Thursday, January 31, 2008

Carlsbad Caverns NP

We visited Carlsbad Caverns today, which I believe I have already noted is my favorite park. I didn’t take any pictures today because it is extremely difficult to get good pictures in such a dark environment. Flash is necessary, and so only the area about 8-10 feet in front of the camera is exposed properly—and not very naturally. The caverns are immense, almost beyond the limits of the imagination. It is like seeing the Grand Canyon—only 750 feet underground. Interestingly, I just noticed that my national parks book has a quote from Will Rogers who called it the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it.”

There are several different hikes one can take to see the caverns. We chose the audio-guided natural entrance tour. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. (Did I tell you that already?) Our audio guides informed us that this part of New Mexico and Western Texas were a beach not unlike the beaches of Florida or the Caribbean—a place one might honeymoon. Near the shore plants and animals built a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil. Some 15-20 million years ago, the ground uplifted. Naturally occurring sulfuric acid seeped into cracks in the limestone, gradually enlarging them to form a honeycomb of chambers. The fact that the caverns were formed by acid and not water is what makes these formations unique.

From March through October about a quarter million Mexican free-tailed bats summer in a section of the cave. Around sunset, they spiral up from the entrance to hunt for insects. It was this nightly exodous that led to the discovery of the cave in modern times. Around the turn of the 20th century, miners began to excavate bat guano—a potent fertilizer—for shipment to the citrus groves of southern California.

We entered through the natural mouth of the cave. Today there is good lighting and a well-maintained, albeit steep, walkway through the cave. Visitors of the early 1920’s entered by “bucket elevator,” as a pulley lowered them into the Bat Cave in a guano bucket. The Big Room is the largest single room most cave visitors will ever see, unless they go to Borneo where there is a cave with a larger undecorated chamber. The Big Room is 1,800 feet long at its longest point, and 1,100 feet at its widest. It encompasses 8.2 acres.

The cave formations are astonishingly beautiful. I wish I could have taken pictures for you to see. Everyone should make this a place to see at some point in life. It is in a remote area of the country, and the closest place to stay is in Carlsbad, which is 20 miles from the caverns. Still, it is so worth the visit. I visited the caves for the first time when I was three. At that time, all the tours were ranger-led. I returned when I was 18 and the cave was marked with a system of signs (always boring to read in my view). When I returned with Mike during the first year of our marriage, they had gone to the audio stick-type of guidance, which is far superior to either of the previous methods. We each had our own today, and it was money well spent.

We will leave Carlsbad tomorrow and head almost due south through Texas. We are planning to visit Big Bend National Park, and then head east to the Gulf Coast. We expect that trip (to the Gulf Coast) to be about a week to 10 days away from where we are now. We have enjoyed seeing this part of the world, but it has been quite cold and windy (although the cave is a constant 59 degrees). We have been surprised at how far south we have had to go to reach truly warm temperatures. That’s it for now. Take care.

McKittrick Canyon Hike

Before I tell you about the hike, I want to tell you a little about the park. The park is in the southernmost, highest part of the 50-mile-long Guadalupe range. The mountains were once a reef growing beneath the waters of an ancient inland see. (That same vanished sea spawned the honeycomb of the Carlsbad Caverns as well.)

People first visited the Guadalupes about 12,000 years ago, hunting the camels, mammoths, and other animals that flourished in the wetter climate of the waning Ice Age. When the Spaniards arrived in the Southwest in the mid-16th century, Mescalero Apache periodically camped near the springs at the base of the mountains and climbed to the highlands to hunt and forage. As American prospectors, settlers, and cavalry pushed west, the apache made the mountainous areas their bases and fought to ward off encroachers. By the late 1880’s however, virtually all the Indians had been killed or forced onto a reservation. (It always makes me sad to read these histories.)

Guadalupe Mountains is a “hike only” park, and there are no roads through the park. The only way to see it is on foot. We chose to visit McKittrick Canyon because its walls shelter the only year-round stream in the park, and it also offered us shelter from the wind. Additionally, it is known as the most beautiful spot in Texas. The water creates a 3-mile-long oasis of oak and Alligator juniper (known by its bark), Texas madrone, and maple. The canyon itself is nearly 5 miles long, but we chose to walk just the first 2.3 miles (one way, thus, 4.6 miles in and out) to the Pratt Cabin—a little cabin that was eventually donated to the US Forestry Service by Mr. Pratt, who lived there in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t anything particularly ornate, but the entire structure, including the roof, was made of limestone. Very interesting. It would have been cool in the summer, and even cooler in the winter!

McKittrick Canyon exposes millions of years of geological events. During the Permian period, about 250 million years ago, an inland sea covered parts of West Texas and southeast New Mexico. As the climate changed the ocean dried up and left the Capitan Reef high and dry. It is horseshoe shaped and 400 miles long. Most of it is still buried. Sediments and mineral salts buried both basin and reef over the next eons. Then the region began to rise, and erosion has slowly reexposed the seabed with part of the fossil reef—today’s Guadalupe range—towering above.

I have some pictures for you. Here is the link:

http://picasaweb.google.com/threecatsranch/GuadalupeMountains

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)

We crossed over into Texas, at least temporarily. We're spending the next two nights in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. No hook-ups, of course, but not a bad campground. It is quite windy and cold out, but not too cold to be out with a warm jacket. We may actually get George out for a walk here. Except for one motorhome, we have the park to ourselves. We don't know how long these other folks are staying, but they pulled in at the same time we did.

I have some miscellaneous pictures to post, but my internet connection is quite slow. I'm afraid I won't be able to do it unless I figure out some clever way to boost the signal. We are actually quite surprised to have internet here at all, but the cell phone signal is booming in. We were on the road for about three hours today getting here, and so there isn't much to tell. We traveled a red road on US Highway 180/62. This is the same road that will take us to Carlsbad Caverns.

So, since I don't have much to tell you, I thought I would let you in on some of the notes I've been taking just for times like this. First of all, we figured out that the Fry's grocery store chain is owned by Kroger, which is the same company that owns Fred Meyer. Now this grocery store, electronics superstore, Fred Meyer store has us pretty befuddled. We are almost certain that the grocery store and the electronics superstore are connected because of the identical logos, but the Fred Meyer connection has us stumped. It isn't important, just mildly interesting. We've also come upon some restaurants called "Famous Sam's," which leads us to this question: Are you holding out on us Sam? Are you famous? Should we ask you for your autograph?

We went to sleep in the middle of a big windstorm last night. We also saw the first tumbleweeds of the trip while we were in Las Cruces. The town of Las Cruces is pretty boring, and so the tumbleweeds seemed right at home there. When we awoke this morning, the sky was blue and the winds were calm, so we don't really know what the buffeting of last night was all about. We'd follow the news if there were any, but all the news these days seems to be conjecture, speculation, and opinion. A waste of time in our book.

The other thing we've noticed since crossing into Arizona and New Mexico is the number of border patrol officers we've seen. I've read that Saguaro National Park is a crossing point for people coming into the country illegally. We've been through two border patrol checkpoints ourselves. One of them asked us to "state our citizenship." All I heard was "state," and so I said "Oregon. Duh, United States." He sort of looked at our trailer, and then waved us past. I don't know why these guys make me so nervous. I doubt either of us looks the least bit Latino.

So I'll try one more time to upload the pictures. And . . . no dice! So that's all I have for you today. We'll explore the park tomorrow, and I'll have something more interesting for you.

And now it is the day after tomorrow. I'll tell you what we did yesterday in a separate entry, but for now I'll let you know (if I can even publish this) that we are in cell phone range, but the connection is very slow. I've tried again to post the pictures and I haven't been able to. We explored McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains NP yesterday and I have some pictures of that to post in addition to the pictures I've wanted to post for this entry. I won't be able to publish those until we get someplace with a better connection.

For now I'll tell you that after our hike yesterday, we went back to the trailer to have dinner and sleep; but the wind was so bad, and the gusts were so sudden and, hm, violent, that we had to leave. One gust hit us like a truck and actually rocked the trailer, possibly up off of it's tires. We decided to go right then and there. Now we're in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which is a crummy little town. South of us is Carlsbad Caverns. We're going to explore that today, and then move on tomorrow. We'll go due south through Texas and down to Big Bend National Park. Along the way, we have three free nights in Kerrville, Texas, compliments of a man who was parked next to us in Tucson. He was having an electrical problem with his rig, and Mike helped him fix it. He owns this park and so he gave us the three free nights. Not bad. And, of course, Mike was thrilled with the opportunity to work on something. He'll never be able to get through all the projects he has on his list of things to do because he always figures out new projects--even if they are someone else's project to begin with. Project-mania. A new form of mental illness.

Okay, now I'm going to try again to publish this. If I can't do it, I'm afraid you'll have several entries to read next time around. Take care.

Monday, January 28, 2008

White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)

We awoke to stormy skies and wind this morning. Our plan had been to leave for White Sands by 11:00 and try to get some of the afternoon light while we visited the monument. By then, it had begun to clear, but the wind dogged us the entire day. However, that is the nature of the beast whenever dunes are near, and so we just went with it. It was difficult to take pictures, however, because the sand was extremely fine, and we worried about it seeping into the workings of our cameras. We limited the cameras' exposure and didn't take many shots. Still, I do have a web album for you, and the link is at the bottom of this entry.

