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April 15-18     Dead Horse Ranch State Park

It’s so strange: there are several Dead Horse Parks in the southern states. One of our favorites is Dead Horse Ranch State Park, near Cottonwood, Arizona. Dave got us three days reservations in Quail Loop, with electricity and sheltering trees. Site 19 was set in trees and close to a site where we saw a roadrunner every afternoon the last time we were here. It was fairly windy so we didn’t visit the lagoons, three small bodies of water that host a lot of wildlife. The next morning, cloudy skies and nice light lured us out early and we took a morning walk. It was well worth it.

The cottonwoods were shedding their spring cotton and it was floating both in the air and in the water. Along with the copious gnats, there was a lot of stuff in the air and the red-winged blackbirds were going for it big time.

There was a stately cormorant perched on a rock. It was fun to photograph reflections of the people stopping to stare at it.

There were a lot of red-winged blackbirds flying around. They love to hang out in the reeds.

The remainder of the morning and early afternoon got blown off. I read our books, looked at images, did logic puzzles, worked out the next 4 days of menus. Around 3:30, I felt perky and suggested a walk. Dave found a short one that goes into the dry hills. The sky was overcast which gave it a pearly appearance. While on the trail, our friends Jeff and Betty returned my earlier call. Betty just finished a round of chemo for her cancer, but her numbers were good which was good news.

We checked out the lagoons but they were unimpressive in the afternoon light. Dave saw a Bald Eagle way up in the sky. We finished the day with spaghetti and a nice bottle of Tobin James Primitivo.

Tuesday was Jerome day. Jerome is a mining town precariously perched in the hills. We were last there in 2010 and it seemed much improved this time with fewer run down houses and a lot more tourists. We parked at the bottom and walked “up” town. By the time we came down, it was lunchtime and we ate at Bobby D’s Barbecue. It was good.

The next morning we did go back to the lagoons, but it was a sunny cloudless day and the light wasn’t great. There was a heron on the pond. He stood on one side and when people or dogs got anywhere near him, he flew to the other side. Alas, the pond was small and he had to avoid a lot of people and dogs. I don’t know why he wouldn’t choose the pond with an island in it, but maybe the fishing isn’t as good.

April 18      Sedona

We left Dead Horse behind us and began the laborious 20-minute drive up to Sedona. We reached the turnoff that had BLM land where we could homestead for several days. Finding the turnoff wasn’t too difficult because on a previous trip, I had identified the two mile markers between which the road lay. I rose to the challenge of identifying the road on the Garmin. On the Arizona atlas, it is Sycamore Pass Road. On the Garmin it was Loy Canyon Road. On the road itself, the sign says FR-525. So go figure. This area is about 10 miles south of Sedona so we’ll be close to all the amenities without the constant riot of tourists and Pink Jeeps everywhere.

We bounced onto the gravel-covered road, found a pulloff, disconnected the Lazy Daze and went campsite hunting in the Rav.  We soon found the first large site with about 8 toy-haulers (vehicles carrying off highway vehicles) in it. No way – we don’t want to hear them roaring off and roaring back every day. The next campsite was fairly large and empty. There were probably better views further on but this was pretty close to the highway. So we moved the LD there and went further up the road. I was looking for a site we had on a previous trip. It had a rig in it. In fact, every site we passed for the next mile or so had rigs in them. Oh well, we had our site.

We relaxed and puttered around until later in the afternoon. Then we changed into city clothes and went to Sedona to meet Kathy and Mike Cunny, Dave’s sister and her husband. After visiting son Alex, Alyson and grandson Nolan, they were on a short tour of Arizona – the south rim of the Grand Canyon on Tuesday, Sedona on Wednesday, then home. It’s always fun to hook up with people on the road.

Kathy suggested going on a Pink Jeep tour. Sedona is surrounded by spectacular rock formations and many of the road are accessible to a regular vehicle but who wants to figure out all these back roads? Let someone else do the driving. Pink Jeep is there. Boy, are they there. We checked in at 5 p.m. for a sunset tour. In the half hour we sat there, about 5 other jeeps collected their passengers and took off. This was a bustling enterprise.

Duff was our driver. There were the four of us and a friendly couple from Dallas, Texas. The first place we went was the Sedona Public Library where a statue of Sedona Schnebly stood. The town was named for her because it was a better name than Schnebly. (Good decision.) After that we headed for the hills. Duff was a good guide, knowledgeable about Sedona history, flora, rocks, and hikes. He took us to Enchantment Resort, a really high-end place in Boynton Canyon. It was fun driving though it because the Boynton Canyon hike that we’ve done in the past goes right by it.

After that it was into the hills. The low light was getting really nice and the red rock was glowing. Duff stopped a few times but many spots already had 3 or 4 tour jeeps in them. There are only so many spots to show people, I guess. All the drivers know each other and josh around a lot. We finally got to our sunset spot. The light had gone off the rocks; Duff was hoping the few clouds would turn fiery red but light pink was what we got. Oh well, we were having fun.

After the tour, we were ready for dinner. We went to the Cowboy Club and splurged in the Silver Saddle Room where they don’t have hamburgers on the menu and offer a amuse bouche before dinner and tiny desserts afterwards. The buffalo pot roast was wonderful. We went back to Kathy and Mike’s room for a post-dinner piece of fudge, and goggled at their itinerary for Thursday – drive up eastern CA-395 till they got tired. Maybe stop at Lone Pine (544 miles), maybe Bridgeport (644 miles). Yikes! I think I have only driven that far in one day once, on a cross-country trip in 1976. We’ll soon see them again – Dave’s mom is celebrating her 91stbirthday soon and the family will be gathering for that.

When we returned to our site, we found a 40-foot long red, white and blue school bus parked alongside us. We drove through their camp in order to reach our rig.  The next morning, Dave watched as several people came out of tents alongside the bus. Also, several dogs. We didn’t have time to make a complete inventory because we left for our hike.

April 19     Boynton Canyon

Our first hike in Sedona had to be Boynton Canyon. It is such a wonderful hike through a narrow canyon lined with Pine, Oak and Manzanita. Having traveled through Enchantment Resort the day before, it gave new meaning as we trekked along the other side of the fence. At one spot, I started to hear Navajo-type peaceful flute music from one of the nearby buildings. A spa? Beats me. We continued past luxurious buildings with lap pools, fancy lanai’s and other amenities. Didn’t see any people.

430-Resort3978BoyntonCanyon

As the last Enchanted condo went by, we ran into the four crosses that we had seen on our last hike this way. I initially thought each cross was painted with the color for it’s direction, according to the Navajos. White (shell) represents the east. Turquoise the south, Yellow (abalone) the west and Black the north. But yellow (west) can’t be across from black (north). So who knows?

