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Archive for October, 2013

Friday was our last full day in the Eastern Sierra. We got up early and rediscovered one of our favorite spots, north of Highway 395 with late-changing aspens, a nice little stream and an abandoned cabin. There was little ice, like our previous visit, but half of the aspen leaves were on the ground and it all was gorgeous.

460MG8941AspenBeaverSpot 461MG8948AspenBeaverSpot 463MG8949AspenBeaverSpot 464MG8965AspenBeaverSpot 466MG8973AspenBeaverSpot 467MG9001AspenBeaverSpot 469MG9010AspenBeaverSpot 470MG9020AspenBeaverSpot 472MG9024AspenBeaverSpot 473MG9030AspenBeaverSpot 475MG9039AspenBeaverSpotThe Mono Community Park is on the way back from our spot and we hadn’t been there for years. So we stopped and were struck how dramatic the golden Poplars were, especially with the moon peeping out. We took the ever-shorter walk down the boardwalk to Mono Lake. They make it very difficult to leave the boardwalk and wander out on the shore. We left pretty quickly.

480MG9042MonoCommunityPark 481MG9048MonoCommunityPark 483MG9054MonoCommunityPark 484MG9059MonoCommunityPark 486MG9073MonoCommunityParkWe returned to camp and relaxed for a while. Then it was back out again, to Navy Beach, home of the delicate sand castles. I was amazed that they were in such good shape. Although, they were still very difficult to photograph, either very non-contrasty or way too contrasty.

491MG9105NavyBeach 493MG9093NavyBeach 496MG9106NavyBeach 497MG9114NavyBeach 499MG9124NavyBeachWe of course wandered down to the lake shore and rediscovered Mono Muck, yucky brine-fly ridden, smelly mud. I also discovered either the remains of one bird in three piles, or three birds. Lots of feathers but no body parts.

500MG9083NavyBeach 501MG9137NavyBeachWe ended our day at the South Shore Tufa Reserve, always a wonderful place. We wandered around while watching all the sunset photographers gather in one spot. There’s really not a bad spot to be found during sunset at Mono.

505MG9144SouthShoreTufa 506MG9149SouthShoreTufa 508MG9166SouthShoreTufa 510MG9161SouthShoreTufa 511MG9172SouthShoreTufa 512MG9169SouthShoreTufaWhen we got back, Jason and Nikki dropped over for a drink (it worked out to 2 bottles of wine. We proceeded to share histories and stories. They have been on the road almost 3 years and are supporting themselves in various ways, primarily creating videos. It is so neat to see people succeeding on their own terms. After coffee with them the next morning, we took off for Mariposa where the temperature was quite a bit warmer than Mono Lake and we could do our final dump.

Sunday morning we headed to Merced to visit with Jeff and Betty. Jeff was recovering from recent surgery but that didn’t slow him down at all. After a lunch of homemade soup (we got the chicken, Jeff got the broth) we headed to the Vista Ranch and Cellars for an Autumn celebration. They have it all there: a corn maze (maize maze?), lots of fall-blooming flowers, hay rides, a bouncy house for the kids, and a breezy veranda where the adults can sip on their wines. Lovely. The flowers were a little past their prime, which faded some of them and speckled others. They were still wonderful to observe.

530MG9176JeffBettyDaveMerced 535MG9177VistaRanch 538MG9194VistaRanch 540MG9207VistaRanch 542MG9213VistaRanch 544MG9221VistaRanchIn the late afternoon, we drove out to the Merced Wildlife Refuge. We never know what we’ll see out there, but Betty had heard that were 10,000 Sandhill Cranes in the area. We could see and hear some of them a ways north snacking in farmers’ fields. We cruised the Refuge, not seeing too much. We parked and ventured out into a roaring wind to see many smaller groups of cranes and ibis fly overhead. Then, Wow!  A cacophony of bird noise and a large flock of cranes flew overhead. The noise is almost more impressive than the sight of so many big birds in the air.

