A Gradual Move to Phoenix

As we pulled out of Death Valley we knew we were beginning the trip back east to Rochester even though we still had six weeks or so before our planned return. The usual questions confront us, northern route, Colorado, Kansas and so forth or a more southerly route. We had already set ourselves more northerly than usual by going to Death Valley so we vamped by going to Boulder City NV again. This still leaves both the southerly and northerly routes open. I really had to fly to Rochester for a few days and we decided that Phoenix would be the better place to fly from, Carol did not want to hang out near Vegas again. So we sat and booked reservations, me from PHX to ROC and back and us to Jersey Boys while we were near Las Vegas. We really did not want to hang out for three days either in Boulder City or Phoenix so we ended up stopping in Wikieup AZ which is half way between Kingman and Phoenix along US 93, another way of saying almost no place.

Dazzo’s Restaurant and RV Park was about as rustic as you can get. Check out the pictures on Picasa We pulled in not knowing what to expect and found a pleasant place to spend some time and to explore the surrounding desert by car and on foot. It was a treat to have the large old Saguaro cactus right near our coach with many birds occupying the holes. We took several drives on dirt roads using GPS and little else to find our way. Although we never got lost we did get tangled up a couple of times and were grateful to have all wheel drive and plenty of clearance. We never ate at Dazzo’s largely because Carol felt sure that there was no way to be comfortable that the veggies had not been cooked with the meat, or on the same grill. I must admit that the sandwiches were tempting and we had a report that their pizza was superb.

Eventually we had to move on to Phoenix so I could fly to Rochester on Sunday the 22nd. This brought us to a very different sort of “camping” experience. We pulled into Sun Life RV Resort in the midst of more huge resorts than I wanted to know exsted. This place has over 700 sites many of which are occupied by “park models” trailers not unlike the house trailers from the 60’s, but much more high end since these are winter resort escapes and not permanent homes. We have all the amenities and a price to go with them. I must admit it is nice having a fitness room and a billiards room and a very large computer room and pool and, and, and.

The best part is the resources of the Phoenix area. We have been to Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation home and school and today we spent most of the day in the Phoenix Art Museum. Yes they do have a Donald Judd piece mounted. They also have the Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe show “Charting the Grand Canyon”, and so much more. They also have a lovely cafe where we had lunch. We wrapped up the day with a visit to the State Capitol Museum.

I guess in all of this I forgot to mention our trip with Dan and Beverly Armstrong to Organ Stop Pizza. Check out the site yourself http://www.organstoppizza.com/ The ambience is Theater Organ and the pizza is pretty good too. Carol lost a necklace there and when she called, it had been turned in and they held it for us to pick up tonight on our way back from Phoenix.

The weather to the east of us and to the north looks dreadful so we still don’t know what our route will be. Monday we will have to decide before we start the engine. Hope we see an opening in the weather by then. Pesach will be on the road, just the two of us this year unless fate intervenes.

Death Valley

We have done this before, but it was a while ago and there is a lot to see and do in Death Valley. We arrived late afternoon on Wednesday the 11th. We had to stop in Barstow for fuel, propane and an Outlet Mall. My clothes have gotten frayed, stained and tattered over the years. Carol had her usual lousy shopping luck, getting only pair of jeans that almost fit. I had better luck replacing some beloved but holey jeans a couple of frayed shirts and worn out shorts. We still look disreputable, but clean and not worn out disreputable, for a day or two.

Shortly after setting up in Sunset Campground across from the store and really just a level place in the desert with room for 1,000 campers we were stranding around looking over the premises when Dean and Jane (Cross and Ecclestone respectively) stopped by to chat. First we made plans to get together for happy hour the next day, then we agreed to meet in the morning and go off on a hike together. They suggested a hike up a wash to Willow Creek and not having our own plans we agreed, a hike is a hike. We went off in two cars and had a great hike to a desert water falls. After resting for a bit we gathered at G-2 for Happy Hour which lasted a bit longer than that. We agreed in the end to go off in their Jeep for a rough road excursion in the morning. We left at 10:15 and returned at a bout 6 PM. We had ventured up Hanaupah Canyon, 15 miles or so of really rough road, and then hiked back in more than a mile up a canyon into the mountains looking for the remains of a cabin and two mines. We didn’t find those but did find two wonderful friends.

