Archives for category: southwest travel


SIREN SONG OF THE DESERT

Just about anywhere you camp in the desert you can hear the coyotes at night.  Their yip, yip, yipping, sometimes far away, sometimes just outside the RV door, is as much a part of the desert night as the starry sky and saguaros in the moonlight.  Naive little Rudy thinks they are calling to him “Come out and play with us.  We’re your friends……arooooh!”  Rudy doesn’t speak coyote, you see.  He only speaks dog and he thinks all dogs want to play with him.  He’s still a puppy and he wants to play with any and every dog so he doesn’t know any better.  He hasn’t yet learned that it is a cold, cruel world out there.  He doesn’t know that the coyotes would tear him into pieces.

What the coyotes really mean behind their siren song is “Give us the little black dog and we’ll leave you alone.”  The coyotes are trying to strike a bargain but I’m not buying.  They don’t intimidate me.  A man with a stout club is more than a match for a pack of coyotes.  I might even use the jaw bone of an ass, Samson style, to subdue them.  I say “Bring it on, coyotes!”

Speaking of Samson, I wonder what would have become of him if he had lived into old age.  They say his strength lay in his long hair.  Well what if Samson had lived to be 67 like me and gone bald (like me)?  Would his strength have decreased as each hair follicle shrivelled up and blew away?  Would he have become weaker and weaker until he was just a feeble old man (unlike me)?  Would some Phillistine punk have jumped him in an alley and kicked the _ _ _ _ out of him?  Would the lead story in the Jericho Times the next day have been “SAMSON ROLLED IN ALLEY BEHIND AARON’S BAR”?  Alas, we’ll never know since that Delilah bitch sold him down the river.  Poor Samson.


SAMSOM AT 67

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We arrived at Lake Mead (near Las Vegas) this morning after leaving Tucson yesterday.  Several events to report:

 Just outside of Wikieup along Highway 93 our windshield was pelted by a sudden downpour (or so we thought).  Strangely, the sky was cloudless.  Even stranger, this downpour only lasted a mere second although it left our windshield covered with residue.  Mary and I traded looks of bewilderment.  On closer inspection, I noticed that the “raindrop” residue had a distinct yellowish cast.  “Bug guts!” I declared in triumph.  Further inspection when we stopped for gas showed the bug remnants to contain bits and pieces of bees.  We had hit a swarm of bees at 60 MPH and the bees, predictably, had not fared  well.  Lucky for us, we had a windshield in front of us.  A band of motorcyclists that had just passed were not so lucky.  We passed them a few miles down the road, pulled off to the side, removing their clothing and picking bees out of the folds.

At the aforementioned gas station, we pulled in behind a car to be next in line to use the only accessible diesel pump (which was the next one in front of the car).  Before that car moved, a motorcycle drove up to the pump we wanted to use and started pumping gas.  Meanwhile, the car leaves and I’m all set to pull forward as soon as the motorcylce leaves.  About this time, Mary decides to wash the bug guts off the windshield and she’s hanging on to the cab with the door open (because the truck windshield is too high for her to reach from the ground.  The motorcycle leaves but I can’t pull forward because our open door would have hit another motorcycle or squeezed closed on Mary.  Before I can notify Mary to get down, a car full of women pulls up to “our” pump.  The driver gets out, but instead of pumping gas, she heads into the MiniMart, to pee (or worse).  Five minutes go by; ten minutes.  About this time I’m thinking about barging into the Ladies Room and pulling this lady out by the shirt collar with her pants around her ankles but she saves me the trouble when she finally emerges.  She leisurely pumps some gas.  But now the gas station attendant has decided to clean the garbage cans and has pulled one out to block the way.  I don’t even have to tell Mary what to do.  She runs up to our pumps and begins to stand guard.  Woe be to anyone who had dared drive up to our pump!

We finally get our diesel, drive away and a mile down the road we see a large yellow sign next to a palm tree with thick black letters that reads “INDIAN JEW”. “Indian Jew?” I wonder.  “That’s a first”.  But as we drive past, I see that the palm tree has obscured the rest of the sign.  No, we have not come across a unique cultural hybrid.  The little adobe building next to the sign is actually selling INDIAN JEWELRY!

