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Archive for April, 2019

April 22-23    Getting stuff done

We returned to Kanab for one more day to upload the blogs and replenish our supplies. We stayed at the RV Corral Park, another place with tight little spaces and our space was right next to highway which meant highway noise. We went to Kanab’s one hardware store and Dave found the right size machine screws and washers to fix my hiking pole. The small town of Kanab is going to be the biggest town available until we reach Moab.

On Tuesday, we took off for Bryce, hoping to score a campsite in the park. The options are limited because only one campground is open right now. Heavy snow has limited both camping and hiking options. We arrived at the North Campground in Bryce around noon. At the entrance station, we told that we were lucky – there were still some campsites available. The first loop we checked had one lousy space (too tight and not level) so we unhooked the LD and went into Loop B. Score! A small loop off B had several spaces available. We took the largest one. Site 51 is right near a bathroom and is sunny. We could put our chairs out and look at the trees without looking directly at other vehicles or the road. We decided to go for 3 days, $45 with the Senior Pass. A great deal!

We didn’t know how lucky we were. Every time we reentered our camp for the next couple of days, it was full. We kept watching people troll the loops, searching, searching and not finding. We didn’t drive anywhere in Bryce the first afternoon and evening, just enjoyed our campsite.

April 24    The Fairyland Trail

On Wednesday, we got up early and were on the trail about 8:30. Dave and I had negotiated a complex agreement. The full Fairyland loop is 8.5 miles long. Dave wanted to do the entire loop. I didn’t. So we took off from the Fairyland Viewpoint, where the Bryce shuttle buses don’t go. We would hike together until we reached Sunrise Point where I could catch a shuttle back to our campground. Dave would continue hiking back to the car. Good man!

Glowing formations

We didn’t catch sunrise on the formations but the sun was low enough where the glow was wonderful here and there. There were a few other groups that left when we did, but as usual, they soon outdistanced us. We are not speed hikers.

Easter Island statue?

The dried mud trail was quiet and peaceful for an hour or so. Then the planes started flying overhead and Bryce helicopter tours began buzzing like nasty mosquitoes. Oh well, there was a nice breeze and wonderful views.

A fairyland castle

It is fun to get up close and personal with the formations.

The total trail elevation change is 1,300 feet but I don’t think that covers all the ups and downs of the trail. We descended onto the forested canyon floor before beginning to rise again.  The trail had more than visual delights. I sniffed the bark of a Ponderosa Pine and got that faint whiff of vanilla.

Looks like a glowing pumpkin

The nice breeze became a stiff wind as we rose out of the canyon but it was sunny and we never got too hot. One thing I had forgotten about Bryce is that it contains a long series of discrete amphitheaters. You hike out of one and a new one appears. I have no idea how the trail-makers decided where to build the trail but I appreciate the results.

One of the keynote formations on this trail is Tower Bridge.

The wonderful formations in Bryce come in so many varieties of color: white, cream, apricot, orange, pink, russet. The shapes include round, conical, columnar. The mud can be eroded into discrete forms or still run in long walls. It can make for wonderful abstracts.

As the day progressed, we passed and were passed by more and more people. Two young women were hiking in open-toed sandals of the type not meant for hiking. I assume they were doing at least the full 5.5-mile portion of the trail. We passed a couple of couples lugging their babies in a backpack.

The final ascent up to Sunrise Point seemed long, but I was still in pretty good shape. I think the key factor in making a hike miserable is unrelenting heat and the breeze kept me fairly cool. Patches of snow began to appear near the trail. It’s hard to believe it can survive warm weather on orange-colored slopes.

From Sunrise Point

The trail split just below Sunrise Point. I kissed Dave goodbye and went to catch the shuttle. I was back at the Lazy Daze in a half hour and started the coffee and the water heater. The day’s take? 171 images. The selection process begins.

April 25    The Bryce Rim Drive

It was a lazy morning after the Fairyland hike. We always seem to carbo-load after our hikes, so the breakfast menu was French Toast. The weather report was a chance of showers in the afternoon. That could make for interesting light.

We took off around 1:30, not knowing if we would be out for long. The Bryce Canyon rim drive goes 18 miles along the top of the mesa, but only 12 miles were open. The other six went as high as 9,000 feet and it was still very snowy so we were told it was closed. The first stops were Sunrise and Sunset Points, thinking there were only a few stops after that before we’d have to turn around.

View from Sunrise Point

There were hordes of hikers and riders on the trails.


Virga not quite hitting the ground

At Sunset Point, a ranger was hanging out, answering the many questions by various people. I started talking with him about the wonderful petroglyphs we had seen on the Mansard Trail at Kanab and he began to tell me “secret” places where we could see petroglyphs. I had seen several of the places he spoke of so they weren’t all that secret, but it was nice of him to tell.

Dark clouds over Sunset Point

Crew repairing the trail

We decided to drive up as far as we could and then work our way back. As we drove, I noticed quite a few cars returning. I supposed they were all going as far as they could before turning around. But when we reached Natural Bridge, the supposed “end of the road”, it was open! There was quite a lot of snow on the sides of the road and it kept getting higher as we rose beyond 8,000 feet.

