01-14-2015 Refuge Days with Judy

Current Location: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Yuma Arizona

It has been three days since we left the relative urban environment of the Coachella Valley to travel east and south.  The route is familiar again.  A short way along Dillon road to the east intercepts I-10 and once again we are traveling toward Quartzite, passing last years boondock site at the entrance to Joshua Tree, enjoying the reasonably smooth pavement of this part of the interstate.Imperial NWR with Judy (3 of 54)

We were in Quartzite before noon, with the cloudy skies invading the desert to the west gone and replaced with varying levels of warm sunshine.  We gassed up at the Pilot at $2.06 per gallon with our .03 discount.  It is rather amazing to fill the tank of the MoHo with less than a hundred bucks.  We parked in the lot east of the station, with few semi’s parked there, thinking it would be OK.  We didn’t back in, but parked at the far end of the lot crossways.  No one was anywhere near us.  But by the time we got back from our short shopping foray, a big rig had parked in front of us, and while we sat there preparing to leave, another slid in even closer.  I think we broke some rule and did some quick backing up to get out of there before we were completely  boxed in.Imperial NWR with Judy (4 of 54)

Quartzite was the same as ever, windy and cool in spite of the sunshine, long rows of stalls with tons of stuff, and the tool store and bead store that we saw last year.  Mo didn’t find what she was looking for and there wasn’t a single thing that I needed or wanted.  A few items at the less than stellar grocery store reminded me that if you come to Quartzite, you should probably have anything you need already in your possession.

After a very short stop, we were again rolling south on Highway 95, past the Kofa Mountains and toward Yuma.  Temps were fairly cool, and some big black clouds in the sky to the south indicated that rain was either coming or going. Unusual in this part of the desert at this time of the year.

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Arizona side of the Colorado river, and the access road is at the huge Yuma Proving Ground.  We turned west, and were surprised that the road was unpaved a few miles before we reached the refuge.  The washboards weren’t too bad, actually not as rough as I-5 can be in parts of California.Imperial NWR with Judy (6 of 54)

The large puddle, however, stopped us cold.  In the southwest there is no way of knowing how deep the puddle may be, or how soft the roadbed is beneath the puddle.  We were in a quandary.  At the lower level of the wash where we were stopped, there was no phone signal, so I couldn’t call Judy at the visitor center to ask about the big puddle.

Instead, we unhooked, Mo turned around with the baby car, and I backed the MoHo up the road a few hundred yards to the intersection.  I was attempting to get a call through when a man in a golf cart showed up and offered to lead us across the puddle, insisting that it was perfectly fine.  We asked him to go first to prove it however, before we slowly crossed the scary puddle of water which turned out to be pretty easy.  Still, as they know in the Southwest, you never know about these puddles so better safe than sorry.  We later heard that Barbara, of Me and my Dog, had attempted to visit Judy that same morning, and the puddle made her turn around without even trying to cross in the car in which she and a friend were exploring. 

Imperial NWR with Judy (7 of 54)Seeing Judy again was great. We met last year in Anahuac NWR, so the meeting didn’t have the “new” thing, but was instead a happy reunion.   We stopped in at the Visitor Center since it was her work day and let her know we had arrived and then settled into our campsite with plans to meet for supper when Judy got off work.  Emma was as happy and excited as usual, but before long she settled down and enjoyed the company.  Judy’s site overlooking the pond is fabulous.  The view, the patio, the shady side of the rig stays nice and cool (I think that should be a good thing most of the time).  All the bloggers who weighed in encouraging her to move to the 30 amp site were right!  A good move.

Imperial NWR with Judy (12 of 54)After a great sleep in the silent beautiful desert, Judy stopped by in the morning to pick us up for the day’s tour.  Judy usually does the bird tours on Sundays, but she sweetly offered to do one this week on a Tuesday for us, and for John and Sharon from On the Road Of Retirement.

Imperial NWR with Judy (18 of 54)I have followed their blog for years, so it was delightful to meet them in person and share the morning checking out the ponds and birds on the refuge.

judysuemosharonNo telephoto along today to capture photos of the wonderful birds, but I do have to put a little bit fuzzy one up of the beautiful great horned owl that graced us with its presence and sat quietly in the tree in full daylight posing.  Imperial NWR with Judy (28 of 54)

I added some more birds to my list, with a favorite being the little loggerhead shrike, a bird who skewers his live food onto thorns to keep it in place while he eats.  Hmmm.  I also saw Say’s Phoebe, which without Judy around would have been just another little brown bird.  Nothing quite so wonderful for a non birder who likes birds than to go out with a real birder!