We continued up the 2.5-mile trail. The nearby streams were all dry but spring still abounded in the foliage. After a while, we were closely surrounded by manzanita bushes for a half-mile or so. Then the scrub oak started to appear.

The last quarter mile of the hike out is severely uphill. Then, boom! You are above the trees and looking up and down Boynton Canyon. Spectacular!  We followed the trail, precariously moving across a steep slope strewn with much loose rock. Finally, we got to a spot where nobody else was and ate our lunch, staring at the view.

Navajo-style, calming music was still playing at the resort as we passed it. The return was hard on my feet. I have calluses on my right foot and my well-broke-in hiking boots are rubbing them. Bandaids didn’t help.  I think I am going to need new hiking boots.

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April 7-8     Tucson and Saguaro

We did an easy drive into Tucson on Saturday and checked into the Crazy Horse RV Park. It is another rather rinkydink campground that is slowly upgrading. The guy who checked us in worked out of a rickety one-room building. The camp map showed a new building with an office but he hadn’t made the move yet. The laundry was ancient but worked. An oddity about the CG was that at first glance, the back row of sites were under a long, thin canopy. Further inspection showed that a row of vehicles were parked under a long row of solar panels. That sounds pretty smart until a big rig eventually knocks down one of supports and the array comes crashing down. (Is that pessimistic or realistic?)

It was hot. I wanted air-conditioned entertainment. I keep a list of things to do for most of the places we visit. Most of the time, we don’t do much on the list. But the Center for Creative Photography in the University of Arizona had an exhibit that sounded interesting. We did the little driving dance that the Garmin sends us on when we visit universities, instructing us to turn onto dead-end streets or pedestrian paths. We managed to park in a parking garage. (Oh boy! Covered parking, cooler car. And only $4 for 3 hours!)

The exhibit, featuring Mark Klett was really interesting. His career thus far has primarily dealt with many aspects of the landscape. In one project, he inserts images taken many years ago into a panorama that he has created with collaborators. So a couple of Ansel Adams images are neatly fit into Klett’s landscape at Yosemite. They reveal changes in the landscape, like roads being added or how erosion has altered granite rock faces.

Another project focuses on how much time people spend at a famous viewpoint (Half Dome from Glacier Point in Yosemite). An image from an 8-minute video shows how long people linger. If they take a few pictures and depart, they only show up as pale ghosts. People who stand for 5 minutes looking at the view are solid. There are many more ghosts than solid figures. I’ve seen this as well. People barely look out at a viewpoint. Most of them take a picture (often a selfie) and move on. They have proof they were there. After the exhibit, we walked to Caffe Luce, a college hangout. It was probably around 85 or so but the campus is beautiful, with lots of trees.

On Sunday, we got up, ate breakfast and headed for Saguaro National Park, the Rincon Mountain District on the east side of Tucson. On the way, we passed the Pima Air & Space Museum, a huge field with all kinds of planes: big planes, little planes, green planes, pink planes and a couple of psychedelic planes. If it weren’t so hot, I’d be tempted to visit.

A mile or so further, we passed what appeared to be a closed Davis-Monthan Air Force Base with acres of old planes parked in close proximity. It’s so amazing that they just slowly age in the middle of the desert. Could they ever fly again? Maybe they could be used to protect our southern border. I guess it’s easier to let them sit rather than recycle them.

There is only one 8-mile drive in Saguaro. The rest of it is wilderness, so no roads. We went in around 7:30 or so and were walking the 2-mile Mica View Loop Trail by 8. It was warm but not too hot and there was a pleasant breeze. We were surprised at how many people were on the trail. They were jogging, walking their dogs or just putzing along. It became clearer why when we reached a point on the trail where it reaches the boundary of Saguaro and there is a parking area there.

Returning from the walk, we continued into the rolling hills. We were really surprised at the number of cyclists on the one-way, narrow road. We did a couple more short hikes. One fellow hiker pointed out a fleeing scorpion, only the second one I’ve seen in all our years in the desert.

After cleaning up and hanging out, we drove to McGraw’s Cantina, a restaurant with no Mexican food on the menu but a pretty good Margarita. We met Jane Glover there. Jane, who now lives in Tucson, was a librarian/archivist in the Fine Arts division at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco. My friend, Connie Levy, who had been volunteering there for years, got me in there. Under Jane’s direction, we archived information and materials for many of the older exhibitions held there and at the Palace of the Legion of Honor.

Jane has been retired about two years. It was nice to see her. We caught up with each other over dinner and we told Jane we were planning to go to Sabino Canyon on Monday. She recommended the Phoneline Trail there, having hiked there a few weeks before. I expressed doubt that we would hike much because it was expected to be in the 90’s.

April 9     Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Monday morning we got to Sabino Canyon Recreation Area shortly after it opened at 9 a.m. I was surprised to see how full the parking lot was. We got in free based on our Senior Pass because it’s run by the Forest Service. The tram that runs up the canyon, however, costs $10 per person. There are 9 stops in 4 miles. We got a map and ran to catch the first tram of the day. The tour narration was pretty basic but the ride was beautiful as the canyon is very narrow. We were planning to get off at the last stop and walk back down the road for 4 miles. That way, if we got hot or tired, we could hop on the tram for a few stops or all the way to the Visitor Center. But when I saw that the Phoneline Trail was 3.9 miles long, I thought “We can do that”. And it would be less traveled than the road.

There is a half-mile of switchbacks to get up to the Phoneline Trail. That brought the total to 4.4 miles but I wasn’t daunted. There were a couple of groups hiking in front of us, including a noisy group of young people. We lagged behind (never difficult for us) until we were mostly out of earshot. It was about 10:30 and pretty warm. The trail was a nice one. There were great views. There were all the wildflowers we’d been missing thus far on the trip.

The trail was rocky but after the switchbacks it was fairly flat, circling in and out of canyons, each one with its dry waterfall to cross. There was an opportunity to go back to the road at the ½-mile point but I still felt good. The next leg was 2.5 miles. The day got hotter and the canyons kept on coming.

After a while, I got tired and my feet started to hurt. The hiking poles would have been useful but we hadn’t brought them. As the sun rose higher, there was virtually no shade to eat lunch or take a rest. As we rounded each canyon, another one appeared.

Finally, thank heavens, I saw the .9-mile trail back down to the road. It doesn’t sound like much but it seemed to take forever to get back to the road. We had just missed a tram but were content to sit in the shade of a tree and wait 20 minutes for another. Right when the tram was arriving, we saw a brilliant red cardinal. That was neat.

We returned to the Visitor Center around 1:30 and didn’t look around, just got in the car, ratcheted up the air conditioner and drove home. Sabino Canyon is definitely worth hiking but not in 88-degree heat.