This was a very interesting landscape. The sand was white as snow, as promised in the name. To get there, we drove north across the White Sands Missile Range. The park was established in 1933 in order to protect the dunes themselves. Otherwise, this is a place where the military fires off missiles and it sometimes means that the park is closed for a few hours at a time. It is possible to check this schedule, however, and apparently no firings were planned for today. Mike kept whining about wanting to see a missile, and I told him it probably was best if we didn't see one.

Most of the world's sand is made from quartz, which is a hard silicon mineral. The dunes of the White Sands are unique because they form the world's largest gypsum dune field. Brief, but heavy, summer rains dissolve calcium and sulfur from the surrounding mountains. The area receives moisture from rains and also from snowmelt. Ordinarily, rivers would carry this material to the sea, but there are no rivers in this area. Moisture collects in shallow depressions (playas) and then either soaks into the ground or evaporates. As the water evaporates, the mineral concentration is higher and eventually dries up to form gypsum (calcium sulfate).

There is a lake in the area (Lake Lucero) which can only be seen on a once-monthly ranger-led tour (because it takes you out onto the missile range). Along the shores of this lake and also on the alkali flats (four-mile hike) west of the dunes, beds of large crystals up to four-feet long cover the ground. These crystals are eventually eroded into a fine gypsum powder. Strong winds (like the ones we witnessed today) blow sugar-fine grains of gypsum northeasterly across the basin. These grains rub against one another turning them white. Winds of over 50 miles per hour are common in the spring. Mike estimated the winds today to be 10-15 miles per hour with gusts up to 30 miles per hour.

Despite the wind, we still took a short hike (one mile) on the Dune Life Nature Trail. It was very windy but still warm, making it easily tolerable. The trail was marked with huge creosote-type logs, but we imagine a ranger must check the trail fairly frequently to make sure the trail markers are still visible. Although we made big footprints, they were covered over by blowing sand in less than 30 seconds.

We were able to see the many species of plants that grow in this area and that have been able to evolve to tolerate the highly alkaline soil. Two species are the Rio Grande Cottonwood trees and also the Soap Tree Yucca (the New Mexico state flower). We were told that these plants survive the ever advancing dunes by keeping at least some of their foliage above the sand. I have included pictures of these yucca, and even though these appear to be 2-foot plants, they are actually potentially 32-foot plants that have managed to grow fast enough to stay above the sand. Same goes for the Cottonwood trees. Of course, the trees have lost their leaves for the winter, but in the fall, they provide some color as their leaves turn orange.

Also, we came to some areas of the sand that appeared to be littered with pebbles of varying sizes. These were actually fragments of fossilized roots--the remains of roots and stems that were once encased in gypsum sand pedestals. (Some of the grass-type plants are able to maintain their hold on the ever-drifing sand, and so pedestals form in the sand.) Some of these fossils were merely filled gaps in the wood structure while in others, the wood fibers were still intact and encased in the gypsum. Very cool. I did pick up one of the larger ones we saw. It had some darker areas on the bottom. We were touching them and trying to figure out what they were, when we dislodged a spider that was apparently using it for his home. We put it back where we found it and let the spider get on with this life. We also came across some Hoary Rosemarymint that had a sweet mint-type scent and some Rubber Rabbitbrush that derives its name from its sap, which contains latex. It was very rubbery and flexible, but the latex sap lacks sufficient quantity to make the plant commercially viable. (Smart plant.)

We enjoyed our trip to the dunes today, and it was a unique experience from other parks/monuments we've seen. Oh yes, I didn't get any pictures of the Rio Grande Cottonwoods, but they are the largest plants found within the dune field. They attract a variety of wildlife because of their size and they are very gnarly in appearance. The pictures aren't anything special, but hopefully, you can get an idea what we saw. Here is the link. Enjoy:


http://picasaweb.google.com/threecatsranch/WhiteSands

We will be moving on to Guadalupe Mountains National Park tomorrow, weather permitting. This park is at a rather high elevation, and so we can only visit if there is no snow. It is a rather remote park on the way to Carlsbad, New Mexico, where we plan to visit Carlsbad Caverns NP. Guadalupe Mountains NP is actually in Texas, and the road to Carlsbad takes us through El Paso and the tippy-top of state of Texas. We plan to stay in the park, and so it is probable that we will be out of internet and cell range. If you don't hear from us for a couple of days, that will be why.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Las Cruces, New Mexico

We passed into New Mexico yesterday, which means we can safely add New Mexico to our map of the US sticker on the side of our trailer. Terribly exciting stuff. We also passed over the Continental Divide shortly after entering New Mexico. We are staying at a place that was recommended by another RVer. They have complimentary breakfast in the morning until 10:00, so we will have to get going if we are going to take advantage of that. We have no idea what a "breakfast" consists of, and we're hoping it will be more than doughnuts and coffee. They also have a really nice hot tub ("hydrotherapy spa pool" by their accounting). It is a big one--shaped like an elongated hexagon--and we estimate that 20 people could easily fit in it comfortably. It makes it possible to walk around and stretch one's legs, which always feels good to me.

We're looking into some sort of signal boost device for the wireless internet. Apparently, mine doesn't have enough poop, and that's why we've been having trouble with any of the free wi-fi that is available. Mike claims it will be faster than using the phone if we get this device, and as always, I have given up trying to understand these things.

The tour book tells us that "a little forest of crosses marking the graves of members of a caravan ambushed by Mescalero Apaches" came to identify Las Cruces. It sits at the foot of the Organ Mountains, a very pretty mountain range to the northeast of town. By the mid-19th century, Las Cruces was a major supply point for mining operations and forts that protected the trade routs to Santa Fe and points west.

The town's real foundation is agriculture. It is irrigated by the Rio Grande River (which appeared mostly dry to us). They are the leading producer of alfalfa, chilies, onions, corn, cotton and pecans. It is also the home of New Mexico State University.

We are probably going to spend the day seeking out the above electronic device, and tomorrow we will probably drive up to see the White Sands National Monument. More later.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Onward

We visited the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona this morning. After we were able to actually find the place on the huge U of A campus, we enjoyed the exhibit. However, it wasn't really what I expected. It was all black and white and from the WWII to 60's era. There was one interesting photographer who used an exacto knife on large sheets of brown butcher-style paper to cut circles and angles, then bent them and lit them to form shadows. Then he photographed them. Pretty interesting. Sorry I can't remember his name. Maybe someone knows. It was unique to anything I've ever seen before.

And then, because we walked right past the place, we visited the Arizona History Museum, which was very interesting. It covered the area around the Civil War into the early 19oo's. They had a stagecoach that was really fun to see. It even had the "strong box" and "steamer trunks" loaded on top. I can't even imagine what it must have been like to travel cross country in one. Sterner folk than I for sure.

After that, we were really filled up with reading little plaquards. I had a hard time seeing with my mono-vision contact lenses, and so I took them out and used my reading glasses--an improvement, but not really satisfactory vision. Then while I was visiting the "mercantile," which was actually a gift shop, Mike noticed a write-up of a little cafe and a picture of Eggs Benedict. Then he was all about getting some Eggs Benedict, so we went there for lunch. It was nearly 2:00, and so the place was empty. Very nice.

Oh yes, I wanted to mention how polite the students were at the U of A. When they saw us struggling with the map, they were kind enough to offer directions. It reminded me of when I visited Washington, D.C. ten years ago and received the same helpful treatment. There were other museums to visit at the University, but we had enough with the two we saw. We had talked about seeing the Mission, but I had run out of energy for that too.

We came home and I've studied the maps for the next leg of our adventure. We've kind of known what we were doing up to now, but from here on we'll be winging it. So the plan is to get an early start and drive to Las Cruces, NM. There is a nice RV Resort there that was recommended to us. We'll stay there a few days and during our stay we'll drive about 50 miles north to see White Sands National Monument. After we leave Las Cruces, we'll drive on to Carlsbad, NM, but on the way we'll spend a couple of nights at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. There is a campground in the park and since it is one of the "least visited" of the parks in the parks system, we figure we'll find room there. No hook-ups of course, and so we'll only stay one or two nights. (It'll give George a chance to get out of the trailer. The few times he's been out and willing to get off the step, he's headed in a straight-line due north. We figure he's heading for home.)

After that, we'll go on to Carlsbad, NM and spend a couple of days exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park--my absolute favorite park (and I've seen a few, believe me). We've been there together before when we headed off on a three-day weekend from Phoenix. We drove into Lordsburg NM for the night on a Friday night (late--very late) and immediately got pulled over by some cops who were dying to show us their radar. We declined and they were very disappointed. Fortunately, we weren't ticketed, but we've always remembered Lordsburg for that little incident.