Death Valley is raw desert. One needs to take the time to look closely and the ground and the blooms. There is so much color that it seems to shade towards brown or gray, but that merely is the blend of all the hues of the rainbow in the soils and flowers. Looking closely we saw many different flowers in bloom and the soft greens of copper and reds of iron and yellows of sulfur, not to mention the white of the alkali salt flats. We are once again camping at the lowest point in North America. The campground is at 190 feet below sea level. We have been lower at the Dead Sea but we were not camping there, just swimming. Hmm, Death Valley – Dead Sea, there must be something about being below sea level that leads to this kind of naming.
Saturday morning we went to the Visitor Center at 10 and got on line for the first time since getting here. After picking up email and letting the family know we had not vanished from the face of the earth, we returned to Gee 2 to find Jane and Dean just passing and we agreed to meet after lunch for a drive up to Ubehebe Crater, about 40 miles to the north of the campground. We had been there eight years ago, but I wanted to go back. When we finally arrived, 2,000 feet higher than the campground it was windy and it felt cold. It looked even colder because people were gathered on the rim in winter coats, scarfs and gloves. Carol and Dean decided that it was too cold and windy for them so Jane and I set off for the upper rim of Ubehebe Crater and then for the rim of Little Hebe. The distance was not great but the slope of the trail was vertiginous. I think we climbed another 600 feet in less than a mile and the car was seldom out of sight. It was not really cold – maybe in the high 50’s and climbing kept me warm even in shorts and t-shirt.

We regrouped at their Damon coach for happy hour at about 5 PM. we were joined later by Sgt Major of the Army Ret Richard Voice. If I choose to believe half of his story, he is a man to be reckoned with. Not least, he claims to be a Congressional Medal of Honor holder. I will check that out on line before publishing. Checked out: he is a great story teller and a teller of lies.

The next day Jane and Dean were tired so we set out to hike Golden Canyon to Zabriske Point and return. The altitude gain is something like 1,800 feet in a couple of miles from the parking lot at Golden Canyon to the height of the Point. In Golden Canyon we met Margaret and Kirwin Johnson (I may have that name spelled wrong) on the trail. They had just climbed down from Zabriske and were headed up. As we hiked our paces matched and our interest in the outdoors as well. At some point we invited them t o join us at Gee 2 for Happy Hour along with Jane and Dean. It is getting to be a party. The trail to the top was well marked and hiking with people who had just come down gave us confidence in the route. For the return we chose to follow the Gower Gulch Loop which is essentially unmarked. Just follow the Gulch. Once in it there is very little choice about route. The decent was a bit more gradual as the Loop added about a half mile to the return and did not have to approach Manly Beacon as we had on the way up. Along both routes we saw evidence of mining activity from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. How those men worked in that environment and thought they could profit is beyond imagining. You have to hike in the region to understand just how obsessed they must have been.

As the gray water tank filled and the freshwater tank emptied it became apparent that we needed to move the coach and the food supply was getting limited and the nearest real shopping is 90 miles away. We said goodbye to our new friends whose email addresses are on this list now and moved. On to Boulder City, NV.

A quick broken parts story with a happy, if expensive, ending. The way we tow the car requires an extension hitch which lowers the tow bar six inches relative to the coach hitch. A year and a half ago I tried to remove the tow bar assembly and found one of the locks frozen and the stinger of the tow bar frozen into the extension. I decided I didn’t need to remove the tow bar after all 🙂 And so we have traveled for close to 30,000 miles with no problem. At some point, I think in Las Cruces, a passing RVer mentioned that the extension appeared to be bent. I decided he was wrong and continued on through the desert, into LA and only then did I become aware that it was indeed bent. I tried to remove the frozen lock to no avail. I tried to pull out the tow bar to no avail. What to do? It happens there are two Camping World stores in the Las Vegas area. The store in Henderson had in stock the very hitch part I needed but no mechanic time. The replacement is much heftier than the original and should last more than the 60,000 miles we have put on the first. Las Vegas RV, the other store, had a mechanic available immediately and they began work within minutes after our arrival. First they cut the hitch lock – a 5/8 inch steel pin – to move the whole assembly from the coach. Then they had to cut the 2” opening with the stinger for the tow bar away and then use a maul to separate the parts. The only real casualty in this was the Tow Defender, a screen to keep stones from hitting the car, which has caused endless problems since I installed it. Both of its pivot pins were broken as the mechanic tried to free the tow bar. Rather than try to fix it again, I had them discard it. I have the highest praise and thanks to Ray, the service manager, and the mechanics who resolved this for us in under an hour and had us on the road in time to reach Canyon Trails RV in Boulder City the same day.