550MG9231MercedWildlifeRefuge 551MG9239MercedWildlifeRefuge 552MG9250MercedWildlifeRefuge 553MG9262MercedWildlifeRefuge 555MG9246MercedWildlifeRefuge 559MG9258MercedWildlifeRefugeBetty provided a great pasta dinner and we had a pleasant evening. Monday, it was speed on home over the new Eastern portion of the Bay Bridge (and the Western portion too) and start unloading the rig. We rejoiced in the completion of another great trip. We love Eastern California!

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On Wednesday, we did our final canyon that we haven’t seen before – McGee Creek. It was very close to camp and only took a short time to reach. On the way up, we stopped at what appeared to be a closed horse camp right next to McGee Creek. The buildings were boarded up for winter and the entire property was covered with fallen and falling leaves. We were just fooling around with the cameras and then, Wow! I saw the best refraction I have ever seen. Just this blinding rainbow in the middle of the sky.

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We proceeded up to the parking area for the McGee Creek Trail, ate lunch, and wandered up the trail. I was happy photographing the trees along the creek for a while, then was ready to go back to the car. Dave continued on up the trail for quite a way. I got my book, coffee and cookies and spent a delightful interlude in a gold-tinted glade.

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When Dave returned, we took a drive along Old Crowley Lake Road, looking for good color. What we found in some tiny town was a lovely constructed pond and a fake deer. Dave concentrated on the pond; I shot the fake deer. (What else is new?)

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We then returned to the upper part of Lower Rock Creek Road and saw all the color that wasn’t in the lower part. We found our little creek and the light was much lower, making the ripples all the more interesting. Finally, we both got tired and went back to camp.

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We usually wake up around 7 am or so. When I woke up on Thursday, I decided to get outside quickly and capture the fog rising from the hot waters of Hot Creek. I didn’t get to see deer in the water like Dave did a few days ago, but did see a couple lurking near the creek.

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After coffee and breakfast, we went out to the Hot Creek Geological Site, a thermally-active area that used to be a heavy-duty party area (think natural hot-tubs). But something changed and now the water is too hot to party in. The hot pools still have that unearthly blue color and the creek is full of neat-looking foliage.

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That was it for Hot Creek. We packed up and headed back to our starting point: Mono Lake. Our wonderful campsite had somebody else parked there. We introduced ourselves and met Jason and Nikki Wynn. They are young (compared to us) full-timers who are doing it green. That includes a composting toilet and they distill their own water, even from something as salty as Mono Lake. Check out their website: http://www.gonewiththewynns.com

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Convict Lake is one of the prettiest, easiest lakes to traverse in the fall. The trail looks down upon the translucent water, offering chances to catch the colors deepening as the lake deepens and great reflections. The trees and bushes are just about all golden, with roughly half the leaves fallen, so the pathways are golden also. What a place! Even on a Monday, there were loads of fishermen, a few kayakers and quite a few people enjoying the trail. The 3-mile round trip took us 4 hours.

340MG8356ConvictLake 342MG8341ConvictLake 343MG8351ConvictLake 344MG8345ConvictLake 346MG8365ConvictLake 347MG8372ConvictLake 349MG8379ConvictLake 351MG8394ConvictLakeDave 352MG8389ConvictLake 353MG8398ConvictLake 355MG8400ConvictLake 356MG8402ConvictLake 357MG8407ConvictLake 359MG8417ConvictLakeWe got to the far end of the lake where streams feed in and a grove of what may be birch crowds around the water sources. We chomped our sandwiches on a log, watching the water change as the afternoon breeze began. After lunch, the trees didn’t do a lot for me, photographically, but the light on the leaves underwater in the streams really caught my attention.