While languishing in front of the TV after dinner, I saw a really bizarre advertisement. It was a commercial for an adult phone call site and ended like this: “The future of your evening is in your hands.” It was the most obvious double entendre I’ve ever heard. The next day, on the local radio, I heard an advertisement for Second Amendment Sports. They had a great deal on rifles. Everything for the family.

April 10     Mt. Lemmon

One way to avoid the heat is to go higher. The highest place accessible by road in Tucson is Mt. Lemmon, a 28-mile scenic drive in the Coronado Forest. But first: haircuts. Desperately needed haircuts. We checked in on the Great Clips app before we left and were quickly taken in when we arrived.

After lunch, when temps were headed into the mid-90’s, we blasted the air conditioning in the Rav and headed to Mt. Lemmon, going from 3,000 feet to 9,000 feet. The canyon at the base of the mountain is rocky with Saguaro and typical Sonoran desert flora. By 5,000 feet, the cacti disappear and there are more grasses. They have many viewpoints and the views would be spectacular if the air quality was better. Unfortunately, it was pretty bad.

We continued up and at 6- or 7,000 feet, finally hit forest. The air was cool and the smell of pine was wonderful. We found a picnic spot in the shade and stared out past pines to the smoggy valleys in the distance.

It was still a ways to the very top and we turned off the air and opened the windows. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve been able to do that. A narrow road led to the top of the hill and we pulled into parking that served as the start of various trails all over the mountain. Both of us felt lethargic and even the .9-mile Meadow Trail did not sound good. We piled back into the Rav and sailed home, trying to identify radio songs by hard rock groups that we never much liked.

 

April 11-12    Globe and the Boyce Thompson Arboretum

On Wednesday, we prepared to leave Tucson for Globe, Arizona, a somewhat cooler town east of Phoenix. I suggested we dump right after our showers before it got hotter than it already was. But Dave had difficulty with the new sewer hose and when I went to back up the motorhome a little, the engine was dead. So we had to charge it from the Rav. After all that, we ate breakfast. It was 114 miles to Globe through interesting, hilly country. We passed Biosphere 2, the second effort to sustain life within a structure that is entirely self-supporting. The first try didn’t work and I’m not sure exactly what they are doing now. We didn’t feel like stopping.

We reached the Gila County RV Park in Globe, the first one we’ve ever encountered that is separated into 2 parts by a highway. The upper part has constant traffic noise, next door to Highway 60. One reason I wanted to stop in Globe was it was only 20 miles from the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a place I’ve been wanting to see for quite a while. We took off fairly early, driving west on US-60. We had seen some huge hills of mine tailings as we came into town and now we saw more. But there was almost no place to pull off the highway, so we zoomed through a neat canyon and soon were at the arboretum.

It was warm, but intermittent breezes and many shady nooks with benches made walking around a pleasure. The grounds are built around Magma Ridge, featuring many interesting rock formations.

There are several different gardens. The Children’s garden was full of fun things.

We finally started seeing a lot of blooming cacti. What a treat! Different types of prickly pears had different color blooms.

They had a 4 or 5 Boojums but one dominated the others. It was huge!

We reached the far end of the arboretum and ate lunch at Ayer Lake, listening to birds call and dried grasses rattling. The trail went on in a loop around Magma Ridge but we were both too lethargic to make the trek. So we ambled back to the Visitor Center. On the way, Dave pointed to a hummingbird trying to lift another hummingbird. Not quite. They were mating but he wasn’t getting off the ground too well. The female was much smaller but maybe she drank too much nectar that morning. Heaven knows, there were certainly enough blooms available to overdrink.

On the way home, I found one place to pull of US-60 and we got some shots of a mine and some of its tailings.

I was glad we went out early and got home early because the winds brought up a dust storm. On our little hill, we watched it come in from the west. The skies got browner and browner. It isn’t the worst one we’ve been in but I was very glad to be able to close all the windows and run the air conditioner.

Friday the 13th and beyond

We made our escape from our unattractive campground and drove a short 25 miles to Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Being the largest lake in Arizona, there are campgrounds strung out along its shoreline. Windy Hill is the largest campground, chosen for its proximity to Tonto National Monument. It was virtually empty with only a few sites taken at the end of each of its many peninsulas. We stayed in the Coyote loop with a pretty good view of the lake. Roosevelt’s lake had something of a bathtub ring but it’s difficult to know how low it is, traditionally. After settling in, the first thing on our agenda was to take a nap. We were both feeling out of it and didn’t want to do much of anything. We didn’t even go for a walk.

The next morning we drove the 4 miles to Tonto National Monument, There are Salado ruins from somewhere around 1100-1300. The lower ruins we visited are in a nice little cave about 350 up a hill. Unprotected for many years, they have been vandalized, but a little section of an original roof construction still stands. It is always amazing to see how well- built these structures are.

There are other ruins only accessible by a ranger-led hike that we weren’t interested in doing. We returned to the rig and took another nap. Then we lolled around camp, enjoying the steady little breeze coming off the lake and watching birds. There are Cardinals and Vermillion Flycatchers here as well as other birds. Each campsite has a covered picnic bench and several birds seem to be building nests in the eaves. There are also many mature Mesquite Trees that are green and beautiful.

We went out to look at the stars both nights but there seemed to be a lot of ambient light in the sky as well as people who leave outdoor lights on all night. We did get to hear a Hoot Owl calling and I heard either crickets or frogs going on at 11 p.m. This has been a pretty quiet camp and that is very enjoyable.

 

 

April 3-4   Tombstone and Patagonia Lake

On Wednesday morning, we moved on. Surprisingly to us, quite a bit of area we passed through was glowing, gold grassland. Our interim stop for the day was Tombstone, home of the Gunfight at the OK Corral. I was curious to see if I was as unimpressed this time as I was the first time. Yup.

We parked the vehicles in front of a historical house for sale and walked up to dusty Main Street. Nope. Main Street was paved. The horses drawing the tourist carriage ride clopped along on asphalt. They didn’t look too enthusiastic. Neither did we. A few people dressed as Western characters stood around, touting restaurants and the big gunfight show. We meandered up and down the two blocks, passing clothing, ice cream, souvenir and old timey photo shops. There were many places that were out of business. I was a little depressed. But I decided we needed the whole experience: we’d go see the re-enactment of the Gunfight.

Ten dollars each got us into the actual site of the OK Corral. The bandstands were full of tourists. Our narrator was Doc Holliday himself, a nice-looking kid who could handle his pistols pretty well. The show began and the evil, very drunk Ike Clanton stumbled into town with his brothers and Tom McLaury. We were encouraged to boo the bad guys and cheer the Earp brothers and old Doc. The question I have is: why in the world do the good guys wear black suits in the hot sun? Wouldn’t seersucker be better? Anyway, the show progressed pretty quickly. Three of the bad guys got shot dead and Ike Clanton, unarmed, slunk away.

