Canyon Life

A girl could get used to the Canyon life. To find ourselves up in this beautiful cabin in Madera Canyon for a month is life waking up and finding that you’ve won the lottery. img_0456After less than three weeks here, we are thoroughly integrated into life here – our spices are intermingled into the assortment left here, some of our favorite kitchen utensils have found their way into the suicide drawer (you know, the kitchen drawer where you keep sharp and pointy objects, and risk your life to just open it up and blindly reach in), our books are stacked on the coffee tables, and power cords for our electronic devices seem to be plugged in everywhere. Yep, the Crankshaws have moved in. We found that Dr. Neff, the builder of this cabin was a Spartan (yay!), Veterinary College ’44. A rattlesnake skin decorates our living room wall, and a mobile made of random feathers stuck into a section of desiccated cholla cactus drifts lazily overhead.20170216_062700.jpgWe’ve hiked, biked, and thoroughly enjoyed having Happy Hour on the deck with old and new friends and relatives (my sisters from Grand Rapids and Las Vegas are both here, as well) Now, we’re down to our last ten days before we have to move on, and the pressure is on! There’s no way we can squeeze all we want to do in the remaining days.

The sprawling wrap-around deck here has been a big source of pleasure.wp-1486302085679.jpg We’ve stocked three feeders – thistle, suet, and sunflower seed – and the birds flock in as soon as the sun warms the area in the morning, around 10am. We hung a hummingbird feeder as well (our cabin is named Hummingbird Hill), but we were swarmed with about 200 bees, so we gave that endeavor up. During the season though, it must be something here – I’ll bet there are at least six hummingbird feeders in the basement. New to me at the feeders are the Arizona woodpecker (the only woodpecker with brown back feathers), the yellow-eyed junco, and the bridled titmouse. Of course, I have no photos – my cell phone camera is no birding tool.

We also had a very unusual visitor in our sunflower feeder – a coatimundi. He was actually trying to empty the feeder into his face, when we saw him. These are lousy photos, but the best I could do. The first one is blurry, because I had to shoot through a window/screen. 20170216_064014.jpgwp-1487252265191.jpgHe was pretty good-sized – when he scampered off, he hit the deck with a pretty good thump. Haven’t seen him around since Jezzy found him behind our outdoor kitchen one day, and chased him up the hill. We’ve taken to bringing that feeder in after dusk so as not to encourage him. He does visit us though – about every other day we find a pile of coatimundi poop on the deck, so I think he’s getting the last laugh.

Madera Canyon was home to many mines in the early 1900s, and there are lots of artifacts from those mines still in the canyon. Last week, we hiked the steep Vault Mine Trail, and this week Carrie Nation Mine Trail, where lots of old equipment remains.wp-1487251845100.jpg

It’s always interesting to speculate on what life might have been like during those hard days. Our cabin is the final resting place of an old ore cart,wp-1486302273080.jpg spikes, blocks and pullys, and even an old funicular, which was probably repurposed to haul equipment up here when this cabin was under construction. Unfortunately, it’s in a spot where I just can’t figure out how to get a decent photo.

Until today, we’ve had pretty good weather. Last night, the wind whipped up, and we’ve been listening to rain hammer the roof and skylights all day. wp-1487452570118.jpgSadly, it’s quite cold outside (40s), so we’re not eager to sit on the deck and enjoy the storm. It’s supposed to get near freezing tonight, and we’re very near the snowline, so we might actually get some white stuff. Our driveway has about a 15% pitch with curves, so we know that we are not going anywhere until this all passes through, sometime tomorrow.

So, life is good. We’re getting an amazing amount of reading done. There’s a radio here, but no television. We’re used to that, but I sure would like to watch Planet Earth 2 when it starts tonight. Guess we’ll have to concentrate on our own nature show.wp-1487252068511.jpgFor entertainment, I can watch this video over and over of John, my sister Lynn, and brother-in-law Jerry sharing a picnic lunch with a big friend a few years ago while hiking in the Canyon. Makes me laugh every time.



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.

Border Crossing and Sandhills

It was difficult to muster up any enthusiasm for leaving our comfy spot at Pancho Villa State Park to move to a gravel parking lot with a pit toilet. The wind was howling! It was cold and generally pretty crappy. We were lured into staying another day by the idea of sneaking across the Border into Palomas MX for a look-see and lunch at the Pink Store, where we were assured the food was good, beer was cheap, and the mariachi band would play all afternoon.

