While I’m trying to figure out the mechanics of publishing my thoughts on this blog you’ll probably find it a little disorganized. That’s because I’m using a new blog web support thingie and so there’s, once again, a very steep learning curve.
So I’ll stop complaining and just start writing…
We arrived in Borrego Springs ten days ago. It took three days to get here because we like to keep the trailer hauling short and during daylight hours. Since arriving in Borrego we have reconnected with friends and gotten busy doing the things we love to do.
Biking: we have been pedaling around the valley and yesterday we rode up to the Yaqui Pass summit. It was a beautiful day and it takes me about an hour to get to the top. I like that I’m by myself when I’m riding. The desert is beautiful and it’s a great meditative activity. The rest of the group is faster than I am so I lost them (or they lost me). Some how I arrived back at the trailer just a few minutes after Jonathan and it was quite a ballet that we managed to do an out and back ride without seeing each other on the return jaunt.
St Richard’s Catholic Church: We really like the catholic community here and we arrived just a few days before Christmas. There’s a new priest-Fr Fernando. We recognized many of our old friends and were happy to see them. I got the mass times wrong so we ended up with a couple or extra hours. A great opportunity to go out for Christmas Eve dinner at Carmelita’s.
Music: Linda and Steve Kramer are camped near us. Linda came equipped with a full keyboard. I brought my violin because it’s quite a bit smaller than the cello. I haven’t played the violin in about 10 years so it’s not sounding too great. But Linda is quite skilled and very patient and we’ve been enjoying working on some simple classical duets and our second attempt sounded much better than the first.
Borrego Springs Community: Last year the community was deep in discussion and planning for a new library and park. This year it was nearly completed and is absolutely amazing. The new library is spacious and inviting, with outdoor patio area and built to fit in with the desert environment. Across the street is a new playground, various game courts, dog run and the new sherif’s department office.
My Dad was an airline pilot. It was customary in our home to wish him a safe trip by saying “Have a tedious trip!” when he left the house to fly. I still think of this every time we travel. We don’t want any real excitement. As I wrote this post I was hoping it might be the most boring post ever written. I might have succeeded.
Traveling with the Crown
The trip home from Borrego Springs to Ashland is usually just a grind. We are pretty much on a mission to get there and not on a tour. That’s just the way it is. We initially did the nearly thousand mile trek in two days. I know that Google Maps says it’s a 13+ hour drive and we know plenty of people who do it in a day–in cars. But over the years we’ve learned that tired drivers make mistakes. Let’s not talk about the time we “gassed up” the diesel truck. That cost us $1000 and 24 hours. So now we usually make the trek in 3 days, stopping after about 6 hours of driving. Pulling a trailer is not something that you do at 80 mph. There IS a speed limit for trucks pulling trailers!
Last year we left Borrego Springs on the day after the Coachella Music Festival. What a mistake that was! The usual transit through the Coachella Valley of about 30 minutes took well over 2 hours of stop-and-go as we limped along Interstate 10. This year was a completely different story. The Coronavirus left the freeways nearly empty, conduits mainly for the vital truck transport that ships all our stuff to those of us who are hunkered down trying to stay safe.
To avoid heavy traffic through the LA basin we usually head north and over Tehachapi. It’s just a little bit longer and very scenic. This year we were lured by the lack of traffic to keep to the freeway that goes through the San Bernardino Valley, out to Interstate 5 and up over the “grapevine”. Weather was favorable as well.
All went well until we got to the grapevine, where despite the light traffic there was an accident that closed all lanes of traffic.
It took hours to get through that part and since most of the time we were keeping the company of all those trucks I had to breathe down a rising sensation of panic as we sat, unmoving, in a canyon of huge trucks.
As we passed the accident we could see why it closed all lanes. One truck had rear-ended another, a fuel tanker, causing a spill. It was bizarre to see the cab of one truck up the rear of the tanker, fitting together like hand-in-glove.
