The Sonoran Desert
03 March 2018 | Tucson, AZ
A lush garden of greenery fills the landscape, punctuated by the tall spires of saguaro cactus, as they stretch toward the pale blue morning sky. Standing there as sentinels, they preside over their vast domain of creosote bushes, cholla, nopales, brown grasses, and palo verde trees. As if a mad party-balloon twister has made his rounds, arms protrude at strange angles, posing in a Dali-esque fashion. One can see faces with crooked eyes, offset ears, bulbous noses on the opposite side. Chainfruit chollas dangle their little bulbs, ready to provide a meal to a winged creature. A red-headed woodpecker is resting upon our awning tie-down, contemplating his next move. Spines and barbs are everywhere, providing a quick reminder to wear long pants and not to stray off the marked path.
We are in the Sonoran Desert, which stretches from the eastern slopes of Baja California to the better part of Southern Arizona and Northwestern Mexico. This is considered to be springtime, though our friends in central and eastern US may wish to differ.
We have been on the road for five days, starting from Lake Perris, CA. Our first night in Agua Caliente Springs, near Julian, CA, allowed us to acclimate to being on the road again, rewarding us with a dip in the hot springs pool. Crossing into Yuma, AZ, we took advantage of fuel prices being close to a dollar cheaper than in California, saving at least $75 on fillups for the diesel and the Jeep. Making our way to Painted Rock Petroglyph site, we settled in for a night of rain showers, which made a very comforting pattering sound on the roof. A brilliant sunset was followed the next morning by a tour of the petroglyph site. The patterns and swirls created over 10,000 years ago were interesting to behold, but their meanings are, as yet, uninterpreted. Call it what you wish, but it was 10,000 years old graffiti.
Diverting south, we stayed at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. An amazing full moon greeted us, as well as beautiful sunrises, silhouetted by the organ pipe and saguaro cacti, as we took advantage of walking a 1 mile perimeter trail each morning and evening. A desert drive in the Jeep gave an even better view of the flora and fauna, with a rest stop at an abandoned corral, and a short foray into Sonoyta, Mexico, where we purchased some fresh asparagus and strawberries.
We are now in Tucson Mountain Park, where we will stay for a few days. Plans? Visit family and friends, tour the aircraft boneyard, visit the Pima air and Space Museum, do some target shooting at the pistol range, visit Saguaro National Park, drink a few margaritas, and check out some of the restaurants.
Next stop...Tombstone, AZ.
06 February 2018 | Lake Perris, CA
Today is the 6th of February. In just twenty days, we will raise the jacks, disconnect the hoses, and fire up the diesel engine. We are about to traverse the country again in our quest to complete The Great Loop. We have our reservations for Gloucester, VA, where we will stay while we prepare the boat for another 4000 miles of voyaging. We also will attend the AGLCA Spring Rendezvous in Norfolk, VA, at the end of April. A campsite has been reserved for that, as well, at the very location where the English first landed in 1607. How I love historical places.
Preparations have been underway for a while. Amazon has been busy delivering shipments of oil filters, fuel filters, pumps, tools, and miscellaneous other parts and supplies for the boat. A new 55LB Rocna anchor was purchased, which we will now have to carry with us all the way across the country. Why not just buy such a large object when we get there? Let's just say that it was a great deal that I found on Offer-Up, and it could not be passed up.
The motorhome has been crawled under, checking for fluid levels, leaks, tire pressures, and anything else that may be amiss. Things look okay, but one can never tell for sure. As Captain Ron says, "If anything's gonna happen, it'll happen out there".
We will travel across the southernmost roads, trying to keep Winter at bay. And we are not rushing to get there, either. We are planning to visit the Petroglyphs and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monuments in Arizona, as well as a guided tour of the aircraft boneyard in Tuscon. A day (or two) trip across the border awaits us from New Mexico, a family visit in Dallas, and a visit to the Johnson Space Center are in store. We will take a little over 30 days to reach our destination in Deltaville, VA.
Once we arrive, we will be quite busy with checking out the boat systems, de-winterizing, cleaning, changing fluids, installing solar panels, fabricating kayak mounts, setting up electronics, and painting the bottom. After all is done, we need to attend the Rendezvous, and then find a place to store the RV and the Jeep. That will be followed with another round of winterizing, after which we must find a way back to the boat, launch her, and get underway.
Assuming all goes well in April, we should be underway by the second week of May, working our way up the Chesapeake Bay. A trip up the Potomac to visit Washington is planned, followed by Annapolis and Baltimore. Hopefully, we will have time to visit Tangier Island and the Eastern Shore before we pass through the C&D Canal. Delaware Bay, Cape May, and New York are next, followed by a trip up the Hudson River, and Lake Champlain. The general plan will have us in Canada around July 1, and Chicago by September 7. But lets see how March and April go first.