Ponderosa Point

Curious, we wanted to see if we could reach Yovimpa Point, the end of the road, at 9,115 feet. We did. The parking lot was crowded with cars. Lots of kids were playing in the snow. One couple had a red-tick hound. “Bark” the man said when we asked him what type of hound his beautiful dog was, and the creature bayed on demand.

View from Yovimpa Point

It started to rain. The wind was blowing hard. Not expecting to reach that point, we had only brought long sleeve shirts and light rain jackets. No mittens. But the views with the rain clouds and virga were spectacular. We stayed there for a half hour, getting water spots on our lenses.

We worked our way back down, running the car heater at full blast when we weren’t popping out at the various points.

From Black Birch Point

Natural Bridge

Aspen trunks

Each point looked into a different amphitheater or two different sides of the same amphitheater. There was some snow visible at each stop, something I don’t remember ever seeing at Bryce before.

Fairview Point

We never made it to Inspiration Point at all. By the time we were back under 8,000 feet, we were tired and had been out more than 3 hours. We returned home to a toasty motorhome and got back into shorts.

 

 

 

 

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April 18-19          Kanab

We woke up Thursday morning to plaintive “MOOOOO”. Peeking out the window we saw a cow with a very full udder. Apparently, she wanted us to milk her. Not possessing a lick of lactation-extraction expertise, we left her to her own devices.

We went to the large town of St. George, Utah to restock groceries. That place was busy and it was stressful maneuvering the Lazy Daze into crowded supermarket parking lots. We also had to find a state-run liquor store in order to stock up on wine. One bright note on our way to Kanab: we found a gas station with gas for $2.80 per gallon. Score!

Since we were closing in on Easter weekend, I called ahead to make sure the Hitch-N-Post had a space for one night. They did. While in conversation with the RV park manager, I mentioned that we planned to drive through Zion National Park to get to Kanab. “Oh, you can’t do that! The road through the park is closed near the tunnel; they had a rock avalanche early this year.” Lucky to find out when we did. Otherwise, we would have entered the west side of Zion and had to turn around and backtrack. Instead, we turned off at Hurricane and headed east on a different road.

We’ve been to Kanab, Utah many times. It’s a well-situated little town for us to supply up so that we can stay at the remote areas we love. I remember one trip in the 80’s when we came to buy groceries in Kanab and I found artichokes in the store. Loving artichokes, I added them to my cart. When I checked out, the young cashier looked at them doubtfully.

“How do you eat these?”

“Why, you just slice off the tops to get rid of the stickers, steam the bottoms until they’re tender, pull off the leaves and dip them in butter or mayonnaise.”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure.” she replied, disbelieving my cooking scheme.

The Hitch-N-Post, a small, rustic place, is handily next to a laundromat and grocery store. While doing the laundry, I got into conversation with two others, one a girl covered in tattoos and a man who looked to be in his late-20s or early 30s. It turned out they were both full-timers. The girl said that she and her boyfriend were tattoo artists and when they needed a little money, they could always find a tattoo parlor to work at for a while. The man said he full-timed with his wife and 3 kids, self-schooling them. “A lot of Millennials like this lifestyle a lot.” he said.

We caught up on chores and blog stuff and began to discuss what we wanted to do in-and-around Kanab and where we would go for Easter weekend. There were BLM dispersed sites a few miles north of Kanab and I thought they would be good.  I also thought there would be a lot of them. I was wrong.

Friday morning we took our time taking off, drove about seven miles north of Kanab on US-89 and looked for a campsite on Hancock Road, the way to reach Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Note the word “sand”. There were few dispersed BLM sites than I expected and ones we looked at involved deep sand. Not good. We drove further up the US-89 and pulled into a large area where a few rigs were parked but it really looked like an unloading site for ATV’s, aka sand buggies. Uh-uh, no peace and quiet there.

“Let’s go further up the road to the next BLM site.” We left the LD and drove another 5 miles up US-89 and took a turnoff just south of the turnoff to go to Zion NP. The road was gravel, flat and easy to traverse. A muddy fork of the Virgin River ran alongside the road. There were ATVs roaring up and down the road, but we found a large flat space right by the water. Figuring this was as good as it was going to get, I settled down in my camp chair with water and my iPhone to hold the site while Dave drove back at retrieved the RV. We were settled for the weekend.

April 20    The Mansard Trail

Sifting through all the hiking possibilities, we selected the Mansard Trail hike. In 4 miles or so, it climbed 900 feet to an alcove with petroglyphs. We figured it would be a good introductory hike in canyon country. Also, it was only 6 miles outside of downtown Kanab, so not much driving was required. And I guessed it was not the type of trail that tourists would flock to.

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The Mansard Trail

As soon as we got on the trail, the wildflowers began to appear. All kinds I have never seen before. I knew I would be spending more time with my flower identification book in later days.

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Milkvetch

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Fresh Linanthus

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Not so fresh Linanthus

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Penstemon

After a gentle rise for a while, the trail began to ascend in a series of switchbacks (26 of them). But they weren’t severe and I only got out-of-breath once. Plus, photographing the flowers slowed us down. The views were wonderful – we were back in canyon country, with mesas, buttes and domes.