Once we got past that, Jonathan was in the mood to continue driving. He said the light traffic was the lure. We were listening to Beartown by Fredrik Backman. It’s good to have a good book for company. We had decided to overnight at a rest area and the first one we pulled into didn’t have the right “feel”. We continued another 70 miles to the next open rest area. We prefer rest areas where the truck parking is in the back, away from the freeway. The rest area near Vernalis where we settled wasn’t one of those. But the next opportunity was another 112 miles down the road and we were already into travel hour 12. Too far! This spot actually worked pretty well thanks to the two huge trucks on either side of us that did not run their generators and stayed all night, thus blocking noise and wind AND earplugs, AND Tylenol PM. We actually got a pretty decent night’s sleep.
When we got home our friend, John, asked if we were able to find “services”. We are pretty self contained chez trailer, one of the few advantages of traveling with a trailer. You are dragging your “services” behind you. Our goal was to get home with minimum contact. I prepared meals ahead and the only required contact point was fueling. That’s the other reason that pulling the trailer is slower. We use a lot of diesel when we’re hauling the trailer. (Notice that I say “diesel”, we never use the word “gas” anymore.) Jonathan was in charge of fueling and he used gloves and good handwashing to the max. It’s good to be a retired nurse and have aseptic technic in your armamentarium.
Travel Day One was WAY too long in my opinion, but it did afford us the privilege of making the next two days quite short.
California is taking the pandemic very seriously. I’m thankful for that. Along the highway every marquee reminds us, “SOAP AND WATER STOP COVID-19 WASH YOUR HANDS”.
Day Two was short by comparison. We stopped at the Rolling Hills Casino RV Park. It’s a nice place, away from the freeway. The entire complex was otherwise closed. No casino, no golf, no convenience store, no other services. They checked us in and charged $25 cash. That’s much less that the usual price. They assigned us a spot with social distancing in mind. Even by late in the evening it never got crowded. We had a nice evening, sitting outside as the sun set, watching the local birds–meadowlarks, sparrows, cowbirds.
It was a nice way to celebrate our last night in our trailer home. The next day we rolled into Ashland. The weather was unbelievable. I expected that we would be unloading the trailer in a cold drizzle, or even snow. But, no, it was a lovely Spring day. So nice to be home. The Spring colors are stunning. I wanted to kiss the ground.
Our granddaughter, Ellie, was there when we arrived. She’s been taking care of house and kitty and did a wonderful job. She left us lots of food. Thank you, Ellie!
So now we are settled in, hunkered down, staying home and staying safe. I hope you all are doing the same.
My friend Sheri has taken up painting. She’s quite good at it in my opinion. She invited me to give it a try. I’d never done anything like this. When I was a kid the teacher told me that my drawing was lousy. Whatever I did in art class I got a bad grade. It was frustrating and humiliating. So I stuck with the things that I was good at: reading, memorizing poems, writing essays. This is my second effort at painting. I like seeing what happens when I stick the brush in the paint and then put it on the paper. And I like just looking at something and noticing what’s there. This is the view from Sheri’s backyard in Borrego Springs. I love the mountains that surround this valley. I love the foothills. I love the desert bajada, the sky, the clouds. I don’t even care if the teacher gives me a “C”. Thank you, Sheri, for letting me have a chance to paint a picture.
The Year of the Rodent
Even without the pandemic it’s been a different year. I’d call this the “Year of the Rodent”. And it just so happens that this is the Chinese Year of the Rat.
