08-10-2014 North toward British Columbia

Current Location: home in Rocky Point…but you already know that right?

As soon as it was decided to have the Oukrop reunion in Spokane, Mo and I were thinking, “Yes!  A chance for another trip to Canada!”  Especially nice was the idea that we could dip into Canada without having to purchase very much fuel while we were there.   

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (15 of 71)The Kootenay Lake loop north from Bonners Ferry and back through Nelson to Spokane can be done in a long day.  I used to do it back in the days when I lived in the area.  Some of my favorite photos (remember I have been scanning old photos for a month now) are from one of those trips back in the 70’s.

1985 Sue and Maryruth833 1985 Sue and Maryruth834

Sue and Maryruth Girl Time at Destiny Bay 1985

In the mid 80’s I took my grandmother on a road trip over the same route to Kaslo, staying in a little motel there for a night before returning.  It was one of the last long trips I took with her.  In the mid 80’s Maryruth and I celebrated my 40th birthday at the fabulous Destiny Bay Resort, no phone, no TV, just two days of girl talk and a trip to Ainsworth Hot Springs.  Ahh, such great memories!08-75 Kootenay Lake

Two of my girls on Kootenay Lake 1975

It was a place I was excited to share with Mo.  We often try to get to places that neither of us have seen, but that is getting harder and harder to accomplish.  This time the Kootenay Lake Loop was my idea and it turned out great.  Mo loved Kaslo and the entire area.kootenay

When we left Spokane at the 1:00 PM check out time for Riverside State Park, it was hot.  Surprisingly, the farther north we traveled the hotter the temperature!  We took the familiar route north along Highway 2, one we have traveled several times, and in spite of the beauty of the Pend Oreille River and the little town of Sandpoint, we were not inclined to stop and linger.  Not only was it hot, but the skies were so smoky from fires in the Okanagan and the Colville Reservation area I took no photos.

With no solid plans for where we wanted to stay, I pulled up CampWhere and AllStays, and we decided that a free night at the Kootenai River Inn was a good choice.  We could offset some of our travel expenses with a free boondocking night, and be ready to cross the border early the next morning.  What we hadn’t considered was that the temperatures would still be in the high 90’s as the sun set. 

With permission from the front desk, we parked out in the far end of the lot, no jacks down, and we left the slide closed.  Started up the generator to run the air conditioner and settled in to relax a bit.  I had planned to cook up some quesadillas for supper, but instead, with the heat, we ate some of Wynn’s leftover lasagna she so kindly packed up for us the day before.  We had a moment of trouble with the generator providing enough juice for the air conditioner, but discovered that if we took the fridge off automatic and put it on gas only we had no problem.

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (1 of 71)I walked around the parking lot trying to get some photos of the August 10 supermoon, but almost everywhere I walked there were telephone lines and houses.  Even down along the river by the hotel I couldn’t find a place to set up a shot.  Oh well, I still got to look at it, and with the smoke in the atmosphere it was bigger and redder than I expected. 

Only a minor glitch to mar the evening was easily remedied.  An older RV pulled in front of us, and actually backed up so that their rig was just feet from our front bumper.  Then they turned on their generator.  It was loud and it was old and the fumes were so bad we couldn’t breathe.  By this time we had ours off and the windows open, so it was getting too hot to close them.  I hemmed and hawed a bit, and then in my most sweet possible face I walked over to the rig where folks were playing cards and very nicely asked, “Are you planning to run your generator long?  If so we will move”. 

The guy was a bit taken aback at first, I guess he had no idea his fumes were so bad, but then he was kind and actually moved his rig far enough forward that we could breathe with the windows open.  Nice interaction, although a bit scary for me at first to do that.  In addition, the railroad route runs right along the parking lot, and those horns were loud!  Maybe none came by during the night because I had no trouble sleeping after we turned off the generator and turned on the fantastic fan for some air.  It was a hot night!

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (6 of 71) We had planned to enter Canada at the smaller Porthill crossing, but I somehow missed the turn (remember I mapped soils here and supposedly KNOW the roads), and ended up going in through the 24 hour Eastgate crossing.  Highway 3 exits west toward Creston just north of the border, and the drive was lovely so it wasn’t a problem.