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Rough staircase

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Yellow Cryptantha

We took a break at a bench that provided a view of two canyons. It also provided a refreshing breeze.

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Our destination

The trail flattened out as it traversed the mesa-top we were on. We were heading towards some nice rock formations.

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Locoweed

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We suddenly turned onto a sandy road with tire tracks on it. What? People drive up here? The road ended in about 100 yards and the rock face I was looking at was spectacular. Usually, desert varnish drips down the rock face, depositing dark stains. This was not desert varnish. It was stains in shades of mocha and brown on white rock with bands of yellow through it. It was beautiful.

The path alongside the cliff was sketchy and the fall was steep if you lost your balance. Both of us were entranced and spent about 20 minutes with our noses and cameras pressed near the rock.

Finally, I suggested that we find the petroglyphs before other people showed up. The alcove containing them was only a short way down the trail. The unusual thing about these petroglyphs was that they were pecked into the sloping floor of the alcove. The first one I noticed was an archer. The neat thing was the artist had added three T-shapes, possibly picturing the progress of the flying arrow.

I am always amazed at the variety of images that are included in petroglyphs. We moved across the expanse, marveling at the work. Soon, a group of four kids and a woman showed up. I was happy to hear her forcefully tell them that they couldn’t touch anything. They soon left and we ate a quiet lunch at the site.

Looking out from the alcove

Afterwards, we worked our way slowly back across the rock face. We heard some engine noise coming from the road and found a couple of ATVs there. The people didn’t look like they were even going to attempt the trail over to the petroglyphs.

The afternoon winds picked up and blasted me to point where I had to remove one of my contacts. I had brought my hiking poles but hadn’t used them on the way up because the path was easy to navigate. But they really help on the way down 900 feet, when I’m tired. So I pulled them out and one of the pressure clips that hold the segments in place, fell off. The bolt had fallen out somewhere. So I hiked down with one pole and hope we can fix it.

 

April 21      The East Side of Zion National Park

As mentioned earlier, the tunnel connecting the west side of Zion with the east side was closed. It would take a one-way trip of about 60 miles or more to get from the west side to east side. So we figured Easter Sunday was the perfect day to visit the east side, only a few miles from our camp.

We had a relaxed Easter breakfast an omelet with bacon and cheesy-bread toast. Later we took off for Zion. On the way in, a dead deer on the side of the road reminded me to drive more slowly. It’s a terrible feeling to kill an animal accidentally.

We would have entered Zion for free with our senior pass but it was a free day anyway. Whether because it was Easter Sunday or because the tunnel was closed, free is nice. Especially because the entrance fee is $35. Wow!

The first formal “sight” in East Zion is Checkerboard Mesa, that is fractured in an unusual fashion.

There are only a few formal pullouts along the road but many pulloffs that we used extensively.

The tints on many of the formations are very delicate and subtle.

There are a lot of beehive formations here. And the huge, cumulous clouds make a great backdrop.

I was driving, toodling along watching the road, when Dave yelled “Stop!” I stopped. “Pull over right there!” I pulled over, next to a young couple staring intently down. There was a large herd of Mountain Sheep grazing a little below the level of the road. They noticed us but that didn’t scare them off.

The collared sheep seems to be the male, keeping an eye on his harem.

Getting a little RAM-bunctious

Suddenly, the herd decided that the grazing was better across the road. Luckily, there was little traffic as they all crossed single file.

Then, one after another, they made incredible leaps onto the steep cliffs above.

The lamb hasn’t grown his horns much

Several sheep approach from the other direction

A lamb kneels down to nurse

74 mountain sheep pictures later (for me), we moved on. It was so wonderful to see the healthy-looking creatures acting naturally in the wild. (Well, sort of wild, with a road running through it.)

We stopped a few more times before we called it quits and went back to camp.

Indian Paintbrush

 

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April 16       Valley of Fire State Park

Tuesday was supposed to be windy and cloudy with possible rain showers. It was all of that. Good. It made for an interesting sky. This is our third or fourth trip to Valley of Fire. We knew what we wanted to do there. Walk the White Dome Trail and wander around the side of the road, looking for rainbow-colored rock formations.

We reached the park around 9 a.m. After a few introductory shots of the wonderful views, we drove out to the end of the road, the White Dome Trail parking. The trail is short, only 1.2 miles, but it is full of wonderful rocks and this spring, wildflowers.

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View of Valley of Fire State Park

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Brittlebush

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Primrose

It wasn’t too busy when we started hiking. The narrow trail descends gradually between two high fins. Stone stairs make the descent easier.

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Orange Globe Mallow

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Scarlet Gaura

At the bottom of the descent, there is one adobe wall, a remnant of an old movie set. Many lousy movies have been filmed here.

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View of the White Dome Trail

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Movie set ruins

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The trail makes a right turn into a very short slot canyon.

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There is a stunning display of color in the rocks on the other side of the slot. As we worked it, people started showing up behind us. It was going to be a busy trail.

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The trail opens up after this and starts providing wonderful views. The weather was great – warm with a breeze.