Then after that, we'll continue almost due south to Big Bend National Park in southern Texas. We will, no doubt, pass through a village that's missing its idiot. After that, we don't know, but probably on to Corpus Christi and maybe do some diving if we find any on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Hope all is going well with all of you.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Saguaro NP East

Forget what I said earlier about how difficult it is for Saguaro Cacti to reproduce. I have the straight scoop via the information I obtained from the parks service. They produce the same amount of seeds I said earlier. But here’s the really difficult part. After they drop their seeds, they require 1 ½ inches of rain within the next day. Not enough, and the animals will eat them. Too much and they will wash away. If they get the amount of rain necessary, they still have a difficult ride if they germinate. After one year, they are only ¼-inch tall. After five years they are one INCH tall. And after 15 years, they will be only 1 foot tall. It’s amazing any of them exist at all.

We saw pictures of the density of the saguaros from 1933 through the present. The density has decreased drastically. However, now that they are protected, they are making a comeback. The decrease was due to building in the area, but that wasn’t the only problem. The literature I had didn’t specify anything beyond that, except to say that there were other problems. In any event, I think I am falling in love with the desert. The variety of cacti and animals is truly impressive, and the scenery is spectacular. Today the lighting was just right and the sky was filled with puffy white clouds. The air seems clean here, and the sky a beautiful turquoise blue.

We drove the Cactus Forest Loop, which is eight miles. There are several turnouts that give views of the surrounding mountains. It is a beautiful valley. We hiked the Cactus Garden Trail, which was about two miles. When we were finished, we felt we’d seen everything the landscape had to offer. I would have liked to have seen more wildlife. As it is, we will have to settle for what we saw in the museum—and that was quite a treat.

As we understand it, the Saguaro is something of a multi-story condominium with many different kinds of animals living in pecked out holes within them. There is a particular kind of owl called an Elf Owl that I would dearly have liked to have seen. I kept my eyes peeled, but to no avail. The literature tells us that the environment within the Saguaro is 20 degrees cooler in the summer and 20 degrees warmer in the winter. After a rain, they are able to absorb 200 gallons of water—enough to last them an entire year. They don’t have a long tap root like the mesquite do. Rather, they have a network of roots that spread out just under the surface of the sand at least as wide a radius as they are tall. It’s quite an impressive story of adaptation.

So that’s about all I have to say about the Saguaro. Tomorrow we are going to see the photography museum at the University of Arizona and also the aviation museum. I don’t know if we will have time to see the mission since we are moving on Saturday. We have enjoyed our week in Tucson, and we enjoyed just stopping and staying in one place for a while. As I write this I don’t know where we are headed next, except to say that we will be in New Mexico.

Here is the link to the pictures I took today. Enjoy.

http://picasaweb.google.com/threecatsranch/SaguaroE

Saguaro NP West

We spent most of yesterday in the West side of Saguaro NP. What a fabulous place! Put aside the visions you have of the Saguaro cactus for a moment. There is an incredible amount of diversity among the plants and animals of this part of the world. It was set aside as a protected area during the Hoover administration—during the Great Depression. Many of the roads and structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) under the FDR administration. The park was designated as a national monument until it was re-designated as a national park under the Clinton administration in 1994.

The best part of the park (in my humble opinion) is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is very much like a zoo and botanical garden put together. The museum is actually funded by private donations and possibly some state funds. It is just outside the border of the national park. We have been there twice now—once on a hot and busy weekend—and then today with cloud cover and fewer people. The cloud cover kept it cool and so we were able to see almost all of the animals that live in the zoo. I should say here that any animals you see among the pictures I will post were all captive, with the exception of a few birds--maybe. This is such a wonderful zoo/garden/museum that it is worth driving quite a way out of your way to see it. If you ever make a trip near Tucson, I can highly recommend making this a stop.

Before stopping at the museum, however, we made a short hike to Signal Hill where we were able to see some petroglyphs made by the Hohokam Indians. I learned something I didn’t know. Petroglyphs are made by chipping or grinding away the desert patina that coats most of the rocks around here. Also known as desert varnish, it is caused by minerals coating the rocks and then a substance in the rock acts like cement holding it fast to the rock surface. Pictographs, on the other hand, are made by coloring the rock using some substance, such as powdered minerals, plant substances, charcoal, and even blood. Also, they differ from hieroglyphics in that each picture of a hieroglyphic stands for a word or sound (both Egyptian and Mayan), while petroglyphs and pictographs cannot be read in this way. I will post pictures of some of these as well.

So with that as my intro, I will start working on posting some pictures. Here is the link:

http://picasaweb.google.com/threecatsranch/SaguaroNPWest

This morning, Mike is mounting a back-up camera on the back of the truck. We had one, but in the storm in California, it filled with water and then stopped working. Obviously, this one is better quality. When he's finished doing that, we will go visit Saguaro NP East where we can drive a loop drive through the saguaro cactus forest.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lemonade



Here is a really terrible picture of us sitting outside by our lemon tree. The sun was in our eyes and the rig next to ours was casting a big shadow over our patio; but after six tries with the remote shutter release, we called it quits. I have claimed ownership of the lemon tree however temporarily because I wish so much that we could grow citrus in Oregon. I am happy about our apples and cherries though! And just to show you that I wasn't kidding around about it being a fruit-bearing tree, I am passing along a picture of one of its many lemons. Exciting, huh?


Mike got his shock absorber fixed this morning and then got a memory card for his video recorder so that he can shoot still shots in addition to moving ones. Later we went shopping for the unmentionables that I won't mention. Mike was a real trooper on that outing. But while he was getting his shock absorber fixed, I read up on the saguaro cactus in preparation for our trip tomorrow.


It seems the park is divided into two parks--one on the east and one on the west side of Tucson. The west side seems to be the biggest draw, and so we will start there. The museum I mentioned earlier is actually a part of the west side of the park. It would be easy to see pretty much everything on a one-day trip, and so the number of days we spend there will depend on whether there are any other significant hikes not mentioned in the material I've read already. I'm discovering that each park seems to have its own little pocket hiking guide, but we will need to check out the visitor center to see if one exists for this park.


Here are some fun facts: The saguaro blossoms in late spring and only after dark. They are pollinated by bats during the night, and then the blossoms close and wilt by the following afternoon. Despite the pollination by the bats, one saguaro cactus will produce approximately 40 million seeds each year. Many of the cactus live some 200 years, but in their lifetime "only a few" seeds will even so much as germinate. After two years, a healthy, well-established saguaro is only a quarter-inch tall. A fifteen-year-old saguaro is barely a foot tall. Only after sixty or seventy years does the first side branch appear.


And here's something else: Many people are under the impression that if they were lost in the desert, they could cut off the top of a large cactus and drink the water. Apparently that only happens in Hollywood. The moisture stored in most cacti has a toxic level of oxalic acid, and only a few creatures of the desert can neutralize these poisons.


My reading material warns of rattlesnakes (we were watching out fo those in Death Valley and Joshua Tree) and Gila Monsters, and also tell us that the tarantulas we might see are harmless, but that the scorpions have a bite that can be deadly. O-kay. We'll be on the lookout for those. The writer of that little tid-bit followed up by saying he'd never actually seen one. And I hope not to see one either.


So that's all I know about the saguaro and friends. Hopefully I'll have some better pictures for you tomorrow. Take care all.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beautiful Freeway




Seems like an oxymoron doesn't it? But truly, the freeways are beautiful here. I took some pictures so you can see.

Even though I'm too young to get into the 55 and older parks, I still need to take notes so that I can remember what I wanted to tell you. For one thing, I wanted to tell you that when Mike gets drowsy during a day of driving, he rolls down the window and barks like a dog to wake himself up. I'll leave it to you to decide what to make of this.
We found a camera shop today where I was able to get the things I wanted for my camera--a split neutral density filter (to darken the skies when they are too bright to shoot without blowing them out), and a new strap for my new camera. Mike also found a monopod (a tripod with only one leg) so that he can steady the camera when he makes video. I haven't yet figured out how I can post video.
While we were driving we remembered a time when we lived in Phoenix, the first year of our marriage, that we made a big vacation weekend to Flagstaff--several hours north of Phoenix. Before we drove out of town, we stopped by a second-hand store where I was selling some old clothes on consignment. Turns out I had sold $12 worth of clothes. It was all the money in the world to us at that time. Times have changed for sure.
But the most exciting thing we did today was to add Arizona to our United States sticker on the side of the RV. I suggested we add New Mexico at the same time, but Mike takes this whole thing very seriously. He said we actually have to BE in New Mexico before we can add the sticker.
Mike has found a place where he can get his shock absorber replaced, and so that's probably what will happen tomorrow. But we will be heading to the national park within the next couple of days. More to come.

Warm and Dry

The weather here in Tucson is absolutely perfect. It was 68 degrees yesterday. We went out in short sleeves, and no sweatshirts. (And just in case some smarty pants comes up with a smarty pants comment, we were also wearing our jeans.) I believe it might be the first time this trip. We ran a bunch of errands, mainly grocery shopping. We looked for a camera store, but the only ones that might have what I'm looking for were closed (Sunday). Today is Martin Luther King Day, but I think most everything will be open.

Mike wants to get something done to his shock absorbers. One of them failed while we were in Joshua Tree NP. He's done some checking and calling and it turns out they have a lifetime warranty. (Original owner, of course.) There are several distributors around here and so he's going to get it taken care of.