Imperial NWR with Judy (22 of 54)Judy taught us a lot, and shared fascinating information about the habits of some of the residents of the refuge.  We didn’t see the bobcat, but did see the log where she scratches.  We didn’t see the beavers, but saw the fascinating beaver trails crossing the road between ponds.  We didn’t see the coyotes or the burros, either, but got a kick out of the coyote and burro trails.Imperial NWR with Judy (25 of 54)

Later in the afternoon, Judy picked us up again, and took us to the northern portions of the refuge.  There are four overlooks, with views of the remnant lakes that connect to the Colorado River, and at the first one we found so many birds that even Judy was excited.

Imperial NWR with Judy (39 of 54)I added buffleheads and ruddy ducks to my list, even though I know I have seen them in our Klamath Basin refuge.  It makes such a difference to have a birder tell what they are.  I might actually remember now.

Imperial NWR with Judy (50 of 54)Evening was enjoyed with laughs and conversation on Judy’s patio, and probably the best BBQ chicken I ever tasted.  Judy called it New York chicken bbq and spent a great deal of time basting the pieces with a nondescript looking marinade that turned the chicken into a flavorful crispy skinned delight.  Never had anything like it.  Don’t forget to send me that recipe, Judy!

Painted Desert Trail (1 of 45)Wednesday Judy had arranged some kayaks to get the three of us out on the Colorado River, but with the very cool temperatures and the wind starting up early, we nixed that plan quickly.  Instead Judy drove us north again to the Painted Desert Trail, I think the only official trail in the Refuge.Painted Desert Trail (8 of 45)

The temperatures were perfect for the leisurely hike, a mile and a third winding around and up through the volcanic rhyolites, tuffs, and basalts of the 20 million year old landscape, topped off by river gravels from the meandering Ancestral Colorado shining with desert varnish.

Painted Desert Trail (10 of 45)We found some very interesting green rocks, carried down by erosion from the basalt flows to the north, but Judy made sure we didn’t pick one up.  The only place to gather rock is some distance north and east in the Kofa Refuge.

Painted Desert Trail (12 of 45)I learned finally which tree was the ironwood, and we talked a bit about how many different plants are called  “ironwood”.  Nothing was yet in flower, but the lime green of the palo verde trees against the rusty red rocks added plenty of color.  Again we saw burro sign and burro trails, but no sign of a live animal. Painted Desert Trail (27 of 45) This refuge is ambivalent about the burros.  They aren’t attempting to eliminate them as they are at Sheldon NWR, but they are also not doing anything to support them since they are feral, not a naturally occurring species. 

We had the entire morning and trail to ourselves, so imagine our surprise to return to the trail head to see so many cars parked!  Lucky us!  Later in the day we found out that there had been more than 100 visitors to the center that day, and the park was crawling with people, more than Judy had seen in her entire time here since October.

Painted Desert Trail (37 of 45)Home mid day, we packed up a lunch (don’t ever offer Judy a tuna sandwich!) and decided since we couldn’t kayak, we could take a few hours to explore the lower end of the Kofa Refuge in the Tracker.  With only half a tank of gas in the car, and a gas station all the way south in Yuma, we limited our drive to 3 hours and 100 miles.  We didn’t have to worry about the distance in the least.

Painted Desert Trail (38 of 45)We used up the three hours without a problem, but the condition of the road deteriorated enough that our progress was slow and we didn’t have time to actually get over MacPherson Pass to the other side.

Painted Desert Trail (42 of 45)The picnic was a stand up affair, with a little bit of wind protection from the car and entertainment provided by a long line of Jeeps coming back down from the pass.  After lunch, we attempted to continue a bit north, but were stopped by a drop off.  After careful examination, we decided against trying it.  Mo and I have done similar obstacles in the Tracker, but it was getting late and we had no clue how many more we might have to try and then still turn around.

