Thursday, January 28, 2010

Willow Springs Canyon

The other day we joined a hiking group from one of the local RV parks on a hike through the Goldfield Mountains. I only looked up the name of the mountains because a young (under 50) visitor who came with her snowbird aunt asked everybody what mountain range it was. Now that I finally know the answer, where is she? Anyway the hike began east of Apache Junction at a parking area on the north side of 88, past the town of Goldfield and just past the viewpoint for Weaver's Needle. We all said, "I didn't realize you can see the Needle from this road." Well, you can.

This is where I became confused. The sign at the trailhead said Bulldog Canyon but the Topo map plainly marks it as Willow Springs. Maybe somebody out there knows why, but we confidently headed through the gate along the 4-wheel drive road.

We found this nice little water hole, but luckily we had brought our own.

It looks like somebody went to a lot of trouble erecting this cross.

Quite a bit of the hike consisted of walking down a wash - not my favorite thing, but there were some interesting spots like this one.

But this is why we go with the hiking group. Instead of just coming back out of the canyon the same way, our fearless leader looped up around and over a pass. He and one of the other guys had hiked it the day before and even marked the trail with a bright blue arrow.

The second half of the hike was amazing - this picture doesn't begin to do it justice.

We saw more quartz than we ever did in Quartzsite.

And Ron found a nice place to rest.

It looks like everybody agrees which way to go.

And this is the sight that greeted us once we were over the pass. Unfortunately, everybody was tired by then and probably didn't really appreciate it.
So here's the problem. I really like this group because without them I wouldn't find these trails, but they stop to rest way too often. Although I'm fine as long as I'm moving, my back kills me when we're just standing around and there's not usually a convenient rock to sit on. Especially on the return trip, when they're stopping every five minutes, that's when I'm like a horse wanting to race to the barn.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quartzsite, AZ

On the cover of the Quartzsite Visitor's Guide is the statement, "Quartzsite is not in the middle of nowhere, It's in the center of everywhere." Most of the year, I would argue that statement, but in January, it becomes RVers' Mecca. Ron and I joined 140 of our WIN friends on BLM land north of town. We were some of the thousands who come each year for the Sports, Vacation, and RV Show - scheduled this year from January 16th to 24th. With several swap meets running concurrently, the shopping opportunities are endless. Shockingly, we didn't buy anything. No, wait, Ron bought some socks! I think we've been coming to Quartzsite for too many years.

However our main reason for attending was to visit with friends, some of whom we see only at this gathering. This year I discovered something shocking about myself - I think I've become an introvert! Instead of mingling like a good WIN, I found myself latching on to someone and talking exclusively to that person. Although I was thrilled to catch up with the people I talked to, there were lots of others that I'm sorry I missed. I apologize to all those.

Here is the cover of the RV show program with an aerial view of Quartzsite. You can see the 'Big Tent' on the left, in and around which are all the RV-related vendors. In the foreground are some of the thousands of RVs that park willy-nilly in the desert for this event.

Luckily my birthday is in January and we have an annual tradition involving pizza at Silly Als. I shamelessly stole this picture from Diana's blog, so it might look familiar.

Because of appointments, we left Quartzsite early and are back in Mesa. Last evening we had a torrential downpour and were able to check the drainage around the house. Although the front was fine even with the extended driveway, we had a flood on the back patio. As usual, I missed a good photo op for the blog. Just imagine - Ron out in the pouring rain, creating trenches to channel the rain away from the patio. (Hey! I held the flashlight!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Joshua Tree National Park

I love this park! But then I love all the National Parks. Like I always say, there's a reason why they're national parks. I am fascinated by the other-worldly look of these exotic trees and their ability to grow in arid desert. Although I used to believe they lived thousands of years, it's actually hundreds. The oldest tree in the park is 40 feet tall and believed to be about 300 years old. After the first few years, they only grow 1/2 to 1 inch a year.

We stayed at one of the beautiful campgrounds inside the park - just look at this site!

Although Joshua trees can be found outside the park, I believe this is the only place where you can see forests of them. Of course, like us, they do require their own personal space.

We drove up to Keys View from where we could see Signal Mountain - 95 miles away and near the Mexican border. But what impressed me was the San Andreas fault - the dark line across the middle of the picture. Trust me, it looks better in person, but go in the morning instead of afternoon like we did.

We did a couple of short nature trails like this one through Hidden Valley. No Joshua trees, but lots of rocks.

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."

We also took the ranger-led tour of the Desert Queen Ranch - an amazing story of adaptation and survival in the desert. Bill Keys originally came to this area to work at the Desert Queen Mine. After the owner's death, he accepted the mine in lieu of back wages. In 1917, he filed on an 80 acre homestead under the Homestead Act and began to build a ranch.

