Wild and Woolly

There’s an old saying in Michigan (probably in every other state, as well) that goes something like this….”If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes – it’ll change.” So true!

The weather news had been full of high wind warnings for the latter portion of the week. So, I bustled around in the early days (warm, bright, and sunny) getting yard work done. November has been a spectacular month weather-wise, with many days where it was warm enough to enjoy being outside without a jacket. Rare, indeed. But that all came to a screeching halt on Thursday when West Michigan got walloped with cold and wind.

So, what do we do when it gets windy like this? Head to Lake Michigan to watch the action, of course. Wind gusts of up to 40mph for a couple of days had the Lake whipped up like I’ve not seen in years.20151113_132506 How windy was it? So windy that the current in the channel was actually running backward – IN from the Lake, instead of OUT to the Lake. Incredible.20151113_132312So, I braced myself as well as I could and snapped a few photos. The beach was full of folks with camera with huge lenses – there have been lots of terrific photos posted on Facebook this week. 20151113_131415We hung around for awhile, and left when it started to sleet. It felt like the wind was driving the ice pellets right into my face. Nasty!

Here’s the best of the photos I took. The lighthouse at the end of the pier stands 36 feet high – and waves were smashing up over the top.  What a crazy Michigan day.20151113_130746There was so much sand blowing around that the City was running front end loaders up and down the street, plowing sand.20151113_133222For those of you who have never camped in a Michigan State Park, this is what passes for a campground along the Lake Michigan lakeshore. I know, it looks like a parking lot – incredible that the competition for these spaces is intense in the summer. We met some folks from Indiana who mentioned that they were so close to their neighbors that they were unable to put out their slide. We don’t camp here.20151113_132622And, a few more videos, just to top things off. As I write this, it’s beautiful and sunny. Temps back up in the low 60s.  For now, I’ll take that.

Happy Campers

Our last week in Green Valley flew past.  February is a darn short month when you’re having a great time.  So many things left undone – guess we’ll have to try to catch up again next year.  I did manage to capture one image that I’ve forgotten about every year……pecan trees.  Green Valley Pecan Company has thousands of pecan trees in the area.  By the time we arrive in February, the year’s pecan harvest has been collected, and the trees are in the process of being trimmed for next year.  But, in one area through which we cycle weekly, there are many trees not part of any commercial enterprise.  The pecans eventually drop to the ground, but in the meantime, they are a woolly accent to the stark branches.  Against a bright blue sky, it’s a great image.  The bird is an accidental bonus.20150224_152117After a flurry of packing and cleaning, we hit the road – headed toward Kartchner Caverns State Park for two days of camping, caving, and hiking.  It’s windy as hell – “30mph, gusting to 125” as John described it.  It’s miserable to be outside, although the temperature isn’t bad.  The wind just sucks the life and spirit out of everything.

We decided to take the scenic route to Kartchner.  Last month, we passed through the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in Sonoita, AZ.  It was breathtaking – we needed to pass through one more time.  What’s significant about this area is the expanse of grassland, free of mesquite trees.  Like this.20150228_13134020150228_131738Compare these view to the typical grassland area which had been planted with mesquite trees.  Their unruly multiplication casts an unwanted shadow across these semi-desert grasslands.  20150301_145828Although once considered desirable, the water-sucking mesquite is now seen a scourge, and many areas have active programs to remove them from the landscape.  The government and ranchers have partnered in the effort to restore the natural grasslands.  It’s a treat to drive the extra miles to experience this magnificent view.

Kartchner Caverns State Park is home to two enormous caverns, discovered in 1974 by two college students.  In a previous visit, we explored the Big Room, so this trip, we elected to take the Rotunda/Throne Tour.  It’s spectacularly beautiful, although I really cannot comprehend two young kids making this discovery, and keeping it to themselves for a couple of years.  The area became part of the AZ State Park system in the 1980s.  Today’s facilities were opened in 1999.  It’s a gem.  No cameras are allowed, so I don’t have photos.  It was actually nice to just look and listen without the burden of taking photos, too.

We had the whole afternoon available, so the Guindani Trail called our name.  This Trail winds along the Guindani Wash, leaving the State Park boundaries and wandering into the Coronado National Forest.  The 4.2 mile loop was a perfect blend of easy strolling, challenging rocky trails, and small streams. 20150301_13403420150301_133830 Never have I seen Jezzy plunge unhesitatingly into a shallow stream to cross.  At least six or seven times – maybe she’s finally growing up?