Painted Desert Trail (45 of 45)It was important to get Judy back to her site on time, since she was the hostess of a gathering of refuge volunteers and she had 20 Chicago hot dogs to prepare.  At five, the volunteers gathered to visit and enjoy the dogs and chili and some salads provided potluck style and talk about the different refuges where they have volunteered.  It was an interesting perspective on a lifestyle that is considerably different than some full time RVrs.  Painted Desert Trail (41 of 45)

Our three days here in the Arizona desert are coming to a close.  I can’t believe how quickly the time passed and how wonderfully quiet it has been here.  Lucky Us!! It isn’t easy to take time away from working for Judy to show folks around, so I don’t take her generosity for granted.  What a great lady, who gives so much to the refuge world.  Lucky them as well. Imperial NWR with Judy (15 of 54)

Today we travel north again for some off-grid time in Joshua Tree. 

 

3-21-2014 Advice From A Canyon

Lower Antelope C_144In spite of temperatures in the high 60’s, the sun is high and if not sheltered by some shade, feels white and hot as only high desert sun can feel.  The surrounding landscape reflects shades of salmon, not that bright red sockeye, but the pink Chinook slabs on ice in the fish case, pale and soft.  We are settled in for our last afternoon at the Page Lake Powell Campground, on the main road into the town of Page. 

It has been a good location and a good park for us to regroup a bit, pick up another month’s worth of mail sent by overnight express USPS general delivery.  “Overnight Delivery” in remote locations like this one often mean two overnights, but in our case it was three.  We planned for that possibility with a three day stay, and with delivery not as promised, will get our $19.99 refunded in full.  Good for us, too bad for the USPS.

It is amazing to me, that in all my years traveling around the Colorado Plateau, I never came to Page.  I did know that the Antelope Canyons, once called the Crack and the Corkscrew, were in the vicinity of Page.  I hiked slots all over Utah, and looked at photos of Antelope, but somehow the trip never happened.  It was a bucket list trip for me, one I knew I would have to someday experience.

I can’t help wishing I had done it prior to the 1997 tragic death of 11 canyon hikers in a flash flood.  A Navajo permit was always a requirement, but now non native folks are not allowed in the canyons without a Navajo guide.  Our decision to travel through Page was Mo’s suggestion, and took my breath away.  Yes.  Lower Antelope C_161

The minute we arrived, the young man at the campground desk called their favorite tour group for me, Antelope Canyon Tours.  All photographic tours for the next several days fully booked.  All prime tours for the next several days fully booked.  “Prime” means a tour during the magical light hours of 11AM and 2PM, when the sun shines into the canyon forming the famous light beam that folks come from all over the world to photograph.

DSC_0036With a bit more conversation, after he realized that I was a party of one, (Mo declined this part of the canyon), he called the company again and they found room for me on an 11:30 AM tour for Upper Antelope Canyon.

Visiting Lower Antelope Canyon is completely different.  Entrance to this part of Antelope is administered by a single family, and no reservation is needed at the current time.  You simply show up, pay the $26.00 fee (including the 6.00 tribal fee) and wait for a guide to take your group through the canyon.

I was so excited, and actually nervous on the morning before my Upper Canyon tour.  I knew that it would be crowded, and that the lighting conditions were challenging.  I thought that even though I wasn’t on the photographic tour that I could still take my tripod and read extensively the night before about tips for shooting the famous colors and light in the canyon.

Antelope Canyon Tours uses open 4 wheel drive jeep type wagons that hold 12 people in the back.  They picked me  up at the campground, a free service, and took me back to town where I joined the several dozen people waiting to leave on the 11:30 tour.  I was told then, that without being part of the official photographic tour, I could not take my tripod. 

CaptureWith f8 and f11 being the sweet spot and shutter speeds of more than a minute in some cases, I knew I was doomed.  I thought well, ok, it doesn’t matter really.  I am not coming to this canyon because I want to take pictures, I am coming to this canyon to be IN this canyon, so took off the tripod and accepted that my photos would be personal reminders and not technical perfection.  I set the ISO really high and went for it.

DSC_0067All the photos in the world, no matter how many times you see them, will not give you a clue of what it is like to be here.  All the crowds, all the rushing through of group after group, the clicking shutters, the calls of the guides trying to get people out of the way as the next group comes through, not one bit of this interferes with the amazing visual experience of walking through these canyons.