Soon he married Frances Lawton and they became one of the few successful homesteader families in the area.

Here is their house which you can see was added to over the years. They had seven children, two of whom died soon after birth, and one who died tragically from an accident.

Now you might wonder how Bill was so successful and where the heck all the wood and tin came from for the buildings. The answers are one and the same - he was a scavenger. When the local mines closed, he and the family would gather all the usable material and bring it home.

Bill lived at the ranch for most of the years between 1917 and his death in 1969. In that time, he accumulated what can only be called a junk yard.

My favorite was this Mack truck with the solid rubber tires. You can even see the Mack name on the back.

It is quite an organized junk yard though. For instance, this is the appliance section.

When local critters were killing his chickens, he adapted a car body as a chicken coop.

There was even a schoolhouse in the later years - there were other homesteaders in the area, just none as successful as the Keys.

The Desert Queen Ranch tour and hearing about the Keys family history is something special and worth the extra effort to experience. They not only survived, but thrived in this harsh environment. Our ranger Claudia gave one of the best tours I have ever experienced.

We had gorgeous weather for our January visit, but I understand it was unusually warm, so maybe spring and fall would be more reliable. Claudia said they had 13 inches of snow last winter. Yikes! I was there in the spring once and the wildflowers were gorgeous. This trip the vegetation was a bit bare, but still pretty.

We also did the hike to Barker Dam. Hey! Water in the desert!

Ron snapped this of me in front of a Joshua Tree with lots of character. I'm not sure what was going on with the clouds here.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

FMCA Rally

We're finishing up our stay in Indio, CA, attending the 22nd Annual Western Area Rally of FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association.) Although I couldn't join this RV club when I was trailer trash, since I moved in with Ron, I am now considered acceptable.

These rallys have one huge problem for me - the rigs are packed in like sardines.

Here we were actually nose to nose. This upset me for two reasons. 1 - If one of those RVs caught on fire (which is more common than you might think), there is no way they could clear the area. Super scary. And 2 - We were in the no hookup area where the generator hours are 7am to 10pm. I swear all our neighbors turned on their generators at 7am and ran them for several hours, then again at 5pm until 10pm. Geez! Not only did the noise cause our RV to vibrate, but the fumes! Even with all our windows shut, I'm sure we were breathing bad stuff for four days.

But other than that (and I know I'm in the minority with my complaint), the rally was very nice. The activities (morning coffee and donuts, ice cream social), entertainment (professional acts each evening), vendors, seminars, and volunteers doing a million and one things were all incredibly well organized. Most of the seminars were given by somebody selling something, but usually they were still informative and/or entertaining. There was only one that I walked out of. Hey, I'm an adult, I don't have to sit there listening to a guy who didn't even bother to organize a talk, but just announced what and where his company was and then asked if anybody had any questions.

I don't have many shots, but a few things did beg to be photographed.

Like this Aladin who seems to be sitting on top of an RV. You can see his magic lamp off to the right. (He was actually on a small stucture behind the rig.)

There were plenty of new and used coaches to admire, but my favorite was this Bluebird Wanderlodge from 1988. A true RV classic.

I couldn't believe all the gauges - it looked like a 747!

It was obviously top-of-the-line in its day.

The individual FMCA chapters (think fraternities on wheels) put on an impressive parade with a Silver Screen theme.

I loved the Wicked Witch of the West on a scooter.

Mammy from Gone with the Wind seems to have had some work done.

Popeye and Olive Oil made an appearance.

The costume looks great, but does anybody know who the heck this is?

Even Marlon Brando made an appearance.

But really, where did Captain Hook find this Tinkerbell - she's way too young for this group.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Acquisitions

The excitement never ends! I know it's shallow to get excited about 'things', but I am so excited about our new acquisitions. I know you just can't wait to hear about them, so here goes.

First, the conundrum - when we arrived at the house in November, I was puzzled that all the non-perishable food from the RV didn't fit in the kitchen cabinets in the house. I realized I needed a pantry! Of course, this created more work for Ron. It's a good thing he enjoys having projects.

The world's rarest sight - a man who reads the directions!

He really gets into his work.

Voila! Instant storage space!

Funny story - The cabinet came with four shelves but, as you can see, there are five in the finished product. It was my proudest moment when Ron, who had never stepped into a thrift store before he met me, presented me with a shelf he had found in Goodwill.

For our second project, we widened the driveway. The Homeowners Association has a rule against parking vehicles on what they laughingly refer to as the lawn. In Arizona, we have stones. With two vehicles, we were doing a lot of juggling.

So we raked away all the stones, dug out four inches of dirt, and created a berm off to the side with the extra dirt. I say 'we' and I did help. Really! Well, alright, I helped a little.

Ron added some rebar for strength utilizing supports that he created out of PVC.

