Friday, May 12, 2017

Joshua Tree, finally!

If you're reading this in email, please click on the headline for a more pleasing look. Thanks for visiting!
A beavertail cactus in Joshua Tree National Park bursting with fluorescent blooms
We've enjoyed tromping around the Southwest in recent years, but somehow Joshua Tree NP has eluded us. It's too far out of the way; we've run out of time; I have a headache; PK's socks don't match, or some such lame excuse. Earlier this spring we vowed to get there. It was mostly good.

Good: awesome jumbled jumbo rocks, blooming Joshua trees, cacti and other desert plants  exploding with color,  two distinct desert zones, excellent hiking. Joshua Tree is small enough to see most of the park in two and a half days. The campgrounds looked great.

Not so good:  too many people due to spring break; had to camp 14 miles from the park. 

A Joshua Tree blooming, which isn't an every-year occurrence. But when they do bloom it is usually, according the Desert Sun newspaper, "universal, synchronized and spectacular." We got lucky! We saw hundreds in bloom. The flowers are major exhibitionists, but what do you expect from something that shows up only once in a while? The trees had fierce competition from eager plants of all shapes and sizes showing off their spring colors.



  The ringed sun behind a dead juniper wasn't evident when I shot
   this photo along the Wonderland of Rocks trail in Joshua Tree NP.        
        

But back to the good/bad stuff. We'd failed to factor in how close the NP is to millions of Southern Californians, who, if they can tear themselves away from six-lane highways and movie-star sightings, just might be on spring break when we planned to visit. And lo, it came to pass. Legions of spring breakers did indeed descend on the park and snapped up all the camp sites.

It was actually grand to see families with giddy young children, college students rock climbing in  short shorts, and probably planning the night's parties at the same time, and even grandmas and grandpas with retractable hiking sticks and big floppy sun hats. Like PK and me.
Flowers, flowers all around. Which are the lovliest on the ground? 

We entered the park at a seriously inopportune time of day to find a campsite - around 3 p.m., even if it was Tuesday, a day when crowds are not usually a given. But spring break in California?! Given!

Cars and campers were lined up 20 deep in mid-afternoon to enter the park, and the visitors' center was jammed. Disappointed camping wannabes were lined up at the counter to inquire about camping outside the park. Eeek.

We ended up at the Joshua Tree Lake (ha ha ) RV park about 14 miles from both of the park's two northern entrances. Staying at the ha-ha lake (yes, a hyped-up pond) didn't ruin our enjoyment, but neither did it enhance. Extra driving is not something you want when attempting to wring maximum enjoyment from a national park. Plus, the RV park costs $35 a night and the national park, if you're old enough, is around $10. 
 
A prickly pear cactus looking good even without spring color.
The sky has the clotted-yet-striated cloud thing going on. 

The agave's bloom looks similar to
the Joshua Tree's.


Despite our camping woes, we were fortunate to enjoy great hiking thanks to recommendations from friends who'd recently visited the park and also one who treasures it as a lifetime favorite, an LA woman. (Let's hear it for Jim Morrison!) Joshua Tree was her playground. She loves the Jumbo Rocks campground, and if we're ever there again, we'll try to score a site. 

We started hiking the day we arrived, but not until after we drove 28 miles out and back to find a commercial RV park. As for boondocking in the park - no. Signs all over the place prohibited overnight parking. Outside the park didn't look that good, either.

Let's go hiking!
The hike up Ryan Mountain came highly recommended. Although it was only 3 miles round trip, it was steep, a 1,050 ft. elevation gain over 1.5 miles. I was glad we didn't start until 4:30 p.m., when the parking lot wasn't jammed, as it was when we drove past earlier.  It was also cooler, and with a slight breeze, panting up to 5,457 ft summit was doable. The summit featured a walk around where we were supposed to be able to see forever and ever, but alas, it was cloudy and hazy. Still we enjoyed. As we did all the shorter hikes we took the next couple of days. 

