Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bullhead City

[From Craig] Sunday we drove from Flagstaff AZ to Bullhead City AZ.  It was quite a weather transition: the low in Flagstaff was 27 F, while the next night in Bullhead City it was 68 F.  A 41 degree change in 180 miles east-west involves either a large body of water or a significant change in elevation.  Coming down from 7000 feet (2130 m) to 560 feet (170 m) also meant we could roll over in bed without having to catch our breath!

"They" promised that if we spent months at altitude, our bodies would adapt and we wouldn't need to huff and puff all the time.  Maybe that only applies to kids under 50?

That evening I went for a walk in the Silver Canyon RV Park, and encountered this toothy totem which was carved from an old palm tree.

It was pleasant to leave the windows open and to not have the furnace run all night.  We originally planned to just stop for the night, but the air was so nice we decided to stay another day and hike near the Colorado River, which separates Bullhead City from Laughlin, NV.

After a nice breakfast we headed for the Heritage Greenway Park and Trails.  Unfortunately Google Maps took us to the Davis Dam, a couple of miles upstream.  Davis is the first dam on the Colorado below the famous Boulder Dam (f.k.a Hoover Dam).

There were hiking trails in the vicinity of the dam, so we started down one on the Nevada side, toward Laughlin.  A short while later we met a knowledgeable-looking couple, and we asked them if we could hike downstream in Nevada and then back upstream on the Arizona side and cross back over the river at the dam. They said "sure", and cited a pedestrian walkway on the first highway bridge over the river.  They were right about the walkway.

The trail on the Nevada side was well-paved in a federal park that had lots of educational storyboards but no grass or trees, just desert scrub.  The Arizona side was a county park that included lots of palm trees, grass, and RV campgrounds.

After about 2 miles we came to the promised brdige, which was the one we had driven across on our way to the dam.  The following view looks downstream toward the Laughlin casinos.  (Nevada allows gambling, Arizona not so much.)

We walked across the bridge, and on the Arizona side we snuck under it, past some sleeping gear that may have been left by homeless folk, who weren't around.  A short way from the bridge we found ourselves among the palms and campsites we had seen from the other side.

Past that campground we found an undeveloped stretch of scrub vegetation that  came right down to the river, but we found gravel roads through it.

Near the end of this wilder stretch we encountered a roadrunner.  I wished I had brought my Nikon and zoom lens that goes up to 300 mm, but we had to rely on our point-and-shoot Sony and a lot of cropping.

Past the scrub area we came to the second campground area, which had electric and water hookups at many sites.  The sites nearest the river even had a beach! 

Past that campground we were again nearing the dam, which is where we had a problem.  A fisherman and a country park maintenance man told us that the only away over the dam (back to our car) required a long walk-around on highways, which our chance-encountered hikers near the start of our day hadn't known about.  That way was much farther than just retracing our steps!  

So we turned around and walked back toward the bridge.  After we had walked about for about half an hour, the fisherman we had met came and found us and drove us back to the Nevada side of the bridge.  This saved us a mile or so, and we thanked him with heartfelt gratitude.

As we walked back, we saw that these folks who we had talked with an hour or so before, were still soaking their feet in the river.  This was something we did last December in the Florida Keys, and looked very familiar and pleasant.

Almost back to our car, I took this shot of the overall campground.  One problem with RVing is that we know of no way to learn about local campgrounds like this one.  Do you know of a resource that lists such places?

In all, we walked about 7 miles when we had expected 4.  But more miles are good for us, right?  

From Merikay: "good for us" yes, but because we had had a filling breakfast and I anticipated being back to the Alfa by noon after an easy four mile walk, I did not pack our usual sandwiches for lunch. Instead we stopped at a Chili's restaurant and had big fat hamburgers, fries and margaritas, then took a long afternoon nap.

Life is good!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Canyon De Chelly

We have been north of it, south of it, east of it and west of it, but have never made it to Canyon De Chelly until now. It has been on my "must see" list ever since I read a post by Al of the Bayfield Bunch sometime before we even had our RV.

We drove down from Mesa Verde on Monday, stopping to see the Four Corners Monument. It was on Craig's bucket list.

Left hand in AZ, left foot in UT, right foot in CO, right hand in NM
When we were still at the Balloon Fiesta, I spent some time looking through my campground books, and searching the internet for campgrounds near the canyon that had hookups. No luck. 

Looking down on eroded sandstone in Canyon De Chelly
We have had bad luck with a couple of parks that were "walk up only" this summer. 
I had mixed feelings about the reviews I saw for the campground in the park itself. Partially because Cottonwood campground was described as "shaded by large, mature trees". This would be a positive in the heat of summer, but this is baseball playoff time, and I know Craig wants to be able to see the games on TV. Large trees can prevent satellite reception.