John unloaded the bikes from the truck, and we set off on a brisk three mile ride to the Border. It doesn’t take long when a screaming north wind is at your back! We chained our bikes to a bench on the US side of the Border, and strolled across like we did it every day.20170130_192312.jpg Never got a look from anyone. The Pink Store is a half-block from the Border and can not be missed. Its PeptoBismol color stands out in a row of dental offices, eye surgery clinics, and pharmacies.wp-1485829527440.jpg Cross-border healthcare services is big business in these border towns.

Lunch was mediocre, and the acclaimed mariachi band was horrible! The three guitarists were OK, and the guy with the violin or fiddle tried hard, although he had a hard time keeping up. Hilarity ensued when the trumpeter blasted away. Omg – he was absolutely terrible!! If the rest of the band was playing in B-Flat, he was playing in D-Flat minor. We had a hard time not laughing. Perhaps that was their method from keeping the 100% senior citizen American crowd from hanging around. In our case, it worked.

We wandered around, checking out the sights.

A huge Pancho Villa Statuewp-1485829508744.jpg

Villa and Black Jack Pershing shaking hands before they became enemies.wp-1485829540191.jpg John tried to broker peace, but that apparently didn’t work.

A beautiful old Catholic Church.wp-1485829473829.jpg A bare playground at an elementary school jammed right up against the Border fence.wp-1485829494999.jpg

Lots of other interesting sights.wp-1485829558736.jpgwp-1485829449863.jpgIt was interesting – my first trip across the Border since a Cancun vacation 25 years ago. I swore at that time I’d never vacation in Mexico again. The Have/HaveNot gap is too large to be comfortable for me.

The next to day, we departed for Whitewater Draw under improved weather conditions. Whitewater Draw is a wildlife sanctuary in the extreme SE corner of Arizona. It’s the place where thousands of sandhill cranes winter. We visited in 2015, and have been eager to reprise this trip ever since. Here’s a link to our first visit. Check out the video for sure.

It could not have been more different. Alhough there were fewer cranes in 2015, the circumstances were far different. There was much more water in the Draw. The cranes stand in the water all night, probably as protection from predators (there are lots of coyotes around). This year, there was very little water, and the cranes were spread out over a huge area, not massed into one big clump as before. We watched them arrive at dusk (they fly out to feed all day long).

Groups of up to a few hundred flew in from all directions – the noise is amazing. If you look closely at the photos, the dark sections in the middle are cranes – thousands of them. wp-1485829880819.jpg In 2015, we were there in March. Better, longer light (warmer!), and the cranes weren’t spread over such a great distance.

We couldn’t wait until morning to see the Grand Departure, thinking it would be the same as 2015. Temps were in the 20s, as we huddled with our coffee on the observation deck at 5:30am. We could hear the kerfuffle of groups of dozens or hundreds of cranes arising from the water to fly out, but it was too dark to see them at all. But the sounds….! Incredible. I did get a few shots, and a few short video snips, but it was a completely different experience than 2015. By the time it was light enough to see, most of the birds had departed.

wp-1485829794132.jpgWe were disappointed. We hung out for two hours, until we were so frozen that it was painful to shuffle back to the Fireball, parked in our little corner of the parking lot, where we had slept for the night.wp-1485829920423.jpg We warmed up with more coffee, and headed to Tucson, our final stop before heading up to a mountain cabin for a month in Green Valley. Have to admit, even though we were disappointed this year, it’s a magnificent experience. And Whitewater Draw at dawn and dusk is gorgeous.wp-1485829911236.jpgAfter two quick nights in Tucson, tucked amid the saguaros at Gilbert Ray campground,wp-1485833591322.jpgwe’ve moved on to a cabin we rented for a month in Madera Canyon, just south of Green Valley.  Jackpot!! It’s the most incredible location. We’ve got a huge wraparound deck, complete with swing and numerous bird feeders. Space to move – John can actually stand up straight without bumping his head on the ceiling. That’s a treat for him. Photos to follow next time as we get settled in.

Ahhhhh, life is pretty good. We are lucky, and we know it.