Hiking and more Hiking – and a Gallery

The Sauters moved on and we rolled forward into their camping area taking over the very nice campfire circle their predecessor had built and some of their firewood. This was made easier by our need to service our holding tanks and get some more freshwater. Which meant we had to move the coach anyhow. The water was still low, but the temperature was rising and overnight lows were moving into the 50’s.

We explored several areas we had never been to in the 4 or 5 five years we had been coming to the area. We finally found the turn off for Mittry Lake, an unmarked dirt road running along an irrigation canal right across from the access to YPG. We arranged to pick up mail at the Christian Service Center on Ferguson Road. We had drven by the turn off many times and had actually pulled in to the area once, but had no idea what services they offered. Mail service is good!

We had heard of the Castle Dome Museum, but had never thought to go there for no reason we could explain. The drive of 10 miles over a barely improved dirt road was a great introduction to the area. Castle Dome is a distinctive mountain top that can be seen for miles around. It sits in the middle of an area that has been mined for gold, silver and lead from the mid 1800’s though the early 1960’s. The most recent claim was filed in 1973. When the mining collapsed the Interior Department took control of all the land that was not subject to active claims and began to remove all signs of development. The founders of the Castle Dome Museum went out into the land and moved buildings and abandoned equipment onto their land. There is now a fairly complete mining ghost town preserved and watched over by a corp of volunteers who live on the outskirts in their RVs. We spent 2 and a half hours there and will go back on our next visit. I will post some pictures on Picasa soon.

The previous day we had returned to the Martinez Lake area and the NWR (National Wildlife Refuge) to reprise a hike in the Painted Desert. This is an area where the ground is colored by volcanic dust in greens, reds and deep brown reflecting different mineral content of various eruptions. It is geologically interesting and quite beautiful. We enjoyed both the hike and the driving way back on 4wd dirt roads to see this area. There are many turnoffs to headlands overlooking the Colorado River which defines this area. On our return to paved roads we explored the lake Martinez area and decided we were not thrilled with the idea of coming there to stay in the future.

Meanwhile at Senator Wash the water was beginning to refill the reservoir. We decided to hike around it while we could still use the exposed shoreline to avoid having to go way back into the desert to get around to the North Shore. This hike took over three hours and it was not as level as you might think. The reservoir has many bays and it was not possible to stay on the shore all the time so we had to hike up out of the shoe area to cross the points and then back down to the shore. Eventually we found ourselves stymied and had to bushwhack up a donkey path to find our way to the top of the dam to continue the hike. This hike whetted our appetite for more. We had talked to George and Linda several times – they were in slot 1 at the very far end of the beach where it would be tough to set up a motorhome, but their trailer fit quite nicely. George had been looking at the mountains to the west and decide to hike out to them. He reported that it was a nice hike so we decided to try it ourselves. The only direction we had was “hike towards those mountains, there is a mine up there.” So we set out to “hike to those mountains.” First we had to cross the LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area) and that brought us to a wash (arroyo, wadi, pick your terms). As we surveyed the sides of the wash we noted a trail down into it and up the other side. We spent the next 2 hours following this trail to the mountains and then up a ridge line where we could see a car and a couple hiking further up. They were rock hounding (looking for turquoise) and we talked for a while before finding a convenient perch for our picnic, we always carry lunch in our hydration packs. By the time we got back to G 2 we were ready to kick off our boots and put our feet up with an adult beverage.

After catching our breath we began the preparations to break camp and head out the next day. After a two week stay we had plenty of stuff out of the compartments. The inflatable kayak was snugged up to the coach, the bikes were in riding condition and we had gone riding and all of the comforts were scattered around the campsite. It took about 30 or 45 minutes to put it all in condition to move.