I found myself slipping into a meditative state, trying to be in the moment as much as possible while I also tried to change camera settings and frame and shoot.  It was a test, a spiritual test, I am sure. Of course I would love to walk alone at my own pace through this sacred space created by time and wind and water.  Me and a whole lot of other people, I am sure. Some precious places in the world simply require humans to accept that there are other humans around who want to experience them as well.

The trip from town to the canyons takes about 20 minutes or so, with much of it in Antelope Wash on thick soft sand.  It is dusty.  It is rough.  Of all the people on the tour with me, not one spoke English.  I was treated to the sounds of German, French, Japanese, something I am pretty sure was Czech, and several languages I didn’t recognize.  This is a very popular place and people from all over the world make the journey to Page, Arizona, to experience these magical slot canyons.

DSC_0076We were in the canyon just a little over an hour before we were herded back into the trucks and I was dropped off at my campground on the way to town.  I think my hair was stiff with dust and my face streaked from the dust and the happy tears that kept falling as I walked through the canyon.  Dumb.  The place just made my eyes water.

I was so happy that the next day I had another chance to be in an Antelope slot.  Mo and I woke early, and were on the road toward Lower Antelope Canyon a little after 8.  With tours beginning at 8:30, when we arrived there were already many people waiting.  We paid our money and within a minute were in line with our Navajo tour guide. 

Photos I had seen of this canyon showed people entering through the narrow slit in the earth from above, but our entry was on the south side of the canyon down many flights of steep stairs, but wasn’t difficult at all.  The narrow entrance shown in many images of Lower Antelope Canyon is now the exit, or at least for this day it was.

Entering once again into the reflected light of Navajo sandstone was thrilling, and this time Mo got to see it as well. Mo is a bit less excitable than I am, so I was happy to see her eyes widen in delight as we descended into the canyon.  Our tour group once again had people from all over the world, and included several small children, and even folks packing babies in carriers.  I was glad that all I had to carry was my camera!Lower Antelope C_001

Once again, the canyon light was breathtaking.  The morning sun was in the perfect position to reflect and bounce light around the swirling walls in ways that direct lighting could not do.  Our young guide was great, managing all the people gently, and yet still taking my camera for some shots that he didn’t want me to miss. 

Lower Antelope C_154Lower Antelope C_015Lower Antelope Canyon is a completely different experience than the Upper Canyon.  The floor of the Lower canyon is more narrow and the upper part is wider, allowing more light to enter and more bounce.  While orange and shades of salmon are common, in the lower canyon the purples and golden shades seemed to show up in the images more dramatically.  Looking at the sandstone up close, it is all the same soft pale salmon color, but all the color in the imagery is about the light and how it is reflected and bounced around the complex walls of the canyon.

As with any kind of photography, settings make all the difference, with the camera seeing things the eye cannot.  The eye and the soul however, working together in the canyons, can see and feel things the camera will never capture.  All the techniques and tripods and equipment and time in the world can’t capture what it feels like to walk in either canyon.  It is a life time, don’t miss it if you can help it, kind of experience.  Lower Antelope C_060

This afternoon, sifting through the hundreds of images of swirling color, I thought of Erin a lot. Her photos of icebergs in Greenland must have been similar.  Frame after frame of shape and color and light and shadow are so incredibly seductive.  Blue water frozen in place and reflecting light and pale sand frozen in time and sculpted by water, reflecting light, somehow the same. Lower Antelope C_188

I could happily drown in this frozen sand filled with light.

If you want to get lost in the pictures as well, the Jpegs will be posted to a google album in the next few days. Check the link on the upper left side of this blog.  Finer resolution photos will be waiting till I get back home.Lower Antelope C_041

I will close with the “Advice from a Canyon”, from a sweat shirt I bought at Chaco Canyon:

Carve Out a Place for Yourself

Aspire to New Plateaus

Listen to the Voice of the Wind

Don’t get Boxed In

Stand the Test of Time

It’s OK to be a Little Off the Wall

Reach Deep!