The last leg of the Trail offered us some spectacular views of this old ranchland.20150301_14103420150301_14250520150301_143050The open expanse of these Arizona lands are still a constant source of amazement to this Michigan girl.  We were treated to quite a cloud display, probably in anticipation of the storms scheduled to roll in tomorrow.20150301_122927One special treat of this stop was stumbling across a spectacularly-restored 1950 Spartanette.  Wow – what a beauty.20150228_152900Jim and Diane, the owners from Sierra Vista, AZ were gracious about showing their home to us – only their third trip after nearly two years of restoration.  Jim had so many creative touches in the interior.20150301_180943All the wooden sections were removed, and refinished.  The decorative tile was his own idea, as were all the maroon-painted surfaces.  The joints between the wood sections were finished with hemp tape and rope.  It was beautiful.   Check out this vintage refrigerator!  The bummer is that it works on electric only – no battery or propane power.  20150301_181221Looks like it rolled right out of I Love Lucy, doesn’t it?  Much to Diane’s surprise, Jim let it slip that he’d like to get other trailers, fix ’em up, and keep them all.  Oops – happy hour is over!

Moving on tomorrow morning.  The weather forecast has changed our plans to head to Gila Cliffs National Monument in NM.  The higher altitude there has a very snowy outlook for the next couple of days.  We’re going to re-route….no certain plans yet.

Around and About

I can practically hear Juliette Gordon Low rolling in her grave.  What the hell is going on here?  Relax, Juliette…..it’s just a party in Tucson at the Tap & Bottle to explore pairings of Girl Scout Cookies and beer.  Sounds odd, and it was.  We sampled four different GS cookies, which were matched with distinctively different beers – hopefully to complement flavors.  20150208_151347Not so sure about the success of the pairings, but it was a terrific afternoon with camping pals Vern & Ilene.  Tap & Bottle is a superfun spot to spend a few hours, and they did the Girl Scouts proud – there must have been 200 people jammed inside, and everyone bought a box or two of cookies in addition to the samples that came with the beer.  The table next to us (of guys, naturally) brought their own cookies in – we saw two different bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies and potato chips that they were pairing with their own beer choices.  This was a good-hearted event that had support from all parties – marketing folks from the Girl Scouts, beer drinkers, local college students, and a full complement of tiny little Girl Scouts earnestly hawking their wares (safely outside the bar on the sidewalk, with their parents).

We decided to take the newly christened Tucson Streetcar for a full-circuit ride.  What a gem this is!  Running through the entertainment/club district to the University, to the downtown business area and out to the Expressway edges of town, it serves a diverse population.  Our $4 daily pass gave us unlimited on/off privileges.

20150208_163320We hopped off to get John a nitro coffee at Ilene’s favorite coffee stop.  Those of you who are fans of the nitro taps in a brewpub can perhaps relate to this.  The coffee wasn’t great, but we (perhaps, generously) attributed this to the fact that it was late on a Sunday afternoon, and it might not have been at its freshest.20150208_165817

Tucson has many great sights, and so much history.  We decided that we need to spend a few days just cycling around town and enjoying some of the oddities that make this such a cool spot to visit. 20150208_162622

Having running commentary from Vern as to what we were seeing from our streetcar seats made this a most enjoyable tour.

We’ve fallen into our regular Green Valley routine.  We hike a bit, bike a bit, and do nothing A LOT!  The weather here has been spectacular!  Well above normal temps, which puts it into the mid-70s (and sometimes into the low 80s) nearly every day.  Bright sunshine.  We hiked up to Rogers Rock in Madera Canyon one day this week.  Perfect weather made the eight mile round trip pretty easy.  This is one of our favorite hikes every year.20150209_10124520150209_10293620150209_111618Seven of us + two dogs made the trek to a spectacular spot for lunch.  The light spots in the background are the enormous piles of mine tailings in Green Valley – the copper mines are running full force, and the tailing piles significant.  Mining is a huge industry in this area, and it has some benefits, I’m sure.  But, the downside is that it sucks an enormous amount of the precious water resources of the area, the environmental (and visual) effects are a significant downside.