Another fifty miles past Wikieup, we stopped in Kingman and had a nice chat with my nephew Ranier and his mother Mavis.  Kingman is the spittin’ image of Victorville, CA forty years ago.  Same Joshua Trees, same elevation, same jackrabbits.  All in all, a nice little town.

The last time I remember going through Kingman was 1960.  That was before Interstate 40.  Route 66 went through downtown then.  I was ten years old.  I must not have been paying attention as we came into town because as we drove along the main street I noticed Kingman Grocery, Kingman Hardware, Kingman Pharmacy, etc.  I said something like “Boy, those Kingmans sure own a lot of this town.”  Older brother Lars set me straight:  “Kingman is the name of the town, Idiot!” 


LIEF & HIS TUTOR

When looking for a project this winter, we considered prospecting for gold, volunteering to labor on the Pacific Crest Trail, and rehabilitating a house in Ajo, Arizona.  After due consideration, none of those projects was panning out so I investigated Plan D – studying German in preparation for our bicycle trip in Europe this summer.  Plan D was looking like another dead end when I chanced upon a University of Arizona website that listed something about language tutoring.  I was rather discouraged at that point but on the off chance that something might come of it, I inquired about a possible German tutor.  I was immediately put in touch with a student named Christina whom I then contacted and it has worked out very well indeed.

The arrangement between tutor and tutee is whatever the two agree to.  In our case, it is $20/hour.  For that, I received the undivided attention of Christina  with no unwanted emphasis on grammer or other linguistic trivia that is of no interest to me.  No waiting while each classmate in-turn regurgitates the same answer to the same question.  Pure conversation is what I got; lots of practice deciphering everyday speech and cobbling together phrases determined by the situation.  After six weeks of conversation, I am convinced that an hour of conversation is worth a week of classroom instruction.  Christina is a German exchange student at UofA studying architecture so I got the real deal, not Americanized German. (It didn’t hurt that she is a beautiful young woman either).

Winter is over so we’re pulling up stakes and heading home.  After six weeks of conversation practice my German is much improved.  Now, if only I can find a German tutor near Chelan to keep up my progress.



AQUANUTS?

We have taken full advantage of the record warm spell in Tucson.  Every day for the last two weeks we have swum laps at the trailer park pool.  We’re up to fifty!  We have definitely improved.  I’m getting so fast that Mary is complaining about the wave I leave in my wake.  She says it “swamps” her when she’s backstroking, which I find hard to believe because she has a mean backstroke.

Tomorrow it is forecasted to be down in the low 70s which is too cool for these fair-weather swimmers.  We have had the pool to ourselves as this is a senior citizen trailer park and most of the residents, for various reasons, don’t feel up to swimming.  We would probably resent it if anyone were to use “our” pool at this point.

They say the snow is melting back in North Central Washington so we will be pulling up stakes by the end of the week and heading for home.  We’ll probably stop off at Lake Mead for up to a week and then make our usual mad dash for home.


NO MARK SPITZ, HE

The name of that new guy who won all the swimming gold at the Rio Olympics eludes me at the moment so I’ll compare myself to the great Mark Spitz of Munich fame.  Let’s just say I’ve got a way to go.   There is a decent sized swimming pool at the Crossroads RV Park in Tucson where we’re staying and with the 90-degree weather Mary and I have been swimming every day for a week.  We’re up to 40 laps now but I’m spaghetti-armed for the last few laps.  The weather is forecasted to stay hot for a few more days before it cools down.  We may make it to 50 laps before it all ends.

Even with the warm weather, the water takes some getting used to.  It generally takes us five minutes to slowly and painfully adjust to the cold water.  I know it’s better to just jump in and get it all over with but I somehow just can’t.

