Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Understanding Captain's Orders

We resolve to return to accomplish a high elevation camp at Mt Lemon next big trip.  For now we will head towards Gigi before starting towards Captain Tasha and home port.  Our base camp at Anza-Borrego Desert SP feels very much like home.  Showers, laundry, library, and grocery store are all in the neighborhood.  In the grocery store parking lot we meet Anne from San Diego who is driving & living in her Airstream van.   She sold her home, later gave up her apartment and now lives full time in her van.  Borrego Springs seems like just the place for her to consider as a semi-permanent residence.  She kindly offers to fill us in on all the best places to camp, shop, etc., but nods with understanding when we mention that ABDSP has become our go-to place on this journey with Q.

We've just settled into one of our favorite spots near Clark Lake (usually a dry lake bed) when we hear from Captain Tasha.  She mentions that we might consider returning to the Winslow Port sometime in the near future.

Somehow the suggestion of Winslow and the logical next port of Ann Arbor brings on an nearly irresistible desire for the fires of home.

We're coming Natasha!

The captain is at once gratified and puzzled by our sudden appearance.  "So you better not have damaged the Q in your haste for home."  I suggest that you consider returning to Winslow - and you interpret that as fly here?  Just as well i suppose.  Lorna still hasn't forgiven you for calling her Loreen, as if all grey and white kitties whose names start with L are interchangeable.

As we are boarding, Doug, Cousins Karen & Rick, the large black & white kitty, Lambert...and two dogs, Sassy & Sissy all come to see us sail away.  Though the Captain is high in Alex's arms, the energetic, well-intentioned and enthusiastic barking does little to soothe the anxiety provoked by earlier concerns for Q's condition..

The captain's pique soon passes.
She gives Q a quick check and authorizes the final push for home.

At home: Captain smiling in her sleep in front of the wood stove fire.  Perhaps dreaming about the next adventure?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Elevation 8317

The drive takes us through the smoke of a large fire in the lowlands between mountain ranges.  The visibility is further reduced by sunset.  We drive into the Chiricahua National Monument and find the campground full.  The campground is only Plan B, so we're happy to go with Plan A.  Did you know that you can camp anywhere in a national forest or on BLM land? As we enter the wilderness the easiest alternative to the campground turns out to be a beautiful alternative.  It is the road to Pinery Creek Canyon.  It is dark, the road is narrow, and it is a washboard of bumpiness.

We try to guess if reducing tire pressure will pay off in an easier ride before we find our campsite.  It is dark out now so recognizing a good campsite is more difficult.

The campsite that we happen upon is just a short distance off the road.  It seems lovely by starlight.  Is that burbling water we hear?

The queen awakens to find that Prince Alex has moved the Q to open towards the creek that we only guessed must be there.  Not only is there warm sunshine coming over the mountaintops, but there is a beautiful warm fire, too.  Breakfast, warmth of a fire, and a creek.

We drive deeper into the Chiricahua Wilderness gaining elevation along the way.  The Pinery Creek Campground marks the boundary for RVs or campers that exceed 28 feet.  Agile Q continues along Forest Rd 42.  We watch the gain in elevation on the DeLorme from our Pinery Creek camp (just 49 feet shy of 6,000) wondering if we can set our own high elevation camping record.

Alex drives while i keep an eye on the elevation gains.  When we reach 8,000 we begin to eye possible camping spots.  Here is our overnight at 8317.  It is stunningly beautiful.

It is far too windy to risk a campfire, so we do a little campsite cleanup (as we did at Pinery Creek as well) to continuously give thanks...and keep on contributing to good campsite finding karma.  It is so cold!  The warmest place draws us inside Q under the down-filled comforter.

The morning brings another beautiful campfire - built low inside the fire ring.  Previous campers have contributed to the wind-break.  We'll contribute the surplus fire wood for the next campers.

We drive east and north out of the Chiricahuas through Paradise.  It is a few miles north and west to make a visit to Roper Lake State Park where there is a hot spring to soothe our tired muscles.  At 98 degrees it feels very nice as we are also warmed by the sunshine.

The soak makes two people very ready to coast for the rest of the day.  We'll camp in the Pinaleno Mountains without trying to reach the peak's 10,000 feet elevation to set another record.  Instead we find a nearly unoccupied (one other camper) at the Round The Mountain Trailhead Campground.

The next morning just around the mountain we find Noon Creek Picnic .  The park board tells us that it is named for the valley residents who stopped here for lunch as they rode horses up the mountains to escape the desert heat.