We drove around looking for a Mexican restaurant the other night. We should have noticed this when we drove into Tucson, but the freeway is all torn up here. After seeing how beautifully done the freeway was in Phoenix (and I'm talking about tile on the overpasses), we can only guess that all the highway funds have moved south to Tucson now. Anyway, you can get on and off the freeway at certain points. Problem is, there is a stretch of freeway at least 10 miles long (no exaggeration) that has no off ramps. So the navigation unit took us onto the freeway, which would ordinarily be the way to go, and we couldn't get off until we were way past where the restaurant was. When we were able to get off, we took city streets back to the place we wanted to be, only to find it was permanently closed (possibly because nobody can get there).

So we drove around until we found this little place called Las Cazuelitas of Tucson (translation: Little Bowls). One of the things we missed most when we left Phoenix and moved to Portland was the abundance of good Mexican restaurants. Portland is much better than it used to be, but the Mexican food here just a few miles from the border can't be beaten. Everyone was very pleasant, the service and the food were great. They even had a cart that came around and a woman made fresh guacamole right at the table. Yum! We enjoyed it very much, and we'll probably go back again before we leave here.

Okay, now here's something that really has us worried. There is a grocery store called "Fry's". And the logo printed on the receipt looks exactly like the logo for Fry's Electronics in Portland. We looked around for any pitifully ugly geeks working there, but we didn't see any. Something about buying our groceries at Fry's really bothers us. We will leave it to you techies to figure this one out. Does Fry's really sell groceries in addition to selling everything electronic?

So even though I'm blogging, it doesn't really mean I have anything to tell you. On these days when we're in town, I'm just documenting our comings and goings. Later, I will publish a picture of us sitting outside next to our lemon tree. And, Erik, please buckle your helmet.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tucson, AZ

Hello again--we made it to Tucson just after noon today, and we are so glad we decided to leave Mesa. This place is much smaller and much more user friendly. We have a patio slab right at our front door and a fruit-bearing lemon tree! They have also provided a patio table and chairs for sitting outside. Very nice. Internet is free here, but for whatever reason, we haven't been able to get it to work. It's okay though because we can still use Mike's cell phone. We thought we were using it illegally, and so Mike called to sign up to be legal. As it turns out, they said he was already legal. We still have our doubts about that, but there is now a notation in our file that we were told it was okay. Whatever. But because of that, we need to pay a visit to the local AT&T store to get a different SIM card--3gig?--because it will allow him to receive updates and stuff from AT&T. Aside from that, we seem technologically sound.

There are two pools and two hot tubs here. One pool is striped for lap swimming, which is nice. It's hard to tell where you are in the pool without lane lines, and I do hate bumping into the wall. I can swim end-to-end with one push-off and eight strokes--not too bad in terms of length--I do feel as if I've actually swum somewhere. I don't need to take a breath though and so my neck likes it too. The hot tub is nice. It has three steps down, and then deep. I'm in up to my chest while standing on the bottom, and if I sit on the lowest step, I'm up to my neck. Very nice. The temperature was in the 60's today, which was a little chilly for swimming, but the sky is blue and it is not raining. It's nice to sit by the pool even if I am wrapped up in a towel and sweatshirt. Okay. I'll stop talking about the pool now.

There is a restaurant here and RV sales (in case you tire of the one you rode in on). And there is a Camping World next door, which is our next favorite store after Fred Meyer. (I hope you know I'm kidding about both of those. Actually, my favorite store is Goodwill--no kidding!) In addition to going to AT&T we need to visit a camera shop so I can get a filter and a camera strap for my new camera. Mike wanted some something-or-other from Circuit City--I gave up long ago knowing what any of those things are.

In addition to taking care of business we are going to visit Saguaro National Park, which is on both the east and west ends of the city. I don't think I knew that before today. There is also a museum here about the Sonoran Desert. We went there when we visited Tucson some five years ago or so. That was really wonderful--part zoo, part botanical garden. We were here on a weekend last time and it was very busy. We're hoping a visit during the week will be more peaceful. And there are quite a few other things to see. A mission, which is part Moorish, part Byzantine, and part Spanish influence. Reading about it made it sound like one of the big churches in Europe. There are a few other things we might check out.

Tucson is the home of the University of Arizona and it has the vibrancy of a university town. While we aren't ordinarily too much into museums, there are some interesting ones here. There is an aviation museum that includes a presidential plane and also a Titan missile silo--decommissioned, of course. I can't remember what other ones I was reading about, but I made notes. Of course, I will blog about any sight-seeing we do. For now, we're happy to be in a place we like, and happy to put down roots, even if it is just for the week. Who knows? We may stay longer if we like it enough.

We hope all is going well with everyone back home. Stay warm and dry. Special hugs to Matt, Erik, and Mae. (Don't forget to wear your helmets.)

Mesa, Arizona

We finally crossed into Arizona yesterday afternoon, and also into Mountain Standard Time. We are now one hour later than those of you back home. I'm afraid Mike has been assimilated into the RV crowd (Resistance is Futile). He now talks to almost everyone he sees about all kinds of RV related stuff--tow vehicles, vehicles being towed, electrical hook-ups, bike racks, and poo-poo hoses.

We drove through some beautiful country yesterday. We were on I-10 most of the day. We started out on the north side of Joshua Tree and drove the park road due south. We hadn't visited that part of Joshua Tree on the day before, and so it was good to get to see the rest. We saw quite a few wildflowers, and we can only think that the big storm that blew through is responsible for this unseasonal bloom. Very nice--but too cold or we would have stayed another day to do some hiking.

As it is, we drove through the Phoenix metropolitan area yesterday. We lived here during the first three years of our marriage in the late 70's. What a change 30 years can make! At that time there was one useless freeway at the far west end of town. We lived at the east end and so there was no way to get around except on downtown surface streets, steaming asphalt, and stifling heat. When we drove through last night, we were greeted by a huge and well-built freeway system that got us through town in rush hour traffic much faster than I could have driven home from work way back then.

According to the tour book, the Hohokam Indians mastered the Salt River Valley desert by building irrigation ditches, and then mysteriously disappeared around 1450. On this ancient site, the settler John Smith established a hay camp in 1864 and contracted to supply forage to Camp McDowell, an Army outpost 30 miles away. During this time, the name Phoenix was suggested, as a new city would be expected to rise from the remnants of the vanished civilization, just at the mythical phoenix rose from its own ashes. Interesting, huh? Phoenix is now the 6th largest city in America.

We pulled into a town on the east side of the city, a suburb called Mesa. Mesa is in the center of the Salt River Valley on a plateau. The Hohokam Indians were a very resourceful tribe and realized the need for water for irrigation and dug some 125 miles of canals around 700 BC. Some of those irrigation ditches are still in use. In 1883, the founding Mormon community discovered the ancient canal system and used it to irrigate the thousands of fertile acres of farmland above the Salt River.

The park where we stayed last night is huge--nearly 2,000 sites! They are extremely snooty, however. The only question they didn't ask is our net worth. We pulled in after dark and they parked us in a pull-through that offers nothing but asphalt and painted lines. The guy who showed us where to park also had to stay while Mike plugged into the electrical connection--no more difficult than plugging in a lamp. When Mike observed that this place had "too many rules," the guy told us that it was for our own safety that he stay. Hm.

They also gave us name badges and we are expected to wear them at all times while in the park. Neither of us has worn a name badge since we quit working, and we don't need no stinking badges! So . . . we are exercising one of the best things about RVing. If we don't like a place, we move on and give them a view of our backs. We had thought we might stay a week here until they started treating us like teenagers. As it is, we are out of here--and soon. It is only a couple of hours to Tucson. When we made our reservation, we quizzed them about the "too many rules" situation. The person on the phone thought our question about name badges was the strangest question she'd ever heard. By the way, these parks are designated age 55 and older. Mike is old enough, but I'm sneaking in. Hope I don't get carded! (Now I really feel like a teenager.)

So that's the scoop coming out of Mesa. More later.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Joshua Tree NP

We had a wonderful day today exploring Joshua Tree. We have learned quite a bit about this park. The Joshua Tree was named by Mormon settlers. The multitude of spreading branches recalled stories of the outstretched arms of the prophet Joshua beconing them onward to the Promised Land.

We stopped first in the Visitor Center (appropriately enough) and bought a few things, including a book of hiking trails. This was somewhat of a waste of money since it was so darned cold and windy that hiking was quite unpleasant. We did hike the Scull Rock trail and spied the scull rock, but it did not lend itself well to picture taking. This was a self-guided nature trail and we learned about some of the plants native to the area, including the Pinon Pine, Desert Oak, Creosote Bushes (the most successful plant in this particular desert), and some others. We also have learned that Joshua Tree is a meeting of two deserts--the Mojave Desert (where the Joshua Trees grow) and the Colorado High Desert, which is much more desolate; however, we saw many more Cholla cactus and Ocotillo cactus in the Colorado portion.

There are many interesting rock formations made up of monzogranite, which is very susceptible to erosion, and the Pinto Gneiss, which is harder and not as easily eroded. You will see examples of both in my web album. The rocks are eroded in many different ways--rain, wind, cavernous weathering (which is responsible for the depressions in the rock that formed scull rock), and use by man. Use by man consisted of the Native Americans who used the cavernous depressions as mortars to grind seeds and grains. There were also some pictographs which we were unable to see because the sign post marking them was missing.

