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.


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?




Are we having fun yet?  You betcha (how Midwestern is that?) Each stop in the past few weeks has been different, interesting, and exciting. We hope our string of successes doesn’t let up.

Having the good sense to get out before we were thrown out of Sandi and John’s welcoming arms, we headed into the Berkshire Mountains (NW Massachusetts) for a rally with other like-minded campers in T@Bs and T@DAs. There’s a great affinity among those of us with these unique campers – whether we share like political views, or have similar family situations – it doesn’t matter. There’s a kinship there that’s wonderful. Hard to explain because it sounds silly. It’s not. We had about 18 campsites occupied, with singles, couples, old and young, plus bunches of dogs. All good.

Our rally HQ for a long weekend was Historic Valley Campground in North Adams, MA. 20150926_181840Driving there on Thursday was uneventful, until we hit some steep hills. Not long, but steep, and we knew we were close to our destination. The autumn color we had expected was non-existent. Apparently, this area has experienced very dry conditions for the last many weeks.  Trees were greenish/gray and tired-looking. More ready to drop their leaves from exhaustion than from having spent their energy with color. The only fallen leaves we see are dead ones – no paths strewn with color.

Friday seems like a beautiful day to stretch our legs with a hike. Yay! The Appalachian Trail runs very close to camp, including a stretch up and over Mt. Greylock, the highest spot in Massachusetts. How could we not hike this stretch? Even better, there’s no dog restriction as long as they are leashed (Jezzy NEVER is allowed off her leash. Ever.) We make a pack lunch, grab a couple liters of water, and jump into the truck to find the Trailhead. Yikes! These roads are not for cowards. We pass a few signs that say 17% grade, and suddenly the nose of the Firetruck is pointed into the sky, or down below our windshield view. So glad I’m not driving – I can put my head down and mutter little grunts of fear or relief. 17% might not sound like much, but that is Steep!

The AT at this point is pretty interesting. We’ve got a 3.6 mile uphill to the summit at Mt. Greylock and a return down the same path.20150925_142848 Climb up, scamper down. The Trail surface is uneven rock – not difficult to maneuver, but tiring, because footfalls are never level – we were constantly teetering off pointy little rocks. But, this was oh so worthwhile……when we finally crested Mt. Greylock, there was a contingent of hang-gliders leaping off the peak into the breezy void. What a treat to watch. A big crowd had gathered – thru-hikers who were taking a breather, a few day hikers like us, and many who had driven to the peak to see the view. It was hot and still – perhaps not an ideal day for the kites, but pleasant nonetheless.20150925_14072920150925_141028 We ate our sandwiches, and gave our leftover snacks to a hungry-looking thru hiker. Many of these guys are living on ramen noodles and raisins, so he was surprised and happy to receive crackers/cheese and chocolate.20150925_14164120150925_14214820150925_142439Our legs took a pounding that day, and we were happy when we arrived back at the Firetruck. Jezzy was a trouper to hang in there, but we could tell that she was exhausted as well.

The next day, John hung around camp and washed the Fireball. Three weeks on the road take a toll, and she was looking pretty shabby. The Firetruck was taken into town and treated to a real car wash.  We feel better when are gear isn’t looking quite so sad. I decided to cycle into North Adams to find the farmers’ market. I got to ride down one of those 17% grades. Yikes!  Thanks again, John, for putting new hydraulic brakes on my mountain bike.  That was a nail-biter of a descent to a stop sign at the bottom of a very steep road.

Loved the small, but colorful farmers’ market. This duo performing Sylvia, won me over. Found all the stuff I needed for a great grilled vegetable dish for the rally potluck Saturday night. I wandered around a bit, taking a few photos of the extravagant New England views. The small towns here are all so picturesque – it’s what you imagine New England to look like in your dreams.20150926_12235420150926_122450Can you believe that this building is the town library?20150926_12262920150926_122934We spent the rest of the day chatting with our fellow campers, checking out their trailers, having our checked out as well, and exchanging tips on campsites, storage, maintenance, and camping philosophies. We’ve learned lots from our fellow campers at these rallies.