We'll drive east through the desert valley south of Sanford, AZ to check out Hot Well Springs.  As the story goes the springs came into existence in the 1800s when there was drilling for minerals.  The BLM recreational site now uses solar power to pump the hot water up.

Interesting to consider, but the two tubs are packed full of dune riders, so we enjoy the dirt road ride back out to I-10 to catch backroads towards the Santa Catalina Mountains.  We can see snow-topped Mt Lemon in the distance.

We attempt to find our way there via twisty roads coming into the park from the north.  We visit the [town of] Oracle to re-supply and then head south.  As we pass by the Peppersauce Campground we see that the the road to Mt Lemon is gated and locked Dec 1st - March 1st.  Ah well, we'll camp on a hilltop over-looking the desert valley - with a great view of Mt Lemon to the southwest.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Rules of Horseshoes

After 3 days in Organ Pipe we drive north out of the park.  The drive across the Tonoho O'Odham land is beautiful too.  Lots of creosote, saguaro, and chollas...and surprising patches of green grass and other patches of bright yellow-orange flowers.

We make the customary jokes as we pass through Why, AZ.  They are similar to "Who's on first?" but it is really mostly about being a little giddy with the joy of this continuing adventure in the desert.

Our overnight will be Patagonia State Park tonight so that we can maximize the benefits of an official campground.  We'll clean BBQ and stove, and shine pots and pans, and clean and reorganize Q...and get some nice warm showers.  Plans to rotate Q's tires and lubricate joints are thwarted.  The grease gun really just doesn't deliver the juice.

We'll attempt to cheer ourselves up with a barefoot-in-the-sand game of...horseshoes.  I think the pull-ups into Q have done some good.  I can throw those shoes all the way across the court.  That's a win!  We decide that first one to 11 will be winner, though later we discover that the real game goes to either 15 or 21 - or for professionals it is 40.  

As we expend a lot of energy throwing wild, we decide that our 11-11 tie can remain the final score.  Later, with the info about real game scores I find that my leaner isn't worth 2 Alex is the real winner of our horse shoe throwing contest.

The morning brings a new idea.  Since Nogales is a mere 15 miles away, we will combine a Mexican breakfast feast with tire rotation.

Little could we have guessed that an incredibly delicious breakfast would be available in the parking lot of Alex's Tires. 

The sign on the food truck says OPEN, but there isn't anyone around and the tables surrounding the truck look as if there was a great party here last night.  What it really is: the same power outage that struck the park also hit Nogales.  Everyone who was hungry at noon came here to Roman Trujillo's Charisma Catering food truck in the parking lot of Alex's Tires because they knew that he would be cooking under generator power - and that the food would be delicious.   A tired chef and business partner arrive before we can lament their absence.  Chef Trujillo asks what we'd like - and we ask what he feels like preparing.  

Tire rotation - $15.  Breakfast plates of quesadillas and eggs, accompanied by a berry smoothie. Cost = only slightly more than tire rotation.  The quesadillas are filled with dark meat chicken, cilantro, a little cheese, and lots of pico de gallo. 

Tires rotated and hunger satisfied we're off to see Kartchner Caverns.  We get the last two tickets of the day - most visitors make reservations in advance.  We're waiting outside the building in the sunshine when Ranger Brooke springs into action, rounding up all the 2:45 pm tourists.  She comments that her normal energy level is reduced after guiding two elementary school kid groups earlier.  It would be something to see Ranger Brooke at her normal energy level.  She says that usually two guides are present - would  Alex mind acting as tour sweep closing freezer doors after the group passes through each of the sealed areas?  Kayak guiding experience pays off for Kartchner Caverns SP.

All cavern tours are guided.  The park philosophy is to protect the natural state of the caves, so there a lot of rules.  No photography (this one is not ours), no touching cave walls, no food, no pets, etc; and just before entering, all humans are spritzed with water to be sure that the humidity of the caves is not reduced by visitors. The cave temperature is about ~75 degrees with 99% humidity.

By the time we're leaving the caves it is nearly time to be settling into the next camp site.  Our goal is The wilderness part of the Chiricahua National Monument in SE Arizona,

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Organ Pipe Music

The drive to Organ Pipe National Monument is a mere 180 or so miles south.  This is another park (like Big Bend) that is situated right on the border with Mexico.  There are a few hikes and drives cris-crossing the acreage.  Q will allow us to experience the longest.  We feel fortunate in securing one of the four primitive sites at Alamo Creek Canyon.