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (4 of 71) The crossing was incredibly simple.  The guard looked at our passports, checked Abby’s rabies certificate and asked if we had any produce or firewood.  “Half a head of lettuce” and he didn’t care a bit.  I do think he asked our destination and if we had been in Canada before and where we crossed.  The whole process took maybe 3 minutes. 

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (5 of 71) Once over the border, we headed west toward Creston, stopping at an ATM to withdraw some Canadian cash.  Creston is nothing like I remember.  What was once a dingy little place now boasts cute shops, restaurants, a nice looking downtown, and even murals!  We passed by a couple of RV parks that we had considered for the previous night and were perfectly happy with our casino docking choice.

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (25 of 71) Kootenay Lake is incredibly gorgeous.  Creston is at the southern end of the Canadian part of the Kootenay Valley (it is Kootenai in Northern Idaho) and the lake is long, narrow and deep lying between the Selkirks and the Purcell mountains, which extend northward in British Columbia and southward into the US. The waters of Kootenay Lake end up eventually in the Columbia River at Castlegar.

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (18 of 71)The mountains range on both sides of the lake get higher and more rugged toward the north, but the road that parallels the lake is an easy route.  There are lots of places to stop and check out the views, and in spite of the smoke I tried to get some photos. 

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (12 of 71)There is a small tourist attraction along the lake called the Glass Bottle House.  I had been there many times, the photos of my kids above were taken there, but Mo wasn’t all that interested in doing the tourist thing, so I simply took a few photos from the outside.  It is interesting if you feel like stopping and paying for the views and the story.

The main destination for us and for a lot of other folks was the ferry that crosses the lake to the little hamlet of Balfour.

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (27 of 71) This ferry is part of the BC highway system and doesn’t cost a penny.  During the high season, the ferry runs about every 50 minutes between Kootenay Bay and Balfour, with a second smaller ferry put into service during peak times.  We were lucky enough to snag a trip on the big ferry, sharing our ride with some very big logging trucks and a lot of RV’s.

Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (37 of 71)Check out the MoHo tucked in with those logging trucks

The wait at the ferry wasn’t long at all, and as the vehicles lined up to load I was sure we wouldn’t get on.  I was totally amazed at the load that ferry could carry. Not only did we get on the first trip, another two lines of vehicles next to us got on after we did.  I still can’t quite figure out how they fit all those rigs on that boat!Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (38 of 71)

The crossing is beautiful, taking just 35 minutes, with gorgeous views both north and south on the lake.  Once the ferry landed in Balfour, we were unloaded quickly and in minutes were on our way north on Highway 31 toward Ainsworth Hot Springs and the little town of Kaslo where we had reservations for the next three nights.  Kootenai Lake and Kaslo (34 of 71)

Next:  Four Days in Kaslo

3-28-2014 Boondock Sites and Camping in Mojave National Preserve

major mapThis post is specifically about what we found when wandering around the preserve this past few days.  If you aren’t interested in boondocking, just skip it.  I have included more detail than usual for some of the folks that I know who are definitely interested in boondocking. 

Link to live google map

First, I have embedded a live Google Map I created with labels for sites and intersections.  Hopefully if you click on the map, you will be redirected to Google and will have the ability to zoom in, mouse hover over the points to read the labels. Eventually I will figure out how to actually “embed” the map so that it shows rather than just the link, but this will have to do for now.

The rest of the maps are clipped images for each area.

When we first stopped off at the visitor center at the Depot in Kelso, the attendant was a bit vague about RV camping in the area.  The words in the brochure say “Roadside camping is permitted in areas that have been traditionally used for this purpose:  Sites with existing rock or metal fire rings should be considered suitable for roadside camping.”

overview mapHe pointed vaguely to a couple of areas on the preserve map, including the area near the cross, and the area at the dunes, but didn’t tell us about the other two sites, or have any indication of road conditions getting into any of the sites.  The only developed campground that is suitable for larger RV’s (even our size at 26 feet) is the Hole in the Wall Campground where we spent one night.