Am I on a trip or am I just living life

Agave Gulch Military Family Camp Davis Monthan AFB Tucson AZ High today 67 F currently 48 degrees F and clear

Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaI had a moment this morning, while walking to the laundry, that felt like I wasn’t traveling at all, that I was just living “life”.  I wasn’t on a big trip, I was just doing laundry.  How do you explain moments like that? Of course I am on a “trip”, and yet it feels a bit like full timers feel when they say traveling around the country in a motorhome isn’t a vacation, it is just life.

We landed at Davis-Monthan AFB Agave Gulch Campground yesterday afternoon, early enough that the campground office was still open, and early enough to get settled in before the “big” game between the Packers and the 49rs.  Having lived in the Bay Area for so long, Mo is a 49rs fan.  We weren’t able to get local tv with the antenna, but managed to get a pretty good description of the game on the radio as we settled in for a couple of days here in Tucson.  It was a good day all around, Mo’s team won.

saguaros are like icebergs, you just keep wanting to take photos of themIt was also a good day in that there were plenty of sites to choose from here at the FamCamp, and we got a nice one on the outside loop with no one next to us.  This is definitely a great place to stay in Tucson for just $20 bucks per night for full hookups, minus TV of course.  Hence a game on the radio.  Mo bought a satellite for the MoHo recently but it didn’t arrive before we left on this trip.  Oh wait…we aren’t on a trip….we are just living.  Well, we are living without much TV and I find that extremely relaxing.  It is good to get out of the news cycle now and then.  Of course, I do have the internet and the computer for the really important stuff. Like banking.  What in the world did we do when travelers didn’t have access to online banking? 

I had planned to do laundry here because I remembered the nice clean laundry facility with plenty of machines and only 1.00 to wash and 1.00 to dry.  It is a good place to get the rugs and blankets all spiffed up and fresh again and I took advantage of that yesterday afternoon. 

Today we woke to a free day with wide open possibilities.  Local friends in the Tucson area all seemed to be gallivanting off somewhere else, so there were no visits planned.  Instead we decided to explore a different part of Tucson than we saw when we passed through here in 2007 and again in 2011.

setting out on the Canyon Loop trail at Catalina SPMost of the time we have traveled from the air force base toward the south, with one visit to the downtown area.  This time we traveled north to visit the popular Catalina State Park, at the base of the beautiful Catalina Mountains just north and a bit east of town.  As we drove up Swan Road toward Oracle Road the shift in lifestyles and neighborhoods was dramatic.  The flatter areas were lower middle class homes, tight little neighborhoods with lots of cars parked around and small shops and groceries.  With just a little bit of elevation, the houses got bigger, and as we climbed the hills toward the mountains, the houses and shops increased in value with every foot uphill.

Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaBefore long we were in nosebleed territory with Whole Foods anchoring some pretty fancy malls and some houses that looked as big as hotels.  Of course there were also hotels and spas behind huge gates, all with gorgeous views of the city below and the Catalina Mountains behind.  It was beautiful, and especially in January I could imagine living here.  In some other very wealthy life, I am sure.

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and she lived in Tucson when I first started reading her books. She and her husband and family picked up lock stock and barrel and relocated to her ancestral home in the Appalachian Mountains.  She said she wanted to live a more sustainable life, where there was water and soil and you could grow your own food.  Tucson is lovely in many ways, but would be pure hell without air conditioning.

Montrose Pools on the Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaStill, as we meandered into Catalina State Park, the Arizona sun worked its magic on us entirely.  The day was clear and nicely warm with a cooling breeze.  The skies were so blue they almost hurt.  Many bloggers have extolled the virtues of Catalina State Park, and it almost seemed like too much hoopla to me, so I was never that anxious to get there.  I was so wrong.

What a gorgeous place to be in January.  We checked out the campground loops and decided that yes, we could definitely spend a week or more here hiking these beautiful mountains.  Funny, because the last time we were in Tucson we thought we never needed to come back unless we were passing through as we did this time.  After our day in Catalina SP, I can see us coming back again for some January sunshine and blue skies.

happy dogThe main reason we decided to visit this park was to enjoy the dog friendly trails.  So often park trails are closed to dogs and it was great to find some areas that let us bring Abby along.  She especially loved the cool water in the creek that meandered though the canyon floor.  We did too, and took our time hiking three miles or so and stopping for photos and just sitting by the bubbling stream. What a perfect day!