RV Life vs Camping Life

We’ve settled into a Green Valley slump. Living the easy life – not moving too much or  too quickly, with a couple of notable exceptions.

As we anticipated, life in the RV park is much different than camping in the wild. Our usual ways just don’t quite fit.20160209_105812-001 Lack of a picnic table inhibits our dining routines, and the campfire prohibition leaves us without a reason to hang around outside once the cold desert air comes in for the night. So, we had mixed feelings about the battle with the RV park over whether we had to move out for five days to accommodate a large caravan of  RVs who wanted to camp all together (we lost). A second battle was waged over refunding us a portion of the fees we paid for a full month of camping (lost that one, too!)

So, away from the hot sunshine and close quarters of a busy RV park in a retirement community, we find ourselves perched in Bog Springs Campground in Madera Canyon, about 10 miles away. Our campsite is about 5100′ in altitude, below the snowline of 6000′.20160212_101910 With the very notable exception of our neighbor with an ancient Winnebago with a generator that sounds like a cement mixer, it’s cool, shady, and peaceful.20160212_095753_120160210_182116 We’re happy that they seem to turn on the generator only when they want to watch tv, and they have limited that to a couple hours each evening. Unfortunately, that coincides with our dinner/campfire time, but it’s still a very good tradeoff for us.

The best part about February so far as been reconnecting with old hiking and cycling friends. Second best part is camping with my sistahs. It’s unbelievably sweet to be able to see them every day for a month. No photos exist of the three of us together, but we might be able to accomplish that before month’s end.

So far, we’ve had just one notable hike – an arduous climb up Picacho Peak. The relatively short distance of the hike (two miles each way), is more than compensated for by the difficulty of the climb.20160210_102627 Thin steel cables were often the only thing between us and the abyss.20160210_111109 One mercifully short section required us to basically haul ourselves up with cables on each side, and a dropoff of about 1500′ below.20160210_111633 20160210_122337Our reward was lunch with a spectacular view at the top.20160210_115824We were accompanied by our old hiking buddies David G and Tony, as well as our new endurance hiking hero Ed. In 2015, Ed hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail from southern California to Canada – the trail recently made famous by the book/movie Wild (if you haven’t read it – do so. Highly entertaining). We were nervous about looking like geezer sissy hikers to him, but I believe the hike was difficult enough for us to uphold our reputation as respectable hikers.

Our axle situation (see last post) is going to be resolved with the purchase of a new axle and two tires. The manufacturer (Alko) of the existing axle has refused to offer any warranty relief for our defective axle (installed in May 2015), despite the repair shop’s intervention on our behalf. We don’t want this safety or maintenance issue hanging over our heads, so we’re going to cough up the $700+ to get the situation fixed before we hit the road again on March 1. It’s all about peace of mind.

So, that’s the early Green Valley report. A slow start, but we’re gearing up to a strong finish to the month.

Judy’s Big Hike

Mt. Wrightson has loomed large on my list of  “Want to Hike” spots ever since it appeared on my radar in 2007, the first year I came to Arizona when John and I were dating.  At nearly 9500 feet, the prospect was daunting for a flatlander like me, but that was tempered by the fact that it’s a hike, not a ‘climb’, in the truest sense of the word.  But, it’s fairly steep, with over 4500′ of elevation change in the five-mile uphill section, over a trail that is uneven and rocky in many spots.  Still…..sitting on our patio watching the sunset every evening, I would think about making the trek.20140206_070438(Mt. Wrightson is the peak to the right of the palm tree – the highest peak in the area)

So, when friends Tony and David G. mentioned that they were planning an assault on Mt. Wrightson, I cautiously asked if I could join their hiking party.  These two are fast and fearless hikers.  Four of David G’s New York cycling friends were flying in for a week of hiking/biking, and I was intimidated to think of not being able to hold my own in such a group.  But, I figured that it was now or never.  Certainly, I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve got pretty good hiking legs right now.  OK, let’s do it!  Naturally, these guys never do anything the easy way.  Instead of a 10 mile hike, up and down, Tony found a new route – adding about 3.5 additional miles to the descent.  Yikes!  Now we’re talking about a hike, which kept me awake with worry for a few nights.