Afterwards, I was tempted to have lunch in the OK Café, but wanted better than “OK”. So I ate peanut butter in the Lazy Daze. As we drove out of town, past the sign pointing to “Boot Hill”, I realized we had missed the other big attraction. Maybe next time.

An hour of driving on a narrow highway brought us to Patagonia Lake State Park. I wasn’t sure what we were going to find; it’s a man-made lake in the hills and I thought that sounded nice on a warm day. At the entrance station, we found that our campsite was available the following night so re-upped, site unseen. We found that it wasn’t a great site (next to the dump station) and it was still occupied, 2.5 hours after checkout time. The family hadn’t packed anything away and hadn’t even taken down their tent. 45 minutes later they finally were gone. We moved in and enjoyed the warm sunny weather and the tweets of all kinds of birds.

The next morning, we rose early, found the Sonoita Creek Trail and went where the birders go. The flat trail goes through meadows and skirts the marshes that edge Patagonia Lake. It’s not beautiful country but the birds sure like it. A nice touch is the placement of many benches on the trail. Each one has a laminated placard with a picture of a bird typical to that area. We hadn’t brought our cameras, only our morning coffee. We passed several motionless people with binoculars, staring intensely into the trees. I didn’t see a thing.

As we traipsed around, we saw a couple of interesting birds unfamiliar to us. One had a brilliant red head and breast with black wings. We think it was a Vermillion Flycatcher. (It did look like it was catching insects.) The other bird had a cinnamon brown breast with a really long curved beak. It looked like a curlew but that’s an ocean shore bird. Later, I made a possible identification in the Sibley bird book – an Ibis. Most of them are white, but not all. We spent about 15 minutes with an older birder who told us we had to buy binoculars that cost at least $100 to watch birds. I’m not sure what we paid for our big binoculars but they are too heavy to carry along with the camera equipment. So I guess we’ll never be birders.

Having done our due-diligence exercise for the day, we hung out the rest of the day. The highlight of the morning was watching two wrens hump repeatedly on our picnic table. The female nestled down on the table and the male would land on her back, mate, peck her in the head a few times and fly to the ground. Then repeat. And repeat many times. I don’t know if that is where the term “hen-pecked” came from but in this case it was the hen getting pecked.

The day got hotter until I retreated to the LD and turned on the air-conditioner. The Tucson and south part of Arizona is going to be in the high-80’s and even the low 90’s for the next week and probably the entire time we’ll be here. We’ll have to deal with it one way or another if we want to do what we want to do. It’s going to mean rising at dawn, darn!

April 5-6     Tumacacori, Asarco, San Xavier del Bac

Since we had a place to stay in Green Valley, our next destination, we sat outside reading in the morning and then drove all of 23 miles to Tumacacori National Historical Park. There was a pretty little garden in front. There was a nice garden inside also. The mission was founded in 1691 by Jesuits, later expelled by Spain and replaced by Franciscans. The foundation for the Jesuit-planned church was abandoned and in 1800, the Franciscans started another one but were forced to leave in 1828.

The mission grounds are typical of many missions, but have some interesting aspects. One circular, ceiling-less structure has a vaguely Roman aspect to it. It was thought to be used for baptisms and other Catholic rituals.

Another building was used to store food.

It felt pretty hot in the sun and we returned to the LD, ate lunch and drove the next 25 miles to the Green Valley RV Resort in Green Valley. It’s about 20 miles south of Tucson, convenient to a couple of places we want to visit. After getting snugly tucked in between two modular homes, we drove a few miles north to scope out ASARCO, a large pit-mining operation that might work for Dave’s project, Into the Anthropocene. ASARCO’s tailings are visible from more than 10 miles away.

We found a 2-lane road that ran between two mounds of tailings. The tailings looked to be about 3 stories high and ran for 4 or 5 miles. The best high spot Dave found was some piles of dirt next to the road. But it wasn’t high enough to see into the pit.

The runoff from the waste piles must encourage the band of greenery that runs along the edge.

The next morning revealed high clouds that would be good for photography. We got to the ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center in time for the first tour of the day. Our guide, Bob, started working at the mine in 1973. It opened in 1961. As the bus trundled along, Bob told us that quite a number of wild horses live in the tailings. I saw at least 4 of them. There is foliage that covers some slopes and that is all they have to eat. Bob didn’t know what they did for water.

We reached the vantage point and the hugeness of the pit was revealed. (2.5 miles long by 1.5 miles wide) A large ledge below us was pockmarked with holes where dynamite will be placed and blasted, breaking all the rock there into rubble, some of it consisting of boulders the size of a Volkswagon Beetle. Some of the trucks can carry as much as 320 tons of rock to the mill at the top of the hill.

Pit info notes each bench is 40 feet high.

The rock gets smashed smaller and smaller and eventually is as fine as sand. At that point, the pulverized rock is mixed with chemicals to make a slurry. After smelting, they end up with a slab that is 99.95% copper. Other minerals are extracted from the ore. Bob said that the mine refines 2.5 million dollars worth of silver every month. That just about pays the electricity bill, he joked.

It was an interesting tour. The impact on the landscape is huge and it’s hard to see that the piles of rock will ever be dispersed or used. A lot of water is used but a lot of it is recycled. Everything is sprayed down constantly to reduce the amount of dust. The bottom line is that people need copper for a lot of products. The U.S. is the fourth largest copper extractor in the world and a lot of it comes from Arizona.

The other place I wanted to revisit was Mission San Xavier del Bac. Founded in 1692 by the Jesuits, it was the Franciscans who began the present church structure in 1783 and finished in 1797. San Xavier has suffered a lot of damage and neglect. Repairs to the inside and outside of the church have been erratic, depending on parishioners, donors and the expertise of the workers. On and off, a team of expert conservators from several countries comes to work on the paintings, statues and walls.

As we walked in front of the mission, it is obvious that the left side has been carefully restored and the right side has a long way to go. We watched a film describing a Tohono O’odham Indian family that has helped rehabilitate the church for four generations. They spoke of discovering that some of their earlier methods of plaster repair were actually making things worse.

The inside looked spectacular compared to the last time we were here in 2006. I had forgotten that just about everything in there is painted and carved ornately. There are murals, there are pictures and there is a strange, bright pattern of red-blue-yellow on the lower walls. The colors seemed much brighter this time.

That was it for this area. We head back into Tucson tomorrow.