We had planned a couple of other activities for the day, but by the time we left the park the afternoon traffic was getting thicker and we decided to skip the tour of the downtown art colony and instead go back home to our waiting supper.  I recently found a nice little crockpot and decided it was time to make a stew, so it had been cooking all day while we were gone.  Nice to come home to dinner all ready to go after a long day.

three favorite kitchen items for the MoHoJeremy wasn’t too happy for us to be gone that long, and did some old cat things that made me not so happy as well.  sigh.  I am glad he is with us….most of the time.  Sometimes not so much. I am doing more laundry tonight, catching up on photos and blogs while I wait for the last batch to finish. 

Tomorrow we will continue east toward Las Cruces.  An easy day of Interstate 10 driving and an early arrival at a Passport America park within walking distance to Old Mesilla and some Mexican food!

1-5-2014 Surprise boondock

Currently: Gila Bend AZ 52 degrees F and sunny morning

boondock sunset_007We are traveling east on I-8, between Gila Bend and Tucson, Arizona.  The interstate on this stretch is butter smooth, smooth enough that I can type away on the laptop while Mo cruises down the road.  Gotta love that.  So few stretches of Interstate in California are like this, and Oregon isn’t much better.  Does Arizona have a lot more money for road taxes?  Just wondering what the difference is between states that have great highways and those that don’t, especially when they are nationally funded roads, at least I think the interstates are nationally funded.  Who knows anymore how anything gets paid for anyway.

typical Quartzite stuffWe pulled out of Desert Hot Springs yesterday right around 9am as planned, filled up at Costco at LaQuinta for just 3.37 per gallon.  Looking forward to cheaper fuel as we continue east, with Tucson prices now hovering around the $3. mark for regular.  We are not a diesel rig, obviously.

Last night turned out to be a surprise.  Originally I planned for a night at the Military Family Camp at Gila Bend, but with recent renovations, there weren’t even any hookups available.  Why pay to boondock in a gravel parking lot with no amenities?  So we then thought we might push hard to get all the way to Tucson, just 388 miles or so, and we can do that if we want to.

all that is Quartzite in a nutshellBut then, not long after we left the Coachella Valley, the signs for Quartzite started showing up, and Mo said, “Maybe we could take a little break.”  Is there an RVr out there who doesn’t know about Quartzite?  I read somewhere that 20 percent of all registered RV vehicles in the United States can be in the area at one time.  Not to mention the Canadians.  Boondocking there is a fine tuned art, and we passed the Dome Rock exit where RV Sue hung out a bit back, and saw the folks who like a bit of space between their rig and the next one scattered across the desert below the rocky hills.

Something about a camel is in the history of QuartziteAs we got closer to town, the long term and short term BLM parking areas were visible with their more closely spaced rigs, and then in town I was quite surprised at all the “real” RV parks with hookups that were lining the highway adjacent to the freeway.  I first camped in Quartzite in a tent back in 1988, selling my flowers at a booth at the Tyson Wells Show for ten days.  I mostly remember the wind and the dust.  Mo and I parked in La Posa one year for an overnight, but in spite of the nice invitations from fellow rvrs, we have declined returning.

Except for the tools.  Mo wanted to walk around a bit and look for little tooly things, and there is certainly no better place to do that.  Things are still fairly quiet, and we parked the rig easily at the Pilot station in town for our walkabout.  Somehow this photo of baseball caps reminds me of all things Quartzite.  Kinda crazy I guess. 

take a walk through QuartziteHowever, there was a new addition since I was here last, a giant box store called the Gem Store.  It was HUGE, and I walked inside and was completely overwhelmed.  Filled wall to wall with all the “stuff” that is sold at little gift shops all over the country for very high prices, the store seemed to cater most to wholesale buyers.  Still, there were rows and rows of beads and jewelry findings, boxes and bags for packaging jewelry, and it was filled with people with little heavy metal carts lined up at the registers spending a LOT of money.