I do have to correct the last post.  It is Hole in the Wall, not Hole in the Rock, and I will edit the previous post accordingly, but anyone reading has probably already read the post and will not see the correction.

site 1 2 3The first site where we camped was actually a small developed campsite, with a picnic table provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and a fire ring, at the base of the white cross WW I memorial.  We attempted to enter via the eastern side of the road and found it rutted and too rocky for the rig, had to unhook and back out, and continue to the west side of the small loop to enter the site.The Mojave_063

Some folks with pickups had traveled from this spot to the other sites I have mentioned, but we wouldn’t take our rig back there from this direction.

Walking around checking roads the next day, we found the easternmost entrance to the camping area, and walked the road back to the pavement.  Here we found two great sites.dirt entry road to dry camp sites

Site number 2 on the list was the very best, with a dirt road access that we could easily handle in our rig. It was my favorite.left turn from dirt entry road to first campsite at the base of these rocks

Site number 3 is just west of site 2 on the same side road, however there is a bit of a rough patch that might be trouble for clearance for motorhomes.  We probably wouldn’t try it in the rig, but some might. I would highly suggest that before taking your motorhomes to these sites, that you check them out with your toad.second campsite on rougher road left of dirt entry road

We were exploring on foot, and there may be other sites on the road toward the mine north to discover if you have the time and a toad to do so. 

dunes and granite mountainThe Dunes road, as I mentioned, was incredibly rough, but after we turned around we discovered if we kept our speed to less than 5 mph, literally, we could have traveled the 3 miles to the campsite.  A previous commenter mentioned this site, so I included it in the map if you are willing to drive the road.

The Mojave_139The Granite Mountain sites are incredibly gorgeous, just incredible.  With any kind of small rig with high clearance you could probably get back in there and it would be worth it.

At the Hole in the Wall campground, there is a dump station and potable water with a hose to fill your water tanks.  We didn’t see anything requiring campground registration in order to use the dump or take on water.  It may have been there.  At half price for the senior pass, it would have been worth the $6. fee to dump and get water if we wanted to stay out longer in the area.

site 4 5The Wildhorse Canyon road that travels west and then north from just south of the Hole in the Wall visitor center is also good dirt road.  It isn’t nearly as rough as the Dunes road to sites 4 and 5 on the map. 

The Mojave_188These sites are big and flat and are close to the Ring Trail and some fascinating volcanic rock cliffs.  They could accommodate 2 or 3 rigs if you were friends.  There was only one fire pit at site 4, but plenty of space.The Mojave_186

The Mojave_187The road from this area north toward Mid Hills campground is also dirt, and rough and narrow.  We were in 4 wheel drive, but probably didn’t need it.  I wouldn’t take a motorhome that way.  A truck and camper could manage it OK.  Mid Hills wasn’t nearly as charming as the other areas of the park.  Once a juniper woodland, there was a devastating fire in recent years that has left the place feeling desolate and rather depressing.

The Mojave_212We did see the entrance to the Black Canyon Group Camp, near the main Hole in the Wall campground, and I would imagine this is where the rally that Carol spoke of will be held.  There is no camping anywhere around the Kelso Visitor Center or on any of the major paved roads in the preserve.

The Mojave National Preserve is a treasure land of wild desert space.  We visited in late March, which I would imagine would be the high season before summer heat.  There were some flowers blooming, the winds were extremely high, but that was case all over the southwest on the days that we were there.

If you want a true desert boondocking experience, and like to be alone in the wild open space, this a a perfect place to be.

03-27-2014 Mojave Wild

Current Location: Mojave National Preserve 41 F

morning at Hole in the Wall campgroundIt isn’t yet 6AM and I am watching the waning crescent moon rise through long black clouds to the east.  There is just enough light to see the outline of Mesa Mountain, east of the Hole in the Rock where we are camped.  Venus is brilliant nearby, and I wish I had the will to dig out the telephoto, dig out the tripod, hook it all up and see if I could actually create an image that would remind me of this moment. Instead I’ll write of it, and know that it would take a better photographer than I am to catch the feeling. 

We will be home on April 1st.  This may be our last night in the wild darkness of the desert, and a wild rocking night it was!  After spending such magical time near Virgin, and wanting more, we initially planned to travel north through Cedar City and then take another back road to the Great Basin National Park.