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I love the red, swirly patterns in the alcoves.

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We got back to the parking lot around lunch time and found a quiet place, away from the crowded picnic benches, to eat our sandwiches.

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The park has tightened up parking restrictions on White Dome Road over the years. There are only 3 large parking areas now. We selected the middle one to try because there were fewer cars parked there.  The area close to the road wasn’t too interesting. But as we circled around rocks and followed washes and gullies, the color on the rocks got fantastic.

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Finally, I reached a place with wild patterns and colors.

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Then I found a formation that looked like a slab of bacon. Yummy!

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Next, the softest transition from sand to sandstone that I’ve ever seen.

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We found another wonderful rock view as we started heading back to the road.

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While we were carousing in the rocks, the wind had really picked up. We finally got back in the car and started looking for a coffee spot. We drove up a short road to the Silica Dome Vista Point. I nearly was blasted off my feet when I left the car. I didn’t take too many shots here; it was time to sip the java and watch other people brave the blasts.

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Figuring we were well done for the day, I turned the car around the loop and on the other side of the road, saw the most mystifying vision. The flat plain spread out below was clearly defined by the light. But the plateau beyond, with the sun focused on it, sparkled and glowed like a magical ocean. It actually was a long plateau out there. The images don’t quite capture the look, but it amazed me. I feel so privileged to be in this part of the country.

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As we drove out of the Valley of Fire, it started to sprinkle. That, plus the high winds that rocked the rig, made me glad not to be a tent camper.

April 17      St. Thomas

Wednesday was supposed to be warmer and sunnier than Tuesday, so we planned to get out early to see the ruins of St. Thomas.

St. Thomas was a thriving town that served as a stopping place on US-91, the Arrowhead Trail, that ran between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. When Hoover Dam began operations and Lake Mead started to fill, St. Thomas was doomed. Some people moved their houses away to higher ground. Others just left. However, nobody counted on drought and overpumping to drain Lake Mead back down so far. Eventually, St. Thomas reappeared.

We drove 4 miles towards dry lake bed before reaching a parking area. From there, we descended a small bluff and hiked a mile across fairly green (mostly Tamarisk) flatlands to the town.  At first, the showers that had wet us down yesterday left the plant life sparkling.

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Anything wooden is long gone from St. Thomas, but there are several cement foundations and the grocery store-gas station still had a few walls remaining. There are still some people living who were residents of the town and they have reunions every now and then. The last mayor had buried his hat next to his house before he left and many years later, dug up his hat and slapped it on his head.

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The schoolhouse stairs

We were the only ones wandering around and it was terrifically quiet. We spotted a very large flock of large birds that looked like they were trying to create a flying “V” but weren’t quite getting it. They came closer and closer and eventually were flying directly overhead. They were white pelicans with black wing tips. They weren’t making any noise themselves. What was utterly amazing was that we could hear the noise their wings made as they circled overhead. We’ve had that experience with Snow Geese but this sound was more than a whoosh. It included sort of a faint thrumming. Maybe from their feet? I don’t know but it blew me away. I love that I just never know what is going to happen when we are outside.

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So after about 40 pelican pictures, we started the walk back to the car. The only other wildlife we saw was a group of men and boys hiking towards the town. I didn’t even notice but Dave saw that one of the men had a shotgun.

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Desert Trumpet

 

 

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April 12        White Owl Canyon hike at Lake Mead

I was ready for a desert hike. It had been a long time since we had done one. Friday was supposed to be a nice day – not too hot and not too windy. We drove about 15 miles or so to a lookout point and headed down a steep hill. Dave had downloaded the 3.7-mile White Owl Canyon Trail on his AllTrails app onto his iPhone. It’s lucky he did because the trail was not marked at all after we left the viewpoint.

We quickly walked into a slot canyon. It was mostly brown mud walls but had some interesting wildflowers here and there.

Rock Nettle

Tree Tobacco

After a while, we came upon a pile of twigs lying on the ground. Looking up, we saw a very large bird nest on a high ledge. Not sure what nested there but it sure needed a big nest.

As we walked among small rock piles on the warm day, I had just begun to say to Dave “We have to start looking out for snakes” when Dave noticed a small snake right in front of us. Not a rattlesnake, and it lay still so we could photograph it.

After a while longer, we came to large metal culverts that passed under the road high above. From the size of them, huge amounts of water must be generated during monsoon season. As usual, we did silly things in them. We are easily amused

Once through the culverts, we had to scramble back up to road level. Then we traversed a tiny part of the 34-mile bicycle/hiking trail that circles part of Lake Mead. The part we were on was built over an old highway and half of it was a white smooth surface that made bicycling easy and quiet. The big yellow Brittlebush plants thrived along both sides of this track.

Eventually, we went back down into another slot canyon and ate lunch while watching a bright green and orange caterpillar speeding down the wash. This guy was booking! On the other hand, another caterpillar near me was either resting or dead.

We eventually exited the canyon and began skirting around rolling hills. Most of the trail had once been underwater in Lake Mead and there were thousands and thousands of small white clam shells strewn about everywhere. Occasional detritus appeared that told the lake’s story – a boat ladder, a boat bumper and pieces of clothing.

