Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

02-14-2020 Wandering Toward Home

After traveling as far as Kingman to spend the night in at Fort Beale RV Park, we knew it was time to make some decisions about our route back to Oregon.  There are many options, some of which are much better a bit later in the season.

The beautiful, historic train depot in Kelso

This time of year, Highway 395 can be completely unpredictable, and while it is our favorite route back home most of the time, the weather apps weren’t cooperating with our choice.  It appeared that the southern portion of the route would be OK, but then we would have to backtrack over Donner Pass and I-80 to Sacramento and then back north on the 5.  All our back routes over the northern part of the Sierra’s either were closed, or had bad weather predicted.

We looked at each other, the maps and the forecasts, and decided it was best to bite the bullet and make the traditional run home.  Back to Bakersfield, up the 99 or the 5 to Sacramento, then continue north over Mt Shasta and the Siskiyous toward home.  The boring long fast 700 mile run crossing the state of California in its least appealing version.

Still, we had some options even with that scenario.  Did we want to continue west and north toward Bullhead City? Go all the way south to the 10 back to Quartzsite? Maybe continue south and west on the 15?  Camping at what I had initially thought would be our night destination was just a bit too short.  It was less than 75 miles to the Hole in the Wall campground, a favorite spot in the Mojave Preserve.  At this stage of our homeward run, neither of us could quite accept a day that short.  After a bit of a tussle between what we wanted and what would work, we finally decided that we would continue on I-15 as far as the Kelso turnoff at the southern end of the Mojave Preserve, and then travel north across the preserve to see if a boondock site presented itself.

The Mojave Desert Preserve is a treasure of wild desert landscapes, including the Kelso Dunes, where there is a nice area for boondocking near the end of the rough dirt and gravel road at the trail head.  We drove to Kelso, unhooked the baby car for the exploration, left the MoHo in the parking lot and headed back south toward the Kelso Dunes road.

In spite of assurances from Gaelyn that it really wasn’t that rough, after a mile or two we made the joint decision that the MoHo wouldn’t be bumping along on all those washboards.  It was gorgeous out there, and not too many tourists, even on this nice Friday mid day.  We laughed at each other because we knew that with my limited hiking abilities, climbing the dunes might not be something we could do.  However, another member of our family is crazy about sand, especially dunes, and we both agreed that we were braving the washboard road for one person only. Mattie.

Pretty sure this rhus species isn’t native to the area, couldn’t find it anywhere in a desert flower book

With no flowers to help with ID, I had to settle for an astragalus species

The sun was warm and the winds were slight making our time walking on the lower dune trail delightful.  Mattie got her fill of running in circles and we found some interesting plants to photograph.  There were a few people camped, one couple with a trailer parked under a shady tree and camp chairs out in the sun, enjoying the gorgeous day with their books.

Not for us.  We wanted to continue on our westward journey toward Baker, open to the possibility that we might find someplace to boondock that wasn’t too far off on a rough road and yet not terribly close to the Interstate.  We found a couple of promising roads, but it was getting late in the day and neither of us felt like unhooking to check them out so we continued toward Baker.

Just in time, maybe half a mile before the intersection with the Interstate, we found a nice big pull-out, conveniently located at the Mojave Preserve entrance sign.  The breeze blew the sounds in the opposite direction, and if we avoided looking due west, we could convince ourselves we were in the middle of nowhere.  It was great to settle into the desert for one last night, knowing that the rest of our travels would be through the “gut” of California.

One of the things I like most about boondocking in the desert is the ability to leave all the window coverings wide open to watch the night.  The stars were magnificent, but the string of lights in both directions along I-15 was fascinating as well.  Amazing how many people are traveling between Las Vegas and Los Angeles on a Friday night.

The next morning we took our time getting ready to roll, enjoying the last little bit of desert time before our run home.  Our next planned stop was in Bakersfield, and for the first time in many years, we decided to skip Orange Grove RV Park.  With a rig that didn’t need washing, and no oranges to pick, the $50. price tag was just too steep for a one night stopover.

