Hike, Bike, and Life

With our departure date from Green Valley in sight, we’ve amped up our activity level. All of the sudden, there are a million things we want to get done before we leave. One would think that we would have this figured out by now, but we do the same thing every year.

So, we’ve had an assortment of bike rides and hikes that we’ve done nearly every day. I haven’t taken many photos, as most of these are rides and hikes we’ve done and photographed before.

But, Caroline and I did find a few new sights on a hill-climbing ride a couple of weeks ago. Only in AZ will you find someone who is using a Saguaro cactus skeleton painted purple as a mailbox post.20160215_101554We also passed this sign on the road that goes up to an old cattle ranch.20160215_104939Every day has been hot and sunny. Perfect blue skies, and no rain in sight. Now, don’t all of you in snowy climes get all agitated with me, but it’s actually been too hot. Up in the mid 80s in the afternoon, which is just too much. We have had to close up the Fireball and turn on our little air conditioner when we want to leave Jezzy for an afternoon. Never have we had to do that at this time of year before.

We’ve done one of our favorite hikes up to Rogers Rock twice this month. It’s an easy 5.5 mile hike, with a spectacular lunch spot at the halfway point. Love this hike! 20160213_133913The RV park where we are currently camped has a hiking group, and I joined them for a hike to a new spot (for me). We started from the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground on Mt. Lemmon. The campground is the site of the prison camp where Hirabayashi was jailed for refusing to go to one of the internment camps for Japanese-Americans in WWII. Although the buildings there no longer exist, we hiked down into the old reservoir and along the water supply system for the old prison. The campground is a much more pleasant option. The hike itself was unremarkable, but it passed through beautiful Sycamore Canyon.

20160220_10563920160220_11260420160220_113032We stopped to admire some of the many Century plants (Agave Americana). Century plants don’t live to be a hundred years old – 10 to 30 years is the norm. In their last seasons, they send up a tall seed stalk. 20160220_100348The last significant hike I did was in the gorgeous Sabino Canyon area of the Catalina Mountains. The Seven Waterfalls trail was our choice of the many hiking options that day. It’s an 8.2 mile trek, along a trail which crosses the same stream about seven times. The stream crossings are fun, but treacherous on the slippery rocks. We came across one 70+ year old woman who had slipped on the rocks, and was unable to hike back out under her own power. Another helpful hiker was phoning 911 to arrange a rescue. We wondered aloud if she would be helicoptered out, or how assistance would be provided. The answer – horseback rescue. We hiked to the spectacular falls, had lunch, and encountered the rescue operation upon our return. Three horses, about a dozen rescue folks from various organizations – Park Rangers, plus at least two different search and rescue organizations. About six vehicles had hauled the rescuers up the road as far as they could go, and they covered the last two miles on foot. So interesting to see…..20160222_13150120160222_131509I think the rescued woman was pretty certain that her foot wasn’t broken, and seemed to be putting up an argument against being taken to the hospital. I’m sure this was a pretty costly hike for her.

For us, it was a terrific hike with lots of beauty. It’s one I would happily revisit every year.20160222_10291920160222_11054620160222_111223There are seven cascading falls at the high point of the hike, with plenty of water rushing down. Hard to find a more pleasant lunch spot, although it was jammed with other hikers on this warm weekday.20160222_11582120160222_11502120160222_111702We’re excited to be hitting the road again, heading to places in California we’ve not visited together yet – Big Sur, Monterrey, San Francisco, Redwoods National Park. Our new axle will be installed Tuesday morning as we leave Tucson. John has been busy with other repairs and modifications, making the Fireball as roadworthy as she can possibly be.

Ready to roll.

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.






Death Valley Days

If you visit Death Valley National Park with the expectation that it’s hot, dusty, dry, and kind of beige, you are in for a huge revelation. The variation in color, topography, and geology in this enormous Park is stunning. Although this was our second visit, there’s so much here, we have barely scratched the surface.

First of all, let’s dispense with the hot/dry myth.20160105_14181420160105_143022We didn’t have campsite reservations, but had no trouble getting a pretty good site – one with enough room for our awning (necessary in crappy weather), and with a wee bit of space between us and our neighbors.20160104_094115We knew for sure that we wanted to hike to the bottom of the Ubehebe (U-Be-HEE-Be) Crater, formed by one of the more recent geological events in Death Valley. The Shoshone Indians, who were the only residents of the area at the time, didn’t record this event, but it’s estimated that somewhere between 600-1300 years ago, magma met underground spring water, and erupted. The resulting crater is 600 feet deep, and about 1-1/2 miles in circumference. It’s eerie and beautiful.20160104_13443920160104_133434 We duped ourselves into thinking that it would be an easy hike (well, it WAS easy to get to the bottom).20160104_125329 The trek to the top from the bottom was another story – much like hiking the 400′ sand dune at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, for those of you from Michigan.20160104_130359 I was seriously huffing and puffing. It made the perimeter stroll seem much easier, although the soft surface in places required a lot of effort.20160104_132605On to Mosaic Canyon. Once again, Death Valley has provided a very other-worldly experience. One side has smooth curvy marble sides, and the other has a rough sediment layer pressed on, and around, creating the mosaic effect.20160104_11023420160104_11011220160104_110005 In the most narrow areas, it’s very apparent. In other spots, it might be easy to stroll through without noticing all the crazy differences.