At one point on the trail, we saw a fairly large number of white birds at the marshy edge of Lake Mead. Examining them with binoculars, Dave guessed they were pelicans. Pelicans in Vegas – who knew?

Just short of getting back to the car, we stopped at a high point and ate lunch, enjoying the views and the quiet. It was a good hike.

After dinner that night, we drove a few miles to Sunset Point and caught the last of the sunlight on the lake and the hills.

April 13-15    Not doing much

Signs had warned us that a race might disrupt local traffic on Saturday morning. So we didn’t drive out of the pleasant campground until the afternoon. We were going to explore the area of Lake Mead near Las Vegas. The lake has receded so far that there are only a few “ports” on the lake. You have to drive 4 or 5 miles now to reach the water and put-in points for boats. Callville Bay had a fairly large marina but not much to interest me.

I did take a few shots of Dodder, a parasitic plant that grows under, up, around and over other plants. Healthy Dodder feels like rubbery strings. It’s sort of gross but sure stands out with its bright orange color.

Dodder

The remainder of the day was spent back at camp. It was quite pleasant. We packed up and moved on what I thought was Easter Sunday. (Don’t look at my iPhone calendar much!) It’s a fairly short 50 miles to get to Echo Bay, another marina that’s close to the Valley of Fire State Park, our real destination. Valley of Fire’s two campgrounds are about 6 miles into the park and we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of possibly not getting into one of them. Plus, it was fairly warm and Echo Bay had hookups

The wind was very strong and it was nice to run the air conditioner during the afternoon. But we turned it off for dinner, opened all the windows and vents, and just lived with the heat the rest of the night. The wind was ferocious but it blew warm air into the rig that was better than no air movement. We left all the windows and vents open the entire night and just slept with a thin sheet. It worked fine.

We called Dave’s mom on Monday and found out it wasn’t Easter on Sunday. That means we have to figure out where to stay next weekend. Oh well.

The drive to Valley of Fire was short and at the entrance, a sign stated that the campground was full. Thank you for letting us know here and not having to drive six miles to find out we couldn’t camp there. We turned right around and headed for Poverty Flats, a BLM dispersed camping area. We dispersed ourselves into a free campsite and once again, invited the wind into the RV to cool us down. The wind never let up all day.

Dave took a few pictures but I couldn’t be bothered. With high clouds, the light is lousy and the view is not that great.

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April 7-8      Barstow and the Lake Mead RV Village 

I’ve had enough of poppies. It’s time to move on. We made an uneventful 100-mile drive to Barstow and stayed at our old standby – the Shady Lane RV Park. It’s a family run place, not at all fancy, but I like it. While there, I was still working on the Poppy Reserve images – 70 the first afternoon and more than 200 on Day 2. The first run-through, I process the image, enlarging it to see what is and isn’t in focus and correct the color balance to what I remember seeing. As I do this, I rate the images with stars and delete any that are totally out-of-focus or just no good. Then I go through the starred images, crop them as needed and save them as small jpg images for the blog. We have two laptops that we trade off using and the older one sometimes does the processing very slowly. But it is fun to re-see what we saw in the field.

While catching up with the laundry, I walked by a couple who asked about our Lazy Daze. They were in a big diesel-pusher but had a 23-foot LD at home in Washington state. They were just returning home after spending several months with their son in Arizona and 23 feet is insufficient space in which to spend long periods of time. They had been looking for a 26-foot LD like ours for a long time, but couldn’t find on that they could afford. Once again, I felt lucky that Dave had found ours.

The next morning, we took off for the 150-mile drive to Lake Mead, just east of Las Vegas. In true desert fashion, thin, patchy blankets of pale yellow flowers spread over the flat areas and bushy clumps of Brittlebush on the hills. We reached the Lake Mead RV Village, perched fairly close to the water and bought 3 nights. We were in.

The Village is a fairly large establishment with quite a few semi-permanent mobile homes. We have a bit of a view of Lake Mead between other rigs. Our next-door-neighbor is a short, olive-green Class C with a friendly guy and his calm German Shepherd, Bella. We checked out the non-hookup, first-come, first-served campground next to the village. It is quite nice but we want air-conditioning for the next couple of hot days.

After some down time, we went for a short drive along the lakeshore. The light was very soft but Dave got some nice shots of Lake Mead’s “bathtub ring” for his Anthropocene Project. The “bathtub ring” is the high-water line that appears all along the islands and shore.

The white areas above the waterline are the “bathtub ring”

We didn’t stay long. We were tired from the drive and went home to dinner.

April 9      Hoover Dam

The winds were expected to be severe today and they were. We decided to visit Hoover Dam, only a few miles away. We stopped at a Lake Mead Overlook and got a different view of the marina. High wind was causing waves to race along the lake.


An accident had closed a main highway near the turnoff to Hoover Dam. Traffic slowed down quite a bit before we reached the security check. They pulled us over to take a quick look in the back of the Rav4, surprising me. Later, we saw security ambling around the dam, covered with extra ammunition clips.