360MG8432ConvictLake 362MG8435ConvictLake 363MG8472ConvictLake 364MG8443ConvictLake 365MG8447ConvictLake 366MG8454ConvictLake 367MG8448ConvictLake 368MG8451ConvictLakeI got a national monument off my bucket list: Devil’s Postpile. Situated behind Mammoth Lakes, it is only open for four or five months per year. We drove out there and went on a 5-mile hike to Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls. It was much warmer than I expected. When we reached Devil’s Postpile, the light wasn’t optimal. It was interesting but I felt didn’t measure up to the power of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Here, though, we could hike to the top of it and see all the sexagonal tops of the basalt columns, looking like polished flagstones.

371MG8495DevilsPostpile 372MG8496DevilsPostpile 374MG8516DevilsPostpileThe rest of the hike out to Rainbow Falls wasn’t too exciting. Apparently, a recent fire had decimated the environment around the trail and there wasn’t much shade or photographic distractions. And it was much warmer than I had expected.

375MG8592RainbowFallsTrailWe reached Rainbow Falls and it was a nice large waterfall but the light wasn’t ideal. The longer we stayed, the more sunlight highlighted the falls, increasing the contrast to high levels. We took the steep downhill stairs to the bottom of the falls and shimmied over a huge log to get as close as we could to the falls. That’s when we saw the advertised rainbow. It was cool and shady and very nice down there. Luckily for me, Dave did not see me lumber my way back over the big log.

376MG8518RainbowFalls 377MG8524RainbowFalls 378MG8530RainbowFalls 380MG8543RainbowFalls 381MG8556RainbowFalls 383MG8568RainbowFalls 384MG8570RainbowFalls 386MG8572RainbowFalls 387MG8579RainbowFalls 388MG8590RainbowFallsWe returned up the trail and the 2.5 mile trail seemed easier with more shade available. The light on Devil’s Postpile had improved so we re-photographed it.

391MG8596DevilsPostpile 392MG8606DevilsPostpile 393MG8615DevilsPostpile 395MG8620DevilsPostpileFinally, back at the car, Dave had coffee and cookies while I munched on an enormous apple. After picking up a few necessities at Von’s in Mammoth Lake, we headed home for salad, spaghetti and nice bottle of Aviator wine.

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Friday morning was a chore day. Our dirty laundry was gaining on us so Dave dropped me off at the Bishop laundry. It was an expensive, lousy laundry with more broken washers than not. The dryers were 10 cents per minute as far as I could tell. The room was hot and of the four plastic seats nailed down in the sunny part of the room, one of them had a puddle of soda mouldering in it. Yuck! Hot and grumpy, my mood was improved by lunch at Schat’s Bakery. The dessert area of the bakery was crammed with good-looking goodies. We bought some truffles for later that night.

After unloading the laundry we went for a drive along side roads near CA-395. We had a little trouble finding the roads that were supposed to have aspen on them, but finally ended up driving through Paradise (so there are at least two in California) and into the Lower Rock Creek Canyon. We stopped at a low point and found a little trail by the Creek. It had a few nice spots.

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We neared our campsite as the sun was going down behind the Sierra Nevada. The cottonwoods were absolutely glowing so we stopped a little bit for that.

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Our last day in the Bishop area was spent hiking the Little Lakes Trail that departed from the tail end of Rock Creek Road. There were quite a few cars in the Mosquito Flat Trailhead parking lot, but this seems to be a weekend destination for people wanting to enjoy the beautiful autumn climate at 10,000+ feet.

The trailhead altitude is 10,300 feet and though the trail we took never got steep, I immediately began to huff and puff every time it ascended at all. After stopping a few moments, I was fine and could go on.  There are so many lakes along the way that the map we had never even named some of them. Each one of them is unique with its own color of water and shoreline makeup but they all backed up against high, high mountains.  Everything was stunningly beautiful. And then we found streams with ice running out of Heart Lake. We both love ice – it’s intricate, fractal, architectural designs. So we photographed there for a while and actually lost each other a little bit, following our own streams.