Big rain clouds just highlight the dramatic formations.  We settle into campsite #1, but Alex prefers #4.  It is a bit more secluded and backs right up to the spot where the mountains begin to rise above the valley.  The odd method for self-registration means that payment in the envelope goes into the "iron ranger" and the stub is clipped to the campsite post.  #4 is not occupied, but there is a stub with today's date.  The stub will expire tomorrow.

It remains unoccupied when Alex awakens at 530 am; so Q migrates to campsite #4 long before anyone else might think of driving in to claim it.  Alex puts up our tarp so that we can be outside - and it may also have the usual effect of stopping the rain.

And it is a great start for our hike to the historic ranch site where north, middle, and south forks meet.  The rainfall has filled the creek - but it isn't difficult to cross.

Saguaros are huge!
That's 5'8" me in the red shirt, so the Saguaro must be about 25 feet tall.

A huge cracked boulder dwarfs Alex.  We hear occasional rock falls that remind us that this is a changing landscape.

It isn't until our second day here as we are returning from the backroads drive that we notice the cartoon bunny shaped saguaro at the turn-off to the campground.
Alex stands by the Saguaro-bunny for perspective.  He's tall too.

Alamo Creek campground is also one of the best places in the park to see organ pipe cacti for which the park is named.

Q reflects the sunset colors nicely.

PS: We are ever aware of border issues.  Reminders come from signs warning of illegal aliens who may be carrying black water bottles.  This odd warning remains a puzzle even as we consider that it is likely contraband rather than humans creating risk.  Still reading and agreeing with:

It is a Pleasantly Civilized Lake

Taking a break from desert wilderness, we spend 3 days with Alex's siblings in Phoenix.  We're still desert camping.  It is just a bit closer to civilization.  We camp at Lake Pleasant - a human-made lake north of the Phoenix area.  The lake originally formed in 1927 with the Waddell Dam on the Agua Fria River, but that dam is long submerged under the new Waddell Dam (1994) and contributions from the Colorado R.  The park is on the border between Maricopa and Yavapai counties north of Phoenix.

Q's favorite spot is a primitive one right next to the lake.  Balloonists and gliders add some interesting action to the sky.

During our hike to Waterfall Canyon in White Tank Mtns, Ann collects photos of all 4 couples in front of a variety of desert landscapes.

My goal is to get one of Alex with his big sister, Rita.  Their height difference is not quite a foot.  It is fun seeing the same sky-blue eyes, strong cheek bones, and lithe legs on all the siblings, but especially these two.

Rita and i discover common reading habits.  She sends us off with some of her favs.  New to me and a very enjoyable read: Susan Henry, an author who writes stories set in wild Alaska.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Rosemary on the Rotisserie

We drive on to see the Grandstand where we enjoy bacon and eggs semi al fresco.

Alex captures the Grandstand formation from a variety of perspectives, and sees some potential moving rocks.

The famous moving rocks share this dry lake bed with the Grandstand.

Tonight we camp in Mesquite Creek Campground where there are actual flushing toilets.  What a luxury.  This is one of the nearly free campgrounds inside Death Valley.  The spaces are generous and there are few people here.  Too far from the golf course?

Dinner is our now thawed game hen which Alex cooks on the grill, turning it so that it is almost as if it is on a rotisserie.  He stuffs the body cavity with fresh rosemary and adds sprigs under each wing and leg, too.

While the little bird cooks, we enjoy all of our remaining fresh vegetables as a salad.  Carving the bird is simply splitting it down the middle.  It tenderly releases its bones and is still juicy.  This isn't only amazing camp fare.  This could be served up in your favorite posh restaurant, along with our baby arugula and spinach salad.  You could opt out of topping it with all the remaining fresh things in the camper refrigerator if you wish to keep the restaurant star rating high.

This here's a teakettle

We stock up from the meager offerings at the Furnace Creek general store.  Our purchases include meat: thick bacon and one very small frozen Cornish game hen.

The stay at the Inn prepares us to appreciate the comfort and familiarity of Q.  We drive north from Furnace Creek to visit a part of Death Valley we haven't yet seen.  Ubehebe Crater.  This is a fairly young volcanic crater - a steam crater.  The age speculations range for 3,000 to mere hundreds of years.
Ubehebe - it is just fun to say that name

Since tomorrow will be an exploration of the Racetrack, we will drive around Ubehebe and head south on yet another washboard road - one that doesn't rattle our brain cages so much because Alex reduces the tire pressure to soften the bumps.  The drive is made even more lovely by the presence of big clouds hanging over the mountaintops providing a fresh dusting of snow.