Of course, we’re cycling often.  Thursday was a first for us – while John and I were cycling to the meetpoint for our regular Thursday ride, a coyote darted out from the roadside, and nearly had his snout in my front wheel before I shouted STOP! or HEY!  (not sure what happened here).  He and I both braked severely!  Never have I seen a coyote so close up.  It was unnerving.  Twenty minutes later, our group was rolling through Quail Creek, an upscale golf course/housing development when three coyotes appeared on the narrow strip of ground between the pavement and the walled back yard of the nearby house.  Our 10 bikes couldn’t have been more than eight feet away from these guys!  It was breathtaking.

Our rental house is in a development where the abundance of birds has been such a pleasure.  Every morning we hear cactus wrens, and curved-billed thrashers call.  It’s amazing to hear them sing out.  Areas covered by low-lying prickly pear cactus are havens for the Gambel’s Quail.  As I stroll with Jezzy in the early morning, I can hear them grumbling, although I usually can’t spot them.  All of the sudden, one will dart out, and a whole stream will follow.  They are amazing to see.

The daily sights and sounds of the Arizona desert never fail to delight.  Although the cactus aren’t yet flowering, the prickly pear are loaded with fruit.  Around here, it’s common to find jams, jellies, and salsa made with prickly pear.  A gorgeous napolito (thornless) prickly pear is right around the corner from us.  20150213_093733This particular plant is also a coveted snack for one of the meandering javalinas who patrol the neighborhood at night.  If I were a javalina, I would also chose spineless!20150213_093804The Gila woodpecker makes it home in the Sagauro cactus.  The Saguaro survives this invasion by totally isolating the hole in an oblong capsule.20150213_092934 We observed a pod collected from a dead Saguaro in the Visitor Center at Organ Pipe Cactus National Park – it’s an amazing adaption.

Cactus shapes never cease to amaze me.20150209_085726The colors in morning and evening are especially lush.20150213_090513We noticed a chiminea (a free-standing, clay fireplace) in the patio area of our rental house.  We asked our landlords if they would mind if we actually used it (looked as though it was new, although it had a crack).  With their blessing, we have thoroughly enjoyed our evenings on the patio, watching the sun set on the nearby Santa Rita Mountains.  20150210_182331We even rescued the hotdog forks from the Fireball and roasted hot dogs one evening.

Our new refrigerator has arrived, been installed, and appears to work just fine.  Yay!  We’ve received the new regulator for our Camp Chef stove, so we’re back in business on that front.  We’ll be ready to hit the road again on March 1.

To top it all of, I noticed this seasonal greeting on my morning stroll today.20150213_090212All is well here – hope the same is true for each of you.

Escape to Green Valley

Oh, did I forget to mention that we escaped our watery camp at Catalina?  Here’s the conclusion to our Water Wonderland story.

Although it continued to rain intermittently Saturday night, we weren’t worried about our prospects of leaving the Park on Sunday.  The big front-end loader seemed to have things well in hand by the time they quit moving sand around late Saturday, so we figured that it would be just a matter of catching up again on Sunday morning.  Correct!  John wandered over to the blocked area around 7am, as we could hear the machinery roaring back to work.  Cars and trailers were already lined up to leave.  Although the road wasn’t yet opened enough for anyone to get through, he reported that it probably would be ready in a couple of hours.wpid-20150201_085838.jpgSo, we packed up all of our wet, muddy crap as best we could.  Our wet awning weighed triple its usual amount.  And the woven patio mat was loaded with sand.  Water funneled out of it as we tried to sweep and fold it up.  Ugh – wet camping stuff sucks!  By 9am, we were hitched and ready to roll.

All the vehicles lined up early were already gone, so we were first in line.  The big orange loader backed right up to our front bumper and gave John the sign to stay right on his rear bucket.  He dropped the front bucket, started up, and we followed in the huge wake he created.wpid-20150201_085917.jpg The driver gave us a huge smile and a thumb’s up.  We were free!

We found out that Mt. Lemmon received 5″ of rain in the storm, compared to the 1″ received by the Tucson area in general.  That explains the huge volume of water we experienced, as Catalina State Park sits right at the foot of Mr. Lemmon.