The Mojave_072One of the blessings of boondocking in our sweet spot, was the perfect Verizon signal for our JetPack and the ability to check on the weather.  For the first time in the entire three months of winter travel, we had to shift our plans completely to accommodate the weather gods and our common sense.  Predictions for the next few days included high wind warnings, snow and temperatures in the 20’s at the lowest elevations near Great Basin near Baker, and unknown snow and wind over the entire western side of Nevada.  No way home.

We studied maps and weather and more maps and checking our calendar, came up with a simple plan.  Head south on I-15 toward Barstow on the gorgeous sunny non windy day we had left, and then hunker down at Edwards AFB Family Camp and wait the three days of harsh weather with hookups and a place to do laundry.  Then, once the snow warnings lifted over the Tehachapi 58 route, we could get over the pass to the I-5 route north and home.  Sigh.  I-5 again?  Not even 395?

Mojave mound cactus echinocereus triglochidiatusWith predictions for snow at home in Rocky Point around the time of our arrival, we may decide to go to Grants Pass instead.  We will see.  Weather predictions are often a lot worse than the actuality.  Then again, sometimes they are spot on.  Predictions for our westward direction included wind, and last night was possibly the windiest we have ever experienced on the road.  I was glad we were in the west, where tornadoes are extremely rare, but there were a few times last night when I thought surely we were going to be blown over.

We pulled in the slides not long after camping, but during an especially dramatic gust, I even picked up the levelers. It somehow seemed a bit safer to me to have the MoHo settled solidly on all six tires, even if a bit less than level.

The Mojave_057Driving west from Las Vegas on I-15 was fast and smooth.  Vegas from the high vantage point of the freeway looks different, even bigger somehow that the view along the strip.  Traffic was heavy but moving steadily on a Tuesday afternoon.  Just past the state line, we were suddenly shocked by the brightest artificial light I think I have ever seen.  Huge towers were beaming intense white light and below them something that looked like a strange lake was reflecting the sunlight. 

Sometimes it is fun to have the iPad along with a great signal.  Searching “bright lights near the Nevada California border” I came up with this.  We were passing the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, which just came online on February 13.  Mirrors concentrate light and then somehow the light heats water for power generation.  Sounds like science fiction, and it certainly looked like it.  Funny, with all the hoopla about Solara, neither of us had ever heard a word of this successful solar power generating project.

I-15 Mojave Rest AreaNear the state line in California is a rest area, and it was time for an Abby walk.  What a great surprise.  Many states in the south have beautiful state of the art visitor centers, and we love to visit them.  Here, however, a simple rest area was gorgeous, and rich with information about this part of California, including the nearby Mojave National Preserve, spanning 1.6 million acres between I-15 and I-40 and east to the Nevada border.

I-15 Mojave Rest AreaThe rest area was artfully designed, with outdoor displays that told the story of the area in a way that could be enjoyed without entering a building or requiring staff to disperse brochures.  It was beautifully kept, and even the bathrooms were tiled with images and stories. 

Even before reaching the rest area, though, Mo and I had decided to stop in Baker to fill the tanks so we could boondock another night.  The excitement of camping at the AFB wasn’t all that alluring, and we thought, what the heck, let’s slip into the preserve, boondock for another night and then we can continue west to Edwards.

The Mojave National PreserveMo had visited the preserve in the past, not only in this decade with the baby MoHo, but in the 60’s when she was teaching at China Lake, California.  Our first stop was at Kelso, where the visitor center is located in the beautifully restored Kelso Depot.  Anyone reading this blog for any length of time, knows how much we love desert, but often the Mojave experience is filled with development and dotted with desert garbage. 

Not here.  I am so incredibly grateful for this space.  Unlike Joshua Tree, which we also love, it is farther from most of the big cities of Southern California and so far, is blessedly empty.  Incredibly empty, and at first it seems like what my daughter calls a lot of “white hot nothing”.  With just a little time and a bit more effort, the fascinating diversity of the Mojave becomes clear in a space that feels more remote than either Joshua Tree or Death Valley, if not quite as dramatic.