PK checks out a typical Joshua Tree rock formation a short distance up the Ryan Mountain trail. The trail is made partially from surrounding rocks placed to make steps.
View of the surreal rock formations from Ryan Mountain trail. 
The rock formations look better from ground level. See the elephant?
Prehistoric looking ocotillos
I'm always a sucker for back-lit cholla. These are in the south end of the park.
 Spunky barrel cactus, watermelon size, cozy between a
rock and a hard place.
Next up - A quick break from SW road trip 2017 to bring you
The Day the FBI Came Calling

Previous post about our latest road trip


Friday, May 5, 2017

Start it up! - SW Road Trip Spring 2017



Lenticular clouds shifted and slithered for hours entertaining us in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, CA, early on our spring 2017 road trip. More photos below.

We're back from five weeks touring the Southwest and Texas, and, as usual, I have way too many photos and stories. I rarely have time to blog while traveling in our small  Roadtrek van, but I attempt to jot down a daily account of trip highlights. I'm looking at it now, and deciding how to start. How about at the beginning?

The real beginning, of course, is a belief that life is short and we need to forget about amassing material treasures and instead gather treasured moments while we're able. Travel is one way to become a collector of experiences, and it is good.

In mid-March we drove from our southern Oregon home to Beatty, NV stopping a couple nights in Reno to admire the grandchildren. We need a grandkid fix every couple months so their adorable selves don't disappear, in our absence, into children we hardly know, and who don't know us. Most of our road trips involve a night or two with them, coming or going. Ok. Just one photo. 

 Noah and Hadley sharing a secret. She may be asking him if he has bacon to share. 


The Actual Trip

Beatty, NV on Hwy 95 is a gateway to Death Valley, and as such, has developed a quirky character. It's good to spend a night there, or nearby, if only to get an early start into the park, the entrance to which is just 32 miles west. Early morning light in Death Valley is not to be missed. Get up early!

During a road trip to the Southwest in 2007, we stopped at Rhyolite, a ghost town just a few miles outside Beatty en route to Death Valley.  It's well worth your time. We stopped again this year, for old time's sake, to discover that it's even better now. Something important we've learned after thousands of road miles; it isn't just the national parks and famous attractions that make traveling edifying....it's also Rhyolite and other roadside oddities, small surprises that you often enjoy in blissful solitude, as we did in Rhyolite, or a sparse crowd, as in the Alabama Hills. (Coming right up!)

These ghostly Last Supper sculptures in Rhyolite are eerie and evocative. 
Rhyolite sculptures appear to gang up on our van. Also at Rhyolite: a house made from glass bottles, a colorful stone mosaic sofa, and a huge labyrinth. 
The sofa had been brightened up since we last saw it.
We've explored Death Valley several times, including during the 2016 Super Bloom (many photos) so  we put on blinders and drove through. Without the blinders, the park's beauty may have sucked us in again. But we had other plans.

Climbing out of Death Valley over the Panamint Mountains into California, however, we stopped for a quick hike at a place we'd missed on earlier trips, Father Crowley Point Overlook. Surprise!
These photographers, plus a few more, were clearly waiting, but for what?  They seemed pleased at our interest, even offering us a cold beer, and told breathless tales about having seen fighter jets fly through the canyon below them several times, including earlier this same day. Once was not enough; these guys were hoping for a rare appearance by the Blue Angels. We hung around for an hour or so before our need to find a camp near Lone Pine, CA, became greater than our desire to see screaming fast jets make impossibly tight turns through the narrow canyon.
Imagine fighter jets flying below this canyon's rim. According to the photographers, they do so almost daily. Check it out, should you find yourself at Father Crowley Point.


Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA

Just outside Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills rest in the glory of their movie days —at least 150 films or TV productions since the 1920s—while most travelers scoot by on the ultra scenic Hwy. 395, not knowing what they're missing. Alabama Hills, managed by the BLM, is a jumble of impressive  puffy-looking rocks and formations with the Sierra Nevadas, including Mt. Whitney, as a backdrop. 