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After lunch, we continued up the trail to Long Lake, rimmed with rock. We had come about 2+ miles but we were both ready to turn back. Dave wanted to catch sunset close to camp. Our late afternoon showers felt very good.

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After 6 days of boondocking, we were almost out of water and it was time to head north, closer to Mammoth Lakes and Devil’s Postpile, a national park we have never visited. We found the Bishop Highlands RV Park that let us dump for $7. Not a bad total for 6 days of camping. Forty miles north of Bishop, we pulled onto another bumpy gravel road – Hot Creek Hatchery Road and found a nice remote place to camp overlooking Hot Creek and the Sierras. On Sunday afternoon, it turned out to be not so remote. People kept driving up our little side road to check out Hot Creek for a good area to soak, I guess.

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Wednesday we went on a long bumpy drive on gravel and stony roads. We headed south on Fish Slough Road for about 20 miles, stopping to marvel at petroglyphs pecked onto boulder rock piles. (I marveled more than Dave.)

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We then turned west into Chidago Canyon and found reddish rock formations eroded into all kinds of weird shapes. One item of unknown origin is the bas relief of a miner carved into the stone.

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We popped out of there and drove upwards into the Benton Range. Dave took over the driving at the point the road got very narrow and rocky. We ate lunch looking out over the White Mountains and then Dave navigated the Rav down what was called “…a definitely 4-wheel drive road”. We then bumped home along 19 miles of Casa Diablo dirt road: wide and relatively smooth, but too bumpy for me. I was ready to sit for awhile. So we did.

When both of us had updated our blogs, we drove into Bishop to upload them on the public’s dime. The public with WiFi was behind the Visitor’s Center, listening to two Indians joke back and forth and lots of ducks in the little stream nearby. Two of them (the ducks) came up to our car to see what we had to offer, but a dog scared them away. Successfully uploaded, we returned to camp and found out – YES! – the federal government was going to reopen. Maybe we’ll get to visit Devil’s Postpile yet.

Since the federal government was re-opening, we figured that the Visitor Center at the Ancient Bristlecone Forest in the White Mountains, would be open.  On yet another cloudless, sunny day, we drove the long, windy, but paved, road up and up. On a narrow, one-lane section of the road, we squeezed over to let the Lazy Daze belonging to Ron and Mary go by. They had just spent some time with Jim and Gayle. Small world. Then 4,000 feet, 6,000, 7,000, 9,000 feet. The views just kept getting better. To the west, the Sierra Nevada. To the east, 2 or 3 mountain ranges in Nevada.

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We reached the Schulman Grove just short of 10,000 feet. The visitor center was not open. The bathrooms were unlocked but were an unholy mess. I guess there’s more involved than employees unlocking the doors and installing toilet paper. We ate lunch and decided to go on the 4.5 miles loop on the Methuselah Trail. However, we wouldn’t know which Bristlecone Pine was actually Methuselah. As the brochure states “Since anonymity is its best defense against souvenir hunters, the Methuselah Tree is not marked, signed or identified in any manner.” (That’s sad.)

The trail loses, then regains 800 feet, so I was surprised when we started out by climbing. There was quite a bit of snow on the narrow trail and I was very happy to have both of my hiking poles. There were Bristlecone Pines all over and we navigated carefully to compose our images and not lose equipment or hiking poles down the steep slopes. On the entire trail, we only bumped into one other hiker; a dog came barking and bounding along the trail, eating snow and having the time of her life followed by her young owner. They disappeared ahead of us.

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The trail periodically traversed shady cool snowy areas, then sun-warmed desert hillsides. This was another amazingly constructed trail that never went up or down at an extreme slope. The snowy parts were all pretty easy to navigate. We started the hike around 1 pm and time flew as we clambered around the spectacular trees. As we circled around and began west to the top, I kept expecting the sun to permanently leave us in deep shadow, but somehow that never happened. The sunlight filtered through the trees and lit everything up. We ended up back at the top, tired and exhilarated. What a great hike. The road actually continues higher up to the Patriarch Grove, but that will have to wait for a future trip. We were ready to return to camp.