With a bit of searching, I found the Shady Haven RV Resort, just a few more miles west of Orange Grove RV.  The park was interesting to say the least.  On the website, and again when I phoned for a reservation for that night, the ban against smokers was emphasized.  No Smoking Allowed anywhere in the park, even in your own rig!  It advertised as a Wellness Resort.

When we signed in, we could see that there was a large section of what was at one time mostly permanent residents, and a newer section for overnighters.  There were many newly planted palm trees, a very tall, very protective looking steel fence with concertina wire on the top, and electronic gates.

When I signed in and paid the very reasonable $33. fee, the young kid at the register referred to “our park”, and told me the story of his company buying the park and having to evict more than 50 percent of the residents for refusing to adhere to the no smoking rule.  It seems that he works for the company who bought the park, some independent owners who actually “flip” businesses in the same way that some people flip houses.  I wish them well.  We would probably stay there again.  To compensate for the lack of oranges, I simply stopped at the California Fruit Depot nearby and bought a ten pound bag of perfectly sweet juicy oranges for 8 bucks.  I made my last glass of orange juice this morning, and these are no doubt the last oranges I will try until next year when we once again travel south.  I can’t bear a supermarket orange.

Sometimes you meet the nicest people in random RV parks.  Parked next to us was a lovely couple from New Hampshire, and the woman Liz just had to come over and meet Mattie.  Mattie knows a dog person when she finds one and they made instant friends.  In the morning, she came over once again to say bye to Mattie and brought some traditional Mexican wedding cookies.  Nice people!

This heavy handmade gate at the dog park at Shady Haven was gorgeous.

It was a Sunday morning, and we had to make the decision about which route to travel north through central California.  The mileage between Bakersfield and Sacramento are the same, whether you drive I-5 or Highway 99.  One never knows how the pavement will be on either route, but this time we decided to go with 99.  Both of us remember pavement that blew out our tires on I-5, but there is no way of knowing which one would have been the better route.

We also diverged from our usual routine of traveling from Bakersfield to Lodi and staying at Flag City.  Neither of us wanted to pay for a park for our last night out and decided that instead we would boondock at the Pilot station in Dunnigan.  For who knows what reason, our day on the road seemed incredibly long, and we were both exhausted when we pulled in to Dunnigan.  Mo took one look at the very ratty RV’s in the Pilot parking lot and said, nope, not gonna do it!  Instead we drove a block north and settled in to the Happy Times RV Park for another simple $35.  Better to pay for a safe night than have to worry about whatever was around us at the station.

The next day Monday was my turn to drive, and I must say I have never enjoyed I-5 north of Sacramento quite as much as I did on this gorgeous sunny day.  The air was clear enough that I could see the mountains on both sides of the valley.  Snow on the Sierras to the east and snow on the Trinities to the west sparkled against a backdrop of miles and miles of pink almonds coming into bloom.  When Mt Shasta appeared to the north, brilliantly covered in deep white snow, we knew we were almost home.

Look closely to see the high winds blowing snow around on the peak of Mt Shasta

It was a tremendously satisfying trip, with a chance to experience many different habitats and landscapes in just three weeks out.  We had the ocean, the coast, the desert, the mountains, the big city of Phoenix, more desert, red rocks in Sedona, more desert in Mojave Preserve, and yes…the long boring gut of California through the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. We also had a chance to meet old and new friends and visit with family along the way. 

No matter how beautiful the world we travel, there is nothing quite as beautiful as returning to our home.  We were unloaded within an hour, with piles of laundry ready to tackle in the next couple of days.  The weather was nice enough that we managed to get both the MoHo and the Tracker washed, and in the next few days I will work on the inside of the rig getting it ready for our next outing in March.

Our welcome home included lots of fresh green grass and I celebrated by mowing the front lawn and Mo mowed the pasture.  Ahh spring is coming.  There are buds on the daffodils and the daphne has started blooming.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

02-13-2020 More Great Times in Arizona

Boondocking at the casino in Camp Verde had a little extra bonus for us.  We were parked just over a mile from Montezuma Castle National Monument.  In all my visits to Prescott and Sedona I had never managed the short side trip from I-17 to view the ruin.