The Mojave National PreserveThe roads through the preserve, even the paved roads, can be a bit rough and bumpy, and are two lane narrow routes without shoulders.  There are only two developed campgrounds, but after visiting with the staff at the beautifully restored Kelso Depot Visitor Center, we learned that “roadside” camping is allowed in places where there has been a fire ring and previous use. 

Depot at Kelso at The Mojave National PreserveThe Visitor Center is wonderful, with beautiful photographic displays on the walls of the restored Craftsman style rooms.  There is a gift shop, interpretive exhibits, three excellent movies to view in the small theater, and art exhibits.  I especially enjoyed the recordings of the “booming sands” of the Kelso Dunes

Traveling back toward the northern part of the preserve toward Cima, we turned northwest again to find the World War I memorial.  There is a white cross on the hill, which after some lengthy controversy, remains. Mo camped here in back on her solo desert trip back in 2009.

The Mojave_059Just behind the cross is a small campsite, with a fire ring and a table provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and before dark we were settled in for our first gorgeous, if wildly windy night.  The winds didn’t come up until midnight or so, but with the associated cold front, by morning we felt a huge difference in the desert air.

There are several boondock sites that we found in that vicinity, and in other parts of the preserve as well, and I decided to do a separate post about boondocking in the preserve.  That post will come later.

The Mojave_110The morning was dramatic with wildly speeding clouds flying by and the winds never let up as the day progressed.  We headed south back toward Cima and Kelso, with plans to see the magnificent Kelso Dunes, some of the highest in the country.  The Kelso Depot Visitor Center is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, but there is an open restroom with a jug friendly spigot.  Our water was low, and we filled our extra jugs, just in case we decided to boondock another night at the dunes.  Still couldn’t quite get our heads around giving up the wild desert for the luxuries of camping at the base. After several nights being out, we weren’t really as well prepared for more boondocking as we could have been, but we had turned off the water pump, to be sure we didn’t run the tank dry.The Mojave_099

Seven miles south of Kelso is the ‘2 wheel drive unpaved’ road leading west to the Dunes and another possible campsite.  Within the first few hundred yards, however, we were badmouthing the folks that think roads should be surfaced with gravel.  The washboards were so very bad that Mo decided it was too much for the rig and we found a place to unhook and turn around.  With the winds at 40 plus mph, the dunes looked less and less inviting.  One of the reasons I most wanted to see them was to hear the booming singing sound that the sand makes at times.  I figured that with the high winds I wouldn’t hear it anyway.

The Mojave_151With a bit of disappointment, we once again decided on going to Edwards, with hookups and WiFi, to wait out the winds and the weather.  Continuing south just a short distance, we found another dirt road leading back into the Granite Hills, and couldn’t resist unhooking once again and taking the Tracker for a little spin around the hidden campsites tucked away in the boulders.  Mo camped here in the 60’s with some of her students from China Lake and had fond memories of climbing around on the boulders. These sites could make us want to get the tent out again if we had it with us!

The Mojave_137Back to the rig, and looking at the map, we saw the road to the Hole in the Rock developed campground was about 50 miles to the east and north.  Even after the fill up in Baker, fuel was getting low.  If we wanted to see that part of the preserve, we needed gas.  We could travel some miles out of our way to find a new wild world, or we could travel west and do the common sense thing and camp at Edwards. 

Once again, the desert won, and we finally found a gas station just off I-40, 7 miles west of the Essex Road leading north in the preserve toward the Hole in the Wall area, where there would be a dump station, and potable water to fill our tank.  We paid 4.99 per gallon for 87 octane gas, and laughed about how our free boondocking had turned expensive.  It is funny how you can figure anything out, and messing with the numbers, we decided our average cost for the two nights in the desert was about $20 per night, factoring in the half price $6. fee we paid for our second night at Hole in the Rock.The Mojave_161

The gas station, by the way, is located right on the famous unnamed Route that we visited previously in the unnamed T city in New Mexico.  I decided to NOT take photos or even mention the place because I would rather not create another firestorm with all the folks who probably love it.  It was rather interesting, with lots of memorabilia, a cute little nook for hamburgers, and a lot of interesting people around.  I felt much of the famous route culture at the spot, so if you are a lover of that route, search it out.

dust storms near Mid Hills campgroundThe winds had never let up, and by the time we were on I-40, the sandstorms were everywhere, reducing visibility dramatically.  We could barely see the mountains, even as we approached the campground.  We dumped, filled the water tank, and settled into a nice site in the upper area of the camp.  It was a luxury to turn on the water pump, for sure!  We weren’t technically boondocking on this night, but it felt as big and dark and empty as if we were.  Only a few campers have braved the winds and sand storms to camp here.