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North of Bishop, we settled into a dispersed area campsite that Jim and Gayle had used. We’re nested under a ridge that covers up the Sierra Nevada but protects us to some degree from wind. The more open site up the road has, I think, long-term campers; they look settled in. Dave spent most of Monday night blogging and uploading. I uploaded mine Tuesday morning. So we’re off that hook for a day or two.

After extensive advice from Jim at the Bishop Visitor Center (thank heavens, open because it’s not federal government!) we headed up Bishop Creek Road towards Lake Sabrina (that’s Sa-brine-ah). Our first stop was Intake 2, a small lake contained by a dam. Multi-colored trees and bushes surrounded the lake with fisherman dotted around the edges. We found a warm spot on a rock for lunch.

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Lake Sabrina came as a shock; the lake is so reduced in size that the water is more than 200 yards away from the docks. We turned around and headed up the southern road up Bishop Creek. We checked out the creek flowing through a closed campground (okay), drove up the road a little farther and saw a waterfall, very picturesque, surrounded by aspen and golden and red underbrush. The trees were a little past prime but were still looking good. The road dead-ended at South Lake, again a mere pittance of what it once was.

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In the deep canyon, shadows were encroaching by 3:30. Dave became entranced with them and spent lots of time in the chilly air. I stayed cosier in the car, reading a wonderful book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. She’s a great writer and it’s fun to see where she comes back to civilization to pick up her supplies. Many of the locations are tiny towns that we have passed through.

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We finally got back to Bishop, picked up a few things at Von’s (Safeway) and chowed down on Bar-be-cups for dinner.

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After a day of hibernation, we started on CA-395 to Lone Pine, about 120 miles south. The weather was beautiful, with a few clouds. No matter how many times I have witnessed them, the barricade of mountains that is the Sierra Nevada, stuns me. They just go on and on. No photograph that I have seen has ever truly captured their scope. And now they were sprinkled with snow from the storm. We stopped at one point and got on top of the LD to photograph what might be the White Mountains, but might not be.

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There was a huge, beautiful Von’s (Safeway) in Bishop, so I stocked up on a lot of veggies and found our favorite chocolate cookies. We continued on down to Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, where Jim Cummings found us and led us to their campsite. The Alabama Hills are a jumble of rocks spread over 6 to 8 miles. There are a million nooks and crannies and the majestic mountains make a fantastic backdrop. Because of this, a million Hollywood movies, particularly Westerns, have been shot here. We have arrived on a big weekend – the Lone Pine Film Festival. The place is full, the federal shutdown has closed all the forest service campgrounds and RVers are looking for a place to stay. A lot of them are staying in the Alabama Hills. It’s kind of like a homestead rush, with rigs cruising up and down dirt roads, looking for a place to roost. Jim, Gayle and Debbie had already checked out about 5 sites when we arrived. We parked and went for a walk, looking at all the film festival placards placed right where the movie scene had been filmed with a picture from the scene. Hopalong Cassidy, Richard Boone, Jack Palance, Jack Elam…. That got all of us remembering our favorite Westerns when we were kids. My favorite was Sugarfoot with Will Hutchens (He was cute!) We googled whatever we couldn’t remember, although, if given enough time, our memories usually dig up the right name.

We also met Rupert and Elliot, Debbie’s dogs, sort of an Abbott and Costello pair, with Rupert a thin, rangy fellow and Elliot a small, roly-poly guy. We also met Elvis and Sophie, Jim and Gayle’s cats. Elvis is too shy to come out but it’s fun to see Sophie stalking about, leashed in her little pink harness. She gives Gayle insulted looks when pulled back; it’s hard to pretend you’re a wild cat while harnessed.