I couldn’t resist, and called daughter Deborah, who likes to do beadwork.  I bought a bunch of 1 pound bags of seed beads for $4 bucks each for her.  Birthday girl coming up soon and this was a perfect shopping moment.  Yes, Deborah reads the blog, and yes, she already knows I got the beads for her.  There were so many choices I had no clue what to get without asking her.01-04-2014 Buckeye Boondock

By the time we left town it was already 3:30 in the afternoon.  How the heck did that happen??  UhOh.  Time change in Arizona, and we completely forgot about that .  Gila Bend was already looking better than Tucson for our night.  But then, what about all that great BLM land around us?  We didn’t want to stay too close to Quartzite, but as we turned south on highway 85 toward Gila Bend, it seems there was a lot of flat cropland and no sign of BLM land.  I looked up boondocking in the area and most of the information led us back west from Gila Bend, and we didn’t want to do that.

sunset at Buckeye Hills ArizonaSurprise!  Just 8 miles south of I-10, on Highway 85 is the expansive Maricopa County regional park called Buckeye Hills. There is a shooting range and a sheriff training facility near the entrance and on google maps the main road just seems to wander around the hills toward nothing in particular.  I found the park website which said something about no hookups and pit  toilets, but we couldn’t find any evidence of a campground. It is possible that the official campground is further up the road in the park.

Instead, less than 1/2 mile in, adjacent to the wide graded gravel road, we found several large sites, obviously used for camping.  No signs had said anything about camping restrictions, so all alone there in the desert we pulled off and set up camp.  The timing was perfect, just at sunset, which came a little bit later in this part of the time zone.

sunset at Buckeye Hills Arizona with an early moonboondock sunset_014Mo built a fire from some nice hard firewood that we found near our Joshua Tree boondock site.  Nice to a chance to use it, since it was taking a bunch of space in the Tracker!. The park police never showed up to run us off or say anything about the fire.  In fact, no one ever showed up except for 3 cars that passed us on the road during the evening.  Who knows where they were going.  The night was dark and beautiful, and we had a nice supper, watched the fire, played some cards before retreating to bed with the windows wide open to the stars.

I know there are a lot of folks who boondock in the middle of nowhere, and I have no idea if they worry about security.  But there was that little nagging thing in the back of my mind that felt a bit vulnerable out there.  What IF someone decided to harass us.  We have some protection, but still it isn’t exactly fun to have to deal with it. 

One of the main reasons we prefer a motorhome to a fifth wheel is about security.  I asked Mo if she would indulge my niggling little bit of fear and I pulled in the slide and put the key in the ignition.  That way if anyone did hassle us, with the car hooke dup ready to go, the slide in and the key ready, we wouldn’t have to fumble around in the dark trying to get out of there.  It would just be a matter of jumping in the drivers seat and driving off.desert kitty loves exploring with freedom watch out for coyotes, Jeremy

The night was completely quiet and completely beautiful, and of course my fears were probably silly.  Still, I did sleep better knowing that I had paid a bit of attention to the possibility and was prepared to handle it.sunset at Buckeye Hills Arizona

I haven’t looked at the internet this morning, so don’t really know how the predicted severe cold weather is affecting the rest of the country.  Here the sun is so bright I am having trouble seeing the screen and the temperatures are steadily rising. MoHo in the Sonoran Desert

This afternoon we will find a way to watch the 49rs game and I will do laundry at the very nice FamCamp facility.  There are no reservations taken at Davis Monthan AFB FamCamp, but there is a system of waiting in line for a space after spending time in the overflow no-hookup areas.  Won’t know till we get there if we will get a site or not, but we are ready either way.

Laughlin, Forgettable. Pahrump, Memorable

highway 95 We are heading north on Highway 95 now, on very smooth, very straight 2 lane road.  Mo is driving and there is very little traffic.  As our trip is winding down, both of us are a bit ready to just hit the road and keep moving rather than lingering much longer.  The original plan included a possible trip into Death Valley and a possible route north on 395.  We both love Death Valley and have spent time there, and we have traveled 395 many times.  395 is gorgeous, and the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine is one of our favorite places.  But we have been there.  Somehow this time the open spaces of Nevada called us with the direct route north. 

tiny town of Shoshone gateway to the southern end of Death ValleyI love traveling through this part of Nevada.  The vistas are so wide, huge alluvial fans as far as the eye can see, sloping gently upward to the contorted rugged volcanic ridges, broken by layers of uplifted sediments, and subtly colored by all the eternities of evolution of this landscape.  As a soil mapper, one of the indicators we use to identify soil change is the vegetation pattern.  Here in this part of the world those subtle changes are easily visible. 