Sunrise as seen from our dispersed campsite in the Alabama Hills. The Sierra Nevada Mountains glow in the early light, including Mt. Whitney, with the Hills in the foreground. We didn't arrive until after 3 p.m. the previous day, and had to hunt for a camp. Not bad, since it was spring break. There an official campground, where we stayed on an earlier road trip, before we learned that we could just drive around and camp any place that wasn't blocked to preserve vegetation. I don't think there's a boring view in the Hills. A person could spend a few days exploring on foot, including a loop trail to a famous arch. This place is a gem. 

Photography bonanza

Since our trip to Africa in 2013,  during which my best travel day ever occurred, I've come to see the world through a camera lens. I don't think of photography as missing out on the moment, but an opportunity to see more closely, more clearly, to be more aware of how landscapes and people intersect, and how light, color and form create magic. The light on the mountains in the panoramic photo above lasted a minute or two, max. I caught this view shortly after I awakened in the van and peeked out of my mountainside window. The sky was pink! The mountains were golden!

I threw on pants and a jacket, leapt from the van, snapped the photo above and a couple more, then RAN to the nearby Mobious Arch, maybe a quarter mile away, the object of which was to frame the sunrise on the mountains through the window of the arch. I was carrying my Lumix Panasonic camera, which I purchased for that fabulous trip to Africa, but I mostly used an iPhone7Plus. Except for telephoto shots, I now prefer the phone to the Lumix.
I documented our location on the Earth before charging toward the Mobius Arch. The light had already changed. Still good, but lacked the glow present just a minute earlier.
By the time I got to the arch, the pink sky and golden light on the mountains had disappeared, but the sun now shone gold on the arch. How fleeting the moments of beauty, and how relative. Had I not seen the pink and intense gold a short time earlier, I would have thought this photo was great. Next time I'll set an alarm.
That's a relatively small photography vantage point that I asked permission to share with a pro photographer who beat me to the arch by a half hour! He was most gracious. When I started to leave after light faded on the mountains, he urged me to wait for the sun to light up the arch. The sun obliged in a minute or two. 
The Alabama Hills have set the scene for numerous film and TV
productions, many of them Westerns.The couple above are modeling
for an outdoor gear catalog. 

Sunset the previous night saw the lenticular clouds settling into the Sierra Nevadas.

We sipped wine in our camp chairs, grateful for the present moment and those still ahead of us on road, where many surprises awaited. 
Next up: Joshua Tree National Park

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Galapagos2

Email subscribers, please click on the post's title for better visuals. Thank you for visiting.
I can't resist one more Galapagos post. During our eight days touring the islands from a small yacht, the entirety of which now seems like a hallucination, I clicked off about 1,000 photos. Probably more. What to do with the over exposure?

Blue footed booby preening. It's "booby" singular, "boobies" plural, I recently learned.



Blue footed booby fishing

I know. It's a photographer's sickness —shutter-click syndrome. I have a severe case. Despite knowing better, we must record beauty, odd stuff, moments of truth, or whatever is in camera range that grabs us.

It doesn't take much.

During the Galapagos trip, I hurt my camera-holding arm when opening a heavy cabin door  on the yacht. A blast of wind caught the door and yanked it and my arm back, resulting in a tear/injury that persists. The door was not hurt.

But the photography had to go on. I adapted by snugging my arm to my chest and moving the camera or iPhone, robot-like, with my upper body.

You do what you gotta do to produce an excessive number of images, which you must later organize and edit, deleting at least half. Someone else may enjoy a fraction of what remains. Hope you do.

Note: Underwater shots (3) were taken by a young Swiss photographer who, unlike me, is a skilled snorkeler. He dives rather just swimming and swooning on the surface like I do. Maybe in my next life I'll learn to scuba dive.


The Devil's Crown formation, once a volcano, is now a sunken crater teeming with sea life, including a couple of warring sea lions who tumbled off an outcropping into the water close to where PK was snorkeling. PK gained a few more gray hairs. Despite its ominous appearance on a blustery day, the "crown" provided  the best day of snorkeling for the week. 
The grey tones of a cloudy day at Devil's Crown didn't diminish the brilliance of what we saw below. Here a pin cushion starfish.
The chocolate chip lemon cookie starfish? Nope, just the chocolate chip star. 
Not the scientific name.