Montezuma Castle is a well preserved ruin that is considered one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America.  Perhaps this is due to its ideal placement more than 90 feet above Beaver Creek on a sheer limestone cliff.  The precarious location and the five stories of floor space divided among more than 60 rooms indicate that the Sinagua people were skilled builders and engineers.  Access was most likely with portable ladders, making it difficult for enemy tribes to penetrate the natural defense of the vertical cliff.

The location also protected the people from the threat of summer monsoon flooding that deposited rich sediments for farming on the valley floor.  The people farmed squash, corn, and beans.  As Mo and I wandered the paved trail below the cliff dwelling among huge ancient sycamores, we thought about how the people would have had to keep the ground clear to keep the trees from encroaching on the farmland.  As in many other ancient sites, the people left in a very short period of time during the 1400’s.  It took some time for the sycamores to fill in the beautiful Beaver Creek valley, and they now provide lovely shade for what could be a hot walk in the summertime.

The walls of the ruin are stone and mortar masonry, built almost entirely from limestone found at the base of the cliff, and mud from the creek bottom.  The ceilings of some of the rooms were constructed of timbers primarily from the sycamores.

In addition to Montezuma Castle, the monument includes Montezuma Well, about six miles north and another ruin called Tuzigoot, several miles northwest. We didn’t manage the time to visit the other two locations, in spite of the fact that the Well is just minutes from my first destination for the morning.

For years I have been friends with a delightful man who somehow found me on Facebook when he read something I wrote.  John Parsons is a man of all seasons, and his wife Clair is the love of his life and a charming woman.  Whenever Mo and I have traveled to Arizona they offer a hookup site at their home in Camp Verde.  We have never traveled I-17 together, so didn’t have the opportunity to stay with them.

I posted a photo on Facebook of our visit to Jerome and within minutes John said, “You are just minutes from us!  We would love to meet you!”  Uhoh.  Caught!  I wanted to meet John and Clair, but with our trip drawing to a close and quite a bit more time socializing than we are used to, we hadn’t planned on checking in with them.  I called John and explained that we were pretty much peopled out and would it be OK if I came alone?  They understood completely, and bright and early I drove to their place for a visit on my own.

I’m so glad that I did, and now that the initial introductions have been completed, I am sure that the next time we are heading this way in Arizona we will visit.  The best fact among many that I know about John is that he was a river runner and guide and a great protector of rivers and watersheds. Just recently the 30 acres Parsons Riverfront Preserve was named for him. Such a well deserved honor.

I was home again by 10 am to pick up Mo and Mattie for our morning plan to drive the loop highway through Sedona.  I have been to Sedona, battled the crowds to hike the beautiful red rock trails, shopped the fancy gift shops and had great meals in the restaurants.  Mo had never seen Sedona, and I really wanted to share this lovely place with her. 

During the early morning hours of a mid week day, the roads weren’t nearly as crowded as I remembered.  The high season runs from about March when the winter warms up until May when the heat of summer begins. The last time I hiked in Sedona was in 2002, when the early September temperature was 106 F and I nearly died from heat exhaustion.

The day was to be a much simpler time.  We drove through town, with traffic and construction, and then north into Oak Creek Canyon where I wanted to see Slide Rock at the state park.  Slide Rock is famous for its beautiful slick red rock with the flowing waters of Oak Creek making an extremely popular playground in the summertime.  We arrived at the park to find that it would cost us ten bucks to enter, that the dog couldn’t go down to the water, and that in order to see Slide Rock we would have to descend 70 some stairs where the dog couldn’t go.  I hemmed and hawed for only a second or two before we both said, Nah….not this time.

We meandered back through town and I suddenly remembered the church.  High on a hill overlooking the red rocks is a truly beautiful chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Cross.  The road to the chapel from the highway isn’t too long, but quite steep and narrow.  Even on this weekday, the parking lot was filled to overflowing, and there is only a tiny turnaround at the top of the hill.  We thought we might have to give up on the chapel when a space opened up for us just a few hundred feet below the stairs that lead to the church.  It was meant to be.  The air was still cool enough that Mattie could wait in the car for us while we visited.