It has been a great year and a half, hanging around California and Reno. Summer at Lake Tahoe was great, and Winter at Lake Perris has been quite mild. Family has been close by at both locations, and we will miss them. But it is time for our boot heels (boat shoes?) to be wandering.
04 October 2017 | Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA
We have been keeping this blog for close to four years. While it was mainly intended to document our journeys, one's mind is occasionally sparked by a current or cultural event, an awe-inspiring sight, a profound thought, and sometimes, sheer boredom. Our travels have taken us over many miles of asphalt blacktop, dust-covered trails, grassy meadows, narrow canals, and wide open stretches of rivers, bays, and ocean. While we have often been asked what we liked best, and finding that answer to be a difficult one, we are also at a loss to identify that which we liked least. It has all been wonderful, though a point comes where one must just stop, if just for a little while.
A summer in Lake Tahoe was a fine respite from our travels. Staying in one place for more than four days was an adventure in itself. We volunteered our time to help manage a state park and campground, and it covered our rent and utilities as well. We worked with wonderful people, met new friends, and were surrounded by the beauty of the forest. We learned more about nature, and were able to enjoy our surroundings. But seasons change, and the time came to move on to our next adventure. The long-planned boat trip will continue in the Spring, which is rapidly approaching. But Winter will find us in another campground volunteer position in Southern California.
After a detour to Reno to say farewell to our son, US395 beckoned south. A first night in Sonora Pass yielded a beautiful campsite with breathtaking scenery, and a morning temperature of 19 degrees. We got out just in time as the pass was closed for the winter two days later. June Lake followed with another nice site visited by scores of white-tailed deer. It snowed enough to dust the sagebrush and give everything a clean, wintry look. Today, in Lone Pine, we are camped in a BLM area that has been, and still is used as a movie set for hundreds of tv and movie westerns and adventure movies. The road that winds through the area is named Movie Road. John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, Bonanza, and many of the singing cowboy movies were shot here. Today, it is quiet, as dispersed campsites are scattered about across the valley floor. RVs and tents are hidden behind rock outcroppings, only visible when approached from a short distance. There is no sound, except for the occasional gust of wind. It doesn't seem right to play any music here, though some country guitar might be ok. A ground wasp is meandering across the sand, each pebble looming like a boulder in its path. A lizard scurries over a nearby rock, enjoying the warmth before the frigid night sets in. The eastern skies are a brilliant shade of blue, while to the West, the Sierra Range surrounding Mt. Whitney is surrounded by a haze. Someone said it was smog, but cloud vapor sounds better.
The batteries are charging in the sun. We have water, propane, and a half bottle of Gentleman Jack. The sun will set in a few hours, and it will be cold, though nothing like the past few nights. A waxing gibbous moon should illuminate the valley floor quite nicely tonight. Where will the road take us tomorrow? Perhaps the Mojave desert will have another adventure awaiting us.
01 September 2017 | Sierra Nevada
What an amazing and busy month August has been. Dee was in SoCal for a few weeks, tending to a family illness. It gave her a good opportunity to help out and keep things moving, especially with back-to-school, scouts, dance lessons, and general household issues. Keith's cousin and her husband came up to camp for a couple of days. As we sat at the picnic table one evening and discussed the possibility of being visited by bears, we were alerted by other campers that a large bear was right behind us. Excitement followed, as the bear was pretty insistent about a bag of bread that he snatched from another site. He was not going to leave until he ate every last bite. More anxiety was shared as he then took a leisurely stroll through the campground, fully asserting himself as the one "in-charge" of things, until he finally got bored of the game, and took off into the night. Dee got some good photos, and we realized that this bear was a relative newcomer. Apparently, he had heard about the fine dining here.
Angela's in-laws also camped for a couple of nights before going down to Reno for Hot August Nights. We all had the opportunity to join Aaron and his fiancé KT in Reno for BBQ dinner and to celebrate Keith's birthday. It was nice to have most of the family together for a little while, at least. While Dee was down south, Keith had to work the campground checks on his own. Things went smoothly except for one night of dealing with drunken and aggressive campers who were intimidating other campers. After a few tense moments they finally retreated to their site, soon to be visited by two ranger patrol vehicles. They were ejected, but had to sleep it off first.
When Dee returned, we went to Gold Country-Coloma, CA for a day of whitewater rafting on the American River South Fork. This was right across from Sutter's Mill, where the first gold nugget was discovered in 1849. Rafting was great, and only one person fell out of the raft. That of course, was Keith. The day was invigorating and tiring, but at the end, we still needed to drive 100 miles plus back to Lake Tahoe. On the way, we passed our favorite camping and 4-wheeling area at Indian Springs, where we had gone almost every year for close to twenty years. Out of curiosity to see how things had fared through the tough winter, we turned off the I-80, and spent the next three hours driving rugged trails and poking around an abandoned "glamping" resort. Beat-up, waterlogged, and sun-baked, we finally got "home" and immediately went to bed.