We drove past the $10 parking lots to park free a little further up the hill. The wind tore at us when we exited the car. Some ladies in their light summer dresses were having a difficult time remaining decent.

I’ve never been too excited by dams but Hoover is a beautiful example of mass built with style. The Colorado River flooded so often and so massively that the federal government decided something must be done. This was the area in which they chose to construct an enormous dam. The depression of 1929 hadn’t hit yet when things got started or it might never have been built. The dust bowl had begun and 20,000 people came to this area and camped in the desert, waiting to see if they could get a job. Five thousand of them got hired.

One of the spillways. Lake Mead last overflowed into it in 1983.

It’s hard to imagine the amount of dirt and rock that was removed to build diversion tunnels for the water to pour through while they built the dam. It’s harder to imagine the amount of concrete that was poured – 3.25 million cubic yards. The dam is 726 feet tall. It’s weight is 6.6 million tons. It’s huge!

Below the dam

Once built, it created Lake Mead, the largest man-made lake in the U.S.

Behind the dam

To commemorate the Art Deco masterwork, a plaza was created with elongated statues, the primary stars in sky during construction and the astrological signs.

We ate lunch in the car at Hoover Dam. Later, we found a Starbucks in Boulder City and uploaded the Poppy Reserve blogs. So far, we haven’t had one campground with good WiFi. And the registration people always say they are having a WiFi problem and it is being worked on. But it never seems to get better.

After a few Caffe Mocha’s, we returned to Lake Mead and visited a few locations by the water. The wind was very strong. I walked out on a short pier and was actually a little fearful that the wind could push me into the water. On shore, my legs were stung by flying gravel.

There were many blooming Prickly Pear Cacti across the desert floor. What cacti lack in quantity, they make up for in showmanship.

April 10-11   What to do?

On Wednesday, the winds continued to blow. We blew the day, reading, writing and processing images. The Garmin led me to a defunct Von’s but a nearby Albertson’s saved the day. With groceries replenished, we discussed the next 4 days, leading up to Easter. Stay here on Lake Mead? Move to Red Rock on the west side of Las Vegas? Drive north up to Valley of Fire, that will probably be full this weekend? An additional factor: I want to go to the Las Vegas Neon Museum and see the Boneyard, where many old Vegas signs have ended up.

The next morning, we decided to move from the Lake Mead RV Village, at $33 per night, next door to the Lake Mead Campground, at $10 per night with our Senior pass. Of course, we’d lose the full hookups but the weather looks like it won’t be quite so extreme for the next couple of days. We found a nice site with a lake view. I made reservations for the Neon Museum. We were set for another 3 days.

I reserved the General Admission option for the Neon Museum. That allowed us to roam the grounds at will. The other options were a guided tour and/or a film titled “Brilliant”. The Neon Museum isn’t all that far from downtown Las Vegas but the traffic wasn’t too bad on an early Thursday afternoon.

The Neon Museum street sign

The place was easy to find. The building that fronted the museum was quite striking. (Boneyards are where old signs go to die.) It turns out that the museum lopped off a part of the La Concha Hotel when it went up for sale, moved it and made it their welcome center and gift shop.

You can see the Hard Rock Café guitar sign from quite a distance away. It is 80 feet tall and took quite a while to install.

It was a warm but not hot day, quite pleasant to wander up and down the alleys where the signs were displayed. All the weird architectural elements were seemingly jumbled together but in a very artistic way. I loved it.

There were museum staff strewn throughout the area, prepared to bestow information on any of us that wanted it. One younger woman told us she was born and raised in Las Vegas and loved her job at the museum. (It is a non-profit organization) We talked a little about what a bygone cultural treasure these signs were. Today, many people would find several of the signs offensive for various reasons. And few people work in neon now. But it has a luminance that LED lights do not have.

It took me a minute to figure out this was a Liberace sign and a piano.

I would recommend this place to anyone who has spent time in Las Vegas or Reno. It is really fun to visit.

We got back on a freeway to return to Lake Mead around 4 p.m. and thanked our lucky stars we were going south and not north. The traffic was backed up for miles. It was a beautiful evening in our campground so we toasted the Neon Museum with Cuba Libres and potato chips.




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April 4            Poppies up the Wazoo

The Poppy Reserve website said the display was spectacular. Antelope Valley is near Lancaster and only 80 miles away. The problem is where to camp. There is nowhere very close. We decided to try for the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, 15 miles east of the Reserve. The 80 spaces were all first-come, first-served so if we didn’t get in we would have to look farther away. But it was a Thursday, so at least it wouldn’t be a weekend crowd.

We went over the Tejon Pass on I-5, a feat we haven’t done in nine years. Heavy, dark clouds shrouded the mountains – it was not a nice day. But no rain, just lots of wind. The semis were laboring up to the 4,000+ pass but our rig really does hills well so we sailed past them.

Right after the pass, we made a left turn and headed east. Soon huge splotches of poppy fields began to appear, along with huge splotches of solar farms and wind farms. We passed a rudimentary town or two but the area didn’t seem to contain much in the way of population.