Such a beautiful site and a magnificent architectural marvel of stone and glass overlooking the gorgeous views of the valley.  A surprise just below the church that I didn’t remember from the past was a mansion.  I looked it up and all I found was “Mansion in Sedona”.  I guess there are many such mansions around in an area that is so beloved and so gentrified by wealthy people who want to live somewhere magnificent. 

So many beautiful places are now almost impossible to live in unless you are over the top wealthy.  Ah well.  I would have no desire to compete with the crowds and traffic in my daily life in order to live among the red rocks and famous spiritual vortexes of Sedona. Click on the link if you haven’t heard of the Sedona vortexes.

We were back at the MoHo, hooked up and ready to roll by 1PM.  Unsure of exactly where we might be headed, I started searching for campgrounds as Mo drove.  I was supposed to be navigating but wasn’t paying proper attention and somehow pointed to the wrong lane for the exit west to I-40 and we ended up going east.  Uh Oh.  We finally found a turn around and once again I missed the onramp west and we traveled right through downtown Flagstaff before finally onramping the I-40 several miles west of town.  I lost many points for my navigating skills that morning.

We settled on a Passport America campground in Kingman,  Fort Beale RV Park, still not decided on where we might travel the next day.  The night was simple, the campground was clean with level sites and decent hookups.  After boondocking for a bit, and knowing we planned to boondock again, it was good to have a place to take on water and dump the tanks before we headed somewhere west or north toward the Mojave Desert.

Friday, February 14, 2020

02/11 and 02/12 Meandering Arizona, family, Prescott, and Jerome

Ahh. from this -----

to this -----

After the open spaces of the desert at Quartzsite and traveling east along Interstate 10, we dropped into the greater Phoenix area and one night at a well located RV park.  Phoenix Metro RV Park was a good place to land, north of the city near I-17 and Highway 101, out of the main city and yet easily accessible to Mo’s cousin . Jim Ross and lovely wife Linda live in Phoenix during the winter and we sere surprised to realize that it has been 9 years since we last visited in 2011.

When we arrived at their charming home Linda was at an educational class on “creative reading”.  We were given a lesson by Jim on “creative remembering” as he took us to halls and rooms lined with literally dozens of photos of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  I have already forgotten how many there are in total, but something in the 40’s. 

When Linda returned home, we laughed and chatted as Mo and Jim reminisced about old family stories.  Jim is an avid genealogy buff and has tracked the family back through many generations.  He loves to tell the story of the distant uncle who was hanged in North Dakota for something or other.  Always have to find a black sheep somewhere to keep it interesting.

With their home in a lovely resort area, it was an easy walk to a nearby restaurant for supper.  Aunt Chilada’s Restaurant is located in a lovely hacienda like space that has been around since the 1800’s and is family owned.  Last time we visited in 2011, it was much warmer and we enjoyed dinner on the patio. This time it was too chilly to eat outside, and the hostess who knew Jim and Linda very well took us to the back of the restaurant to the best table in the house, right in front of the huge blazing and warm fire.  Perfect.  Our dinner was perfect as well, and we had delightful leftovers to carry us through the next day at our next boondock site.

It was dark when we returned to our home in the RV park, a perfectly decent place to land for just one night, but there were many people who obviously lived there for long periods. The homes were reasonably spaced, and you could tell who was permanent by the large pots of cactus and palms in their tiny yards.  There was a small dog park for Mattie, filled with logs and rocks and dirt piles, which kept her quite happy.

As we drove into town the previous day, we saw a thick blanket of snow on the mountains to the north.  UhOh.  Our original plan was to drive north on 17 toward Flagstaff, and find someplace to boondock as we continued west on I-40.  The snow scared us a bit and when it came time to leave the next morning, we started west on the 303 thinking we would return to Quartzsite.  North of us, however, the brilliant sun beckoned, and the snow seemed to have completely melted except for the highest elevations.