Two days later, we were in the Jeep and on the trail again, as we clawed our way up Blackwood Canyon, over Barker Pass, and into Desolation Wilderness. After a fine picnic lunch in the forest, we continued through stream beds, thick brush, and up a rocky hill that surely put dents in the underside. Having to pile up rocks and be spotted, we did make the climb unassisted, though some teeth fillings must have loosened as we bottomed out several times. We were anticipating meeting up with the Rubicon Trail at some point that would still be manageable with our stock Jeep. We did, though we did not recognize the terrain features that had just been visited in early July. Everything then was wet with snow still present, but six weeks later, it looked completely different, dry and dusty. We got back safely, and had just a little time to get up to Squaw Valley to meet Aaron and his friends for a free concert with members of Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, and some other groups. The music was loud, yet mediocre, but we had a good time anyway.
Dee flew to SoCal again, and Keith stayed in Reno, at the Grand Sierra Resort, where he and Aaron saw Yes in concert. It was a good show, though it is sad that the members of Yes could not get along enough to play together, and are now touring as two separate Yes groups. Keith remarked that it is tough seeing the band aging and the audience wearing worn out concert tees, with white hair, thick glasses, and canes.
It is September 1st, and the campground will be completely full this weekend, as Summer draws to a close. (Keith doesn't like to acknowledge the end of Summer until late November.) Cars, campers, fifth-wheels, and coaches are rolling in. People are riding bicycles everywhere and in every direction. It is Friday, and there are sure to be some who feel they are owed a good weekend, and will kickstart that with a bottle of Jack Daniels or a case of beer. The rangers will busy tonight. Perhaps a bear will come along and scare someone sober.
27 August 2017 | Sugar Pine Point, Tahoma, CA Lake Tahoe
Sunny, cloudy, thunderstorms
"The ancient Greeks thought of the constellation Canis Major as a dog chasing Lepus, the hare. The star Sirius is the dog’s nose; the Greeks called it the “dog star.” To the Greeks and Romans, the “dog days” occurred around the day when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever, or even catastrophe." - National Geographic
Most people thought it meant the weather was too hot for a dog to do anything but sleep. That is plausible, however dogs seem to always sleep no matter what the time of year. It is hot in the valleys below. Reno just had its first below 100 degree day since The beginning of June. Sacramento has been egg-on-sidewalk hot. But here, at Lake Tahoe, the temperature has rarely exceeded 85, and it has averaged 75 over the past month. Things are cooling down. Days are getting shorter, nights are getting longer and colder.
One can tell that Summer is winding down. The campground crowds are easing. Fewer groups are renting, more single-nighters are on a first come, first served basis. The retail firewood supply is turning green, meaning that this year's crop of seasoned firewood is dwindling. That is obvious from the smoky fires that choke the campground at night and in the morning. The squirrels and chipmunks are getting fatter as they bulk up for the winter weather. The birds of prey are getting larger as they feast on fat chipmunks.
The bears have become emboldened, strolling through campsites at their leisure, searching for unattended delicacies that have been carelessly left out. They move from site to site, sniffing and probing, thumping the top of a bear box to see if the latch was left ajar. Keith refers to it as "window shopping". We've observed them with bread, marshmallows, and bags of trash. They seem to really be attracted when the s'mores are roasting. They eventually move on after scaring the campers. Many campers have left early out of fear or anxiety. They may be overreacting, as the bears are just doing what they do, given the circumstances.
It is now mid-August, and the quiet and peace of the sparsely populated campground is welcome after a very busy July. It is a joy to drive our little cart around in the morning and watch the place awaken. The smell of bacon and brewed coffee is intoxicating. Stopping the engine to walk around checking vacated sites, one can hear the whistle of a teapot or the chopping of kindling for the morning fire. Children are riding bicycles, still wearing their pajamas. Someone is filling their pot at the faucet; another is washing dishes or brushing teeth as they prepare for a busy day at the Lake, or the Truckee River. Perhaps a day of bike riding is planned, or hiking, or shopping. Some just hang out in their camp, reading, listening to audiobooks, or just swinging in the hammock. It's an idyllic time. Of course, Labor Day arrives in a couple of weeks, as families, church groups, and city dwellers will inundate us for their "last hurrah".
A Little Solitude
03 August 2017 | Bear Valley Campground, Sierraville, CA
We are having a fabulous summer at Lake Tahoe. The skies are blue and the temperatures range between 55 and 85. Surrounded by evergreen trees, squirrels, chipmunks, and black bears are our constant companions. We go kayaking, paddle boarding, bicycling, hiking, motorcycling, Jeep trailing, and night sky gazing. Our rent is free and our utilities are free as well.