So, now we’re in our rental house for the month of February.  It’s a different pace.  Surprisingly, we seemed to have filled up this large space (as well as the big garage) with our stuff, which we’ve since managed to dry out.  The Fireball is in storage, sitting out at a dusty lot on the edge of town, awaiting its new refrigerator, which has been ordered and is on its way.  We’ve reconnected with old cycling and hiking friends, and plans have been made.  This will be a memorable month.wpid-20150203_182231.jpg


Caroline and Judy’s Big Adventure

It was quite a week.  Going into it, Caroline and I knew that we would laugh hard, make a few (well, several actually) wrong turns, ride hard, and push ourselves physically.  All true.

As I’ve mentioned before, my best cycling experiences have all been with Caroline.  We’ve ridden in New Zealand and Spain, and lots of other fun places.  She’s got far more touring experience than I, having ridden cross-country twice.  She’s a camper from way-back, and has cool matching stuff.  Her bike looks tidy and compact – I looked more like Judy Clampett – mismatched panniers, and stuff bungy-corded onto my bike rack.20140602_075013 A few days, there were bike clothes attached – drying in the breeze as we pedaled down the road.  Although it looks like I was carrying a huge amount of stuff, I really didn’t have anything that we didn’t use in five days (except one pair of long pants that I didn’t wear).  I was happy to have packed right.  The bulk on my bike came from carrying our cooking gear – pots are bulky!  Spatulas, spices, food all take up a lot of space.  In addition, my tent and sleeping bag/pad had to be on top of the bike rack.  Caroline’s stuff squishes up small enough to go into a pannier – not mine.

Anyway, off we go……

Day 1 (Monday) – 62 miles

We immediately don’t get off to a great start.  Caroline’s neighbors’ house burned to the ground on Sunday night, and she was up half the night watching the action (everyone’s ok).  But, that turned our 7:30am start into a 9:30am start.  We loaded up with a big breakfast with John and Greg, and wobbled down the road – getting used to our unfamiliar loads.  We had planned a 60ish mile ride heading south to Rose’s Retreat in Grand Junction. (note:  DON’T GO THERE!!!  JUST DON’T!).  Interestingly enough, a big storm was moving in, so we had a huge headwind all day.  There’s an old cyclist’s saying, “Hills make you strong.  The wind makes you mean”.  We were two mean, ugly cyclists that day.  Topping that off, our route (prepared with bicycling maps from Michigan DOT) took us down a very ugly stretch of State Highway with a one-foot shoulder and screaming trucks!  In the wind and rain, it was very unpleasant, and not a little terrifying.  At one point, we did have to seek shelter when the sky just opened up.  This was after about seven hours of cycling already.

After riding forever, we finally reached our destination.20140602_173631 This was an odd spot – I had spoken to the owner who gave me a code to unlock a box containing a key to open a padlock on the gate.  Are you still with me?  We decided to just wheel our bikes around the gate, onto a sandy two-track.  Past a few run-down cabins and an overflowing dumpster, a couple of kids toys lying around, and thick, thick woods surrounding the dwindling path.  We saw one other occupied campsite.  After unsuccessfully trying to find a site that would give us enough space for our two tiny tents, we decided to make camp near one of the cabins which had enough clear space for us. P1020109

Only then did we check out the bathroom – HORROR!  20140603_082450

Let me tell you, I really needed a shower, or I would not have gone in there.  Nasty.

It was already getting near dusk.  Mosquitoville!  We doused ourselves with bug juice and cracked open a beer (for me), and wine (for Caroline).  I had small lunch-type cooler strapped to my bike that first day which held two cold beers, chicken, and wine. Once we got our balky backpacker stove going, we dined in style – rice with chicken & peppers and wine.  Citrus shortbread cookies for dessert.  We were exhausted.  Driven into our tents by the mosquitos, and the overall creepiness of our camp.  Dreading the thought of having to get out of the tent in the middle of the night for….well, you know what.

We survived the night.  Chowed down on oatmeal with cranberries/honey and coffee in the morning, and bid a happy goodbye to Rose’s Retreats.  We won’t be back.  Ever.