March 28-30    Chiricahua National Monument

Wednesday was an easy move from eastern Tucson to Willcox, about 75 miles. I put us in an expensive KOA – $45 per night – by mistake. All of my systems listed the RV park as Magic Circle, a Good Sam park. When I called, uh-uh, it was a KOA. I could have said “No thanks” but I didn’t. Sometimes, KOA’s are pretty good but this one was in transition. We were put into one of a wide swath of gravel sites. Few trees. They were still building the swimming pool. The main reason we wanted to stay there was to do the laundry. Three loads, wash and dry, were $12. That’s a lot for an RV park. So we won’t be going back there.

The upside was that we were only 35 miles from Chiricahua. So the next morning we coasted into our campsite. Well, not quite. We pulled partially into the Visitor Center parking lot before we realized we could not exit it. We stopped to unhook (about 5 minutes) and listened to someone behind us angrily honk. By the time we turned around, one lady got out of her vehicle to yell “Assholes” at us.

We continued on to our reserved campsite at Bonita Campground. I was following Dave in the Rav and there were a few deep dips where the Lazy Daze almost bottomed out. But we made it to our site and squeezed into it. After getting established, we drove back to the Visitor Center and got a map of the monument. The lady who helped us noticed my Golden Gate Bridge t-shirt and told us she worked for years at Alcatraz. We asked her if she knew Goerge Devincenzi and she did! (George was a Customs supervisor who started his career as a guard on Alcatraz when it was a prison.) Small world.

After lunch and some down time, we got in the car and headed up the 8-mile road. The road is narrow with few pullouts. The first stop was the Organ Pipe Formation.

We immediately loved all the rock formations. They are not pink rock like Bryce but the formation shapes are similar. We stopped for coffee at the trailhead for Sugarloaf Mountain and walked up the trail a little bit to get better exposures.

Our Photographic Guide book for Arizona told us to hit the Echo Trail in mid-afternoon and we did. It worked out quite well.

Our final stop was Massai Point. The light was going away but I got some nice shots.

We got home around 5:45 and had my delicious Barbecups and salad for dinner. The best part is we don’t have to get up real early for tomorrow’s foray. The light is better in the afternoon. Yay!

Friday was going to be another late afternoon hike, so we had a leisurely morning. The weather was perfect to read outside. After tuna fish sandwiches for lunch, we drove up to the Echo Canyon trailhead and began the 3.2-mile loop at 3 p.m.. The first half-mile of the trail was a repeat of yesterday so we went through it pretty quickly. With no clouds, the light was much more contrasty than yesterday. We were descending 470 feet from the top of the “Sky Island” to the canyons beneath. Huge formations of eroded rocks could be viewed north and south of the trail.

Like Bryce Canyon, the steep descent area is called “Wall Street” because the huge eroded columns are squared off like skyscrapers at their bottom. Deep cracks and eroded areas between them provide narrow, harshly lit views of the surrounding country. The trail was wonderful, zig-zagging from one canyon to another.

We finally hit bottom, a jumbled mess of fallen wood, shrubbery and even a few pools of water. The trail flattened out and once we had turned into another canyon, it began to rise very gradually. The sun was getting lower and the shadows deeper. The last .7-mile of the trail went up more steeply but not that bad at all. I never got totally out-of-breath even though this was our first hike of the trip above 5,000 feet. It was definitely the best hike of our trip thus far. The only thing that disappointed me was not seeing any Coatimundi’s, raccoon-like creatures that have moved up here from South America.

March 31 – April 2     Bisbee

It was about 75 miles to Bisbee. I was looking at all the mountains and hills we passed because of our experience in this area in Spring of 1983. We were driving towards Douglas, Arizona when we noticed that we were heading for a gold-colored mountain. When we reached it, we found a high hill completely covered with golden poppies. It was amazing! We still have some photographic slides of the flowers but haven’t digitized them. No such luck for us this year. It is just too dry. The few trees we have seen blooming are in people’s yards where they are getting watered.

We dead-ended ourselves in a tight, little parking lot in Old Town Bisbee. We had to separate to maneuver out of there. The amiable young man who came up to see what we were up to had quite a few studs here and there on his visage. His parting words were “Don’t have too much fun today.” We followed his directions to get to the Queen Mine RV Park that is on a bluff right above Old Town. The view from our back window is a tailings pile higher than our rig.

The afternoon was muggy. We took off around 2:30 to check out the huge Lavender Pit hole that is the focal point of Bisbee. Hopefully, Dave will be including images of it in his Into the Anthropocene Project. There was a large, fenced off area to park and look down into the pit. The chain link fence actually had holes cut in it periodically so that photographers could do their thing. Unfortunately, most of them had tall weeds growing in front of them. Dave did okay, even shooting through the fence. We drove around a little bit, looking for different views of the pit but few were to be had.

April 1 was Easter Sunday. We cleaned up and went to Ana’s Seasonal Kitchen for breakfast, a funky, old fashioned café. After that, we pulled out the cameras and hiked around the hilly town, checking out brightly-painted houses and a whole lot of churches. Brewery Avenue currently is host to some dubious businesses – tattoo parlors, a magic shop, a séance shop and a bar that was open and doing good business at 10:30 a.m.

Further up a hill, a dignified-looking edifice stated it was Bisbee High School, built originally as a high school in 1914. It has been beautifully rehabilitated and now couches county offices.

Up on the hills, narrow, meandering streets often dead-ended into people’s driveways and private property. Many of the homes have murals or artworks integrated into their entrances. I saw some wonderful vegetation unfamiliar to me, including a spectacular tree naked of foliage but with large sprays of lavender flowers at the end of each branch.

We finally got tired and went home to relax a bit. Many people were taking off from our campground, leaving us easy access to the view of the Lavender Pit. So we made use of it.

Later in the afternoon, we walked down the hill into town and went to the Old Bisbee Brewing Company. I had a Vanilla Bourbon Porter – very good.

Our final full day in Bisbee was quiet in the morning. Based on a recommendation from my friend Marcia Griffith, I bought and started a mystery by J.A. Jance that is set in Bisbee and environs. In fact, we drove into Bisbee via the Double Adobe and High Lonesome Roads. This is where the main character lives. It’s always fun to be a little familiar with the area of interest in a novel.

In the afternoon, we went on the Queen Mine Tour that starts about 20 yards down the road from where we are camped. For $13 per person, it was an excellent tour of the underground Queen Mine. The man who conducted the tour worked in the Mine until it closed in 1976. We straddled open cars with benches and tootled down a very narrow track to about 1000 feet below the surface. This ride is not for anyone who is claustrophobic!

Great detail was provided about how miners worked. How they drilled small holes 7 feet into rock to insert 7 sticks of dynamite to blow up to make larger holes. How they had a complex system of bell rings to denote “Send the elevator down to get me.” Or “There’s been an accident on Level 4-3.” The old, rusty porta-potties of the day were also on display.

The pictures didn’t come out too well, but I would recommend this tour to people visiting Bisbee. As to the $75 Lavender Tours, I would put on my walking shoes and walk around the town. The hills will give you a good aerobic workout.