Mid Hills Road in the dust stormAfter making such an effort to get here, we thought in spite of the dingy skies, we should try to see a bit of the area.  The Hole in the Wall visitor center at this location is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but they did have some trail brochures outside that gave a general idea of the local routes. 

Another two wheel drive unpaved road took us north toward the one other developed campground in the preserve, Mid Hills Campground.  This is definitely not a place for RV’s, mostly because of the rough road access, and with a recent fire leaving behind the skeletons of old junipers, it wasn’t very inviting.  I can imagine it once was a lovely place to tent camp, cooler than the surrounding desert.

The Mojave_190Home to the rig before dark, I made a good taco soup for supper and turned the generator on long enough to make corn muffins to go with it.  Tasty. 

Now, as I write, the winds are almost completely still and the dust has settled from the skies.  To the west, everything is crystal clear.  To the east I can see a low brown cloud of dust obscuring the distant hills.  Once again, we will head for Edwards AFB, with only one night instead of three. With WiFi again available, I will post the blog, read others, write about boondock sites in Mojave Preserve, and check weather sites and snow predictions as we decide which route to take home Friday morning.

 morgning at Hole in the Wall Campground

3-24-2014 Boondock Heaven near Virgin, Utah

Clear and 70 degrees F just after sunset

Page to Virgin_008For veteran boondockers out west, three days is but a blink of an eye, but for us, as we travel home toward Oregon after nearly three months on the road, it is a great luxury. Our route is a new one for us, with points on the map chosen more for distance from the previous stop than anything in particular we might want to see.  In spite of that spontaneous movement north and west, great stuff just keeps showing up.

Page to Virgin_020Leaving behind the vast salmon colored sands of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the infamous Lake Powell, we entered the southwestern section of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  I don’t do politics on this blog, but love him or hate him, the Grand Staircase, in my opinion, is the very best accomplishment of President Clinton.  One of those last minute deals that presidents sometimes do, the monument designation created a bunch of controversy.  Too bad. It covers 1.7 million acres of wild country, administered by the BLM for multiple use, and has protected some of the most magnificent wild places in the western US.

Page to Virgin_045It feels like home to me, having traveled the northwestern parts for years, both before and after the monument designation. Our little piece of Highway 89 toward Kanab yielded up stories of dinosaurs at the closed BLM visitor center, and a beautiful hike along a wash to the Toadstools, colorful formations in stone that look exactly like toadstools, or whatever else imagination can conceive. 

Page to Virgin_047It was hot enough that we let Abby rest in the MoHo while we hiked just a couple of miles along the wash and up eroded hills toward the toadstool plateau.  Wind and water once again worked their magic on the landscape, and the stormy skies to the west added just enough drama to make it fun.

Page to Virgin_049The prediction was for 0 percent chance of precipitation, and I was reminded of that as big fat drops hit the windshield when we got back in the rig to continue north. After our hike, we were both ready for ice cream, and the town of Kanab wasn’t too far off.

Sure enough, as soon as the internet came up on the phone, I searched for ice cream and found Three Bears Creamery Cottage.  This is the kind of restaurant you always hope to find out on the road and rarely actually do. The menu was creative, the bread was homemade from their own ground wheat, the soup smelled great and I wished we were in the mood for eating more than ice cream!  Instead we bought two single scoops in cones, for $2.50 each, and such cones you have never seen.  They were huge, and the ice cream was from a company called Russels, that I never heard of before, but was probably the best ice cream I have ever eaten.