Day 2 (Tuesday) – 52 miles

Another 60ish mile day planned, terminating at Grand Haven State Park, on the shores of Lake Michigan.  We spent a pleasant morning riding on the limestone Kal Haven Trail,20140603_101017 before heading north along the Blue Star Highway.  Got our first glimpse of Lake Michigan – always such a pleasure to see, even though I’ve lived in Michigan for all of my 60+ years. 20140603_115014 We had difficulty getting much energy into our tired legs, but the bright sun and generally pleasant road surface took the sting out of our slow progress.

Along the way, I got disturbing news from John that Jezzy had to have foot surgery.  We discovered an ugly lump on her foot the previous weekend, and he took her into the vet that morning.  She didn’t like the look of it.  In addition, Jezzy has infections in both ears.  Boy, do I feel like UnMom of the Year.  John decided to schedule her surgery for Thursday, checking in with me to make sure that I was okay with having it done while I was away.  Yes/No, but we decided to go ahead with it.  Since she was going to be knocked out for surgery, we decided to have her teeth cleaned as well.  Why not have her hate us for everything all at once?

Back on the road, Caroline and I decide to abandon our Grand Haven plan, and roll into Holland State Park instead.  We were anxious to have a bit more daylight in camp, and also to spend a bit of time in downtown Holland.  Ahhhh – lunch at New Holland Brewing.  We were starved, and enjoyed a beer and giant sandwiches.

It’s Graduation Week!  Tons of new grads all camping out – skates, scooters, skateboards and lots of oogling going on at the State Park.  We channeled our inner teenager selves, and fell into the flow.  What a hoot!  One 5th wheel trailer sported six bikini-clad beauties all sitting on the roof!  Three young studs put up camp across from us with the trunk of their car wide open to let the bass-blasting stereo flow into the beach-y atmosphere.  Pickup trucks loaded with young bodies in the back, cruising the campground.  The biggest tent I have ever seen in my life…..20140603_202651Although this campground isn’t directly on Lake Michigan, it’s right across the street from Lake Macatawa – pretty quiet quiet compared to all the campground ruckus!20140603_200151

Day 3 (Wednesday) – 55 miles

Sadly, we woke to find that some damn critter ate the rest of our shortbread cookies.  We were heartbroken.20140604_062239Breakfast didn’t sound too appealing, so we settled for coffee and a Clif bar before heading off to the north.  We felt a few (tiny) raindrops as we packed up.  We hadn’t even ridden out of the campground when we had to stop and don our raingear.  Bummer!  It didn’t rain particularly hard, just steady.  We were fortunate to be able to ride along the Lakeshore Trail – far enough off the road to protect us from the spray kicked up by cars & trucks on the busy route to Grand Haven.20140604_085956 As we steadily moved northward in the rain, I suddenly let out a big yelp as a poorly designed sprinkler system poured a blast of water directly into my face.  In the rain, I hadn’t seen it coming.  About 10 seconds later, Caroline whooped as the same sprinkler caught her right in the chest.  Hazards of trail riding, I guess.  The coolest thing?  We had a large Barred Owl fly right in front of us, and perch (briefly) in a tree where we could get a good look at him.  Owls are amazing…

First stop was a proper breakfast at Dee-Lite Grill in Grand Haven, about 20 miles into the day.20140604_111133 Loaded hash browns for me, and Eggs Benedict for Caroline.  We poured over our maps, and decided to head for Muskegon State Park for the night.  Still raining.  Make it stop!!  This is my first selfie (probably my last).  It’s a pretty adequate reflection of my general attitude this morning, though…..20140604_111148Although it never quit raining, we had a good ride.  Low-traffic roads and a marvelous Trail around Muskegon made for a pretty good day on the bike. 20140604_12042320140604_13183920140604_131900 We made a grocery stop, then headed toward the Bear Lake Tavern for happy hour before the final push toward camp.  The longest, steepest hill one would want to ride on a bike loaded with gear awaited us.  I was truly crawling up the hill, the bike groaning with the weight of me and my gear.