Eventually, we got to our turnoff for the fairgrounds. On the map, it looks like they are in the densest part of town but the roads just divided huge tracts of empty land. We reached the fairground campground and by my estimation, there were two empty spaces available. Whew! We backed in against a black metal fence that separated us from trucks and containers. Not lovely, but we had a place to stay.

Wasting no time, we loaded the Rav with our necessities and headed for the Poppy Reserve. As we raced down Avenue I, we passed a “Neutering Facility”, a Juvenile Detention Center and a decrepit-looking prison. Great neighborhood. We did not see any hint of Lancaster’s business district. We knew we had reached the Reserve when the rows of cars parked along both sides of the road increased. The Reserve charges to get in so I supposed people thought it was worth walking another quarter-mile to reach the flowers. But there was another reason. As we turned onto the reserve road, a sign said there would be an hour wait to park. Discouraging. It actually took us about 20 minutes to pay our $9 senior entry fee and it was easy to park.

It was still dark, gray and extremely windy. I had brought my jacket, a ski hat and mittens. I was so glad I did. It would have been a very short walk without them.

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I could follow the path of the wind through the flowers, especially the small, dense Goldfield. It was like a wave plowing through a yellow sea. I tried a couple of videos but couldn’t capture the expansiveness of the movement.

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This reminds me of a Seurat painting, with small dots of color

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A small still life

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It’s always fun to do blurs

Although we hadn’t walked more than 2 or 2.5 miles, we were both tired when we left the reserve. The incessant wind was exhausting.

Our neighbor at the campground was moving a falcon from his beat-up truck to another vehicle. The beautiful, petite bird didn’t have a hood and was looking around. I went over to talk to him and the bird was examining me along with everything else around her. The tired-looking man (whose name I never got) told me he flies his falcons doing vermin control in an open area and that he doesn’t like it because he feels it is beneath the birds’ dignity. As the man gesticulated with his free arm, the bird would calmly duck when his arm came over her.

We had noticed another man going into his RV with a falcon the night before. He said he takes care of rescue birds and that falcon had been kept by someone who never took the hood off the bird and apparently rarely flew her. Her beak was split and he had superglued it back together!

He was very upset because two days ago, one of his falcons that he has had for six years had risen up too high and had been “blown away”. He had been out searching for her with a tracking device and hadn’t found her. Edwards Air Force Base is very close to Lancaster and they had refused to let him come on their grounds to search for her. “She can take care of herself by hunting, but I’m afraid she might take a small dog or a chicken.” The unsaid part was that someone could shoot her. Unfortunately, he didn’t find her in the next two days.

April 5  More of the same

Our strategy to get into the Poppy Reserve quickly was to get up and go early. It worked; there were very few cars and people on Friday morning. The sky was still cloudy but much more blue. We were hoping that the poppies would open up more today. It gives the fields a different look and closeups of the inside of the flowers can be wonderful.

We went up a steep path to a viewpoint first. The winds were still pretty strong.

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Some poppies get blown to pieces

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The Blue Dick (blue?) goes nicely with my red mitten

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There were huge wind and solar installations all over the area.

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This one area was a sort of catch-basin for gray and silver tumbleweeds

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A desaturated image

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Cream Cups

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A dizzying display

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Finally, for orange relief, some green

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Goldfield filled in an old track

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Owls Clover

We finally returned to a busier area close to the Visitor Center. We saw some monks performing some type of ritual among the poppies.

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For another change, a Joshua Tree was blooming near the Visitor Center.

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We returned to the car and had enough energy to find a road outside of the Poppy Reserve but right next to it. The views were remarkably similar.

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My final shot of the day, looking downhill. Dave got to drive this part.

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March 31  Looking for a place to camp

We were in a bit of a quandary about where to camp near or in Carrizo Plains. It is roughly halfway between US-101 and I-5. It is in the middle of nowhere. There are some campsites but we weren’t sure where they were located in the 45-mile-long national monument. WiFi wasn’t available in the KOA. Phone calls to Carrizo only gave a recorded message that said the first-come first-serve campgrounds filled up quickly in good flower seasons. So we finally decided to go past Carrizo and camp at the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area, a place that is 35 miles east of Carrizo.

Furthermore, CA-58 was the most direct road to Carrizo but we were advised that it was very windy and not to drive it with the toad. So we took off Sunday morning driving separately. The road really wasn’t that bad and I enjoyed turning back and forth in our agile Rav4. We eventually passed the bottom of Shell Creek Road and I laughed when I saw the hoards of people in the wildflowers. A lot of them had actually gone over and under the fence around private property and were trampling flowers all over. I don’t know where the cattle had gone but I hope some of those trespassers stepped in cowpies.

As we continued east, a few nice spots of color appeared but nothing comparing to Shell Creek Road. CA-58 skirts the Los Padres National Forest and as we rose, larger and larger streaks of flower color began to appear. It was stunning! There were cars stopped at every pullout on the narrow highway.

It looked like the road was going to straighten out so we stopped and hooked up again, not realizing that the road was going to get more curvy ahead. The wildflowers were everywhere. We are looking forward to returning to this part of the road in the Rav.