T@B trailers were first produced in 2004, discontinued by the original manufacturer in 2009. T@DAs followed in 2008, discontinued in 2010. About 1500 T@DAs were produced in all, the majority titled as 2008. Ours is a 2009. We suspect they were all manufactured at the same time, and simply titled out as the manufacturer sold them thru their dealer network. Little Guy Trailers has been making the T@Bs since 2010, keeping the original shape and feel, but improving many features and construction issues. Our rally was a great combo of new/old T@Bs, plus one other T@DA.

One T@B really caught my eye. A Steampunk-style T@B owned by Bridget and Ed. They’ve gone to great lengths to customize their amazing trailer. My photos don’t do it justice, but all the small details are incredible. Bridget found a custom trunk from an old 30s Hudson, which has replaced their standard propane tank holder.20150927_101508 All the trim on the T@B has been removed and painted to match, complete with brass accents and decals. It’s amazing.

20150927_10155120150927_10251720150927_102921 We find that folks with these small campers go to amazing lengths to customize their rigs to match their style and comfort levels. One couple, Bob and Carol were spending just the fourth night in their brand new 2016 clamshell T@B. Although I love the comfort of being able to get out of bed and make morning coffee inside, I love the true camping feel that a clamshell offers.20150926_160023 Maybe I’m just not tough enough. We cook everything (but coffee) outside, but love the flexibility of having a fridge inside. Maybe I’m just a big sissy, but I’m NOT going out in the rain to make morning coffee!

Sunday morning, we said our goodbyes and headed off to Newport, RI. Each of our stops in New England (so far) has been so different from the last. We’re expecting that trend to continue with millionaires and jazz in Newport.

Rollin’ Again!

Long time, no read, eh?  It’s been a long homespell for us this summer, as we tackled projects long neglected.  Since returning from our last trip in early April, here’s the short list of what we’ve been up to.

John’s folks moved into an independent-living apartment in December.  All the stuff they didn’t take with them was part of a massive estate sale in April.wpid-20150417_075936.jpg Then, we got everything cleaned and shined, and the house is now on the market.  There’s an offer pending, and we’re hopeful that this time it will result in a sale.  Frank and Verna Crankshaw (John’s folks) also celebrated 70 years of marriage this summer.  Can you imagine?

There’s always lots of bike-related stuff for us in the early summer months.  I’m a volunteer for the Rapid Wheelmen 100 Grand Bicycle Tour, and the MSU Grand Fondo.  The New Belgium Clips Beer & Film Tour also comes to town in early summer.wpid-20150611_095228.jpg Love volunteering for these events, as I know what a PITA it can be to wrangle volunteers.  These events all give a big boost to our local cycling community, so it’s fun to give a bit.  Cycling is a big part of our lives (John and I met in the Rapid Wheelmen Bicycle Club).

John’s involved with the National 24 Hour Challenge, both on a Director level, and as crew chief for a variety of riders.  This year, he crewed for the top female rider (423 miles) and also for the woman who set a new record in the 70-74 year age catetory (298 miles).  Three or four of the other riders on his team set personal records.  It was a huge year for him and his team.

We finally got our back yard in shape by adding a new patio. Old back yard…..wpid-20150705_073124.jpg Wow – what an improvement. New back yard….wpid-20150711_191312.jpg Of course, the completion also meant that he could finally get a Big Green Egg grill.  Wish we would have done this years ago – our backyard dinners have been fantastic!  We loved our Weber charcoal grill, but John’s really at the top of his game with the Egg.

We bussed to a Detroit Tiger game. wpid-20150719_122556.jpg (the stands were full – this was early pre-game)  I’m a huge baseball fan, and the Tigers are breaking my heart (and spirit) this year.  They just suck!  Going to a game is still special, though.  Got tickets again later this month, and we’re hoping for better results, although it’s not too promising.  They are hard to love right now

Our clutter reduction program continues.  Spent the worst two days of my life having a garage sale.  Made a measly $200, but took about two truckloads of leftover stuff to Goodwill.  Good riddance!  The struggle to simplify took a big leap forward.