Pacific green sea turtles were all over the place, and while snorkeling, they were sometimes above, below and beside us, all at the same time.

I love Palo Verde trees. They look dead but in December were forming buds. They are a major incense source. Sweet on the eyes and the nose. 
A few more images......

A land iguana with a jaded eye. They don't seem to enjoy life as much as the marine iguanas. There's a lot to be said for the mood-boosting effects of waterfront property. 

So many rays!
Somehow I never tired of the iguanas. This one looks like a tough old man.
Sunbathing teenagers. Maybe the most endearing thing about iguanas is that they're unabashed sun worshippers. And they smile.

The sea lions aren't far behind, if at all, in sun adoration. Also, smiling.

A fierce-looking whimbrel.
Galapagos penguins. 
The Galapagos penguin is endemic to the Gal├ípagos Islands.
 It is the only penguin to live on the equator in a tropical environment.

Sea lion enjoying the best of both worlds.
Not all the fun was on or near water. We did a lot of hiking over lava flows and
formations. This is the Sierra Vulcan Negra, the largest crater on the islands. 


One of numerous craters we saw as the boat traveled.

 
Evidence of a recent lava flow.


PK and me after a hike to check out Sierra Negra's huge crater on Isabella Island, the largest of the Galapagos group, both island and crater.
A sweet little Galapagos Islands map.

Sweet little mama and baby moment.


Earlier posts about Ecuador travels 2016

Galapagos Islands - No place like it   - Lots of photos

Amazon Adventure - Kapawi Ecolodge  - All about tramping around in the rainforest, gaining insights into Achuar culture, and seeing how various rainforest plants are used for just about everything from housing construction to medicine to spiritual enlightenment.


Off to a shaky start at Kapawi Ecolodge   But it was all good, even the fishtailing bush plane and the drink made from manioc and spit.

Wild in the Amazon - photos and some amateur anthropology

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

First road trip 2017, Southern Oregon Coast — with a boondocking tip


Email subscribers, please click on the post's title to get to the website for more pleasing visuals.

We'd been retreating to the Oregon coast between Brookings and Gold Beach for decades before someone recommended this prime real estate—Thunder Rock Cove. See PK on the rocks on right? How insignificant we are on the land, and the sea dwarfs us even more.
Storms have hammered Southern Oregon for months, but the furies took a break early last week for two entire days. We heard the forecast, locked eyes, and said, Let's go!

So PK released the Roadtrek from its antifreeze-induced coma, I put together a quick camp menu, and we motored 80 happy miles to the Southern Oregon coast.

We are fortunate to live near the Pacific Ocean — such a power-source. It never fails to energize, inspire, and, during these surreal political times, calm. The crashing waves, the salty scent of sea air, the glint of slanted sun on the water, the glowering clouds meeting the horizon. It all dissolves poisonous anxiety and opens the mind to focus on what really matters. Family, friends, relationships is what it boils down to.

Aside from its stunning beauty, the Southern Oregon coast in the off season is more or less deserted.
   A view from the Cape Sebastian trail. We hiked about 90 min-
   utes round trip from the top almost to the beach and back
   and didn't see a soul. 
Like everyone else in Southern Oregon, we live a five-hour drive from major population centers. Lots of small towns here, and a minor city there, but Portland is five hours north and San Francisco is seven hours south. Hence our guarantee, at least during the off-season, of having regional natural wonders to ourselves. 

On our lovely lonely beaches we can pretend that the world is still all natural and pristine, population density is under control, our country is not in a period of political discord, and that maniacs around the world are not constantly committing crimes against humanity and nature.

Here the only aggression arises from a winter sea riled by natural forces rather than from ego-ridden flawed humans riled by each other and driven by pride and greed. 


Another view  from the Thunder Rock Cove trail, which is part of the
Pacific Coast Trail through the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor.



If you visit this part of the world, stop at as many pullouts as you can manage along the 26-mile Samuel H. Boardman corridor. Every single stop has a gem to turn over in your vision and your mind. 
PK at Thunder Rock Cove. Part of the trail follows
a creek with a waterfall or two. Ho hum. 
Boondocking Bonus

About that boondocking thing. I admit that until early last year,  I thought boondocking had to do with living in the boondocks, which we pretty much already do in rural Southern Oregon.