After our short hike through the scull rock area, we headed on toward Keys View. I had several articles about Joshua Tree and each of them mentioned having to travel back to the view multiple times to see it without the haze that sometimes masks the scenery. When we arrived there it was frigidly cold with sustained winds of 30+ miles per hour and gusts up to 60 mph. It was difficult to stand up in such winds and I found myself staying well clear of the edge of the canyon to avoid being blown off the cliff. Just the same I was able to get some good shots of the valley, which included shots of the San Andreas Fault. Cool! (Literally!)

After that, we took a drive on an 18-mile loop road called the Geology Tour Road, a dirt road, where we saw many of the interesting rock formations and got some of the best images of the Joshua Trees. The moon was our companion throughout the day and I managed to get some good shots of the moon behind the Joshua Trees.

After that, we headed toward the Cholla Cactus Garden. We were running low on fuel, and so we didn't drive quite all the way to the "garden," but we found a nice stand of Cholla Cactus and I got out and traipsed around through the desert taking pictures of them. The light was perfect by this time, and I was just about ready to pack it in for the day when I noticed that some of them were blooming! Some of the Creosote Bushes were also blooming and this was quite a find. This is not the time of year when they should be in bloom, and we can only believe that the rain storm we drove through in December is responsible for this.

As I'm writing this, I can hear the shelling going on in the bombing range north of 29 Palms. Marine Air Ground Combat Center is the largest Marine Corps training camp in the world, according to the literature I read. We can both feel and hear the shelling even though it is after dark. I suppose this is our payback for not camping near a railroad track for quite some time. It isn't all that disturbing, and it didn't keep us awake last night. We assume they stopped and went to bed at some point. My dad was a Marine and I can remember him talking about 29 Palms on occasion.

I will stop here since I will have some commentary on my web album about the images I post. The parks never disappoint us and Joshua Tree has been no exception. We were able to see most of the park, and certainly all that we wanted to see in this one visit. It would have been nice to stay at Keys Viewpoint a little longer, but it was way too cold for that. We're told by people who live here that the temperatures this time of year are generally in the 60-70 degree range. We were in the 30's all day today. Someone told us that a dry cold front was coming through with cold air from Canada--perhaps the same cold weather responsible for the snow we heard about in Portland.

Take care and stay warm. We are on to Tucson tomorrow. We liked the nice RV "resort" where we stayed in Hemet, and so we've decided to pay for a week at a "resort" in Tucson. We're up for some really warm weather and hanging by the pool for a while. We'll take time to see Saguaro National Park while we are there as well.

Here is the link to my web album for Joshua Tree:

http://picasaweb.google.com/threecatsranch/JoshuaTree

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Twenty-nine Palms, CA

We had a very short day today—less than 100 miles from Hemet to here. We are just outside the northern visitor’s center to Joshua Tree NP. We talked about going there this afternoon, but then decided against it. We enjoyed our visit with friends and family in Hemet, but we are tired after seeing so much company and doing so much running-around getting business taken care of. Mike needed to do some “auto parts” kind of stuff, and he also adjusted the trailer brakes. We did our grocery shopping and picked up some stuff at the drug store; and I got all the laundry done. If it seems like I’m doing laundry a lot, it’s because I am. I really love my little washer/dryer combo, but it means washing lots of small loads when it’s possible. We need to be in a space with hook-ups, and so when we’re in a place like Death Valley where we’re unable to wash clothes, the laundry piles up. In a regular washer, it would be one load’s worth; but in this one, it’s more like four or five loads worth.

So as I’m writing this, I’m sipping a cup of my wonderful Teavana tea—a Christmas gift from the lovely Mae. There are free wi-fi hotspots in this park. The woman at the registration desk tried to put us in a spot close to one of the hotspots, but after trying several different areas within the trailer, I’ve given up thinking it’s going to work. That’s okay. There are so many open spaces at this park that we can probably drive the truck to a place, park, and do our internet business there. It works pretty well to write the text ahead of time, get the pictures ready to go, and then cut and paste when I’m able.

I’m looking forward to seeing Joshua Tree NP. This is another park I’ve visited many times, but only to drive through. I am thrilled that I was able to get my Photograph America Newsletters that arrived via FedEx yesterday. These are newsletters published bi-monthly by a man who has been doing this for the past 18 years. He has been a professional photographer since 1957 and is one of those fortunate people who was able to pull together enough different income sources to be able to make his living practicing his art. He has published (to date) 103 different places in the US, and the collection is really something.

The newsletter on Joshua Tree is quite thorough, discussing hikes, photography hotspots, places to set up a tri-pod, where to see wildlife, which lenses to take along, and things to watch out for—such as the California Green Rattlesnake which is the most venomous snake in North America (yikes!). After reading that, we decided to pick up a snakebite kit somewhere before embarking on any hikes. He also tells us that we can see quite a bit with a mountain bike. That would be fun. One other fun fact is that Joshua Trees are not really trees at all—they are giant members of the lily family. He describes a multitude of different landscapes that can be seen within the park, and so I am excited to make this visit. Spending more time in Death Valley than the previous drive-thru visits of the past revealed a wealth of scenery and hiking adventures. I anticipate no less in this park. But tomorrow . . . today we rest up.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Day of Rest

Today we are going to hang out and rest. We've had company the past several days, which was our reason for coming to Hemet. This will be our last day here. I'm expecting a FedEx delivery of some photography newsletters written by a guy who travels around and scopes out the best photography points for various places, many of which we are planning to visit. I tried to get them before we left, but the guy was leaving for Hawaii and wasn't able to give me overnight deliver. This is the first place we've been long enough (and on weekdays) to receive a FedEx delivery. I'm excited about this because I was beginning to lose hope that we'd be able to receive them anywhere. I let the office know it was coming and asked them to accept delivery. They were a little weird about it, but in the end agreed to do so. I'll go over and remind them again, just in case.

We need to get some groceries and pharmaceutical-type stuff, and aside from that we're hanging out by the pool. As I'm writing I can hear the volleyball game going on, but that should be over in about 10 minutes. Our friend, Ron, stopped by with some maps from AAA, which we are very thankful for. He and Mike are still jabber-jawing, and after that we'll probably do our shopping. We went to see Charlie Wilson's War last night, which was a very good movie. We can recommend it. It's about the USA's covert war against the Soviet Union when they invaded Afghanistan back in the last 70's and early 80's. Charlie Wilson played a very large part (and an unknown part) in bringing down the Soviet Union. Very interesting to know all of this was going on and how he was able to bring the various factions together--and, what a character! Tom Hanks did a great job. Julia Roberts stars also.

Tomorrow we leave for Joshua Tree NP, which is only a few hours away, due east. More then. Take care all.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hemet Date Palms

After spending hours trying to upload my Death Valley web album, I gave up in disgust and went to the pool. I haven't been able to swim since before my first hand surgery back in November. I swam a few laps, sat in the hot tub, and sat in the sun. It was all heavenly. I'm such a water person that when I've missed it for so long, I feel as if I'm moving through satin. Ahhhhhhhh.

After that, I came back and gave the web album another try, and it worked! I was so excited that I created another to show you the beautiful date palms in Hemet. They are pregnant with dates and some have even fallen on the ground. If I were a date lover, I'd be in date heaven. But culinary preferences aside, I think they are very beautiful, and so I created another web album to show you.

http://picasaweb.google.com/threecatsranch/DatePalms

I'm sort of learning as I go with this blog thing, and so now I'm thinking the web albums might be a better way to go than posting the pictures directly on the blog. I'll give you the link each time as each album has a different link. Be sure to check out the Death Valley album in the next post, and enjoy!

By the way, I'm wearing my sandals today. Mike told me to be careful not to get too wild.

Slideshow!! Not!

As I write this, I'm in the process of uploading my slideshow of Death Valley. I don't know yet if it will work. So, I'll leave it to you to decide if I was successful. If you see it, you'll know I was, and vice versa.

(Okay. This has been quite a process, and we've finally decided that I'm experiencing problems related to Google's Blogger rather than some problem that we can't figure out. Blogger was kind enough to tell me that it was experiencing some kind of internal confusion, or something to that effect. So I've posted the pictures to a web album, and this is the link:

http://picasaweb.google.com/threecatsranch/DeathValley

Let's hope this works. And, of course, you can ignore all the references to a slide show in this post. It's been a comedy of error messages.)

We had a nice visit with Mike's sister yesterday. We had lunch at In 'N Out Burger, and Mike had his first In 'N Out. We've been searching for them all during our trip since passing into California, and we never seemed to find one at the right time. But here in Hemet, we have one right across the street from us. It seemed like a perfect occasion to try them out. I had one once before, and I thought they were great. We decided they were at least as good as our favorite, Carl's Jr., and we also decided that Carl's Jr. was a good stand-in. I have not been paid to make this announcement.

