Archives for category: RV Life

P1030294.JPGMARY GOES DOWN, INTO THE EARTH, TO GET OUT OF THE RAIN, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM

We’ve been up on a mesa near Moab for the last four days – stranded without Internet. Oh, the horror! No weather forecast, no Internet shopping, no email. Oh, the horror! We’re back down in Moab and connected once again.

The mountain biking was good up there. You ride across the mesa in any direction and come to these chasms carved by the Colorado or Green Rivers and it seems you are looking into the planet’s interior – so deep are the canyons. The photo above shows Mary riding down a road to Mineral Bottom on the Green River. Going down tested her brakes. Coming back up tested her thighs. (Her thighs are great.) Here’s a view from the bottom looking up.

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We’ve been looking at real estate this winter in Arizona but it wasn’t until today that we found a house we could afford:

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We’re getting ready to continue our northern migration so today we drove up into Arches National Park before we leave. We visited it back in the 90s but we wanted to have another look. It was well worth a second look.

A cold front is coming and high winds today heralded its arrival. Mary had to lend a hand (finger?) to support the famous Balance Rock at Arches which was in danger of being blown off its pedastal:

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P1030290.JPGSPRUCE TREE HOUSE

Back in the 90s when we had our first RV, a little green Terry trailer, and the kids were kids, we took a Chevy-Chase-style summer vacation through Dinosaur, Flaming Gorge, and Arches National Parks. For some reason which I have forgotten, we skipped Mesa Verde. I remember that I was intrigued by photos of the ancient, abandoned Pueblos of Mesa Verde and wanted to go there – but we didn’t.

Well, with all the stars aligned this year, we just had to go, and go we did a few days ago. But folks, I gotta tell ya, Mesa Verde National Park was disappointing.

In the first place, the weather was overcast which doesn’t help. When we checked at the Visitor Center we learned that much of the park doesn’t open until May so many of the popular sights simply weren’t available for us, including the campsites. We checked at a commercial campsite outside the park and it was $40 – $50. For a skinflint like me that was a real turnoff.

Outraged by the disappointments, we were on our way to greener pastures when I decided that we needed to turn around and see whatever we could in the park.

We drove up the steep road onto the mesa (which, by the way, should be called Mesa Gris (gray mesa) not Mesa Verde (green mesa.) So many fires have burned through the park that only dead wood is visible.

The only pueblo that was open was one called Spruce Tree House (see photo.) After the pristine nature of the Hovenweep ruins, Spruce Tree House seemed sullied – about like a Disneyland version of a ruin where stucco and paint simulate stone and timber. Or perhaps an aging woman unsuccessfully trying to cover her age with makeup. I suppose wear and tear is inevitable when thousands of little kids run their greasy hands over the surface of things. But what is this? Do I see the telltale patina of spray paint?

I mentioned this to Mary but she wouldn’t accept it. She put the question to the attending ranger who denied that the Park Service had painted the ruin. But closer inspection confirmed my suspicion. Cement-based mortar had been used to repair the stone wall. In places it had been rubbed off and the cement color was clearly visible. The rest of the ruin had a uniform tan color that closely approximated sandstone – but not quite. Anyone who has seen graffiti painted over knows the look. I don’t know if the ranger was lying or merely ignorant but this is not what I expect of the Department of the Interior – painting ruins and then lying about it!

We beat a hasty retreat to nearby Moab, Utah – a mountain biking mecca with red sandstone in every direction. The Moab I remembered from our last vacation as a place where outdoor enthusiasts outnumber all other forms of humanity is still here. We are camped atop a mesa out of town on BLM land – good ol’ BLM where the nightly fee is $7.50 and the mountain biking trails are everywhere.

It was rather cold and windy yesterday so we decided to forego a bike ride until today. We went over to nearby Dead Horse State Park and took a hike. The red sandstone is awesome – unless of course they PAINTED IT AND THEN LIED ABOUT IT!

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P1030288.JPGHIGH FIVING ON THE MOVE

Mary’s prowess as a mountain biker continues to grow. We did a nineteen-miler today to several other “ancestral puebloan” ruins. There was some steep, rocky climbing at several points and she did an admirable job of maneuvering over the rough parts. I had to high five her after one heroic (and successful) effort. While my congratulations may cast her accomplishments as travails, she clearly has been enjoying the rides.

