Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Arizona - A zone of its own - Spring road trip 2017

A crested saguaro in Green River, AZ, represents a fraction of the beautiful desert flora typical of the area. Magnificent Saguaro National Park is nearby and so is the not-to-be-missed Tucson Sonora Desert Museum. We've visited Arizona, and other desert regions, maybe a dozen times over the years. I've become fond of the sun-drenched red and gold cacti-studded landscapes, and there's no matching a desert in bloom. 

Growing up in North Dakota and then spending most of the rest of my life in Oregon, I've come to think of Arizona as the place people go when they get old and just want to be warm. Not necessarily the place they actually call home, but where a person can set up a lounge chair by the pool in November, and  relax until late March when the trees up north are beginning to  bud. Then they jump into their rigs and go home.

Why is it I never thought of doing this annual migration myself? Or, rather, why haven't We  - PK, my mate of 40 years -  and I considered being snowbirds?

It's no secret that Oregon is sad and sodden three to five months a year. Depending upon your tolerance for cold, rainy gray days, or the calibre of what you have to do with your time indoors, I'm surprised anybody who's retired and solvent stays in a miserable climate for months at a time. Why not head south?

I am not forgetting, of course, the wonderous road trips we've enjoyed off and on since 2010, which in the past couple years, have become longer in mileage and months. But as with our most recent trip, we're not exactly escaping winter. We left home in early March and returned in mid-April.

Bye bye to prehistoric ocotillos in Joshua Tree National Park.
After leaving Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, our first day in Arizona was spent driving Interstate 10 until we took a right turn south on highway 85 en route to Tucson. Interstate 10 was busy busy busy.  Not a relaxing drive at all. Much of it was lined by bushes covered with bright yellow flowers. Pollen tinged  the air and collected on the windshield. I am thankful not to have allergies.

We stayed in a drab but clean and huge RV Park in Gila Bend.  It was 3/4  empty because most winter residents had disconnected from the plumbing and electricity and were headed north.

Earlier in the day, we'd passed Quartzite, which we learned is a magnet for RVing snowbirds. A load of commercial RV parks dot the area, but the main attraction appears to be free or low-cost camping (boondocking) on BLM lands. This link describes the  temporary communities and the colorful stores and rock and gem shows and other fun stuff that come and go each winter with the adventurous RV crowd.

Somehow I'd pictured Arizona snowbirds living in upscale planned communities, but I get it about not wanting to tie down to a particular place. We met RVers all over the SW and Texas who winter in the south and relocate seasonally. A few we met were selling their wares, following the crowds from festival to festival, gem show to gem show. Some return north for the summer to live in stick homes. Others just live in their RVs, wherever that may take them.

We're not ready to do this yet, apparently. We're tied to home for a number of reasons not the least of which are friendships that span decades and a still-too-ambitious garden.  But I have to admit that during our spring 2017 road trip, I  dared to consider, for the first time, relocating south, even imagining, if just for a nanosecond, living in a planned retirement community. Based on reports from friends who've made the big move, it's not a bad idea.

PK's thought? Not a bad idea? A terrible idea!

Lenny and Dusty Friedman influencing me
about the benefits of retirement communities.
Their smiles say it all.
He may have softened a bit when we visited friends in Green Valley, AZ, a popular perch for snowbirds, whether they migrate back north or not. Our friends, the Friedmans, no longer migrate.

They used to live (and garden) a few miles from us in Southern Oregon, but moved to AZ full-time in 2016. They worked hard on behalf of our community. Our loss, Green Valley's gain.

Lenny, who'd been an entrepreneur, a middle school teacher, and a community volunteer/activist, among other roles, says that for years he doubted his ability or desire to live in a planned community.

I wouldn't be writing this if he didn't now love it. He and Dusty are totally adapted to and happy with this new phase of their life.
The Friedmans enjoyed showing us around. This is part of the wider community's raised-bed garden, park, picnic area and playground. A picnic area is behind the closed door. The park is not included in their retirement community, but is nearby and they like going there. Lenny's talents include building labyrinths, and he's working on one adjacent to this little park. 
PK joins the Friedmans in another labyrinth Lenny is completing, this one near a vast planned community under construction not far from where they live. Most labyrinths are contemplative spaces for walking meditation. I wonder if PK is meditating on spending winters in the south?
We were sad to leave the Friedman's after only one night, but were happy to be headed to a little town I've always wanted to see - Bisbee, AZ.
Bisbee has a hyperactive Chamber of Commerce, but this claim may be true. At 5,538 feet elevation, it escapes the worst of the scorching summer temperatures typical of southern Arizona. With a population of around 6,000, Sunset magazine and USA Today both named it the country's Best Historic Town in 2016. Bisbee attracted a wave of counterculture types in the 1960s and that element still enlivens the town. 
Here we are later in the trip, me decked out in my new
favorite shirt, purchased from a street vendor in Bisbee.
The "free store" in Bisbee didn't have much to offer, but it's the thought that counts, right? Definitely a hold-over from Bisbee's hippie past. 
The heart of Bisbee, AZ, as seen from the Queen Mine RV Park, which is a five-minute walk from the historic downtown. I loved Bisbee, how it's all stacked up on steep hills, full of artists, artisans, tourists, music, quirkiness, and New Age vibes. It thrives on its mining history, and a tour of the Queen Mine is the #1 thing to do, according to TripAdvisor. (We loved the mine tour.) We spent a day and a night in Bisbee, but we could have used a couple more days. Lucky for us, we visited on a Saturday night when the downtown was jumping with live music. I got a big-time dance fix at St.Elmo's bar. PK was ready to leave before I was, and walking back alone after midnight felt safe. And happy! Bisbee has also been named in an AARP publication as one of the most "alive" towns in which to retire. I wouldn't mind spending a winter there.

Dang it! The Day the FBI came calling post is still in the works. 

Earlier posts - Spring Road Trip 2017

Joshua Tree National Park  

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