As we descended from the hills, it was depressing to progress onto scabby flatland infected with loads of oil pumps. We eventually stopped in Taft to buy a loaf of bread and went onto our destination, the Buena Vista Aquatic RA. It’s a bizarre area: a lush, grassy campground with a beautiful blue lake. However, Buena Vista Lake is mostly a dry lakebed. So where does the water come from? Having crossed the California Aqueduct, we could guess. So people were boating around, water skiing and jet skiing on water diverted from rivers running out of the Sierra Nevada. This place has sort of an apocalyptic feel to it.

April 1

On Monday, we got up early enough to see a dramatic sunrise over the lake.

 

We packed a lot of stuff into the Rav and headed west on CA-58. After making it through the oil fields, we began to see flower patches. I love car photography. You just pull over and there you are! There were numerous stops and lots of time spent composing the best view of the flowers. Other vehicles were stopping alongside the road but not very many – our reward for being out early on a work day.

 

Phacelia


 

Wallflowers


Like walking into a Monet painting

It took us 2 hours to get past Highway 58. We turned onto Seven Mile Road, a dirt shortcut into Carrizo.

Finally we saw the sign declaring we were in the Carrizo National Monument. The first busy stop was at the Soda Lake Overlook. There was a whole crowd of people flocking up the hill and down to the lake. Soda Lake had lots of water in it and reflected nicely.

Baby Blue Eyes in the foreground

That was almost our last crowd of the day. Carizzo isn’t one of those places with lots of spots designated for activities or picture-taking. It’s a do-it-yourself park. So we headed down Soda Lake Road and stopped here and there. It is more difficult composing images on a flat plane. You need something interesting in the foreground or background. For most people, it’s posing loved ones kneeling in the flowers. But a lot of that in one place and the flowers are crushed. We’re not into that anyway.

We went to the Visitor Center for lunch. Once again, it was very crowded. But we were all fooled. The small Visitor Center was closed. There were no park employees there. The only amenities were picnic benches and pit toilets. A few kiosks had pictures of wildlife and a park map. A few signs indicated which roads were impassable. We ate our sandwiches and watched an international crowd arrive and depart in a cloud of dust and foreign languages.

We continued south down Soda Lake Road and turned east onto a dirt track, San Diego Creek Road aka Panorama Road. It was dry and easy to drive but deep dried furrows showed how treacherous it would be when wet.

The road leads to the Temblor Range and the San Andreas Fault runs right in front of the mountains. We decided to go up into the hills for a while. But first, we took a side road to some interesting-looking structures.

Once we were up in the hills a little, lupine began to appear.

We continued up to a point where Panorama Road turns into Hurricane Crocker Road and intersects with Elkhorn Road. Go forward? Try Elkhorn south or north? Nah, stop and have coffee and cookies and look at the view.

We returned the way we came and started the 25-mile drive down Soda Lake Road to the southern part of Carrizo Plain. The road was dried mud that had been plowed and was bone-rattling. We took a look at one of the two campgrounds in the Park and it was not much to look at. It was also full. I was so glad we hadn’t jangled the Lazy Daze down the long road. Our final stop was at an old corral.

We continued south and eventually spotted a huge swath of purple near the Temblor Range. Did Elkhorn Road go past it? We didn’t want to drive over there this late in the afternoon so we decided we’d have to return to check it out.

We finally reached paved road again and zoomed down CA-166, stopped at Taft to pick up a cooked chicken and got home around 5:30. I was very tired, but satisfied. I figure we saw many millions of flowers on the Plain. Dave figures billions. What an amazing place.

April 2   Sitting around

We sat. Each of us had more than 200 images to review and process. It’s a fun but laborious task. Dave showed me a process by which I can stack (combine) two images of the same scene. You take the same shot twice, once focusing on the foreground and once focusing on the background. That way, everything is sharp. Fun to see the result, but time consuming. On and off, I worked about 3 hours on 80 images.

It was a sunny, breezy day and we sat outside by the lake to eat our lunch. Later in the afternoon, we walked over to the entrance and paid for another night here. Compared to Sunday night, the place is empty, maybe 20 rigs or so spread out around the 80+ sites. We enjoyed the peace and quiet.

April 3 Back to Carrizo

I was a little trepidatious about trying the back way into Carrizo Plain. Elkhorn Grade Road took off from CA-166 at a much closer point than Soda Lake Road. We wanted to find that huge purple spot we had spotted on Monday. The first thing we saw on Elkhorn Road was a huge Target semi twisting it’s way down the steep road. Semis? It turns out that there is a Nestle/Purina plant back here. (Nestle=chocolate and Purina=dogfood. What does that tell you?)

The road turned to dirt and we left the big trucks behind. It wound right up into the hills and wasn’t too difficult to maneuver. As soon as we were deep in the hills, the flowers began to show up as well as some wonderful views.

We finally got down to the Plain and saw a large purple spot. But since we couldn’t see Soda Lake Road to the west, it probably wasn’t the same purple spot we were looking for. But photographers can’t always be choosers so we happily adjusted to our more petite flower spot.

Phacelia

All the colors of autumn, in spring


We eventually departed the way we entered and got home easily. The campground was fairly empty in mid-week and we dragged our chairs to the lake for a while. A nice way to end the day.

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