On the way home from today’s ride we came to a cattle guard which Mary, out of caution, slowed down to cross. I hit it at full speed, “jumping” my bike over it, to which Mary’s response was a rolling of eyes and shaking of head.

“You’re like a little kid sometimes” was her expressed analysis of my behavior.

She may have a point there. At the beginning of today’s ride was a steep hill which I attacked by standing on my pedals and going all out. It felt good to cut loose. I usually have that feeling at the beginning of an outing, be it a hike or a bike ride. I think I am not unlike a third-grader let out to recess at times like these. While I don’t actually remember being a third-grader let out to recess, I have often noted the way little kids run with abandon around a playground. How different from even slightly older kids, say fifteen-year-olds, they are. It’s the same with animals. Look at colts, calves, and lambs. They all run and kick up their heels for the sheer joy of exertion.

A case of arrested development? Sometimes Mary wonders. My take is that I’m fortunate at 65 to still feel such impulses.

But then there is also my lack of fashion sense. I was reading aloud from a Park Service handout today as we stood on a cliff looking at some ruins when Mary started chuckling.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Look at you with your dorky helmet” she managed after a lengthy fit of chuckles.

She may have a point there; duct tape is probably not haute couture but it is functional:

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Mary has informed me on more than a few occasions that she would never have given me a second look if we had gone to the same high school. Although she denies it, I suspect Mary was one of the cool kids. I’ve seen her high school yearbook photos and she was definitely a looker, which, if you’re a chick, translates into cool.

In any case, I don’t dignify such assaults on my coolness with a reasoned defense. My standard response is: “Hey, you married me” which I think settles the matter. Besides, I think Mary likes my dorkiness. Her derision always seems tinged with affection and I’ve got 35 years of marriage to back me up.

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Matthew and Teneille (our son and daughter-in-law) gave us a picture book for Christmas entitled Off the Beaten Path which state-by-state highlights little-known sights to see. One of the entries for Utah is a place called Hovenweep National Monument – a place neither of us had ever heard of but since we were in the neighborhood (southeast corner of Utah) we decided to give it a look.

The turnoff from UT191 for Hovenweep is an inconspicuous, faded, brown sign that would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Once we turned, the spacious pavement of Highway 191 quickly narrowed down to a thin layer of patched and re patched asphalt from which the yellow dotted line had long since faded. A small sign announced that it would be a 28-mile journey to Hovenweep. The road bounced and snaked through several washes then rose up several hundred feet to a sage-covered plateau which for many miles showed no sign of human habitation.

After what seemed at least ten miles of travel we came to a sign that informed us that Hovenweep was another 22 miles ahead. Could the highway department be playing games with us? we both wondered (28-10=22????.)

Thirty minutes into the drive we had met only a single vehicle. We began to have second thoughts about this Hovenweep place. Was it worth seeing? Would it be open? Would the trailer get mired in mud? Did it really exist? That old TV show, The Twilight Zone, in which weird things happen to unsuspecting people, crossed my mind, with us as the unsuspecting couple and Hovenweep as some chimera where weird stuff happens.

We eventually did see a few houses. They seemed to be arranged as a compound and, this being polygamy country, we wondered if some “Big Love” might be going on inside those walls. When we shortly passed two guys with foot-long grey beards talking by their pickups along the roadside we had our proof.

When at last we turned in to the Visitor Center at Hovenweep there was only one car in the parking lot. It was with suspicion in my eyes that I opened the Visitor Center door and peered around. A normal looking human dressed in a Park Service uniform stood behind the counter. He was the only person in the room. A brief conversation about the monument’s facilities was sufficient to satisfy me that the likelihood of an ambush by aliens was minimal (hey, those aliens are tricky!)

But after all our misgivings, the campground turned out to be a very nice campground. Of course, there were only two other campers in the campground but they looked human. And the monument is spectacular! Take a look at these photos:

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I would have guessed Hovenweep is a Dutch town (“Ja, they make good cheese over in Hovenweep.”) ¬†Actually, Hovenweep is a Paiute word meaning “deserted valley.” Archeologists have determined that about 800 years ago this area was inhabited by a community of several hundred Indians that left behind these impressive examples of stone masonry.

It amazes me that this place isn’t more well-known.