We made one more stab at photographing the Lavender Pit by bringing the Lazy Daze down to the parking lot so that we could get a high vantage point. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the soft, filtered light of the past days. And we were experiencing heavy gusts of wind. The results weren’t too bad.

At one point, a couple called up to us, asking if we knew how to input GPS coordinates into their Garmin. We grounded ourselves to help them and found their Garmin was using French. Mon Dieu! Between that and the fact that they had a different model from ours, we didn’t help too much.

We spent our final evening in Bisbee, enjoying the warm but not hot weather. I think that’s going to change as we head back towards Tucson.

Tucson

March 25-26     Arizona-Senora Desert Museum

A big change today: Dave got up before sunrise and went back up the Desert View Trail. I did not! I stayed in bed and read my Barbara Kingsolver novel “Flight Behavior”. It’s a wonderful story. When he got back, we packed everything up and headed for Tucson.

After 23 miles directly north, it was an almost straight line for 120 miles through the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. We went through two Border Patrol checkpoints where they looked us over and waved us on. We also passed several Border Patrol vehicles just parked alongside the highway, waiting. It felt ominous to me. We were headed for the Gilbert Ray Campground, south of Saguaro National Park (west). The Garmin’s directions to the campground were quite clear until it told us to turn left on a non-existent road. The first left we could make got us into Saguaro National Park and the Garmin lured us down a road that didn’t have the campground. We stopped at the Visitor Center and got directions that were a good 6 miles away on a totally different road. We finally got into the campground and a nice one it is, at $20 per night with electricity.

Monday’s agenda was the Arizona-Senora Desert Museum. The weather was perfect – not too warm, not chilly. This place is very complicated – you really have to follow the map carefully. There is always something under construction.

As soon as we got in, we went to the raptor demonstration. We were up higher than the main body of people. They flew a Western Screech Owl, a Gray Hawk, a Crested Caracara and 4 Harris’s hawks. For one reason or another, they cannot be released in the wild. It was really fun to watch them. A young Harris hawk was “…learning how to act with the other birds.” It also was being taught to fly more; sometimes it just decided to land and walk for a while. The callers/handlers are never sure what the birds will do. They are not tethered at all and fly quite a distance from one caller to another. Of course, they get rewarded with “…commercially raised mice” while the handler does a 360 so everyone can get their shots.

The Desert Museum is fun for kids. You can become a hawk or develop bat ears.

After a little wandering around, we had a wonderful lunch at the Ocotillo Restaurant. I had a salad that contained pickled onion slices, died pink with whatever they were brined in. We sat in front of a huge artwork called “Gaia Genesis” by Evelyn Rosenberg. To create it “An arrangement of sculpted and natural objects was covered with sheets of metal and a layer of plastic high-explosive. The explosive was detonated and the metal took the exact form of the original objects. It is spectacular!

After lunch, we went into the Hummingbird exhibit, where about a dozen birds flit around. Some would flash red like a neon sign when they caught the light a certain way. But not all were flitting – one was sitting in the tiniest nest, lined with soft white something. The info person in there said that they left good nest-lining materials around the enclosure because the birds couldn’t go outside to gather them.

The Aviary also held a few beautiful birds, a Cardinal and a fearless duck I later discovered was a Black-bellied Whistling Duck. He didn’t whistle for us.

A Roadrunner had his own enclosure with enough room to jog back and forth.

The large rattlesnake was stretched out right by the window. He started to slide up the glass and then started licking it! Strange! A small boy came up, entranced by the rattlesnake, and told us he had a corn snake at home. Not sure what that looks like.

We wandered around a while longer, past the coyote and javalena areas, but we getting tired and still had to drive 10 miles from camp to the nearest shopping center. We’re all loaded up with groceries for the next leg of our trip.

March 27   Saguaro National Park – West Tucson Mountain District

There was a little lounging around this morning. Then it was off to the western side of Saguaro National Park. That meant going about 8 miles north, very convenient. Today was supposed to be a little cooler, with a high of 68 degrees, and that felt about right. As always, the were more and more clouds as the day progressed.

We had no heavy-duty agenda to cover. Stopping at the short, paved Discovery Trail, we discovered a dead Saguaro that had all kinds of interesting parts to photograph. Later on the trail, we met a couple from Alberta (their license plate was “Rig Rat”) and we traded stories about where we liked to go.

We continued on to the dirt Bajada Loop Drive. Nothing spectacular, but nice. When we reached the first trailhead pullout, there were so many cars we had to squeeze into a space the size of a San Francisco parking space. It was a short little walk to a nice lookout point and back.

We continued on the 8-mile road and every trailhead parking area was jammed with cars. There was one fairly large parking area to see some petroglyphs but there was not one single space that the Rav would fit into.

Though I’m not a devoted shopper, the Visitor Center was worth a try and we came out with a Saguaro Christmas ornament for us and a couple of gifts for others. We watched the 15-minute slide presentation about Saguaro National Park and really liked the viewpoint expressed. The narration was by the local Tohono O’odham Indians who respect Saguaro Cacti as they do people. At the end, the slide screen rose up and the curtains behind it pulled aside to reveal the living desert. It was dramatic and moving.

Dave went back to the Discovery Trail late in the afternoon, but I stayed home and watched the news. We haven’t been able to do much of that during this trip.

March 17     Eagle Mine and the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm

We had a leisurely morning. Forgetting it was St. Patrick’s Day, both Dave and I wore orange shirts, a no-no to some people. (Green is for Catholic and orange is for Protestant, per Siri.) We drove about 25 miles to the deserted town of Desert Center, looking for a vantage point to photograph the huge solar farm out in the Mojave Desert. There were few likely-looking hills from which to see the thousands of solar panels. The defunct Eagle Mine is a little west of the farm but when we drove up there, the two roads into the tiny town had cyclone fences closing them to traffic.

Dave climbed a berm made from mine tailings but it didn’t provide a good view. We turned up another road that led to shining Colorado River pipelines. Just as we saw the sign that said “Private Road”, a truck marked “Seguridad” pulled up to us and regretfully (not really) informed us all the water district roads were closed to the public.

Thwarted, we turned back onto Kaiser Road. We stopped at a little housing development that was long-abandoned. What looked to be a row of tiny houses turned out to be a row of garages. Their contents varied from a tv set to mining equipment.

Dave found a pretty good spot from which to photograph the solar farm and we headed back to the rig. But I wanted to stop at Chiriaco Summit, where Ken Chiriaco runs the Chiriaco Coffee Shop. Having missed seeing the good-looking pie display, I settled for a tuna melt on rye and we listened to four college girls have an extended conversation about the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. It’s also the kind of coffee shop where they provide entertainment at each table – book samples with titles like “How to Understand Women” and “How to Answer Stupid Questions”. I discovered it was St. Patrick’s Day when everyone in the café was in green, except us, who were both wearing orange shirts. We passed the General Patton Museum on the way out of Chiriaco and saw a yard full of tanks, one pink, but declined to stop.