We had our GPS set to take us to an RV park down on I-40, that was about 100 miles past Canyon De Chelly, so we decided to stop for a quick look and ask some questions about the campground at the Visitors Center, leaving our options as open as possible. 

As it turned out we could see the edge of the campground from the VC, and I spotted a nice big space, that had no trees. Hooray! A place to be. We ended up staying for four nights.

This picture, with the Alfa in her spot, was taken a few days later from the VC parking area.

We woke up early Tuesday morning to thunder and heavy rain pounding on the roof above. We snuggled in and had coffee while reading the news and other bloggers' posts. By the time we were up, showered, and had breakfast, the storm had passed and the skies were clear.

Our plan for the day was to drive the South Rim Road and also walk down the White House Trail. It is the only place you can go into the canyon without a Navajo guide.

We stopped at several observation points. The weather was perfect, 70° with a sweet breeze. The clouds were puffy white, but growing.

Then we tackled the 2.5 mile (round trip) hike down to the bottom of the canyon to see a ruin called the White House. The arrow shows where we were going.  It seems to me these people were more sensible than those who built high on the cliffs. This building was at canyon bottom level. There was also a building above it in a cliff niche.

This is a look at the trail down. There were some rather rough and steep sections, and as we went down I kept thinking about the return climb.

Sandstone rock walls do some pretty strange things. 

We discussed whether this center support was a natural or man made feature as we hiked down the steep pathway.  Craig thought the rocks involved were too large to have been manipulated by people in such a location.

Texture, texture, texture, created by the forces of nature.

Merikay wrote on Dec 8 2010: "Someday I will be hiking 1000 miles in National Parks!"

On the canyon floor we noticed this wonderful cactus! So healthy looking! The fantastic canyon walls towered above.

Views of the White House Ruins:

Although we got a closer look at the ruins, we noticed that the Navajo vendors were packing up their wares quickly,  

and that all the other hikers were heading back up the trail. The thunderheads were building above, and one of the vendors told us there were thunderstorm and tornado warnings for the area. 

I did not take any pictures on our hike back up. When faced with a one and a quarter mile, 600 foot elevation hike up the side of a rock canyon I would normally take my time, stopping frequently to catch my breath, and just do it. I would be glad to see the top, but I would stay within my comfort zone. But this time it was go, go, go! As slow as I was, I did keep going with only a few short stops to catch my breath. We felt threatened by the clouds, but quarter sized drops of  rain that started to fall on us. We really did not want to be on the side of a slippery, rough rock face of the canyon when the lightning and/or downpour started.

By the time we got to the top, the rain had stopped, but the storm was still on its way. I was very glad to have a moment to catch my breath before we headed for the car.

You have no idea of how much I regret being so fat! I was a smoker for many years, and although it has been a long time since I quit, my lungs remain compromised from that abuse. My son still smokes, and I wish I could say something that would influence him enough to quit!

It did rain quite hard that night. A strange thing happened the next day. At about four in the morning I woke feeling quite nauseous. I had a pounding headache, and stayed in bed with a barf pot all day. I don't know if I picked up a twenty four hour flu, or if my body was over stressed by the rapid climb out of the canyon the day before. Craig never got sick, and I was OK the following day.

On Thursday we drove the rest of the rim roads and stopped at the remaining interesting overlooks.

A few pictures cannot show all the fantastic views we had.

Canyon De Chelly is a remarkable place. We enjoyed our few days there and are very glad we stopped to see it. 

Cottonwood Campground was peaceful and we are becoming less leery about the idea of dry camping for a few days at a time.

I doubt we will ever be full time boondockers, but we might just try some nights out in the BLM lands next year. 

[From Craig] Merikay and I found Canyon de Chelly, in the heart of the Navajo Nation, to be much more than we expected. We recommend it to anyone who's interested in geology, ancient cultures, or current Navajo culture.  I like this place!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mesa Verde

The ancient Pueblo people built large buildings and then left them and moved on to other locations. Archeologists do not know exactly why, but the modern Pueblo people say it is because they were on a journey, and if they spent a hundred or a thousand years in a place,  it was just a stop along the way.

Our first stop at Mesa Verde National Park was at the Visitors Center for a map and other information. 

The weather forecast was for possible showers, so we decided not to linger over the VC exhibits and to drive on up the Mesa. As it turned out, although I felt I needed to carry my umbrella  on our brief stops and walks, I hardly used it. 

The weather was best described as blustery and threatening. A plus was that there were very few other people on the trails and overlooks, so we had no parking problems. 
Although the aspen trees are past their peak, there is still lots of fall color on the hillsides. The oaks above were along a short trail going up to the highest point on the mesa. 