So, what's the catch? We are living and working in a hotel. Yes, it is a campground, but guests come and go on a daily basis. They check in, get settled, then go out to play in their vacation paradise. They come back in the evening, eat dinner, sit around the campfire, and then go to sleep. The routine repeats itself for two to seven days, and then they are gone, only to be replaced by the next incoming guests. Some stay for only one night. Others stay for two weeks. We have happy campers and we have unhappy campers. We have church groups who have rented out the entire loop with over 600 campers. And we have overnighters who sleep in the beds of their pickup trucks. As hosts, we tour 175 sites, three times per day. Service with a smile and a wave of a hand, we check occupancy, sell firewood, provide information, remind kids to wear helmets, listen to complaints and accolades, issue notices of non-compliance, and take reports of bear sightings. The hours are okay, about six hours per day, three days on, three off. We meet wonderful people from all places. We hear their stories and they hear ours. We have been invited into campsites to share food and camaraderie. Our co-hosts, park aides, and rangers have been very friendly and compatible.
After two months of smoky campfires, screaming children, rumbling exhausts, droning generators, clanging dumpster lids, foreign tongues, church group singing, car alarms, and Lake Tahoe traffic and population, we were ready for a break. We purchased our first RV over three years ago, more out of necessity than desire, as we knew our plans would require such. Having always been tent campers, that was as traumatic as when we switched from a sailboat to a diesel trawler. But we missed tent camping greatly, and after more than three years of stewing about it, we decided that it would be okay to depart from the "mothership" occasionally. So we went out last week and increased the stock value of Coleman by purchasing a new tent, sleeping bags, cooler, and air bed. Packing the Jeep with our new treasures, plus our older Coleman stove, and our Coleman chairs (our Coleman lantern fell from its hanger last week and broke), we set out to find a little solitude.
And find it we did! Less than an hour's drive away, we found Bear Valley Campground, in Tahoe National Forest. With only ten campsites, it has water, toilets, tables, and best of all, it's free! Six miles from the main road, there is no traffic noise. As we arrived on a Sunday, there were only two other camps here, and they were gone before dark. We have the place to ourselves. No internet, cellular, or power. We left the music at home. We have books to read, birds to listen to, and colored pencils and paper. No smoky fires, no voices, no traffic. It was almost difficult the first night, but I believe we are unwinding now. Guiness is pleased with her 80ft run line, which allows her to chase squirrels over a greater area.
Today, we drove the OHV Loop, which we thought would be only 7 miles, but after 6 hours of rocky trails and steep hill climbs and descents, we had covered 12 1/2 miles, and were pretty tired, so we took an exit spur. Unlike the endless switchbacks that had led us up the mountain, it was more like an escape chute, as it took us almost straight downhill, through narrow, rutted gullies. The Jeep took it well, with a few minor scratches and plenty of mud, though one tire now has a nick in the sidewall.
Back in our camp recuperating from the jostling and bouncing, we are watching the sun, glass of wine in hand, as it gently sets into the western ridge line. There is still no one else in the campground, which seems odd for the last day of July. But that is fine with us. We have not seen another vehicle since just before dawn. I guess that is solitude.
It is our second morning. Coffee is made, followed by cereal and milk. Guiness is chasing a rubber ball around as the birds watch and sing their praises of the new day. Standing in a far corner of our site dedicated to teeth brushing, one cannot help but marvel at the vista laid out before us. Stands of new growth from a 1994 fire cover the valley, as it curves up gently in the distance to meet the rugged mountain ridge. The azure sky is punctuated by small cloud formations. A lone bicyclist has stopped in our campground for a short respite. I suppose we'll allow him to stay awhile. After all, this is OUR campground.
Another Jeep trail took us to the North shore of Stampede Lake. There, we had another great picnic lunch, as we sat by the water's edge, listening to the distant ski boats as they towed their wakeboarders around on the calm surface. Guiness had free reign, chasing bugs and butterflies about, and cooling off by lying in the moist soil. How is that we lived in Northern California for twenty years, traveled to Lake Tahoe to ski, drove back and forth to Reno so many times, and yet we did not know about this place? Our theory has been that the universe works on an on-demand policy. The places we've been to in our travels don't exist in real time. Rather, they appear when we arrive. They are ours for the time, but when we go, they go. Books, pictures, movies are but images of places and things that exist only for the moment. It's kind of like the Holodeck on the Starship Enterprise.
Back at our camp, it is now night. The glow on the horizon is rapidly diminishing, and the first star has appeared. The half-moon is bright, causing shadows to be cast On the ground. Candles on the table, the bear box, and the fireplace punctuate the darkness. It is extremely quiet. No camping neighbors for a third night. No voices. No music. No cars. No children. That's solitude...