Keen student of human behavior that I am, I have become aware of a primitive instinct erupting to the surface of my psyche of late.  The annual NCAA basketball tournament, the so-called March Madness, is underway as I write.  I generally pay about as much attention to basketball as I do to the latest trends in wedding gowns (none), but the University of Arizona is in the competition this year and I find myself giving a damn about their prospects.  Why?  Good question.  My affiliation with UofA amounts to no more than that I meet with my German tutors on the campus several times a week.  But sitting as we do at an outdoor table in the shadow of the enormous Wildcat football stadium, I have absorbed a modicum of school spirit.  Such a strange thing allegiance is.  After all, if the Wildcats do well, it is no reflection on me.  I have contributed nothing to their success or failure.  And yet, how easily we humans attach ourselves to groups, teams, nations of all kinds.  Even a rationalist like myself is susceptible.  Instincts – don’t understimate them.


Tucson claims to host the world’s largest gem & mineral show and I can believe it.  There are enormous tents and convention halls all over the city filled with dazzling displays of rocks, gems, and fossils.  We spent and hour strolling through the 22d Street show and were duly impressed.  After admiring 2-ton geodes and entire dinosaur fossils costing tens of thousands of dollars, I settled for the five dollar pyrite chunk in the photo above.

Our current pastime is biting off 20-mile sections of the 130-mile paved loop trail that surrounds the city.  We did a section yesterday and another today.  Yesterday we nearly bit off more than we could chew.  We rode a mere 26 miles but the temperature hit 90 degrees (a Tucson record for this date).  Mary’s face was beet red from overheating near the end.

The temperature was a more tolerable 80 degrees today.  We rode past the Pima Air and Space Museum but the best attraction was a thrilling aerobatic display over Davis-Monthan AFB that we witnessed from the trail.  The ground beneath our feet shook as the F-22 Raptor poured it on and climbed from just above the airfield, straight up and out of sight.


My View

In more down-to-earth matters, Rudy has a front-row seat from his perch on the front of my bike.  His bat ears, like radar antennae, never stop rotating, sometimes independently, scanning the surrounding countryside for vermin of all sorts.  The ground squirrels and roadrunners that scurry through the trail-side brush present an almost too tempting lure to him.  He wants to leap out of his bin and give chase so I have had to tether him for his own good.


Nine months of the year Quartzsite is little more than a collection of filling stations along Interstate 10 near the California-Arizona border.  But each winter its population swells from several hundred to many thousands as RVers from all over the US and Canada stream south to enjoy the bountiful sunshine and cheap living it offers.  

Blessed with flat terrain and a gravelly surface that holds down dust when the wind blows and doesn’t turn muddy after the occasional rain, it is the perfect landscape for vehicles of all shapes and sizes.  Some genius at the Bureau of Land Management has put together an amazingly simple program (Long-Term Visitor Area (LTVA)) that seems to work to everyone’s benefit.  For the modest fee of a few dollars per day RVers get uncrowded parking, fresh water, and sewage and trash service.  The BLM pockets a tidy profit of several million dollars per year (a government program that makes money!)

LTVAs, incidentally, offer the curious a sort of sociological experiment.  What kind of community do you get when you pluck several thousand middle-class, over-fifty couples together in the middle of nowhere?  No crime for one thing.  No trash for another.  Not a great deal of socialization either.  People here are friendly enough if you approach them but few people seem to go out of their way to congregate or exchange more than a few friendly words.  Past a certain age, the company of strangers holds limited appeal.

Territoriality also seems to crop up with surprising regularity.  Everywhere you look, former and present RVers have gratuitously gathered rocks and outlined “their” space on the desert floor.

Quartzsite has its own radio station.  Whether it bothers to transmit a signal during the summer when the town is deserted I’d be curious to know.  But now it, most appropriately, it dredges up exclusively, oldies from the sixtys and seventys – not surprising when you consider who the audience is.  I enjoy it.

The disparity between the summer and winter populations seems to present a dilemma to the cellular telephone service providers.  During the peak season when the big RV show is taking place, late January, the signal is overwhelmed and service is slow.  I have to wait until late at night, for example, to send out my blog post.  The show ended yesterday and the ranks are thinning so, hopefully, this post will make it out during daylight hours.