While John was camping/cycling with his guy friends, I had a girls’ weekend at a friend’s cottage.wpid-20150619_151000.jpg Visited an elk ranch!wpid-20150620_120431.jpgThese enormous antlers grow within a period of just a few months.  Impressive antlers like these begin to grow in late March, and this photo was taken in late June. These enormous bulls were docile enough to eat oats from our hands – but when the fuzzy coating begins to drop off the antlers and rutting season begins, it’s another story. The bulls become very aggressive, and playtime is over!

But, finally…..the Fireball is ready to roll again tomorrow.  We’re heading out for two weeks – first to driveway camp at a friend’s cottage for a few days, then on to our favorite campground at Nordhouse Dunes for 10 days..  The first weekend of the Nordhouse trip is tied in with the Night Shift – a wacky 100 mile nighttime road ride.  We’re the support/chuckwagon for this motley group, and it’s a blast.  After that, we’ll be home for a few days, then off to Brighton Recreation Area (on the east side of the state), camping, taking in another Tigers game, and visiting some long-lost relatives.  Both John and I have a bad Camping Jones right now – time to roll!

Hopefully, at the end of the month, roofers will finally come to put a new lid on Chez Crankshaw.  Ice buildup/backup for the last couple of years has damaged some of our interior walls, and we’re hoping that new roof + insulation will fix this.

All this is prep for a two-month trip to the mid-Atlantic states in September/October.  Can’t wait to visit Boston and Providence.  We’re trying to decide if we’re brave enough to camp near NYC to take in the sights for a week.  Our camp style is to hang outdoors and bike/hike.  Not sure if we’ve got the grit to brave the big city, but there’s so much I want to see.  We are still debating……stay tuned.





Adios, Texas

Fourteen days after crossing into Texas from New Mexico, we’ll finally be crossing into Louisiana tomorrow.  Whew!  It’s been a marathon trek .  Seeing the Whooping Cranes at Goose Island was definitely a highpoint – the RV park in Ft. Stockton was a big low.  Lots of middle ground.

Leaving Hill Country (Austin area), we headed for Galveston Island State Park.  In the three years that we’ve wandered around in the Fireball, this is the only place we’ve returned to each year (with the exception of our favorite camping spot in Michigan).  Hard to pinpoint the reason for this, other than it’s the perfect storm of history, fabulous scenery, cycling, and food.  We enjoy moseying around the beach.  I was told that these holes may be hermit crabs.  Further research says (maybe) ghost crabs.  In any case, they are curious….(I put the penny down for size in photo #2)20150316_19261320150316_192059For this first time, though, we were unable to camp on the Gulf.  For us, it’s amazing to be camped right on the Gulf of Mexico, where we can hear the surf pounding all night long.  But, it’s Spring Break, and we didn’t make reservations early enough.  So, we were forced into a spot on the Bayside Loop, which actually should have been pretty great.20150316_142407Except it wasn’t.  It was a HIKE, (or actually a bike ride) to the bathroom/shower.  We rely on campground facilities for these needs.  It was a long way away from our spot.  There are no firepits at the campsites. The mosquitos were ridiculous!  No fault of the State Park, but we were bombarded!! Even with all of our best pest-protection in place, we had dozens of blood sucking pests inside all night.  My feet and legs are a mass of welts.  The Fireball ceiling is a bloodbath (where we thought we were carefully plucking mosquitoes off, but actually smashing them into the fabric that covers the ceiling.)  Hopefully, the blood is our own.  Can’t want to get home to get this cleaned up properly.  Ugh.  We did have some nice views, though.20150316_191717BUT, although it was a soggy, wet campground, it’s still Galveston.  We decided to cycle down the beach into town.  It’s about 15 miles.  The beach is lively.  There are access points for cars, and folks are pulled up right to the surf.  Radios are blasting, and there’s a lot of bikinis-babes and muscled-up young men working their magic on each other.  Riding directly on the beach is a treat.  We don’t get that chance very often.

Sand art abounds.  A tiny young girl (about 7 years old) had just finished this when I rolled past.20150317_123656 Another guy was finishing his tribute to a friend who had drowned nearby.20150317_12420820150317_124126 There’s something for everybody here.20150317_124850We wandered around through the historic area, the touristy area, and the not-so-desirable area.  All fun to see.We couldn’t help ourselves, so we stopped for takeout ribs at our favorite BBQ joint from last year.20150317_154436(Sorry, Leon….the Austin folks have you beat.). You still rock, though.