Page to Virgin_061Our destination was Hurricane, Utah, a small town east of St George that I visited once a couple of decades ago.  We thought it would be nice to boondock somewhere in the Utah desert, and a quick email to Mark Johnson, veteran of years of camping in this part of the world, yielded a quick response.

Sure enough, we followed his suggestion, parked at the head of the road, unhooked to find a spot and were rewarded with utter perfection.  We are on a high point along a dirt road, just a couple of miles from the pavement, and we are utterly and completely alone.  The only activity is an occasional car traveling east or west, and a few mountain bikers peddling along just out of sight of our campsite until they are beyond us.

Page to Virgin_065The first night here, we had some wild winds, and a few raindrops, but by the next morning it was crystal clear and has stayed that way the entire time. Running the generator a bit in the morning and evening gives us power to charge up batteries and computers and check in on  emails and write a bit.  Otherwise our small single solar panel keeps the batteries fully charged for running the furnace at night when the temps get down to 40 or so by morning.

look really close and you can see the MoHo under the XThe MoHo is just below the x in this photo.  Look close.

With two full days to wander, we decided to take the dirt road up to Hurricane Mesa, what the locals call Monkey Mesa.  Another suggestion from Mark, and what a great one! I actually linked to Mark’s blog about the place because I think his information is more reliable than most.

Monkey Mesa_005I still can’t quite imagine anyone riding a bike up that road, certainly not me!  Once up on top the mesas opened up to fantastic views of mountains and canyons.  We read about why the place is called Monkey Mesa, although currently there are no chimps being ejected from test ejection seats on the 12,000 foot site.  There are still high fences and security all around, but no matter, we weren’t interested anyway.

Monkey Mesa_015The views were beyond magnificent.  The climb up the mesa is a bit thrilling as well, especially as a passenger on the outside edge.  Explain to me why the outside edge of a cliff is always on the passenger side?! Once on top we were treated to vistas of the west side of Zion and the Kolob Canyons on the northern edge of the National Park.

Monkey Mesa_045The mesas were lush and the road was excellent, even unpaved.  I had no map, but had researched the route a bit before we left, so knew that we could make a long loop and travel back down on the east side of the canyon through Virgin.  The route was easy to track, and except for one other car, we were completely alone.  It was so refreshing.

Monkey Mesa_065Coming down the road toward Virgin, we came to a sharp left turn with a sign that said we were entering Zion National Park.  Not a fee booth in sight, so we just ambled up the road and followed the signs to the Kolob Plateau area of the park and toward the Kolob Reservoir.  At more than 8,000 feet elevation, the aspens had yet to leaf out and there was ice on the edges of the very low reservoir.  With all our travels through red rock canyons, the brown trees and brown hills were a bit tiresome.  I can imagine it might be lovely when the aspens are leafed out, but we were happy to get back down to canyon country and red rock again.

Monkey Mesa_086Even on a Sunday afternoon, this section of Zion wasn’t terribly crowded, except for the trailheads.  As we passed, most of them were completely full of cars.  What I loved most about this drive was seeing Zion from a completely different perspective.  Instead of all the looking up and up and up, from here we could get a glimpse of the magnificent canyons from the top down, and see them in relation to the mesas that surrounded them.  The views were just wonderful.

Monkey Mesa_081Our red dirt road led us back to pavement, and then down to the small village of Virgin.  There isn’t a lot of shopping in Virgin, but there is a crazy place called Fort Zion, a souvenir shop with a restaurant and petting zoo for kids.  Lucky for us, tired and hungry from our day trip, they did have ice cream, good ice cream, and we happily bought a couple of cones to get us back to the rig and the waiting animals.

The evening was beautiful, and after supper we went for a walkabout along the plateau and through a nearby canyon before settling in for the night.  In all our years, I don’t think I have ever experienced nights as silent and dark as this place.  We leave all the shades open, and fall asleep to only starlight coming through the windows.  The moon is rising after 3 am now, so the darkness of the night is total.Page to Virgin_069

I love it here.  Love it.  Today we left early to explore the more popular parts of Zion, thinking that perhaps being a Monday, traffic wouldn’t be too bad.  But that is a story for the next blog.

 

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.