The big surprise was pulling into the Lake Michigan Campground of Muskegon State Park.  Rolling alongside the deserted ranger station, I attempted to read the notice posted about site availability/price.  However, I was severely hampered by the thousands of mosquitos which swarmed me.  Truly – thousands!  My unprotected skin was covered.  My flailing arms and slapping hands were ineffective against the mosquito squadron.  Any wonder why there were only two occupied sites in this beautiful campground??P1020114

We rolled through the campground, clouds of mosquitos following.  The really bad news?  I had to unpack nearly my entire bike load to get at my bug dope.  In the meantime, I had grabbed my fleecy pants to pull on over my bike shorts.  My rain hood covered my head and neck.  Rain jacket back on to keep bugs off my arms.  The good news?  Caroline was too busy protecting herself to take any photos of our ridiculous garb.  Once we were able to cover every exposed centimeter of skin with repellent, we calmed down enough to gather firewood – got a roaring blaze which helped keep the critters at bay.  It stopped drizzling, a breeze came up, and the sun helped move some of the bugs away.  Whew.IMG_0753

Next issue?  The bottle of wine we purchased had a cork – we had no corkscrew, and no sturdy knife.  We waited for the other campers to return to their tent and wandered over, looking for a tool we could use for this task.  A sturdy jackknife let me chip away at the cork until I could push down the remains into the wine (to any of you who are appalled at the thought of opening a bottle of wine this way, let me just say that perhaps you have never been as desperate as we were).  The final shove of the cork into the bottle created an outward slosh of (red, of course) wine onto my only long-sleeved shirt!  Oh well….dinner of chicken, mushrooms, peppers, and rice with wine in front of the fire made the trials of the day fade.20140604_190110

Day 4 (Thursday) – 64 miles

Up at sunrise, I wander toward the lake to enjoy the beautiful morning light. 20140605_063031 The mosquitos are awake for their morning feeding, and we fight valiently to protect ourselves.  My body is a mass of mosquito bites – probably more than a hundred.  The worst are my feet and my forehead.  Ugh.

Tonight’s destination is Sandy Beach Campground, a county park on Hardy Pond, the impoundment created by Hardy Dam.  It’s a beautiful day for a ride – cool in the morning (50s), but sunny.  Along the way, we adjust our route a few times, trying to find the most enjoyable route.  Dang – we were so close to having it!  But, we were foiled by both The Google (as I call her), and by the MDOT bicycling maps.  End result – a few extra miles resulting from wrong turns and a long ride down a road terminating into a gravel road, not ridable for us.  But, our average speed was better, so our longest mileage day turned out to be a spectacularly pleasant day on the road.20140605_104642  We got a great campsite under a shady tree with a soft grassy surface.  ahhhhh20140606_065432

Dinner was disappointing.  Stir-friend pork with mushrooms, peppers, and couscous.  Kind of tough.  Sometimes though, quantity can make up for mediocre quality – this may have been one of those days.  We were hungry!  We actually had to purchase firewood, but it was our last night in camp, and fire was a necessity.

Day 5 (Friday)  – 55 miles

Packing up for the final time was quick!  No more worries about keeping stuff cleaned or organized – jam it in the packs (evenly weight-distributed, of course), and go!  We did observe a huge moth on the screen of the camp office though.  He must have been 3-1/2″ long – a Polyphemus Moth.  Its large comb-like antennae aren’t really visible here.  In checking Google, I find that the wingspan of an adult male is 4-6″. 20140606_064221

We knew that today’s ride home would be the hilliest, and we were ready for the challenge.  The first ten miles were highlighted by the excruciating climb away from the Muskegon River up to Hit the Road Joe, home of the best breakfast ever.20140606_08555920140606_085751 (If you go there, have a Kendra’s Sandwich.  Or maybe the Linda’s Sandwich.  Or Eggs Florentine.)  Fortified, we cruised up & down, making steady progress home.  Sailed into Caroline’s driveway around 2pm.

John was home keeping our post-op patient Jezzy calm, so I decided to ride the last 9 miles home instead of waiting for him to fetch me. Not sure actually if he was keeping her quiet, or just pissing her off by wearing her Cone of Shame.photo 2-1photo 1 Oh, I was so smug…..rolling through town with my crap all strapped to my bike!  Arrived home on a bike coated with sand and other assorted road grit, panniers loaded with stinky camp clothes, and a huge smile on my face.

Post Ride

If you cycle, and have never tried touring, please give it a try sometime.  You don’t have to go for a week – just an overnight.  There’s something so pleasing about being self-sufficient on a bicycle.

Caroline and I are already planning (plotting?) our next tour…..