We did an 8-mile hike today to another village ruin that is even more impressive than the one near the Visitor Center. Even the hike over there was unique. At the beginning and the end the trail passes through long (50-ft,) narrow slots in enormous boulders that are barely wide enough for a normal person to squeeze through (sign suggestion: NO FAT HIKERS)

P1030275.JPGMARY IN THE SLOT

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Most amazing to me is that these buildings have withstood 800 years of weathering. The mortar between the stones appears to be nothing more than mud. Look at the base of the tower built on that boulder. Those base stones are somehow “glued” to a steeply-angled surface. Beats me how they did that without Thin-Set. And most of these structures are built atop enormous boulders that have separated from the hillside. The sheer size of those boulders in that setting brought to mind that line from Genesis: “And in those days there were giants in the earth.” I would add “and talented stone masons too.”

P1030254.JPGSTANDING ON A CORNER IN WINSLOW ARIZONA (such a fine sight to see?)

After leaving Payson, we drove northeast into the giant Navajo Reservation. As every Baby Boomer knows, Winslow is the town The Eagles made famous in their song, Takin’ It Easy.

“Well I’m standin’ on a corner
In Winslow Arizona.
Such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my lord
In a flatbed Ford
Slowin’ down to take a look at me”

I can only imagine that guy (the songwriter) was eager to get a ride out of Winslow because there isn’t much there that I could see. Except, that is, that unusual little car behind me in the photo. That’s a Crosley. Never heard of it? Neither had I. I looked it up and they were built from 1939 – 1952. The first model sold for $250! Crosley was allowed to build them during WWII when the other car manufacturers had to switch to military vehicles because this car got 50 mpg and there was a gasoline shortage nationwide.

From Winslow we went north to Canyon de Chelly National Monument which I have always wanted to see but because it is so off the beaten path, I’d never been willing to make the effort. We’re glad we went. Look at these photos:

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I can’t get enough of the reddish sandstone canyons of Arizona and Utah. Canyon de Chelly is beautiful enough but my complaint is that the Park Service only allows you to see it from the rim. In order to enter the canyon you have to hire a Navajo guide. The one exception is a single 1.5-mile trail when enabled me to get the above photos of Mary (or should I say Bright Eyes? In accordance with Navajo tradition, Mary and I have adopted descriptive names while we’re on the Rez. I am known as Farts Like a Horse.)

P1030267.JPGFARTS LIKE A HORSE AND BRIGHT EYES

We drove the North Rim the first afternoon at Canyon de Chelly. Next day we drove the South Rim but we were pressed for time because checkout time at the campground was noon. This resulted in us swerving into each of the five overlooks, taking a quick look, and racing to the next one – sometimes a little sooner than Mary would have liked:

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I don’t know how anyone can drive through the Navajo Reservation and not be struck by the poverty. At least I imagine poverty is responsible for the dilapidated state of housing here. We have seen thousands of homes as we pass through the reservation and not a single one, not a single one can be described as anything but a shanty – not a blade of grass, not one rose bush – nothing but dirt and peeling paint. And the most remarkable thing is that the run-down nature of the houses is across-the-board. Apparently there are no rich Navajos – everyone is poor. The only buildings on the reservation that look halfway decent are the schools. The schools could pass for schools anywhere in America. It is truly bizarre.

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We’ve been having some great rides in the Arizona backcountry this winter which have served the double purpose of immediate gratification and preparation for our upcoming Great Divide ride. In the back of our minds as we tool down these desert roads is what will the terrain be like next summer when we ride from the Canadian border to the Mexican border on back roads along the Continental Divide? Do we have what it takes to climb all those grades and deal with those ruts in the trail?

We have two continent-crossing road rides under out belts but mountain biking is a horse of a different color. Our newly-purchased mountain bikes have performed very well and we have high hopes.

I’ve done some backcountry riding over the years but it’s new to Mary. She was very cautious on our first few outings: she would often walk down hills for fear of falling. She was also reluctant to tax herself on the uphills. The more we ride though, the stronger and more confident she becomes. We were out for two and one half hours today and there was no dismounting and she kept up a good pace over some rugged mountain roads. But the corker was when she came zooming by me near the end of the ride and shouted (I thought) “Wanna see some butt in you face?!” – which I did as she rocketed ahead of me in a cloud of dust.

“No more Cautious Mary” I thought. “This girl’s going to give me a run for my money!”

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I caught up to her and asked her if I had heard her correctly. She laughed and said what she had actually yelled was “Did you get some bugs in your face?” (Apparently she had.)