But no.

Boondocking, in camping terms, means parking your RV, or pitching your tent, someplace where you don't have to pay. And, of course, the trade off is you also don't have electricity or water hookups, restrooms, laundry, or any of the amenities that can dock you $30 to $60 a night. (We once paid $86 at a KOA on the East Coast near Acadia National Park but that's another story.)

Boondocking has become, I believe, something of a badge of honor. I learned this after we bought our Roadtrek Agile van in February 2016 and joined the Roadtreking Facebook group, aimed at travelers with small Class B RVs but open to all. If you have an RV of any size, or are thinking about buying one, check it out.

If you're rolling in a small RV, such as our van, you are self contained with water, heat, generator, and the all-important flush toilet. Why should you pay for camping? 

Too many commercial RV parks look like sales lots, just a bunch of big rigs lined up in a metallic row with a tree or two here and there. Or not. Little privacy. Gravel. Sad little plants. Sometimes clean restrooms/showers, sometimes not.

During our two-day coastal getaway, we scored a wonderful boondocking spot quite by accident. I glimpsed a car climbing a steep gravel drive on the ocean side of the highway as we were passing by. We returned to the area later and discovered a perfect hideaway.
I love this. We're super close to Hwy. 1 but we couldn't see the road and drivers couldn't see us. There were no pay envelopes in sight. Also no other campers.

As the photo below shows, we did have a fine vista to enjoy while sipping wine before our  dinner of leftovers from home. 




Here we are leveled up with Lego thingies, our plastic rug on forest duff and mud, deluding ourselves about keeping the van tidy. It never hurts to try.
Before I leave the boondocking topic, here's a tip.
If you have a self-contained RV, you can join, for $20 to $25 a year, a group called Welcome Boondockers. 

For $25, you can park your RV on a member's property. For $20 you can park on others' property and open yours to fellow travelers. The website shows hundreds, maybe thousands, of available driveways, fields, and whatever to park for the night, all over the USA and Canada and some in Mexico and other foreign lands.

We used Welcome Boondockers several times during our seven-week cross-country road trip last fall. It was great, and we met some fine folks. 

And while I'm at it, the ALLSTAYS Camp and RV app helps you find campgrounds and parks and dozens of other things RVers might look for, including "dispersed" camping areas, and Wal Mart and other businesses that allow overnight parking.

Dispersed camping, usually available on BLM or Forest Service lands, is free camping without amenities, the same as boondocking. 

Sky, land and sea from Otter Point north of Gold Beach, OR.
On the road there, we saw a large semi-hidden RV boondocking.

OK. Here's a confession: We were at the coast for just two nights, and we spent one of them at a hotel in Gold Beach. A hotel! Even when we had the private spot with a million $$$$ view.

I know. It's embarrassing.

But hear me out. It was Valentine's Day and we had reservations at a quirky gourmet restaurant in Gold Beach, Oregon, Anna's by the Sea.  Recommended!

The combination of Valentine's Day and dinner reservations propelled us to the hotel, where our dinner and our bed were just a few blocks apart. You make concessions when you're over a certain age and are no longer living paycheck to paycheck. 

We'll get our fill of  boondocking this spring as we travel to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

       Parting shots from the Southern Oregon coast


Standing in the surf can make anybody feel like Master of the Universe. 
One of my favorite Oregon coast memories is of this mid-December day when the temperature climbed to 70F and we spent hours hiking and relaxing on Lone Ranch Beach. Back home in the Rogue Valley, cold fog hid the sun and it was around 35F.

My niece from Minnesota marveling at an Indian Sands trail vista a few years ago. 

Same niece, different year, and a typical sunset on the Southern Oregon coast.

Guide to the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor
If you plan to visit the Southern Oregon Coast, this guide is invaluable.

Three earlier posts, two about camping on the Southern Oregon Coast and one about a fantastic beach camp in Northern California. Pick and choose.