March 18-20   Cibola NWR and strange side trips

Sunday was a travel and chore day. It was only 75 miles from our BLM site to Ehrenberg, AZ, across the Colorado from Blythe, CA. I did a major provision at the Blythe Albertson’s and then I had to find a way to accommodate all the food that required refrigeration. The rest got shoved into the “pantry”.

We found the pleasant River Breeze RV Park but the office isn’t open at all on Sunday. So we paid for 1 night and will have to pay for a second night tomorrow. So they weren’t there to give us a cable box. And if they are not in the office early tomorrow, we won’t see them till late morning or early afternoon. It’s a little irritating. But the Colorado River is flowing by the end of the road, the little laundry is clean and the weather is very pleasant here.

On Monday morning, we went south to Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, very close to the Colorado River. On the way down, we stopped at the fields backed up by palms.

We were the only visitors. The lady who worked at the Visitor Center seemed happy to see us. The largest groups of birds had departed, she said. The primo months are January and February for Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, and other larger birds. But we drove around and saw ducks, coots and sparrows on the lake. The sparrows were darting around wildly, eating insects on the fly, I’m guessing.

We continued and got to the Burrowing Owl condos. Stick a bent pipe into the ground and apparently you have created a desirable nesting site for a Burrowing Owl. The one we saw was chewing on a bare corn cob. He didn’t like the looks of us and flew to next condo down the road with his friend/mate. When we went down there, the two flew back. We left them in peace and continued the tour.

After we had exhausted the pleasures of Cibola, we went to find the Genesis Solar Energy Project at 11995 Wiley’s Well Road, Blythe, CA. Easy-peasy, right? The Garmin didn’t have that particular address. Google maps said go north off I-10. I suggested an alternative route to get to Wiley’s Well Road but it devolved into a dirt trail for 4-wheel drive vehicles.

Back on I-10, we could see nothing that looked like a solar farm. So we got off the Interstate, went about 200 feet and came to the gate that prevented us from entering the area. We drove over to the south side of Wiley’s Well Road and discovered Chuckwalla State Prison. What was so neat was that the long entrance to prison was enclosed by two long, long rows of very tall palm trees. Upon closer inspection, each tree was in a little bowl into which water constantly dripped. I kept waiting for someone to drive out and scare us away but they didn’t. So we gave up and went back to hang out by the Colorado River.

We prepared for another long stay in remote Organ Pipe National Monument and took off on Tuesday. It was a fairly painless 225-mile drive along I-10 and AZ-85. As we headed south, we began to see a lot of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) vehicles. Organ Pipe is less than 5 miles from the Mexican border. We had to slow way down at one point about 15 miles north of the border but they weren’t interested in people driving south, only people driving north. I think we will be carefully checked when we head north to go to Tucson.

We reached Organ Pipe around 3:15 and easily found a space. Ah, $8 per night for us seniors. I checked out available hikes at the Visitor Center and we decided we better hike early in the day; temps are expected to hit 80-88 in the next few days. Hike early, shower, sit on our butts; that’s the plan for the next few days. The guy two spaces away was practicing his harmonica. I was wondering what song it was and finally realized it was “Happy Birthday”. Luckily for us, he went away to sing it to someone else.

We ate dinner outside, watching as the light went orange, pink, purple and dark. Later, the fingernail moon went down and more stars came out. It’s so nice to be here.

March 21    Victoria Mine Hike

We rose early on Wednesday and walked over to where the Victoria Mine Trail begins. It was already warm and got warmer but there was a nice little breeze every now and then and a couple of benches to rest on. It’s a 4.5-mile out-and-back trail with little altitude change. The area is chock full of Saguaro, Cholla and Buckhorn Cacti as well as Ocotillo and Palo Verde. The only thing missing: wildflowers. There are virtually none, due, I guess, to dry conditions this year.

The mine site was like many we see: the remains of an old homestead and well-protected mine entrances. This one contained a few signs that said bats nest in these mines so please don’t disturb them. We didn’t.

We had noticed a plane leaving contrails that went back and forth. It was very unusual and we couldn’t figure out why a pilot would be doing it. An unsolved mystery.

We slogged home, relaxed in our still-fairly-cool rig, ate lunch and showered. Dave opened the hood of the Lazy Daze to let in light and deter pack rats and mice from nesting in the engine block. That sounds like a joke but it isn’t. After all that activity, we relaxed the afternoon away.

Later in the evening, we went out to look at the stars again but the moon is setting later each night and so the stars aren’t as visible. It’s still so great to lie on the picnic bench and stare up at the sky.

March 22  Desert View Trail and Ajo Mountain Drive

We rose early and watched the sun rise into a thick, pale gray cloud. Oh well, even light and a somewhat cooler temperature. The walk is only 1.2 miles but ascends a little knoll that gives a nice(?) view of Lukeville and the border. One hill seems to have a fence on it but we’re not sure if that’s what it is.

After a while, the sun came out and the light improved. The plant life was pretty much the same as yesterday except for one Ocotillo that had leafed out.

We did see an interesting bird that looked like it was either sipping nectar or prying seeds from an Ocotillo flower. It had a yellow head, tan body and black and white stripes on it’s wings and tail. Sibley’s Bird Guide identified it as a Gila Woodpecker. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before.

In mid-afternoon, we went on the 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive. As we started, three vans stating they were GOAL High School passed us. We dawdled along, not seeing anything too exciting. The Ajo Mountains were jaggedy and interesting-looking. We saw the arch in Arch Canyon, but it was too hot to take the hike.

When we got to another trailhead, the students from the GOAL vans were in a big circle doing something mysterious. We moved along and the sun finally came out for a while, lighting the landscape more interestingly. Still haven’t seen any flora we haven’t already seen.

March 23     Senita Basin Trail

Up early again to drive to the southern area of Organ Pipe. Boy, is it southern – right on the Mexican border. There were 3 Border Patrol vehicles on the 5 miles of highway to the turnoff. After we turned onto the dirt road to Senita Basin, we got a clearer view of the heavy-duty border Wall that undulated over a hilly area.

Then, a couple of miles later, a Border Patrol officer had intercepted a woman with 2 children. By this time, the Wall had morphed into miles of a rusty metal pipe held up by rusty metal poles. There was a highway in Mexico with lots of traffic about 20 yards from this fence. Interesting.