Meredith stayed for dinner last night, and Mike barbecued a tri-tip roast that turned out great. We walked through the park here, by that I mean the RV park. It's a pretty nice place--three pools, horseshoes, billiards, and our personal favorite, shuffleboard.

I had to pause there because my Norton firewall blocked the slideshow from uploading. Mike turned it off temporarily. The slideshow is in a file on my hard disk, and Norton blocked an attack on my computer from . . . my computer. My computer has been known to attack people before, but never itself. Hm. Must be the traveling that drove it mad.

Anyway, back to our personal favorite, shuffleboard. My grandparents used to winter over in Hemet from Nampa, Idaho. My grandfather was the shuffleboard king. I wonder if it's in my genes to become the new suffleboard queen. I'm not sure I'm ready to find out. Two of the pools are set up with volleyball nets. We heard quite a ruckus the other day with people yelling and cheering. Turns out they were playing volleyball in the pool. They also have sand volleyball, but the sand is hard so that shoes can be worn. Judging by the tread marks in the sand, that's how people do it.

We've decided to spend an additional two days in Hemet because a) it's very nice here in Hemet and in this particular park, and b) he needs to have some work done on things. When we were caught in traffic on the San Bernardino freeway, the trailer brakes didn't seem to be working right, and eventually, he nearly lost all braking power as the trucks brakes did all the work. He wants to have the trailer brakes inspected, and some other thing I don't know. This seems like a good place to stop for that sort of thing. (Still waiting for the slideshow.) The weather has been perfect, and we've been out in short sleeves for the first time since leaving home. It does get cold at night, however, and the furnace runs nearly all night long.

We're going to see the movie tonight with our friends, Ron and Lisa, and today during the day I'm going to hang out at the pool. We walked through that area yesterday and were surprised at the number of people who were doing just that. And . . . bonus! They were all older than I am. No bikini bathing beauties to make me feel inadequate in my 50-plus figure! So I'm all set to go swim around and hang by the pool with the other old people--emphasis on the "other," since I've become acutely aware that I fit into that category now--even if I am the youngest in the group. So I'm still waiting on the slideshow, but I'm going to stop writing now and wait. Hope all goes well at your end.

P. S. After amending my title, I've given up on the slideshow. On to Plan B.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Diamond Valley Lake




We saw our friends Ron and Lisa Draper today. We were able to see their new place, which is very nice with a private and roomy lot. After that, they took us on an enjoyable tour of the valley and showed us the most interesting man-made reservoir. It was dammed on two sides. It provides water to San Diego County and is four miles long by two miles wide and about 100 feet deep. It is also stocked with good eating fish. Ron tells us the fishing is excellent.

When the valley was being excavated to construct the reservoir, an archeological treasure chest was uncovered with giant sloths, sabertooth tigers, mastedons, and wooly mammoths. There is now a museum with some of the fossils and bones that were found and a movie describing their finds and the process of building the reservoir. Very interesting. One of the paleontologists stated that they were finding bones at such a fast pace that it was difficult to keep up with the work. “Overwhelming” was the word he used. The reservoir is quite beautiful with the mountains surrounding it. It was a nice way to spend the day.

Tomorrow Mike’s sister Meredith will drive over from Fullerton to spend the day and have dinner with us. We will hook up with Ron and Lisa again on Monday, possibly to see the new Tom Hanks movie, Charlie Wilson’s War. We haven’t been to the theater in years, but this is a movie we really want to see.

I’m still working on the slide show, but don’t let all this talk fool you into thinking it’s anything special. It’s just a quick way to post the many pictures I have of Death Valley. I can't post such a large file while using Mike's phone for my internet connection; but tomorrow, we'll spring for the $5 for 24 hours (!) while Mike pays some bills and we take care of other business. For now, I’m posting some pictures we took today. Hope you enjoy them.

Mosaic Canyon

Sorry these next blogs are published out of order. As you read these blogs about Death Valley, you are reading them in the reverse order of when they happened. And THEN at the end, I published a blog about Hemet California. That one should have been posted first because we are here now. I haven't been able to publish my blogs for the past four days, and so I apologize for all this reading. Don't read it if you don't want to! But I wanted to explain this out-of-order thing. Soon I'll publish a slide show of the pictures from Death Valley--at least I think I will. We'll see if I am successful at that. For now, this is what happened when we hiked Mosaic Canyon--such a fun day.

We hiked the most spectacular canyon today. By the looks of it, it is something big in a flash flood. (I wouldn’t want to be there when water is flowing.) The hike book says that it was formed by a fault in the Tucki Mountain range where four square miles of water drain and scour the sides of the canyon wall. We saw at least half a dozen different layers of sedimentary stuff, some of it polished marble. It involved some scrambling over rocks, but we hiked way back and up into the canyon for about 2.5 miles. There was evidence of moisture from the last flood that probably washed through there during the big rain storm, but only one spot where we saw actual water. Thank you to my walking buddy and good friend, Sue, for getting me into shape for this hike. Lots of fun. It took some planning and looking, but we climbed over all manner of barriers to going farther. We started early in the day, and so we had plenty of time to keep going before we had to turn around and head back out. I took a lot of pictures, which I am going to try to put together in a slide show. If you see it, you’ll know I was successful. Otherwise, I’ll just post individual pictures as I have been doing.

When we got back, we were hungry and tired, and so ate sandwiches and then napped. Mike had some time to repair the electrical connection in the bed of his truck. This got broken as we were trying to get off our snowy mountain. There was a beautiful sunset as the clouds rolled in. This was the first warm day we’ve experienced—where we could be outside without jackets on. We felt so unencumbered! It’s also the first day that the furnace has not run. Things are looking up on the weather front, and from here on, we are heading south—no more back-tracking north.

We have been here four nights, and we’ll pull out tomorrow heading toward Bakersfield. We can probably be in Hemet in a couple of nights where we’ll visit my email pen pal, Lisa, who is living in a new home that I’m dying to see. We’ll also spend some time with Mike’s sister, Meredith, who lives in Fullerton. Our next stop will be Joshua Tree NP and then parts unknown.

Scottie's Castle/Ubehebe Crater

Today we visited Scottie’s Castle. The tour was quite different from the way either of us remembered it. I visited in 1970; Mike earlier than that. When we went through the first time, the curtains were open, the place was very bright, and we both remember being quite taken with the cooling system that consisted of an indoor waterfall, among other things. We also remember hearing a lot more about all that went into constructing the home, including the many imported items. Keep in mind that the place is built in the middle of nowhere and that it was built in the 1920’s. It was quite an engineering marvel in its day. They even had figured out a way to insulate using a brick that resembled styrofoam. Very impressive. This tour was a lot more about the people who lived in the house—the Johnsons who owned it and “Scottie,” whose real name was Walter Scott. It seems he was quite a con man and many people thought he should be in jail. However, these people, the Johnsons so enjoyed his company that they practically supported the man. When asked, Mr. Johnson said that “Scottie” repaid them with laughter. The indoor waterfall has been turned off because the plumbing fell apart, and the curtains are now drawn. It’s too bad because it is hard to see the beautiful Spanish tile; however, flash photography is allowed and so I was able to get quite a few pictures of the place.

After that we drove to Ubehebe (You-bee-hee-bee) Crater, which is where a volcanic explosion took place. The whole area appears quite volcanic with black sand—kind of a reversal from the way the rest of the desert looks. The crater was impressive for its size and also the many colors of the layers of sediment. We’re also been impressed by the size of the “rivulets,” which in any other part of the world would be called “gullies.” The park is so vast (3,300,000 acres—the biggest in the lower 48 states) that all of the geological features taken by themselves appear small despite the grand scale. (I hope that makes sense.)

We have decided to stay an additional night so that we can do a couple of hikes that we have not yet had time for. Our generator is still working and Mike thinks it is some other thing called an “inverter.” Maybe you high tech types will know what the heck that is. We ran out of water today, but Mike has a 40-gallon bladder he can use to refill the freshwater tank so that we don’t have to move the trailer. Water is really the deciding factor when we are camping without hook-ups. This is only the second time we’ve used the bladder, but it is a very handy tool.

Furnace Creek

We explored the Furnace Creek area of Death Valley today, which encompassed a lot of territory. We did a short hike through the Artist’s Palette area and that was very interesting. So many different colors of dirt/sand/soil—clearly, it was many layers of sedimentary rock. The sun was cooperative or uncooperative, depending on your point of view. It was behind the clouds for most of the day, which meant that I could take pictures without having them be completely blown out; however, even at the end of the day when the sun could be my friend, it stayed behind the clouds and so I wasn’t able to get any really good shots of the colors. You will have to be satisfied with what I have posted.

The most fun part of the day, I think, was visiting Bad Water, which is the lowest point in the Northern hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. I’ve posted some pictures of the salt flats and the red cliffs reflecting in the “bad” water. “It was always the same . . . Hunger and thirst and an awful silence.” Those words were written by one of the pioneers who traveled the 130-mile long valley on the way to California. It was easy to be sympathetic when seeing this landscape. Beautiful when traveled by car, I can only guess the hardships faced by those who crossed by Conestoga wagon. There are places in the park where the ruts from the wagons can still be seen.