We too, will be leaving.  It should come as no surprise that RVers tend to be a restless bunch.  If they were content to stay in one place they’d be sitting on the couch at home.  Always curious what is on the other side of the distant mountains, we’re thinking of heading east toward Tucson.


We have been in Quartzsite for several days, waiting for the start of the big RV jamboree.  Motor homes are all around us in every direction, as far as the eye can see, thousands of them.  The big tent opened for business yesterday.  It’s probably several acres in area and filled with hundreds of vendors selling everything from sewage pumps to snake oil.  Despite the variety of offerings, we didn’t see anything we couldn’t live without except a jar of Dead Sea salt mixed with various emollients which is guaranteed to heal cracked skin (my only physical flaw, bald head excluded).  We shall see.

Mary has developed an infatuation of late with Class B+ motorhomes and we have looked at a lot of them here.  They are the little ones with multiple slides.  This would probably be the place to buy an RV if one was in the market.  Hundreds and hundreds of them from many vendors.  I have had my hands full as the voice of reason reminding Mary what a nice setup we already have with our fifth wheel.  The other night we had a rain storm and wind while we were snug in our trailer watching satellite TV.  A “grass looks greener on the other side of the fence” situation if you ask me.  But then, who’s asking.

I talked Mary into baking some of her award winning Dutch oven bread using the little gas oven in the trailer.  She was doubtful but the results are spectacular.  If anything, these loaves are better than the ones she makes at home.

Rudy’s exercise routine continues to evolve.  It’s current manifestation involves me on my mountain bike with Rudy out front tethered by one of those recoil leashes.  I was hesitant to try this arrangement because I thought I might run over him but he so loves to run that he stays well ahead with constant tension on the leash.  If only he were a little bigger he’d make and excellent sled dog.  I take him on a 5-mile run and then take him home in my bike’s basket.  He doesn’t seem to tire but the rocky road is hard on his paws.

By the way, we got the results back from DNA My Dog.  We just had to know what his pedigree is so we had his DNA analyzed.  Somewhat surprising.  He’s 75% schnauzer and 25% dachshund.  I don’t know how that accounts for his bat ears.  And his long legs certainly didn’t come from a dachshund.  I think he looks like a miniature husky or a black fox.


DACHSHUND?!


This is why we come to the Arizona desert each winter.  For the last week the dawn has been wonderfully repetitious here at Quartzsite:  The star-filled night sky switches off star by star until only a planet or two remains illuminated.  Next, the mountain range to the east is faintly outlined by a pale, colorless glow.  Slowly, imperceptibly, a dash of blueness  appears high above followed by an orange backdrop to the mountain crags.  The orange light intensifies until, at last, the sun itself bursts in all its brilliance over the mountains and into the sea of blue sky.  It is day, once again, in the desert.

The intense morning sun notwithstanding, several hours are required for the nighttime chill to be overcome and my morning walk to begin.  Viewed from above, my walk’s trajectory must appear erratic but like a hound on a trail of scent, there is method to my wandering – I progress from curiosity to curiosity.  Most sightings, upon inspection, fail to make the grade but occasionally I stumble upon something worth retrieving and adding to my collection of souvenirs.  In years past, my collection was comprised mostly of unusual rocks but in the last few days I have carried home two man-made objects:


One is a fragment of horseshoe.  I’m no expert on horseshoes but this fragment, which was found in an inconspicuous and  untrammeled section of the La Posa Plain, looks to be of nineteenth-century provenance.  It is smaller than twentieth-century horseshoes I’ve seen and extremely well-worn – just what I imagine to have been the state of horseshoes in less affluent yesteryear about the time they were thrown by some overworked and undernourished pony.  Who knows, this could have been a shoe from Jim Bridger’s or Kit Carson’s mount.  It may have been laying undisturbed in the desert sand for nearly two hundred years until I stumbled upon it.