At Peoria, we turned back east toward I-17 and followed our original destination north.  Perusing our memories as we traveled, it was clear that Mo had never been to either Prescott or Sedona.  She did have some vague memories of visiting Jerome.  We decided it was time to meander north and figure out where we might stay as we traveled.

With AllStays, we found the possible boondocking site at the Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde, and decided that it would be a great place to park and then take the Tracker to explore Jerome and Sedona.  On the way, though, we traveled back west over the hills into the Prescott area. 

I had memories of the beautiful Courthouse Plaza in Prescott and knew that Mo would love the historical cowboy vibe there.  As we drove the 6 lane traffic filled roads through Prescott Valley into Prescott, I was aghast as how much the area has changed since I last visited in 2004.  Goodness!

We meandered all the way into Prescott, past huge shopping malls and every box store that exists, into the lovely historical area that is bisected by very narrow streets all jammed with angled parking.  It was a bit scary for the MoHo mirrors as we tried to find someplace to park where we could walk the inviting downtown area.

It was not to be.  There was no place to park anywhere that we could find, and if there was any kind of city parking lot for large vehicles, we never saw it.  Instead we traveled north toward Watson Lake County Park, where I hoped there would be some kind of turnaround for the MoHo.

There was still a bit of snow on the roadsides as we entered the park, declined to pay the day fee of $3.00 because we weren’t even sure we would stop, and continued up to a large parking area where there was enough room for the MoHo to turn around.  whew. 

Watson Lake was beautiful in the morning light, reflecting the magnificent weathered granite boulders that are the hallmark of the area.  March or April would be a great time to visit, perhaps a bit warmer and yet still enough water in the dammed lake to launch our kayaks.  It looked like just the kind of place we love to kayak.

We continued back north on 89A, which routes over the very steep and curvy Mingus Mountain road down into Jerome and on toward Camp Verde.  Mo was a bit frustrated with me because I resisted taking that road and instead routed us back to I-17, a few miles farther than route 89 would have been.  For only a moment, I thought about all the driving we have completed safely on Highway 1 on the California Coast, and yet still my memories of 89A into Jerome were ringing very loud warning bells.  Later, as we traveled through the town of Jerome, Mo was more than happy that we hadn’t made the attempt to do that road in the MoHo.

Once we arrived at Camp Verde and the casino, we settled into a lovely spot on the hill behind the parking garage, helped by the friendly guy in a little cart that showed us where to park.  We decided that it was cool enough that we could take Mattie with us on our visit to Jerome, so locked up the rig and took off west toward the tiny mining town.

Jerome is fun to visit, if you are prepared to walk steep streets and don’t have a problem with heights or vertigo.  The history of the  famous copper mining town built on a sliding hill is long and complex, too much to write here.  If you have visited, you know it, if not you can read about it here.

We found a parking place, cool enough for Mattie to wait for us, and started walking.  There are some amazing galleries and gift shops, a beautiful hotel high on the hill, and lots of things to see.  Two sticks served me well, and I managed to get up the steep streets for the art and the views. 

We had arrived late enough in the day that many of the shops and coffee shops were closed, but one beautiful gallery filled with a great variety of local art was still open.  We asked the owner about someplace to get a coffee, and she suggested that we have a cocktail with a view at the historic hotel at the top of the hill.  On the way back to the car however, we were seduced by Paul and Jerry’s Saloon.  One of the oldest family owned bars in Arizona, it was funky and fun, with a great old wooden bar with marble counters, and a bartender in white shirt, vest, and sleeve garters.

We ordered Irish coffees with Baileys and Jamison and lots of whipped cream.  Yummy.  And strong.  A bit shocked at the ten dollar price for each drink, we laughed, listened to the great music coming from the speakers above us, and talked with the bartender and other locals who had some fun stories. We had a great time, and the drinks were less than we would have spent if we had decided to entertain ourselves at the Casino in Camp Verde.