Completing our Day 1 of textures, we wandered around the Mesquite Dune area20160104_103033then on to the Devil’s Cornfield.20160104_115120 As you step in the Cornfield, each foot breaks through the thin salt crust. Jezzy was spooked.20160104_115401This was the only area where we saw pickleweed, these curious, rubbery feeling plants. 20160104_115502Day 2 was continuous rain, so we stayed close to home, exploring the Visitor Center, with its excellent exhibits, and Furnace Creek Village, which consists of a bar/restaurant, post office, golf course, and the Borax Museum.20160105_12355620160105_123151 The mining of borax was one of the principal reasons people came to DV to live and work. Borax was hauled out in wagons, originally powered by mule teams (the 20-Mule Team Borax theme is everywhere).

Bright sunshine in the morning of Day 3 lulled us into thinking that the worst of the crap weather was behind us. HA! Leaving Jezzy snoozing on the bed, we set off in the truck to explore Golden Canyon, including hikes to the Red Cathedral, Badlands, and Gower Gulch. We got off to a great start, clambering up to the Red Cathedral to admire the views.20160106_112645 But the Badlands Trail was the highlight of the day. Golden fingers of rock and sand, eroded by wind and rain create a very unusual landscape.20160106_120901 Up and down, we wandered along, encountering very few other hikers. At the bottom of the canyon, we connected to Gower Gulch. The storms of the past week left their mark – some areas were thick with very sticky mud, which added pounds to each footstep. Yet, other spots had the distinctive cracked pattern one associates with DV – the difference was that the moisture enabled me to actually pick chunks out of the puzzle. About three inches below the surface, it was as if there had been no rain at all.20160106_122634 Looking about the Gulch, its easy to envision the rush of water that occurs with storms – it surely is no place you would want to be trapped.20160106_130533 As we got back to the truck, the wind was roaring, and once again, the rain started. We did catch one shot of the Firetruck against a glowing backdrop of Badwater Basin. You’d swear this was water, but it’s pure, dry salt.20160106_144603We still had time to drive through the Artist’s Palette Drive. The variety of minerals in this area provides an unbelievable palette of colors. Even now, as I look at my photos, I can’t believe these are the true colors. But they are.20160106_14100220160106_141103No journey for the Campshaws would be complete without calamity. Upon returning to camp we discovered that our front window had been torn completely off the Fireball by the wind, leaving poor traumatized Jezzy huddled inside.20160106_154744 Not only were the inside and outside panes cracked, but the frame was ripped off as well. Damn! John applied his Adapt and Overcome motto to the issue. Although it took the better part of an entire roll of duct tape to fix, we’re pretty sure the window will withstand the rest of our trip.20160107_16505420160107_165130 It adds to the Clampett look, don’t you think?



A Dam Fine Holiday Week

After five days of driving every day, we were more than ready to roll into Las Vegas, and get out of the damn truck. No driveway has ever looked more welcoming than that of my sister’s home there. We piled out, ready to hang out with friends and family for a few days, and that’s exactly what we did.

But, you know the old saying…..”Family, like fish, begins to stink after five days.” Ever mindful of wearing out our welcome, we decided to head to Lake Mead for three days of camping, and return on New Year’s Eve, in time to watch the Spartans beat Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. (HA! We all know how that turned out, right?) I had even gone to the casino and placed a $10 bet just to get a bit of skin in the game.20151227_135145On the advice of brother in law Dan, we decided to camp at Boulder Beach CG, which is the closest of the established campgrounds to Hoover Dam. Both John and I have visited the Dam previously, but not together, and not for many years. Boulder Beach turned out to be a marvelous choice – sparsely populated and sparkling clean.20151228_13133520151229_091209 Low water levels in Lake Mead make a waterfront site just a wee bit of a walk these days, but the camping fee of $5/day (with our Senior Pass) was just right. Lots of beautiful sights here, and a few not-so-beautiful. I was intrigued by this dead mallard in the water, which had been picked nearly clean.20151228_142021Low water levels are always a topic of conversation here. Lake Mead was last at capacity in 1983 – currently it’s at 38% of capacity – a 143 foot drop.