The views of the valleys below were fantastic. The path in the center of the image above was once part of the main road up to the mesa top. Fortunately it was replaced by a tunnel!

When we got to the top of the mesa we first drove the Mesa Top Loop road and then the Cliff Palace Loop. 

People have lived on the mesa for thousands of years. There are many known but unexcavated archeological sites up there. Some of the sites that have been dug out are protected by sheds with sturdy railings to protect them. 

Above is an early style of pit house. It consisted of a hole dug out of the ground, with a fire pit in the center, and often a second chamber for either sleeping or storage. Short walls and a roof were constructed out of branches and bark. The floor was probably covered with reed mats and furs.

The next stage of structural development was the addition of simple, single-stone-width masonry walls.

The most recent pit houses were much deeper, and included side benches. This round pit was probably used for ceremonies. And the design evolved into Kivas that are part of current Native American communities 

Also revealed at this site was an example of a thick wall that was three courses wide. 

This place was part of an extensive village. In 1200 AD, more people lived at Mesa Verde's surrounding mesas and in the valleys of what we call the Four Corners area, than live here now! Although they left the area before Columbus discovered America, their descendents are among us.

On both loops we stopped at several places were we could see across the canyons to where the ancient Pueblo people had built in and under huge overhanging cliffs. These structures came after the pit houses. Apparently the people continued to dry-farm the top of the mesa, but many of them lived in such large niches in the cliffs.

At one stop we were able to look down on a structure.

As you can see, this structure rose four stories!

We walked down a half-mile path to the Spruce Tree House site.

The wide path was paved, and there were a lot of switchbacks, so it was not as hard to get to the bottom of the canyon as it might have been on a dirt path. Once down, we could see the spring area that provided water for the people who lived at Spruce House.

I think this was my favorite part of the day. There was a ranger on site to answer questions. When this place was occupied, all of the rooms were enclosed and the walls would have been plastered smooth. Many walls were painted. At the museum that we visited later, we saw pictures of what the sites looked like when they were first discovered by Anglo archeologists. (The modern Pueblo people do not consider them as having been lost or forgotten.) The cleanup and partial restorations have been done with skill and care. 

When we started the day at the Visitors Center, we purchased tickets for a ranger-led tour of the Balcony House at the end of our day. However, when we got there we reconsidered what was physically required to go on the tour: several tall ladders, low doorways, and a crawl-through tunnel that was 20 feet long and not much wider than the ranger's hat. I was not enthusiastic about these obstacles, so we decided to pass on the tour. I would have loved to do this when I was younger, thinner, and had a more flexible back. When we were at the other ruins earlier in the week, I could not bend over low enough to get through some of the doorways. My spine is partially fused.

I'm not really sure where we are going to stop next. We have decided to hang out here for a few days and catch the Sunday football games. 

Life is Good!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thank You Coachnet

Sometimes little things can take over your day. 

When I described the road into the Chaco National park as rough, I was not exaggerating. Even though we kept our speed way down, it was enough to shake things loose in a 2014 Jeep Wrangler. As we were driving the road a second time, we got a couple of warning beeps, which were a mystery to us, and then a flicker or two of the check engine light. 

We drove back to our RV site and parked as usual. When we went to hook up the Jeep the next morning all was well as I started it and pulled into position, but after turning it off, hooking up and then gong back to start it as part of the hook up process, no connection was made and the Jeep was dead! We called the Jeep dealership in Farmington and Durango, but neither could look at it that day, so we towed it to our next stop just outside of Mesa Verde.

With some careful parking we were able to park the dead Jeep, and still get the Alfa backed into her site. I suggested to Craig that something must have jiggled loose during our washboard ride, but he couldn't see anything wrong, so we called Coach Net, or roadside service provider, for help. There was some confusion at first when the Coachnet Representative said a service call would not be covered for the Jeep because we were not stranded on a roadside.  WHAT? The first thing they always ask is always: "Are you in a safe location?" I also knew that Coachnet is supposed to cover all your vehicles much like AAA.

Anyway, it turned out there were no mobile mechanics in the area they could send out to help us and instead arranged for a tow. Confusing system. They paid for the tow, but would not have paid for a mechanics service call. 

As it turned out, we waited until morning for the tow so Craig could wait for a repair. The problem?  A loose connection on the battery. We had had a battery disconnect switch installed this summer when we were having problems with a dead battery on the Jeep after towing. But then another RVer told us how to set up the Jeep so we didn't need to use it. This is what rattled loose on our drive, not an original Jeep connection.