We also visited the Devil’s Golf course, which consisted of the strangest landscape of salt crystals. Death Valley is like a different planet due to the extremes of temperature. It is the hottest and driest place on the North American continent. The record high temperature here is 134 degrees Fahrenheit. It was nowhere near that today, and we kept sweatshirts on for most of the day. We took a short hike up to see a natural bridge, but that was scarcely worth the trouble. The best one we’ve seen was in Canyonlands NP.

We’re enjoying our visit despite the fickle sunshine, and if pressed, I’d say I prefer the sun behind the clouds. If I were a real photographer, I’d be out before dawn and past dusk, but apparently I’m not. I like sleeping in and having dinner on time. As it is, I end up shooting at the worst part of the day, and so the light is better if the sun stays behind the clouds. Fortunately, I don’t have to make my living by taking pictures.

Tomorrow, much to my surprise, Mike wants to see Scotty’s Castle. He saw it only once before when he was too young to remember. I was 16 the one time I saw it, and so I’m up for that too. I believe we’ve seen most of the hot spots (and I don’t mean temperature) of the park by exploring past the Furnace Creek ranger station. There are a few things to see beyond Scottie’s Castle, and then a couple of things we missed today.

The New Hampshire Primary is on TV, and so I hope your favorite candidate is doing well. More tomorrow. Take care.

Death Valley NP

We rolled into Death Valley after dark last night. It was a relatively long day of driving. As I’m writing this, we’re having trouble with our propane generator. We’re not sure if it’s a problem with the generator or the propane. The latest theory is that there is some problem with the pressure regulator on the propane tank. However, I’m now hearing a report that it decided to start working. Mike says that when something fixes itself without intervention, the problem will reappear down the road. Since we’re virtually in the middle of nowhere, it would be better if it did break down the road. Please, not here. Wow! And my screen just got brighter. It looks like things are working now. Hm. We’re taking the head-in-the-sand approach for now. (My personal favorite.)

We are parked in a national park campground, which is very cheap for us--$6 per night. However, there are absolutely no amenities. It is, in essence, a parking lot with numbered spaces. There are no trees, no fire rings, no tables, nothing. There is a public restroom with showers, but that’s it. I read an article in a motor home magazine that urged the national parks to cater more to RVers as a way of making up for funding problems. I must say that I agree. We have ways of getting around the problem of no hook-ups, but it does require a different living strategy. Hook-ups, even just water, would be very nice. And this is the way it has been in all of the national parks where we’ve stayed. We love the parks, but hate the campgrounds. And since most of the parks are in remote areas, staying at a privately-owned park is often not an option. Okay, enough whining.

We drove through some beautiful country yesterday, albeit rugged. There were towns where people lived, but many of the buildings were boarded up. They look like towns on the verge of becoming ghost towns. Indeed, we passed a sign directing us to a ghost town. There were mining operations evident, but we’re not sure what they were mining for. I took a picture of what appears to be salt or borax at one place. I’ve posted a couple of pictures, all taken out of the window of the truck as we drove by, and so they’re not great pictures. (In case you missed Felix’s dad’s comment, if you click on the pictures, you can see them full screen.) The mountains were snow-capped and very beautiful as the sun was setting. The geology of the mountains was very interesting. Some of the ground appeared to have been pushed up, while some of it looked as if it had been formed by blowing dust. There were a couple of dry lake beds, and we saw many alluvial fans from snow melt.

We also drove through an area that had been built up into a wind farm—the biggest I’ve ever seen. We got out of the truck to see if we could hear the windmills running, but all we could hear was traffic and the sound of the wind. It was terrifically windy in this area, and when I opened the truck door, the force of the wind nearly tore the door out of my hand. This wind farm was just outside some medium-sized town, the name of which I cannot remember. But we figured that the windmills we saw could easily generate enough power for the whole town, with power to spare. We were encouraged to see wind power on such a grand scale.
We will spend the day exploring the park. More later. We’re out of cell phone range, and therefore, we have no internet connection. I’ll post these together when we get to the next place.

Hemet, California

We arrived in Hemet last night. Sorry we've been out of touch for four days while we were in Death Valley. We had a wonderful time there. I wrote my blog entry each day, but haven't been able to publish until today. Also, I think I've figured out how to post a slide show of the pictures I took there, but I'll have to publish that later. The wi-fi costs $5 per day here. I can use Mike's phone to publish text, but I'll need to pay for the regular wi-fi to move the data for the slide show. More to come on that within the next couple of days.

We're here visiting a friend of mine from high school. We graduated together, but she is a LOT older than I am despite our former same birth years. (I kept writing "sane" when I meant to write "same." I wonder if that means anything. Hmmm.) We're going to see some archeological stuff today--saber tooth tigers and the like. Sounds like fun.

The drive down yesterday was pretty harrowing. It started with barren roads on Death Valley and ended up in rush-hour traffic in the middle of San Bernardino. The off-ramp we wanted was closed, and so we had to go up and turn around and get going in the other direction to go the way we wanted. It took us 2 hours to move 2 miles. Sheesh. During that time, we saw a rear-end collision, some really gutsy lane changes, and a guy who absolutely cut in front of us by bypassing the 45-minute line we waited in to get on the other freeway we wanted. He cut across the triangular paint that divides the off-ramp from the freeway, and also through some little flexible pole barriers. As he did this, he waved his hand at us as if thanking us for letting him cut in the line. We waved back at him with our middle fingers. (Some people didn't learn much in kindergarten.) But as this was all happening, a cop saw him and stopped beside us, got out of the car, and angrily indicated to the guy that he needed to pull over for a good talking-to. I suppose he was required to sign some kind of document promising never to do it again. And I suppose it will be very expensive for him to learn that lesson. It made all the rest of it worthwhile.

So I need to get going with my other posts and then give my friend a call to figure out today's agenda. Take care all. We are back for the next several days at least.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bakersfield, California

I believe we will make it to Death Valley today. We have realized from watching the forecasts that we were driving in the worst part of the three big storms that blew through Central California this week and the conditions were downright dangerous. We made the right decision not to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and to head inland, however, it was a decision to go inland and try to get out of the rain--not because we knew it would be dangerous. We have learned from this that we need to pay better attention to the forecast. We couldn't have stayed in Ukiah since I'm sure that place is completely underwater now, but we might have pulled off sooner had we known what we were into. In any event, it seems the worst is over now and we can head down the road with more confidence.

We're going to make a stop at Camping World to pick up a different fan for the bathroom. The one we have now sounds like a million hives of bees. Mike can install it on the road. After Camping World, we'll head up Hwy 99 to Hwy 190 and into Death Valley. I'm excited to see it. We hope you are all well. Take care.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

"I saw above me an endless skyway . . ."




We ran all over town today, which would have been impossible without the navigation unit in Mike's truck. We found the grocery store we liked (wish we had them in Oregon), called Raley's, and ran a bunch of other errands getting things we need for ourselves and for the trailer. The storm blew in as promised and it rained HARD for several hours. When we got home, we both took naps, and awoke to the most incredible sky as the enormous gray storm cloud blew past and a blue sky opened up. When I looked out the window, the whole world had taken on a sepia glow. And when I looked out the window on the other side of the trailer, I saw the most intense rainbow I've ever seen. It was hard to take pictures because of all the RV's in the way, but here are a few. One was taken of the sky reflecting in the big puddle of standing water on the road. Hope you enjoy them. They are a fairly accurate rendering.

Sunshine!

We awoke to blue skies and sunshine. Actually, I woke up around 5:00 a.m. and saw stars and the most beautiful crescent moon. If I were a real photographer, I would have gotten up, set up my tripod and taken a picture of it. However, I'm more of a real sleeper-inner, and so I stayed in bed. As I write this, it seems to be clouding up, and so I don't know if our sunshine will last. More heavy rain was forecast, but I heard the rain last night, and so I don't know the status of the weather. The Weather Channel showed this part of the world as waiting for heavy rain. Time will tell I guess.

We had decided to stay here and ride out the storm, but when we woke up to sunshine, we talked it over and decided to stay anyway. We need to get some groceries. I haven't done any grocery shopping since before we left home. We've been living on the stuff I pulled out of the refrigerator at home. This morning I made up a list of meals, and we need to pick up a few things. I'm also finishing up the last of the laundry that accumulated while we were without electricity. I like the washer, however, it requires a new way of thinking about accomplishing the chore when the loads are required to be so small. It still beats the laundromat.

In our travels (and some of you have heard us say this), we have discovered that RV parks tend to be right next to the railroad tracks, or else right next to a busy freeway. So far, we've managed to elude both. But here in Lodi, we have trains on BOTH sides of us, and they come through about every 15 minutes. AND since there is an intersection, they also greet us by blowing their horns. They didn't keep me awake last night, but Mike said he heard many of them go by. We thought the traffic might die down after it got dark, but we were wrong. They kept up their 15-minute schedule all night.

We took another look at the map last night and we both agree that there is no way to get to Death Valley without going around the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I really want to go to Death Valley, and so the plan we made to go south to Bakersfield and then turn back north still stands. We'll be traveling on a California State highway down to Bakersfield (can't remember its number), and then meet up with US Hwy 395 and then to CA Hwy 190. I'm looking forward to our trip to Death Valley. I've been there many times when I lived with my parents, but we never fully explored the place beyond Scottie's Castle. We considered going to Mike's birthplace of Taft, California (which he says he's never visited--he left there when he was 2), but it's about 30 miles east of Bakersfield (out of our way), and so I don't think we will do that.