My other recently acquired treasure is a curious piece of leaded glass made lavender by the desert sun.  I think it is a glass stopper to a perfume bottle.  Again, I’m no expert on perfume bottles, but as a small boy I remember seeing just such a stopper in my Grandmother Reenie’s perfume bottle.   As any collector of purple glass knows, it takes many years for leaded glass to turn from clear to the rich purple my glass stopper exhibits.  How long?  Two hundred years perhaps – just long enough for this stopper to have been discarded by a “lady of ill repute” from a territorial saloon!  She may have been clinging to the back of her outlaw boyfriend as they galloped, two-on-a-horse, across the plain with a sheriff’s posse in pursuit.  In her haste to make good her escape she had carelessly packed her most important possessions – her makeup and perfume – in a saddlebag from which the aforementioned stopper bounced!  Yeah!  That’s probably how the stopper came to be where I found it!

On a more mundane note, Mary and I rode our bicycles to Palm Canyon in the nearby Kofa Wildlife Refuge yesterday..  There, high up in a box canyon, grows a small grove of palm trees amid the general sterility of the surrounding desert.  While the sight of the Palm trees was notable, it hardly ranks with Kit Carson’s horseshoe or Diamond Lil’s perfume stopper!

 

Mary on the way home from Palm Canyon

 

 

Death Valley Dunes

It is touted as “the hottest place on earth” and “the driest place on the North American Continent” but when we arrived on the last day of January, Death Valley was cold and it would soon become quite wet.  Having visited on several other occasions, we were looking to re-create some of our previous, sun-soaked adventures.  We selected Stovepipe Wells Campground as our home base and on our first full day in the park we hiked up to nearby Mosaic Canyon.  The rain started about two miles into our hike and soon soaked through our supposedly “waterproof – breathable” rain jackets. Don’t believe Eddie Bauer or Marmot Inc. when they claim waterproof-ness for their jackets.  We got soaked all right but it wasn’t with sun.  (In Death Valley’s defense I must say that the sun did come out the following day and we were treated to the brilliant blue skies I remember from past visits.)

We’re about a week into what has now become an annual winter migration to the Southwest.  The drive down Interstate 5 was rainy but at least it wasn’t snowy.  We were curious to see the water level at Shasta Lake in Northern California – what with all the talk of drought.  The last few years the level has been shockingly low with the boat marinas resting on dirt hundreds of feet below the high-water mark.  This year the docks were actually floating on water but the lake is still far from full.

At times on our drive the rain was so heavy that the front wheels of the semi trucks were pushing substantial bow waves into the passing lane.  On the bright side, lush green grass covered the hills as we turned east toward the Tehachapi Pass, like a scene set in Ireland.

A minor drama occurred when I passed up the opportunity to refuel north of Sacramento because of what I called highway robbery – i.e., diesel at $2.89/gal.  As the miles added up and the fuel gauge moved toward empty with no gas stations forthcoming, Mary’s accusations of stupidity on my part verged on rabid.  In a desperate effort to get the maximum miles out of our dwindling fuel, I began drafting behind semis – a precarious place to be in any vehicle, let alone a trailer-hauling pickup.  With the low-fuel alarm dinging and mere fumes in the tank, we at last rolled into a station south of Stockton where we paid a more acceptable price of $2.29/gal.  Feeling somewhat vindicated, I pointed out to Mary that we had saved all of $15 by passing up the higher priced fuel.  Only silence came from the passenger seat.

While the weather in Death Valley may have been disappointing, we were able to entertain ourselves by spying on our less fortunate neighbors in the campground. From the interior of our spacious and warm fifth wheel trailer we watched as frigid wind and pelting rain made life miserable for the tent campers.  They huddled in their hooded coats as gusts blew their plates off the picnic tables.  If they walked to the bathrooms, waiting ravens swooped in and pecked into their belongings. I am a little guilty to admit that watching their misfortune only added to our sense of comfy coziness.

 

Ravens take over a campsite

The weather is forecasted to get into the 80s by this weekend and I look forward to riding my mountain bike into the hills.  I’m curious to see how my lungs fare.  When I went for a ride in Death Valley they seemed fine, which was good, because being 150 feet below sea level pretty much eliminated the high-altitude excuse I used last summer while riding in the Colorado Rockies.