no more saguaros, now Joshua trees and smell the sage! Crossing a playa with crusted salt surfaces, up a bit more to a low basin covered with greasewood, tells me it is still salty.  In the distance, at the foot of the contorted hills the greasewood drops out and creosote appears, a faint hint of filmy green across the distance.  Less salt.  Rising higher, the gray mounds of low sage and an occasional Joshua tree.  Each of those variations will indicate to me that the soil is changing, not only the salts on the surface, but the hard petrocalcic layers below the surface, the mixed up crazy gravels and cobbles of the alluvial fans, the shallow bedrock soils of the ridges. 

wildflowers are blooming looking south toward Tecopa Mapping soils in the desert is a beautiful thing, at least if you have a 4 wheeler and access.  In this day it seems that unless the mappers are on federal lands, the access in extremely limited.  People are protective of their rights, their property, and no longer trust the government.  A geologist or a botanist or a soil scientist may be a threat and not a help in their minds.  It’s a bit of a sad thing for the young soil scientists coming up now, trying to do their jobs, constantly hindered by suspicious landowners. I was lucky.  I mapped almost a million acres of ground, much of it wild and free lands in the Pacific Northwest, just a tiny bit of southern deserts.  Lucky me!

mass exodus of the Canadians Traveling north from Phoenix to Laughlin was uneventful.  We took Highway 60 northwest and avoided the fast pace and crowded traffic on I-17, but once we arrived at I-40 near Wickenburg the RV’s were almost bumper to bumper.  It was the mass exodus of the Canadians in full force.  Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan plates in abundance.  I never saw a Quebec or Ontario, though.  Laughlin wasn’t far from the Interstate, and before long we were dropping down to the Colorado River and the town of Bullhead City.  Right before our turnoff to a possible RV park we found the Mojave County Park, with what looked to be fairly nice sites along the river.  With a fee of $21 for the night, we settled in to a back in site near the river.  The temperature read 99.9 degrees and within a few minutes it read 100.  March 31, and 100 degrees!  We pulled the shades, turned on the air conditioner and napped and read in the cool dim light until 6:30 that night! 

hot as heck in LaughlinWhen the sun finally let up a bit, we took a walk down to the river so Abby could cool off and swim, and got in the Tracker to check out Bullhead City and then cross the bridge to Laughlin and the casinos. Twilight was deepening and the lights of the casinos looked dramatic and lovely reflected on the river.  Laughlin itself wasn’t much to speak of, especially with the extensive construction on Casino Drive.  The marquees said nothing about shows, only advertising their buffet dinners and hotel rooms.  We drove up to Harrah’s and almost left before we finally found an entrance to the Casino.  We can at least do things like this at night now and then, because Abby seems to be content to settle down and sleep in the car if it is dark outside. 

Phoenix to Laughlin (12) Mo and I like to play the slots a bit, and to us it is a win if our 20 bucks each lets us play a couple of hours and have fun.  Cheap entertainment.  Neither of us is likely to go over that 20 limit and we rarely win anything, but I still like the lights and the glitz of the casinos.  It’s especially fun to watch the people there.  We saw one very old lady, very skinny, dressed up in diamonds and sparkles, with shiny reflective leopard skin jacket. leather pants, and sequins everywhere.  After a short time at Harrah’s, we went to the Royal Palm Casino, with it’s marquee shouting out that it had the newest slot games.  Here we found a sign to the River Walk, which I had heard was a nice thing to do in Laughlin, but it was dark and buggy out, so we decided against it.  Another move into the Colorado Belle Casino, dolled up to look like a big riverboat was our final destination for the evening, with our $20 increased a bit with some bells and whistles and then again finally gone. 

nice park Originally we thought we might stay two nights in Laughlin, having heard and read much about it from RV’rs and travel magazines.  Not for us, I guess.  We aren’t enough into gambling and town camping to really enjoy it that much. we also didn’t bring our kayaks along on this desert trip, and the Colorado River here was wide and fast.  It seemed there were lots of water craft around, including noisy jet skis.  Instead we decided to spend our extra night at Pahrump, another place much touted by RV’rs for the winter.  I guess we would find out the next day.