We met early (at Starbucks, naturally) on the morning of the hike.  The plan was to drop the Firetruck at the end of the Trail in Florida (Flo-REE-da) Canyon, and get into a second vehicle to head up to the Trailhead in Madera Canyon.  We loaded our packs, and left a cooler of beer in the back of the truck, in anticipation of needing a cold one at the completion of the hike.  (GREAT planning!)

By 9am, we hit the trail, practically running.  These folks are all really quick.  In an hour, we arrived at Josephine Saddle (elevation 7080′), 2.5 miles up the Old Baldy Trail.  I’m practically seeing stars, and wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.  A quick rest of about five minutes, and we push on to Baldy Saddle (elevation 8070′).  The wind is howling – probably blowing a steady 25-30mph.  Thank goodness, we’re not always being buffeted around, but it was very unpleasant to round a corner and catch the full blast.20150221_113531 Those of us wearing hats without straps had to put them on backwards to keep them from flying off.

I dropped back a bit on the last leg to the summit.  I was huffing and puffing – trying not to seriously embarrass myself.  But, all of the sudden – there’s no more Trail!  The end! 20150221_12004520150221_12155520150221_115742 Yippee – I did my (internal) Happy Dance.  Lunch – photos – gulp down as much water as I could manage, and fnd a spot to hunker down out of the wind.wpid-wp-1424724312050.jpegThanks, David G. and Tony!David G., me, Tony

Foolishly, I think that the hard part is over, although I know that we’ve got about eight miles to go.  Downhill – should be easy, right?

OK, from here on – the photos are misty.  Perhaps it was the new application of sunscreen which I applied at the top.  Did I touch the lens with greasy fingers?  Or, perhaps my entire brain was moving into soft focus.  Anyway, the photos suck, but it’s all I’ve got!

Once we get back to Baldy Saddle, we’re off on new territory, heading across the Crest Trail for a couple of miles.20150221_12554020150221_124427Traversing a generally downward path along a ridge, we plodded through a vast area which had been burned out by a fire several years ago.  The huge blackened skeletons of enormous Ponderosa Pines loom overhead.20150221_124807This is a difficult section to walk – the Trail is canted sideways, putting stress on knees that are already tired from the climb upward.  This is a very lightly used trail, and trees have fallen over it – forcing us to scramble over, under (the worst), or around.  But, it was beautiful, in an eerie, forlorn way.20150221_141834Jim found a tree branch that he was attached to, and I volunteered to strap it to my backpack and carry it down to the Firetruck for him.  I had the only pack with external straps and ties, so I made the offer.  Seemed reasonable at the time.20150221_133508On and on we stepped.  Keep moving, one foot in front of the other….we had a few map consultations.20150221_133728Brief stops were more frequent – perhaps under the guise of taking a photo.  I sure didn’t want to complain.20150221_133342Finally, we reach Florida Saddle (elevation 7800′).  I’m thinking that we’re almost home.  Wrong-o!  The last miles along the Florida Canyon Trail were the worst – especially the last three or four.  The Trail was strewn with rocks, making footfalls on tired knees and feet more painful than anyone wanted to admit.  Jim’s knee was bothering him, and he tried to alleviate the pain by side-stepping down the steepest parts.  Felt bad for him, but there really isn’t anything to do except suck it up and keep moving.  Conversation fell to a minimum.  Was everyone else counting steps, or was it just me?  I kept peering ahead, hoping to catch a glimpse of the red Silverado, with its cache of cold beer and welcoming place to sit.

Finally!  It’s nearly 5:30, and we finally reach the truck.  Yay!!  I truly was worried that we were going to finish in the darkness, the thought of which terrified me.  We pile in (David G opts to ride in the back with the gear, instead of squeezing into the back seat with three others).  A quick trip to the upper trailhead to pick up the other vehicle, and we’re done.

Would I do it again!  Oh yeah.  I held up better than I had hoped for.  Two days post-hike, and I still have ten toenails.  No stiffness or soreness.  Here’s what my Garmin Vivofit recorded for the day (includes the hike + whatever other movement I had before/after).wpid-screenshot_2015-02-23-14-26-01.pngHere’s Tony’s route profile from his Garmin GPS.  Mt Wrightson-Crest Trail-Florida Canyon profile 2

Happy Hiker, after a long day on the Trail.