We may need a Barbecue Intervention.20150317_191421 As we turned toward camp, the fog was rolling in.  It got chilly in a hurry, and the cycling turned from a fun romp into a slog.  It was REALLY thick.20150317_16081920150317_162539Leaving Galveston the following morning (on the ferry), we headed to Village Creek State Park in Lumberton, TX.  These will be our last two nights in Texas.  We’ve chosen this site because it’s about the only spot to camp between Galveston, and the next place we WANT to be – New Iberia, LA.

This State Park was a pleasant surprise.  It’s located right near the center of a small town.  The park itself isn’t anything special, but it is relatively new (about 20 years old).  Campsites are level – we have a firepit.20150318_184440 There are trails, although most are under water.  The map they gave us at checkin has the closed trails marked.20150318_160016

We need firewood, so I cycle into town to see what’s available.  Wow!  Huge bags!  I do love carrying a bunch of stuff on my bike, but this taxed me to my limit. It wasn’t the weight so much, as the fact that I only had one bungee cord.  One of the workers at the grocery story offered to give me a ride to camp (“I’m into overtime, so I punch out for a few minutes to give you a ride”).  Can you believe that?  20150318_154936After crossing some bumpy railroad tracks, my load shifted.  I rode into camp, holding on to the bag, behind my back, with my right hand, trying to keep the wood out of my spokes.  (John owes me for this one!)

The best thing about camping in Lumberton, TX is that we are only 20 miles down the road from The Big Thicket, a National Preserve.  The Thicket is an area where several divergent ecosystems converge – cypress swamps and pine forests.  The westernmost slopeforest and arid sandylands.  All in a relatively small area.  After a stop at the Visitors’ Center, we decided to hike the Kirby Nature Trail, Cypress Loop, and the Sandhill Loop.  The heavy, overcast air seemed to kill any photographic light, but we still saw some gorgeous landscapes.  20150319_12231920150319_132052There was a deciduous holly tree that with a very unusual bark that really caught my eye.  I couldn’t quite get close enough….it was alive with color, although I’m not sure if the red spots were natural coloring, or a lichen or growth that lived on the tree.  20150319_12362020150319_12373420150319_123747We saw a turtle, and the tiniest little snake I’ve ever seen (about 4″ long, and about as big around as an earthworm).  The mud was impressive, from recent rains.  Other hikers turned back – we slogged ahead (happy to have our boots on!)

The fungal growths on this sawn tree were unusual in their patterns.20150319_134223One of the big mysteries we saw were the giant mound of leaf-cutter anthills.  One colony, off by itself, was crazy with ants carrying green leaves OUT of the mound.  We couldn’t figure it out – stood there and watched – yep….the leaves were coming out, not going in.  YOu can see a few of the red ants if you look closely.  Their ability to carry these large leaf pieces is impressive.20150319_135033Just a ways down the trail was an entire village of mounds.  But these did not have the leaves being moved outside.  Instead, the ants were carrying other insects in, and moving pieces of sand/ground matter out.  This was the only spot along five miles of trail where we saw any anthills.20150319_135802The other aspect of life in East Texas that really intrigued me was the Loblolly Pine.  These huge pines grow straight up, and have needles only at the very top.20150319_134652The needles are HUGE – probably 12″-14″ in length.  They grow in clumps of 3.20150319_152445We enjoyed wandering around the Trails in this unique area for several hours.  The heat and humidity were quite unexpected, though.  Down in the swamp, there was zero moving air.  I had doused myself with bug spray in anticipation of an attack, and was surprised that we found no mosquitos in the area.  Guess they are all in Galveston.

So, tomorrow morning we head off for New Iberia, LA.  Fans of author James Lee Burke will understand why we are headed there.  (For those of you who may listen to audio books while traveling, I have to say that his Dave Robicheaux mysteries are the bomb!  The reader Will Patton is incredible).

See ya, Texas!  We sure made good use of our $70 State Park pass!