The next morning, I woke up with a medical problem that required a prescription be sent to the pharmacy in Lone Pine. That took up most of the day, calling my doctor for the prescription and calling the pharmacy to see if it had been sent yet. When we went into town to pick it up, I found the drugstore was a very old one and that the pharmacist looked somewhat like Marcus Welby, M.D. (which got us remembering the old doctors shows from the 60’s).  The town was in high gear for the film festival, with 3 guys riding around on horses with a flag and guns. A guy in a hot dog costume invited me to go to Frosty Chalet.  When we got back to camp, we started a happy hour outside, but quickly moved inside to Jim and Gayle’s commodious (compared to us) residence. Their rig has a table with comfy chairs plus a couch in front. We made plans for a hike the next day and returned home.

On Saturday morning, we set out up the Whitney Portal Trail for Lone Pine Lake. The trail eventually goes to the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S. The parking lot was crowded and the campground was closed (gov’t shutdown) and the outhouses were locked (gov’t shutdown). The parking lot is in shadow most of the day and so it had ice, snow and slush and was quite chilly. Gayle had looked up the expected weather and said it was supposed to reach a high of 56 degrees up at Lone Pine Lake (9960’ altitude). We were ascending 1300 feet in 3 miles. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it was uphill switchbacks all the way with a few flat runs of 20 or 30 yards. Jim and Gayle had given Dave an extra pair of hiking poles so we both had two and they helped a lot. Also, the trail interspersed sunny areas with shady areas and there was an occasional breeze. I have never seen a better trail. There were almost no loose rocks on it, which meant you didn’t have to look down all the time. And lucky for that because the views were spectacular.

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I was stopping often to catch my breath, but finally reached Lone Pine Lake. What a beautiful place. There were quite a few people up there but is understandable why. We had a pleasant lunch and then wandered around for awhile, exclaiming over trees, water, icicles and the surrounding mountains.

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Dave and I started down behind the others because we knew the light was getting better and we would dawdle making images. The others had critters to get back to (and their own car). I was getting tired but the trail was so easy and all downhill that I got into a kind of walk-jog with the hiking sticks that I’ve never done before. It was neat. The light got better and better on the mountains and half-moon appeared. We saw four deer, pretty much all the wildlife we saw on the hike.

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We finally reached the parking lot and zoomed down the Portal Road, heading for home. But we had to stop when the God rays appeared behind Mt. Whitney. Then it was zoom back, clean up and head out to taste the Lone Pine nightlife. It was lively on a Saturday night with the film festival folk in town. We hit the Pizza Factory and it was crammed with noisy, happy people. We each got our own pizza and they were very good.  Okay, what about dessert? Why, there was McDonald’s about a half block away so we each got ice cream sundae’s. They weren’t Ghirardelli-level but they were pretty darned good. It being 8:30 or so after a strenuous hike, we decided not to go dancing and headed back to camp.

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Sunday started out pretty quiet. Dave went out pre-dawn but got back pretty quickly because he left his memory card for the camera in the rig. Oh well. I consoled him with an omelet for breakfast.

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Gayle had mentioned a parade in Lone Pine, so we all piled into their car and found a good parking space. It was a small-town parade with lots of decorated cars. We missed seeing Clu Galager. (Look up the name if you don’t know who that is.) It fun to see the mule teams (100 mules are going to trek to Los Angeles but I’m not sure why), the cheering squad, the man in the Hopalong Cassidy outfit, and many, many more. Afterwards, we wandered down to the town park and browsed the arts and crafts fair. I bought a pair of work gloves and the seller kindly informed me that I had 2 left-handed gloves. I almost blew $2.50. We got back to camp and shared an extended happy hour in the Jim & Gayle’s Lazy Daze, enjoying the company of them, Debbie and their two very different cats.

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Late the next morning, I made one more attempt to photography the very active animals. We said goodbye and took off, but not before getting a final group shot. We all plan to be in Quartzite for the big get-together in January, so it won’t be long before we meet again.

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