Returning home just before dark, we heated up our yummy Mexican leftovers from the previous day and settled in for an early night.  Sometime around 8, with us in pajamas, there was a knock at our door.  A security person said we had to move down the hill to the lower parking lot.  Really?  Mo, in her most kind voice said, “Oh, that nice man in the cart told us we could park here and even helped us park.”  The guard relented almost immediately, “Oh OK,” he said.  yay.  We didn’t have to put on clothes and pack everything up to move a few hundred yards. 

The night was lovely and quiet if very bright, although the brightness didn’t bother us.  We have enough protective shades in the MoHo that we were able to travel weeks in Alaska with midnight daylight, so a night at a brightly lit casino was a piece of cake.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

02-11-2020 Visiting Quartzsite

It feels wonderful to wake to the morning light here in Quartzsite. We don’t come here all that often. The lure of the extensive shopping tents and booths, and the thousands of RV’s scattered across the desert is less than alluring to us. Been here a few times, just to experience the Big Tent, to connect with other RV bloggers at Bloggerfest a time or two, and to overnight rarely when we are passing through the area.

In spite of all the things about Quartzsite that don’t excite us, it is undeniable that the desert here is gorgeous. A few saguaros punctuating the skyline like exclamation marks with arms, deep shadows on the surrounding mountains, and wide open skies. With the main event for the season over, the rigs are scattered widely here in La Posa South LTA. It’s good to know there is always a place to land here if you need it.

There was an almost full moon last night that appeared sometime in between the heavy rain that thundered on the roof as we retired for the night. I watched through the open windows in the bedroom portion of the MoHo. With a good distance between RV’s, there was no need to cover any of the windows for the night. What a treat to have all that open sky all around us. I woke a few times and watched the moon, and as morning approached I watched the rain clouds mask what attempted to be a bit of a sunrise. No color, but also no rain and some faint blue skies between the clouds. Lovely.

Taking Mattie for a walk was a bit colder than it looked, with the wind whipping around. She wasn’t all that excited about being outside. We are parked near a small wash with a bit of green grass, but she wasn’t interested in that either, wanting to walk on the moderately smooth road that didn’t have sharp rocks. I do know that if we were to spend any extended time in the desert, we would need to get her some of those little booties. I found a patch of what looked like miniature cholla plants, tiny things that were less than an inch high and even smaller in diameter that had long thorns as big as the almost invisible plants. Doggie damage was avoided, thank goodness, as we backed away from that area and returned to the road for the rest of our walk.

We left Catalina Spa yesterday morning under moderately cloudy skies, traveling east along Dillon Road for a nice long distance before intercepting I-10 in Indio for the rest of the journey. Most of the time the journey was uneventful, in spite of some heavy rain that we traveled through somewhere near Blythe.

We decided to fuel up just east of the State Line at the Flying J. There is a Love’s and a Pilot at Quartzsite, but in our experience, they are often incredibly crowded. The fuel at the Flying J was the same price, only 17 miles west of Quartzsite, and the station wasn’t terribly crowded. It even had a nice big RV pump area with both diesel and gasoline pumps.

By the time we got to Quartzsite, the skies were overcast but nicely for us, the rain held off till later in the evening. We had arranged to meet Gaelyn at her park for a visit, and emptied out a portion of the very full back area of the tracker to accommodate a third person. We had never been to Silly Al’s, a Quartzsite tradition I had read about for years. It was a good day to take a friend for pizza and lots of talk and laughter.

Gaelyn is every bit as much fun as I knew she would be, if a bit more lively and animated than shows from her photos. I would love to listen to some of her interpretive stories that she gives in the National Parks. What a hoot! She did tell us some inside stories about being a park ranger that I won’t repeat here, but oh so entertaining.

It was a short visit, but great to finally meet in person and meet Sierra the traveling kitty as well. The pizza was outstanding, too! All the reviews and conversation about Silly Al’s are not exaggerated. One of the best pizzas we have enjoyed anywhere…except maybe for our favorite wood fired pizza at our home town winery.

Today we will continue east toward Phoenix, meeting later this afternoon with Mo’s cousin Jim after we settle in to the Phoenix Metro RV Park. It has been a few years since we visited Jim and family in Phoenix and we are looking forward to it.