Be it bugs or butt, Mary’s skill on a mountain bike has steadily improved and it’s fine with me if she pulls ahead and gives me her butt to look at.

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One pleasant aspect of desert camping for me is the act of peeing. There is something liberating about relieving myself in wide open spaces. Flushing toilets were a great invention and certainly have their place where humans live in close proximity but absent the crowds – who needs them? To be able to mindlessly let go and not worry about hitting a target (toilet bowl) is one obvious advantage of going au natural. Another is the anytime, anyplace convenience. No need to clamp down, cross one’s legs, or dance around impatiently – just whip it out and cut loose.

But these are minor considerations. While daytime peeing is more or less a biological necessity, a simple response to an urge, nighttime peeing is in a class all its own. Peeing under the stars is a mystical, almost magical experience for me. When I wake up in the night and slip out of the trailer to relieve myself I seem to enter another world. You see, the act of peeing is a moment of enforced inactivity. A guy is standing there, legs spread wide, and where is he going to go? What can he do? It is, of necessity, a time for reflection. As is usually the case in the desert, the night sky is full of stars. I invariably look up at them and I am reminded that astronomers have determined that those tiny points of light are actually violent nuclear furnaces separated from us by unimaginable distances. I think it is the vastness of the universe that overwhelms me as I stand there. I see myself as a tiny, random entity tucked away in an inconspicuous corner of existence and the feeling I have is one of awe. I have been reminded of my own insignificance – a necessary task, for, like a small child, I have a tendency during daylight hours to see myself as the center of the universe.

After standing thus for thirty seconds or so, transfixed by the night sky, properly humbled by universal vastness and feeling the soothing abatement of pressure within my bladder, I turn and grope my way back into the unlit interior of our trailer where I re-enter the soothing warm space between the sheets of our bed. That foreign realm where I am alone among the stars, where the day-to-day rules that govern our civilized lives don’t apply, is outside now – out there where distances are measured in light years and objects the size of our planet are small change. My brief excursion into the mystical desert night is over and I am again reassured that I am who I have always imagined myself to be – the center of the universe.

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We have started our northward migration. We’re in Payson, Arizona now. Payson is in central Arizona, pine and juniper country and, while at 5000 ft it’s elevation is not particularly high for Arizona, it is high enough to keep the temperature down about where we like it for bicycle riding – to wit, 70F. Yesterday it was near 80F when we passed through Safford. With this intense Arizona sun, 80 is too hot.

There is also a lot of sandstone around here. We took a bike ride this afternoon up a dirt road into the pine forest and I saw something that made me drool. To grade the road, the Forest Service had to scrape a lot of sandstone out of the roadbed. This grading resulted in thousands of luscious slabs of the stone carelessly discarded along the side of the road. As many of my readers know, I once made a career out of stacking stones into retaining walls around Wenatchee, Washington. I was known as Rockman. I worked primarily with basalt – a rock that breaks irregularly. Basalt doesn’t come flat. The few flat rocks that came my way were a type of rock called schist and they were quite rare – too rare to be squandered in a wall. I always used them for stone steps.

I suppose I should be thankful that flat stone was uncommon around Wenatchee. Anyone can stack flat stone. It takes a while to learn to stack irregular rock like basalt and my skill at working with it gave me an edge on the competition. I was able to earn a comfortable living as Rockman.

Last night we camped at Lake Theodore Roosevelt. The lake is touted as the largest lake in Arizona but I’m not so sure it still qualifies. The drought has taken quite a toll and the water level is way down. I thought the level of Lake Mead was low but this lake has almost disappeared!

Anyway, this morning at Roosevelt as we were sitting at our table eating breakfast, a vermillion flycatcher landed in the tree right outside our window. I’m not much of a birder anymore but I have often seen the striking images of vermillion flycatchers in bird books and always wished to see one in the flesh. The paintings in the bird identification book don’t do justice to the brilliance of the bird’s plumage. It is spectacular.

I tried to get a photo of him but he was uncooperative. He didn’t stay still long enough for me to get my camera so this painted image will have to do.

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Payson is said to have a lot of hiking and biking trails so we hope to liberally sample them. We should be here a while.

P1030238.JPGOUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR

When leading the gypsy life, as we are, with new neighbors each time we change locale, we find ourselves taking stock of our surroundings on a regular basis. Call it “getting the lay of the land,” call it passing judgement, it is a basic human instinct in which we inevitably participate.