In the night we awaken to howling wind.  The wind is musical enough to lull us back into deep sleep - and also sweeps all the clouds away.  The waning moon is still very bright - as Alex describes to his mate who tends to miss such things as moon phases and shooting stars because she is such a fine sound sleeper.

The very tolerable washboard rocky road takes us to Teakettle Junction where we assist with a bit of photography.  These three friends from Colorado, Wisconsin, and Chicago flew here and rented a jeep.  They have been exploring Death Valley's backcountry and camping.  They shared their big windy night stories with us.  The Chicago Cubs T-shirt wearing guy says he slept through it all because he was wearing his noise-canceling headphones.

They offer, we accept - to take our photo too.

One of the donated tea kettles is a sauce pan that says, "Whar we come from, this here is a teakettle."

Backroads Concussion

As we travel west through the park on 190 there are views back into Panamint Valley. After the turn north onto Saline Valley Rd, we see many more views of our campsite in Panamint from progressively higher elevations.  The arrow points to our campsite near Lake Hill.

Saline Valley is one of those places that Edward Abbey might describe as showing the good that bad roads can do for a place.

The 50 miles of bad roads to the hot springs in Saline Valley make it unlikely that the campgrounds will be crowded.  We consult our DeLorme to confirm location and direction on the sandy unmarked route to the springs, but even as we are entering longitude and latitude, this rainbow welcomes us.

"May your trails be winding, crooked, lonesome, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds...." - Edward Abbey.

< First indicator that we are likely to enjoy meeting the people who may come here to camp.

Just as Ranger Bob described, Warm Spring is an oasis: green grass, palm trees...and wild burros.

At the next campground (3/4 mile up the canyon) there are two hot springs: Wizard and Volcano.  Return visitors compensate for the lack of park management by taking excellent care of the site.  All the cleaning of restrooms and pools - and the restocking of supplies is accomplished by the SPA.  This has been a favorite campground of SPA since the early 1960s.

We learn that there are two, possibly three times to avoid coming to the hot springs: Presidents Day weekend, Thanksgiving, and New Years.  Hundreds of people arrive and it gets rowdy.

What we experience here is great peacefulness in the warm sun, hot water, and an amazing 360degree view of mountains.  The Inyo Mtns to the west are topped with snow - and every afternoon they are also topped with clouds.


One of our new best friends is Chief.  He helps with the dishes and serves as a bouncer when the wild burros try to enter the camp.

The camping here is free.  The desert warmth is delicious.  We find it difficult to imagine leaving...until the night of the huge windstorm. Our closest neighbor's tent is blown down - and they move into their jeep for the night.  A Toyota FJ Cruiser with a tent on top leaves to travel the 50 miles of bad road at 3:00 am.  Everyone is cleaning grit and sand from everything by morning light.  Okay, we can now be traveling those bumpy roads back towards Furnace Creek...and a stay in the Furnace Creek Inn to mark 2 months of camping out in Quiggy.

Ghosts of the Past

We climb back into Quiggy and head west towards the wild road that may take us to the hot springs.  One of Ranger Bob's questions will remain with us.  "Are you the kind of people who know when it is time to turn around?  If yes, then i do think that you should try."

Nearing Panamint Springs and the turn north, we see a coyote couple working the intersection.  All of the park's rule statements make it clear that it isn't a good idea to feed the wildlife.  The friendly behavior of the two coyotes make it clear that their cuteness has paid off in the past.

The Panamint Valley is just too lovely to just drive through without stopping to explore.  This is where we will camp tonight.  There is a washboardy, rocky road going north past Lake Hill and up into the rocky alluvial fan at the base of Panamint Butte.  Just before Lake Hill we discovered the wrecks of two cars.  Photo op!

On to the end of the road.... We drive past the dunes hike and up one of those roads that Q loves - rocky steps.

Here we sleep.  Some data points: 72 degrees at Furnace Creek, probably more like 60 here on the alluvial fan.  The wind is mostly a sweet breeze but occasionally gusty enough to make me annoyed with hair that slaps my eyeballs.  This is why braiding was invented.  And hats.
Panamint Valley Sand Dunes - from our campsite

Amazing sunrise in Panamint Valley