Move to where? We wanted to go to Borrego Springs in the Anza Borrego Desert, but had been informed that the desert flower bloom season had started and all the campsites were reserved. We decided to head for Borrego Springs anyhow since this is one of the few areas in the country where there is open camping anywhere you can find, off a designated road and not too close to water (what water?). Sure enough all the campgrounds were full when we got there, but we picked up maps of the area with suggestions of where we could find like minded desert boondockers and soon found ourselves near the Peg Leg Smith Monument with several other Rvers. Nice place. No amenities, no charge. We will dump our holding tanks in Los Angeles when we get there. Since our arrival we have had two days of strenuous hiking and back road driving – this park is the reason we had to have an AWD vehicle with reasonable ground clearance when Carol’s car needed to be replaced. We have used all of its capabilities this trip. The short list is Calcite Mines, Palm Slot, The Slot and Hawk Canyon. Each of these entailed a drive of 1 to 4 miles over dirt tracks and a hike of half to 4 miles as part of the experience. There is still much to do and see, but we will save it for another time. We are preparing to leave for Los Angeles in the morning as I write.

. . . picking up where I left off . . .

The Calcite Mines were developed in WW II to provide calcite for lenses for war time applications. They are slots or crevices in the mountain top. The road was rough and we parked the car 2 miles in and hiked the remainder of the way. A car similar to our RAV4 passed us as we hiked and we met the occupants at the top. The driver had made the trip before which gave him an advantage over us. We enjoyed the climb and spent some time on the summit with views of the surrounding mountains and desert and the Salton Sea. On the hike down we met some young men at a place where the road crossed a large wash. They said we could hike down the wash rather than retrace down the road. With no idea where we would come out relative to the car, we started down an amazing canyon with a series of slots that were just magnificent. At the bottom we located a road (donkey path?) that seemed to head towards where the GPS said we would find the car. A short very steep climb brought us back to the car. We drove back down the road we had driven up and took a right at the bottom before going back up to the highway. This brought us to the entry to Palm Slot, another slot canyon. After pause for lunch which we had packed, we walked through this exquisite slot and retraced to the car.

Although we had had enough hiking by now, we set off for Fonts Point, four miles up another dirt road. This provides a over view of the Borrego Valley and the mountains that surround it. We returned to G-2 and collapsed and read for a while before going into town for Mexican dinner and a show “American Song Book” a review of as much Rogers and Hart as you would want to enjoy in an evening. The performers were Sherri Roberts, vocalist and David Udolf, pianist. We really enjoyed this break from books and videos.

The next day we decided we needed to hike one more slot canyon, this one is known as simply “The Slot.” Another long desert dirt road brought us to a cliff edge. First we took a side trial to a bluff overlooking Hawk Canyon, the floor of which we visited later in the day. We retraced to the car and walked over the edge of the cliff to scramble down a path that led to the bottom of the slot. This slot was longer than the others and was so narrow that I had to move the car keys to a different pocket to negotiate some of the crevices. We returned the way we had come and took the car to Hawk Canyon where we had lunch. Through out these two days we were overwhelmed with the desert flowers in bloom. We never went to any of the special sites people travel for hundreds of miles to visit to see the blooms, but we saw everything they were seeing, just not a two minute walk from a highway. We saw a field of desert lilies and lupine and all the flowers that were listed in the guide. There were acres of yellow and purple flowers and in places the ground was carpeted with orange and yellow flowers that were too small to see as individuals and barely visible unless you looked down at an angle with low angle sunlight. It was a shame to leave, but we were headed to Los Angeles to see the grandchildren so leave we did.

We have been staying with Azriel and Avtalyon for two nights while Miriam and Yechiel have a break to go sea kayaking and tour Hearst Castle. During the day on Thursday, while the boys were in school, we went to downtown LA to see the Walt Disney Music Hall and MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art. Our membership in Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester got us in to MOCA and we went first to the rotating exhibit of the permanent collection. When we entered the room we both stopped and started laughing. That room is dominated by several large pieces by Donald Judd and John Chamberlain. This snapped us back to Marfa TX a month ago. The world really is smaller than we know.

Enough! We have dinner with my cousin John Levey tomorrow night and on the 11th we will have to decide where we are going.