That's about all I have to say for now. Take care, and keep in touch!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Lodi, California

Hello all--We didn't travel far today. In fact, we re-routed ourselves. With such a bad storm, we were concerned about crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and heading down the coast highway. As it is, there has been standing water on all the roads, wind gusts, and flooded intersections. We wouldn't be surprised to know that there have been mudslides along the coast. (That's what we'd get on the coast highway in Oregon, isn't it?) We have been in a torrential downpour pretty much nonstop since we left Redwood NP. We feel lucky to have had such good weather while we were there, and we're trying to maintain that "lucky" feeling. However, our "lucky" feeling is wearing thin. The roads were so bad on the drive here that Mike had a death grip on the steering wheel, while my teeth were clenched so tight I might as well have been in rigor mortus. Wow, my jaw is sore from all that.

When we pulled into the park in Ukiah last night, it was raining hard. They advised us to stay toward the gate in the park because the water could rise fast. (Huh?) So we chose a spot that seemed fine to us, but even at that, they advised us to move one spot closer to the gate. The woman who advised that said that the water usually didn't rise more than a foot. (Double huh?) We sort of looked around the place and didn't see any river anywhere, and so we couldn't really figure out what she was talking about. But when we woke up this morning, we realized that the place was built in a dry lake bed (so typical of California) and the water was all around us and rising fast. We could still get out on the one side of the trailer without getting into ankle-deep water, but the other side was pretty much solid water. Some of the folks who appeared to be permanent residents of this place were out in the water that was mid-calf on them and putting lawn chairs on the roofs of their cars and pulling their rigs up closer. We didn't waste time with showers--we just hitched up and took off. (We did, however, take time to drink our coffee.) I'm posting a picture of what the place looked like as we were pulling away.

We stopped at a Subway along the way and ran inside through pouring rain, only to have the power go out before we could get our drinks. It stayed on long enough for toasted sandwich rolls (and, of course, long enough to keep the cash register in business), but after that it went out and the drink machine stopped working. They treated us to bottled sodas. Then we moved on down the road about a mile to fill up with diesel only to find the pumps not working. This was the town of Rio Vista which we will always remember for its power outage.

From what we can tell from the forecasts this series of storms is all up and down the west coast. We've stopped here in Lodi to hunker down and let the worst of it pass. We scrapped our plans to go to San Simeon and now are headed to Death Valley. Since we're told the passes are getting feet (plural) of snow, we're going to head down to Bakersfield and then north again to get to Death Valley, thereby avoiding the mountain passes.

Despite the weather, the countryside was very pretty today. We drove through the wine region and saw hundreds of thousands of acres of vineyards (mostly flooded). It seemed as if every home had a wine label and a tasting room, most of them unheard of; but we did see some labels we recognized, including Sutter Creek, Berringer, and some others I can't remember.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ukiah, California

We’re staying in a pretty seedy park tonight, but it does have electricity! This is always a bonus after we’ve been camping without. We enjoyed our time in Redwood NP, but the laundry piled up. We have a small washer/dryer combination—by that I mean, the washer and the dryer are the same. It washes the clothes, then drains the water, then turns into a dryer. This is quite a boon to our traveling since we’ve always traveled without in the past, but the loads must be very small—say, three shirts and some underwear. So, I’m now trying to get at four loads, but we don’t need all of them right now, fortunately.

Today was wet and rainy. It was raining like the big storm that passed through Portland in early December when everything flooded. The park where we’re staying advertised itself as “internet friendly.” I suppose if you have never met a person, then you’re initial reaction would be one of friendliness. Right? So I figure “internet friendly” means, we don’t have internet, so how can we hate it? Okay. Now I know what that means. One must read between the lines at all times. In case I haven’t made myself clear, the park that advertised itself to be “internet friendly” does not have internet. Hm. Okay. I’m beyond that now. I’d feel better about it if there wasn’t a lake next to the front door, but when you’re traveling in a trailer, these things happen.

We aren’t staying here long. It’s just a place to stop before we head into San Francisco tomorrow. We won’t be staying in San Fran, or even doing any sight-seeing there. Those of you who know us well know that we hate cities. San Francisco is on our way to San Simeon. We’ve been traveling south on Hwy 101 (aka the Redwood Highway) for quite some time now—since we got to Winchester Bay. Tomorrow, we will take the turn off for California Hwy 1, which is a scenic byway that takes us through Monterey, Carmel, and Moro Bay. After we’ve done the tours at San Simeon, we will head east toward Death Valley. So, for not having anything to say, I’ve gone on quite enough. Take care all.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove











For a half-hour today, the redwoods replaced Vietnam, the moon, and the bomb as the focus of that vast, powerful thing called The Presidency . . . The event: President Nixon’s combined birthday party for former President Johnson and dedication of a grove to Lady Bird Johnson.” ~Don Carlton, reporter for The Times Standard, August 1969

I was in the 9th grade when those words were written, and I don’t remember when this happened. But there were a number of quotes and pictures of Lady Bird Johnson, whose “First Lady Platform” included highway beautification. To quote her: “Left to exist as it is, in its own seasonal rhythms and cycles, the wild land is truly an incalculable resource.” Lady Bird Johnson from Memories of the Wilderness. Does anybody remember her real name?

We hiked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail this morning. We didn’t think the trees on this trail were any more impressive than the Oregon Coastal Redwoods in terms of their size, but they were impressive by their sheer numbers. We also got a good look at the burls that help them reproduce and some of the hollowed out trees that have been burned repeatedly by fire and continue to live. It was a pleasant, flat, one-mile hike.

On our way there, we noticed some deer in the meadow where we have seen the bull elk. Upon looking further, we noticed that there were elk lying in the meadow so that only their antlers were visible above the brush. Pretty cool! Check out the pictures. It was a unique view of them and I couldn’t resist taking dozens of shots.

Things are going well so far. No mechanical problems and the trailer is very comfortable. We’ve had good fortune with the weather here, which ordinarily is very rainy this time of year. We’ve had sunshine and clouds, but no rain while we’ve been here. Tomorrow we will move on through Eureka and down toward San Francisco. The plan at this point is to follow Hwy 101 down until we reach California Hwy 1 which will take us to San Simeon. We’ve both seen Tour #1 of the Hearst Castle, and we’d like to see the remaining two tours that will take us through the remainder of the structure. I am dying to see the kitchen. We hope all goes well with all of you. Take care.

Prairie Creek State Park






We camped in Prairie Creek State Park, which is a part of Redwood National Park. We’re in the Elk Prairie Campground, which is in the middle of the 50-mile stretch of park. Today we’re wanting to hike in the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, which, according to my book is a photography “hot spot.” Cool! I like that! We chose this campground because we hoped to see some of the Roosevelt Elk that hang around in the meadow. The elk must have gotten the word because there was a greeting team of two when we arrived. Their antlers are in full bloom, and they are magnificent. The elk were completely calm about our arrival and comfortable with the other campers that we can see. Those two ate and ate and ate the grass in the meadow and then laid down for a rest for a couple of hours before moving on. We got our bikes down and rode around a little bit. We ventured into the part of the campground that is closed, figuring it was fine to ride our bikes there. I’m sure it was, but nevertheless, we came upon a really huge elk. I forget how the east and west thing works insofar as counting points on their antlers. This guy had 10 points on his pair. So in the west, I think that makes him a five-point elk, while in the east, he is a 10-point elk. If any of you are hunters, I would appreciate your setting me straight on this. He didn’t seem in any mood to move along so we could ride past, and so we decided to give him the right of way. We went the other direction. Later, he wandered into the meadow where we are camped and I was able to get some pictures of him. All-in-all, we saw five yesterday evening. They are all bulls, however, and we are told that the cows are hanging out some place else. We didn’t see any of them.

The ranger came by and we were able to purchase a couple of bundles of fire wood. Mike gave it a mighty effort getting the fire started. The wood was wet, and we didn’t have any Boy Scout juice to give it a push. We ended up standing next to a smoking, smoldering pile. We figure we got our exercise running laps around the fire pit trying to avoid the smoke. Our eyes were burning, and so we thought the rest of us was warm also. Later, even our eyes were cold, and so we went inside.

We’ve seen some more huge redwoods, a giant sequoia and some more myrtlewood trees. So far, it’s been a very enjoyable stay. I’m not able to get internet access here, and so I’m writing this in a word document to be cut and pasted later along with the elk pictures. Oh yes. I started keeping notes of things I wanted to tell you because I’ve realized that after I sit down here, I get a case of writer’s block. And so the one thing I have written down from yesterday is about the “First Chance Liquor Store” we saw after we crossed the border into California. If you turn around and read the other side of the sign as you are leaving California, it says “Last Chance Liquor Store.” Pretty humorous.
Okay, I must stop here and take the cat for a walk. George got out of the trailer for the first time yesterday, and we had quite a time walking.