Once again, we are happy to be people who enjoy cycling. As we hit the bike trail heading toward the Dam, we could see traffic backing up on the highway. It’s a great feeling to know that we probably beat most of those folks to their destination. The best part of the ride was the last 4 miles, where we connected to the National Historic Railroad Trail. This unpaved 4-mile segment, constructed on an old railroad grade, passes through five tunnels used during construction of the Dam.20151229_134210 20151229_104222Throw in a dozen panoramic views – it adds up to a really fun ride. 20151229_10453320151229_134714Hoover Dam is one of those public works projects that defies imagination. 20151229_130148 How could it have been so well engineered that, nearly 80 years later, it still provides water to 25 million area residents, as well as providing power, silt control, and erosion control? How could it have been completed nearly 2-1/2 years ahead of its seven-year schedule? There are dozens of amazing statistics in this massive project.

Adjacent to the Dam is the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, which opened in 2007.20151229_114748 John and I actually cycled across the bridge the day before it was open to traffic as part of Viva Bike Vegas. It was dazzling to be on that high span with thousands of cyclists and NO car or trucks. Now, the pedestrian walkway on the Bridge provides great high views of the Dam. No matter what your interest, wandering around the Dam complex and the Visitor Center is a great way to spend an afternoon.20151229_114254Great weather influenced our decision to ride the 35-mile River Mountains Loop Trail on our last day in camp.20151230_145706 While this should have been a breeze, the rolling terrain took a toll on us. We were delighted to find that the last 8 miles were a slick downhill from Boulder City back to Boulder Beach CG. We were knackered – why do we let ourselves get so out of shape?

New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas should be a huge party, and it probably is for the thousands of other visitors to this playground. Back in the safe haven at my sister Gail’s house, we all managed not to see any fireworks, or toast the entry of the 2016. Old farts? Well, maybe….

Death Valley National Park will be our home for the next several days. Family, like fish…..

Happy New Year.





Flight 93

Every generation has had its own war – my grandparents had WWI, my folks had WWII. For me, the Vietnam War was the one my friends and schoolmates were called to fight. Now, we’re battling the War on Terrorism. We’ve been engaged for 15 years, and there’s no end in sight.This may be the modern war which carries on to the next generation.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably remember exactly where you were on September 11, 2011 when you first heard about the planes hitting the World Trade Center. It’s one of those events that had such an enormous impact on our lives that it’s hard to remember life before that date.

Flight 93 was unique that day, in that it was probably the only one of the hijacked planes in which all the passengers were likely certain of the outcome of the flight. Aware of the WTC crashes, the passengers gathered, and voted to fight the hijackers.

Can you really imagine that?

Twenty minutes flying time away from Washington DC, the passengers forced their way into the cockpit, fought the hijackers, resulting in the crash near Shanksville, PA.

The Flight 93 Memorial Plaza has been open since September 11, 2011. It’s stunning in its simplicity, and in the symbolism of its design. Forty passengers and crew members perished that day. The names of these heroes are engraved on white marble slabs which form a wall, leading to a wooden gate with 40 facets.20151020_08545120151020_08593920151020_085801 The gate guards a mowed path to a large sandstone boulder at the impact site. Forty faceted planes mark the heavy wooden beams of the gate.20151020_093150Already after four years, the white marble shows the discoloration of the many hands that have touched it, and the flowers and memorials that have lined its base.20151020_085721 Benches resembling airline seats are scattered around, offering places for rest and reflection. Informational posters are there to remind us exactly what transpired at this site.20151020_09161820151020_091655 Moving along, there’s a huge new tree grove – 40 sets of 40 trees each, set in a sweeping arc. It’s beautiful.  As the trees mature, it will be spectacular.

On September 11, 2015, a new Visitor Center was opened on site, featuring video and films of the newscasts from that awful day,artifacts, and intimate portraits of the forty passengers and crew who perished that day. Huge cement wings soar off the edges of the VC, echoing the path of the plane as it tumbled upside down into the ground.20151020_08440520151020_100529The photo above shows the view from the Visitor Center down toward the Memorial Plaza. The bright white in the distant center is the wall of names – the sandstone boulder denoting the impact site is beyond that.

It was very difficult to see the films from 9/11 again. As the South Tower of the WTC collapsed, Peter Jennings is heard to whisper “My God”….A flood of memories rushes in. Tiny bits of twisted metal from the airplane are on display – hitting the ground at a 45 degree angle at more than 550mph, the plane disintegrated. The largest piece found was only about two windows wide, and perhaps six feet high. The voice cockpit voice recorder (or maybe the blackbox) was found nearly 25 feet below ground.20151020_10245620151020_103558Most striking, to me, was the absolute silence of all the visitors. Nearly all of us had tears running down our faces, as we relived that day, and perhaps came to a new realization of the heroism of the passengers/crew of Flight 93. We all politely waited our turn for headsets, and exchanged slightly embarrassed glances due to our wet eyes and runny noses. I listened to recorded voice mail calls from some of the doomed passengers/crew to their loved ones. Scared voices expressing love. Overwhelming.

The design of the Memorial Plaza and Visitors’ Center is stark and beautiful. Every facet of the VC and the Plaza aligns the visitor with the path of the doomed plane. In 20 years, as the construction scars recede, it will be even more beautiful.

This is a place which will stay in my thoughts for a long time to come.