Our usual milieu is freebie BLM camping or other Federal land but in the vicinity of Sierra Vista we were unable to score any of that. So, for the last week we have resided at a small RV park in Huachuca City whose chief attraction initially was its cheapness. At $15/day (or even better, $200/mo.) it is quite a bargain, offering as it does full hook-ups and the security of watchful neighbors. But as we have settled in and observed the comings and goings around us, we find ourselves indulging in the ongoing drama of life in a trailer park as an added attraction.

The park is small – perhaps twenty spaces. All of the other residents seem to be long-term. Their “accommodations” are uniformly vintage RVs of modest size and faded exterior. The general impression we have of them is that these are people who did not draw winning tickets in the lottery of life.

[At this point, I should remind the reader that my comments are based on nothing more than a week’s casual observation and are subject to all the usual biases and hasty conclusions that constitute gossip, but since it is unlikely that neither this blog’s readers nor the park residents will ever meet, I don’t think there is anything improper in “flapping my lips.”]

Nan, the park owner, is a cheerful woman who lives elsewhere but maintains an office in the park to which she visits each day and at which she “holds court” to converse in friendly chatter with her clientele. Mary and I independently came to the conclusion that Nan is a business woman but she is also a benefactor of sorts. One gets the impression that she thinks of her down-and-out clientele as her charges and she is looking out for them. They seem to like her and she cares for them.

Nan wasn’t here when we first pulled in. One of the residents named Brenda greeted us and gave us a glowing rundown of all the park’s amenities. I admit that we were somewhat hesitant to stay because of the careworn look of many of the RVs but the bargain price overcame whatever reluctance we had. Brenda stayed with us to guide us into our stall that first day. She has been a friendly neighbor ever since. In fact, all of our neighbors that we have met have been friendly. Dressed in pajamas and walking their little dogs at ten o’clock in the morning is when we encounter many of the elderly among them.

A few days after we arrived, we returned from the day’s outing to find a dilapidated trailer filling the formerly vacant space next to us. Not only was the trailer’s exterior sheathed in duct tape and peeling paint, but the interior was bare of all furnishing. Late in the day our new neighbors arrived, transported to their new home by (we later learned) the man’s employer. As best we can piece together, their situation is this: Young couple (late twenties or early thirties,) no possessions, no vehicle, new job, employer -provided trailer. Apparently, they literally had nothing but the clothes on their backs and each day they bring home a few items as they go about building a life for themselves. Their first night they had no window coverings so it was all I could do to avoid looking into their barren trailer which was dimly illuminated by a feeble light or two. (The windows are now covered by some kind of brown cloth.) Yesterday, the guy brought home a propane canister, which leads me to believe that until then they had no way to cook or heat their trailer (nights have been in the 30s.)

At this moment I am sitting at my writing desk and looking across the parking lot at Brenda as she hangs her wash on a clothesline strung between her trailer and a nearby tree. A white-whiskered old guy dressed in a cowboy hat and a bathrobe hobbles from the shower house back to his trailer. His little dog follows.

And so, life goes on at Corte Del Rey. Nan should be arriving any time now to see how her charges are doing and we are left to wonder what housekeeping necessity our next-door neighbors will bring with them when they come home from their new jobs.

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Mary Meets an Earp?

Inclement weather interrupted our hiking and bicycle riding spree today. We had heard that Tombstone, the Arizona town where Wyatt and some other Earps had a shootout at the OK Corral, is nothing but a tourist trap so we didn’t want to waste a good day there. This being a not-so-good day, we decided to waste it.

Judging by the ubiquitous costumed town employees, Tombstone on a good day must have quite a few tourists to pay for all the overhead. Today, a Monday with cold wind and threatening clouds, it looked more like a ghost town:

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We did a quick stroll down the Main Street, ducked into a few souvenir shops, and skeedaddled. Mary wanted to buy me a $70 genuine Stetson Texas Ranger hat but I demurred. “Where would I wear it?” I protested (although, I must admit, I did look ruggedly handsome in it.) I would have shared a photo of my rugged handsomeness with y’all except a sign posted nearby read “These Hats Are For Buying, Not For Picture Taking!”

We had not expected much of our visit to Tombstone and we were not disappointed. We returned to our luxurious fifth wheel to comfortably read our growing collection of books on local history – not a bad way to spend a “not-so-good day.”