So, we are back in business so to speak, and very glad we have a service like Coachnet.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

On The Road to Ruins

I totally enjoyed every day we spent at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, but it was finally time to move on. If you want more information about going to the Fiesta, Nina over at Wheeling It has written three excellent posts about all of the details, including volunteering to crew on the launch field. Whether you plan on going someday or not, these are great posts about a wonderful event. Thank you Nina!

We only went 19 miles from the Fiesta grounds on the first night. Craig wanted to get our Blue Ox towbar serviced, and the easiest way to do that was to take it over to the LaMesa RV dealership that was just down the road from the RV park where we stayed a few days before the Fiesta. This also gave me a chance to catch up on nine days of wash, and to get our holding tanks emptied.

We had held off making any travel plans in advance because we know that the weather at this time of the year can fluctuate. Since the temperatures look good, we've decided to head northwest towards Mesa Verde and Monument Valley, then swing down to the Four Corners area, and eventually Canyon De Chelly.  We have a month long reservation in San Diego starting just before Thanksgiving, but that is still five weeks and more than a thousand miles away.

These plans might change on a day by day basis, so we're not making plans or reservations for more than two days ahead. If it gets cold and rainy, we will head south sooner.

Our next stop was the small town of Aztec, New Mexico.We stayed two nights at the Ruins Road RV park just a few blocks from the Aztec Ruins National Monument. 

This is the first of several ancient ruins we will be visiting during the next few weeks.  

We learned a lot about the Plains Indians and their way of life during our travels this summer.

These ruins are of complex buildings built by the early Pueblo people. No "Aztecs" were involved. It seems the early Spaniards referred to all things "long-past Indian" as "Aztec", and the place was named by early Anglo settlers. It was built by the Pueblo people between 1000-1200 AD. It was a public building containing hundreds of rooms. 

We followed the provided trail map and explored the site.

There were many small rooms with low connecting doors.

Modern Pueblo people say the Ruins are not dead, and that the spirits of their ancestors are still there.

I felt a presence.

The site was excavated between 1916 and the 1930's, including the reconstruction og the Great Kiva

This is what it might have looked like inside.

When the Kiva was in use, the walls  were surfaced by a coating of mud "stucco". The roof was made with large logs harvested many miles away.

Seeing, feeling and exploring this site, motivated us to drive fifty miles South to an earlier ruin at the Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

From Highway 550 the drive into the park was not pleasant, even with a Jeep.

We went some miles on a nice paved road, then about 10 miles on a gravel, county-maintained road, followed by five or more miles of horrible, rough, washboard, unmaintained road that led to a short stretch of paved road into the park. Upon arrival I asked a Ranger about the roads and was told that the Southern route was just as bad. Despite this the dry camp campground was full!  I would never bring our Alfa into this place. 

We first went to the Visitors Center, watched the movie, and the drove the loop thru the park stopping at the Pueblo Bonito complex.

 The canyon is not deep, but the walls overlooking the pueblo were impressive. 

These huge sandstone rocks are what is left from when the cliff-face shed a formation called "Dangerous Rock" in 1941. It crushed 30 or so rooms of the Great House ruin.

The rock fall came close to this wall. The tapering profile of the wall shows how the addition of a second and third story was planned from the onset of building. 

We enjoyed exploring this site and learning more about the history of these peoples.

No one knows why the Pueblo peoples abandoned this and other sites, but these ruins remind us of the fact that there was civilization and engineering long before the arrival of the Spaniards with their missions and Christianity. 

What will archeologists think about the remains of our great cities in the future?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Spring Travel Advice Wanted

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has been checked off our bucket list! But this post needed a few pictures, so I added a few from our last day down on the launch field.

Saturday morning's launch was into a beautifully clear blue sky

I have started thinking about next year. I know, I know, we have several months of travel to enjoy yet this year, but I am a planner.

As I look forward to our third full-time summer, I see that we are not yet ready to settle into a snowbird lifestyle of spending several months in one place in summer and one place in the winter.  We still have too many sights to see. 

We are thinking of spending next summer up in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. To get there, we plan on spending February and March along the Gulf of Mexico, then taking a leisurely meander up the Atlantic Coast.

Did you know that Purple People Eaters like fast food too?

I would really like to catch Springtime in the South, and visit some of the renowned gardens and plantation homes. Although when I see the devastation caused by the flooding, I wonder if that is a good idea. Perhaps we should leave that part of the country for a future year. 

Another route to the Northeast is to go up through Mississippi or Alabama in April and on through Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia in May. I'd like to get to Maine by mid-June. 

Any advice or thoughts about these two routes would be very welcome. I have no idea what the weather is like in these areas in spring. Are there big storms and tornados in Tennessee and Kentucky in April and May? Is it cold? 

Of course, this is all speculation. We might end up in Colorado or Oregon. We will try to float as free as the balloons we enjoyed all this week. 

Where will you be next Spring?