We hired a concrete service company to do the actual pouring and finishing. I missed the dramatic pouring, but the guys did a great job with the finishing.

After they left, Ron was right out there replacing the dirt and stones since we were leaving in the RV for two weeks the next day. (More on that later.)

It was almost an irresistible impulse to write our initials in the finished product. I was thinking 'R&B' inside a tasteful heart, but I restrained myself.

As we said goodbye to Joe across the street this morning, we told him to shoot anybody who got too close to the new concrete.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 Year in Review

In 2009, we ended our fulltime RVing lifestyle and bought a small winter home. But we still did plenty of traveling.

We had a couple of major criteria for our house - Ron wanted to be able to park the RV in the yard and I wanted to be in an over-55 community.  We found one that suited us both.

Although Ron now had many, many projects, we still found time to do some hiking with a local hiking group.

But by mid-May we turned off the inside water, locked up the house and were out of there.  After a short stop in Show Low and some pie in Pie Town, New Mexico, we joined some WINs at a couple of NM state parks.

They were taking advantage of New Mexico's annual state parks pass, but we had other plans.  Soon we were back on the road heading east.  In Texas, we stopped at pretty Palo Duro Canyon.

We whipped through Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee, with a stop at one of my favorite tourist attractions, Mud Island.  Located in the Mississippi River next to Memphis, Mud Island has a half-mile long topo map of the Mississippi.  The scale is 30 inches to the mile with a vertical scale of 1 inch to 8 feet.  So cool.

The reason for our unusual speed was twofold.  First we were meeting the group of WINs who were traveling Tennessee and Kentucky.  We caught up with them at Land Between the Lakes on the border of the two states.

The second reason for our hurry was Ron's family reunion which was being held outside of Atlanta.  We left the RV in LBTL under the watchful eyes of our friends and drove to Georgia where I left him and continued on to Florida to see my girls.

Once we finished visiting with our respective families, we enjoyed traveling awhile with the WINs. In Bowling Green, we toured the Corvette factory, and Mammoth Caves.

And took a boat ride through Lost River Cave.

While staying near Louisville, we took a river boat ride,

And rode go carts (something I've always wanted to do,)

We invaded the Kentucky Capitol building in Frankfort.

We had a lot of fun with our friends, but soon took off on our own.  In Virginia, we visited Jefferson's Monticello.

And hiked a bit of the Appalachian Trail along Skyline Drive.

After a nice visit with my father in Pennsylvania, we started back west.  I had always wanted to see Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural wonder Fallingwater in western PA.

In Indiana, we toured Fair Oaks Farm, home to 30,000 cows.  I was fascinated by the turntable that milked 72 cows simultaneously while giving them a free ride.

And the Indiana Dunes National Seashore was very interesting.

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore at the northern tip of Wisconsin was a new place for me.  We enjoyed a boat tour and rode our bikes around the largest island.

And you can't drive through North Dakota without stopping at the International Peace Garden.  Here I'm standing on the border between Canada and the United States which divides the garden and the towers in the distance.

Of course the other must-see place in North Dakota is Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

My favorite hike there is the Caprock Coulee Trail with these cool formations.

Also in North Dakota, we saw what might be the most amazing roadside attraction anywhere.  South on exit 72 off I 94 is a series of wonderful scrap metal sculptures along a 32-mile stretch of road.  This jaw-dropping creation is Fisherman's dream.  The 70-foot rainbow trout is surrounded by other 30-foot fish and plants.  It's just one of the many mind-boggling sculptures along the Enchanted Highway.

By mid-September we were in the Denver area where we visited with Ron's daughter and family and took my favorite hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The trail to Emerald Lake passes pretty Dream Lake.

Continuing west, we spent a few days with a group of WINs in Moab.

Then moved on to explore Goblin Valley,

And Wild Horse Canyon . . .

Before moving to Lake Powell to greet another group of WINs as they returned from their houseboat trip.  (Alright some of this group might be the same as in the previous one.)

We stopped at Capitol Reef National Park with Diana and Phil.  Phil was kind enough to drive us to Cathedral Valley in the northern section of the park, where a four-wheel drive vehicle is almost a necessity.  These rock formations are the Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon.

I thought this was the best looking 'cathedral' in Cathedral Valley.

The four of us hiked the six-mile round trip to pretty Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante NM.

And being so close, we just had to stop at Bryce Canyon NP with its magnificent hoodoos.

Then it was on to Boulder Beach CG in Lake Mead NRA where there were so many WINs that some of them put on a murder mystery for the rest of us.  How fun!

We enjoyed a visit to Red Rock Canyon just west of Las Vegas.

We arrived back home in Mesa in early November to find the house had survived six months without us.

Then we finished out the year by flying to Denver to spend Christmas with Ron's family.