We continued on to the trailhead and took off. It was a little cooler and breezier than yesterday, so not bad. We crossed paths with a couple from Parker, Alaska and traded good locations to visit. They recommended the Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture trails in the Ajo Mountains so we will return there to hike tomorrow. They also mentioned that reservations at Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona were almost totally unavailable. Since we were planning to go there, later we got online and made reservations earlier than we wanted but it was 2 days in a row so we could go on a hike at least. Luckily, our itinerary is totally flexible this trip.

We were looking for the Senita Cacti, rare except to this particular area. The description was, “Although it resembles the organ pipe cactus, it has fewer accordian pleats on its ascending arms. Grey bristles on its stem tips give it a shaggy, bearded appearance.” We weren’t seeing anything like that on the trail. However, when we were back in the car, we found some.

It’s been warm enough to eat dinner outside every night. Tonight we were treated to a lovely sunset.

March 24     Estes Canyon and Bull Pasture

So Saturday, we woke up early and drove back to the Ajo Mountain Road. At one point, two deer dashed across the road in front of the car. I was surprised. Where do they get water? What do they forage on? We haven’t seen any deer or sheep scat on the hikes we’ve taken. I guess the mountains provide enough for them.

Based on the recommendation of a couple we met on yesterday’s hike, we were going on a 3.6-mile hike that rose 1,076 feet into the Ajos. We hit the trail about the same time (8 a.m.) as a trail crew. They took the direct trail up to their work area. We meandered along the Estes Canyon Trail that stayed level for the first mile. The light, as usual, was muted by the high clouds but we did get some nice shots.

The trail began to switchback but it was gradual and not grueling. Very pleasant. We bumped into the work crew right after the turnoff to the Bull Pasture Trail. The ascent immediately became much steeper and rockier. The crew called out “hikers” and ceased working while we picked our way past them. Three men and three women were manually levering boulders into place to make the trail more manageable for hikers. I asked about their schedule. They are working out of Tucson and will work for six weeks at Organ Pipe. They work 8 days and then get 6 days off. I asked how they are accommodated and they said they are camping in the group campsite at Organ Pipe. That’s not too bad because they bathrooms have showers and a bit of a cooking area. Needless to say, they are all pretty young.

We continued on up. It really wasn’t too bad although there was a lot of loose rock so you have to careful where you put your feet. The plant life had changed with the altitude; that was a pleasure. We actually saw one mallow plant. Yay!

More Joshua Tree

March 13 Lost Horse Mine Trail

I was planning on a 4.2-mile hike but we ended up doing a 6.2-miler. We hadn’t done this trail before and not seeing the trail marker at the other end of the parking lot, headed out on the longer loop trail. It was a sunny, pleasant day, perfect for hiking. The first 2 or 3 miles were flat, but I had fun, photographing dead Joshua Trees and other dried flora. There’s not much new growth that we’ve seen thus far.

The trail began to climb into the hills and we came upon the remains of a small homestead near a filled-in mine entrance. All that remained of the house was a tall, tilting rock chimney and a rusty bedstand.

We continued to circle around the mountain and were rewarded with some nice views as well as a circle around the sun. Risking macular degeneration and/or blindness (not so bright, I guess), I took a few shots of the sun.

After that the trail began to ascend in an acute fashion. It was steep! Dave said it felt like the highest resistance on the elliptical at the gym. We finally reached the trail summit and saw the Lost Horse Mine. It was behind a fence so we didn’t bother taking the side trail to go up there.

I found the final 2 miles quite a slog. Most of my pop poops out after 4 miles or so. But it mostly was downhill so I managed. We returned to camp and lounged in our site, sipping a tot of Glenlivit and chomping down apple slices and Jarlsburg cheese.

March 14    Split Rock Trail and a few windy drives

We rose early again on Wednesday and drove the short distance to the Split Rock Trail, one of our favorite trails in the park. Split Rock is a huge boulder that is – wait for it – split! After the obligatory shot, we took off, wearing mittens and sweaters. It was windy but not too chilly.

Early morning sun set the cacti needles on fire, so they were fun to shoot.

I guess our hike coincided with the departures of jets from Vegas, L.A., San Diego and Phoenix because the sky was crisscrossed with contrails. So not having any flowers to photograph, I did landscape with contrails.

So many of the rock formations have faces.

One of the “big” sites on the trail is Tulip Rock.

Interesting rock erosion.

 

As we neared the end of the 2.5-mile trail, we were seeing more and more people. We were the only car in the parking lot when we arrived. When we returned, the lot was full. We went back to camp to clean up and wait for better afternoon light to go out again.

The Geology Auto Tour didn’t sound that interesting and it wasn’t. We drove 9 miles down a washboard dirt road and stopped at a few rock piles that had possibilities. Watching the other people on the road, it appears to primarily be used to walk dogs. Many (all?) of the hiking trails in Joshua Tree don’t allow dogs. That was pretty much it for Wednesday.

March 15    Cholla and Cottonwood Springs

We were going to go on a morning walk to Skull Rock but we woke to raindrops. And not just a spatter but a good rain. Of course, any evidence of it was mostly gone an hour later. But we stayed in bed and read and watched the light change on the land.

We broke camp around 11 a.m. and headed downhill to Cottonwood Campground at the southern end of Joshua Tree. The main stop during the 40-mile drive was the Cholla Cactus Garden. It’s a pretty large collection of Cholla Cacti, a mean little sticker whose needles give off a godly halo in the sunshine. Beware, they are evil and their barbs are very painful to remove. Photographing them means you are always conscious that they and the little orbs they drop to propagate could be closer than you think.

We checked in to our site at Cottonwood and took a short walk to Cottonwood Springs. It seems very constrained compared to what I remember. There is only one path and it doesn’t get near the actual springs. But the palms are always fun to photograph, so we lingered a few minutes and headed back to camp.

March 16     A Delay at Cottonwood

We did a nice hike that left about 40 feet from our campsite. The Mastodon Peak Trail sounds difficult but it was quite nice. Except for the striking blue Desert Bells strewn throughout the wash, there was nothing in the way of wildflowers but nice rocks and a few mine ruins.

We also got a view of Salton Sea at the high point of the trail. It was not brilliantly shining in the sun but it was out there.

We got back to camp at 10 a.m. and prepared for takeoff. Went to the dump and dumped. That’s where Dave discovered that one of the inside duallies was pretty flat. Not good. So we went to the Cottonwood Visitor Center and they let Dave use their phone to call the insurance company. Once again, Progressive came through and said there would be someone out by 3 p.m. to check out the tire. So we at lunch, read, did puzzles and snoozed a little. He showed up right around 2:30, discovered the puncture, patched it and we were on our way around 3:30. Nice.

Our plan had been to find a space in the BLM land around I-10 and drive to the town of Desert Center to check out the local solar farm and the ghost town of Eagle Mountain. But it was a little late for that so we found a site and settled in for the night.