making a list of all the other campsites we would reserve on another trip (yes, we keep track of stuff like this). Joshua Tree NP is full of rock climbers, and we watched several attack the rock towers, with varying degrees of skill and certainty. There are lots of descriptive names for the rock formations, and we tried our damndest to identify them. For example, our camp was directly in front of Moosedog Tower.20160120_165849_LLS Can you see that? What the heck does that mean?

By no means were we ready to leave this spectacular park on Friday. We’re already looking forward to our next visit, but doubt that it can possibly compare to the grand time we had this past week.






Dry? California?

Let me first start by stating that I know the photos in this post are weak. For whatever reason, the Ansel Adams God of Outdoor Photography turned his back on me. But, they’re all I have, so just try to conjure up the feeling I’m trying to impart.

We rolled into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, hoping to snag a campsite for three nights. Nope. The busy ML King three-day weekend meant that we could get a spot for Friday night only. Okay.20160115_151045 But, there was no way we were going to leave without at least a brief exploratory hike in the morning before our departure. The Palm Canyon Hike promised a grove of palm trees in an oasis. We set off, through the hardscrabble desert, doubting every moment that the promised oasis would show itself.

But all of the sudden – there it was! 20160116_092719We could first see a green cloud of palm tree tops in the distance. As we got closer, the sound of running water! Lush green vegetation springing up alongside the trail.20160116_091917 It was outlandish and ridiculous.20160116_092202 You’ll have to believe me, because the photos don’t capture the amazement of this spot. It was cool and dim, compared to the harsh light of the desert.20160116_09362320160116_093802 The floor beneath the tree canopy was smooth. Ahhhh, so this is what an oasis is all about! It truly was unbelievable, made even better by the fact that we were the only ones there. OUR oasis.

What could make this hike better? John needed a boot adjustment about halfway back, and I took a good look around while we were stopped . Big horned sheep peering down at us from the ridge!! Can it get any better? One big one who stared us down for a long time, and a smaller one who flitted in and out of view. 20160116_10065720160116_100605We stayed there for quite a long time. You’d think I could have gotten a decent photo, but the distance was a bit overwhelming for my camera.

We finally got on the road, and traveled through some remarkable territory.20160116_115729 It seems that most of the huge Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is available for any type of two or four-wheeled motorized activity. Dozens (maybe hundreds) of dust-raising, noisy vehicles screaming alongside the road kick up dust storms that make breathing and driving miserable. Encampments of RVs, each with trailers full of ORVs are everywhere. If you love motorized sports, this is the place for you. Honestly, I can see how this might be fun. But…..what a mess. The land is a huge scar from geologic episodes, erosion, and (most recently) motorsports. We were happy to move on.

Lake Cahuilla Regional Park, near La Quinta was our home for the next two nights. For $15/night, we occupied a lakeside site in a huge gravel parking lot, with our own picnic table and firepit.20160116_134640 The Lake is actually part of the regional irrigation system, and is a cement pond, with pumps and irrigation ditches leading away from it. What appears to be a swimming area flanks one side, and families fishing for carp ring the rest of the area. Sounds odd, but it really was a nice spot to camp. Our enjoyment was marred by the fact that our nearest neighbors, who were camping in a Dodge Caravan which had seen its best days years ago, ran their tin-can generator for hours every day. Ringing the Lake was a 7′ chain link fence, separating us from the fabulous Jack Nicklaus private golf course next door. While walking Jezzy, we could peer through the fence at the gorgeous emerald fairways, lined with bunkers and ponds. It was quite a contrast from the view on our own side of the fence.

If you are a fan of the game of golf, La Quinta is Mecca. There are signature courses by Greg Norman, Nicklaus, Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, in addition to the PGA West and TPC Stadium Courses. Everything revolves around golf.20160117_120320 20160117_113727But, as I cycled around on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, all I was able to see were cement walls. All the communities, and all the golf courses are walled off. Bah! I did see these date palms, loaded with dates.20160117_115325In the Village of La Quinta, there was a Sunday Farmer’s Market, and a lively street scene. Lots of bikes at the coffee shop and tap room. Got an idea for how John and I can support ourselves in the coming years – a mobile bike repair truck (John), complete with coffee and/or a beer tap on the side (Judy). 20160117_122958Tomorrow we move on to Joshua Tree National Park for five days. Monday is a free day at all the National Parks, one of 16 this year to celebrate their 100 year anniversary. It will probably be a circus for one day, but what a great way to say Happy Birthday.