When I first started thinking about this it was because we’ve enjoyed watching the rabbits from our backyard. We’ve always had some, but they were pretty rare. Not this year. They are so darned cute–little cottontails chasing around in the desert. Then there were the White-tailed Antelope Squirrels. They dash back and forth from the shelter of the cheesbush behind our trailer, picking up dropped bird seed and then dashing back to shelter. And then, if that wasn’t enough I was sitting out back and noticed a huge pile of dirt being spit up from below. As I watched, a small head emerged and another cute critter popped out, emerging little by little, finally showing itself to be a gopher. I know I’m not supposed to like these guys but this one, a gal, I think, finally went out, grabbed a batch of dried oleander and pulled it down into her burrow. Next morning there were two more piles of dirt with adjacent holes, one of them right on the edge of Jonathan’s bocce court. I can follow the piles of dirt for a ways, she’s got quite a long tunnel going. I hope there’s some greenery left when we return next year.
But where are the coyotes? I guess it’s not too surprising with all those rabbits that something must have happened to the coyotes. If the park were open I’d probably get the lowdown on this, but I haven’t seen a coyote all season. And lately I haven’t even heard them. Back in January, yes. Now it’s pretty rare. But, alas, the state park, along with pretty much everything is closed.
Flowers? Yes, but no Superbloom.
March was cool and windy–pretty heavy rain too–monsoonal rain, it drenched the desert and filled the low places (vados), blocking the roads with sand. The rain came too late to provide the moisture for a “superbloom”. Still, the cactus blooms have been impressive. The Ocotillo blooms are bright red.
You might get the impression that we haven’t been doing anything this past year. Not true! I’ve been checking out some new activities here in Borrego, learning lots. But honestly, some mornings I just sit out in the desert and before I know it the whole morning is gone. It’s just such a show: the birds! The aforementioned rodents! Lizards! I’ll miss that part of it.
And this was before the Governor’s order to “shelter in place”. Now it’s easier to just sit and watch the desert go by. We’ve been ordered to just sit here and watch.
We start for home tomorrow. Upcoming: Birding in Borrego. More about Mexico. California History Weekend. Hawk Canyon Concert. Community and Coronavirus.
We tried. We really, really tried. Jonathan needed two more visits to Los Algodones to finish his dental work. It made a lot of sense to just go to Yuma and see if we could find a place that we liked. We had a recommendation for a place in the foothills east of Yuma called Carefree Village. When we got there we were impressed by the variety of amenities: two swimming pools, jacuzzis, exercise room, craft room, multiple ball courts including bocce, and a workshop for small projects. We decided to give it a try. The place was pretty deserted. They told us that two weeks ago it was completely full. Weather had turned warm and it was a bit windy. And then it got really windy, too windy to do much of anything outdoors. We shopped for groceries, cooled off in the pool.
Jonathan saw the dentist and all was well. He completed his first implant. They asked him to come back in five days to finish up work in progress on another tooth. Drat! Long enough to make our stay in Yuma a real deal; too short, we thought, to go anywhere else. We dithered for a day and while we dithered the wind increased and the nearby marine airbase must have decided that those attack helicopters needed some low-flying-in-the-wind practice. The blowing dust made the air quality unhealthy. We felt like we were trapped in a fishbowl in that parking lot of an RV park. So after a day of dithering we made a run back to Borrego Springs-just 2 hours away. We pulled into Holiday Home, which now looked like a ghost town. We were the only RV there. We picked the nicest spot and backed right in. We felt like we were home.
It was amazing how much things had changed in the three weeks that we had been gone. Trees leafed out, cactus were blooming, and all the green grass was now brown. The reptiles had awakened from their winter slumber and were slithering about. A little Desert Iguana ran right through our campsite and paused on Jonathan’s foot before realizing he wasn’t where he wanted to be.
I finished doing the taxes which made me blissfully happy. Why is that such a big deal? Well, when we left in December I never imagined that we wouldn’t be back by April 15th. I had almost none of the documents that I needed to do the taxes. When I decided to file an extension it seemed that figuring out how much to pay would be as much trouble as actually completing the job. So I sallied forth and persisted, which meant lots and lots of internet-based document recovery. I started in Yuma and continued after we got to Borrego. The wi-fi there leaves a lot to be desired–very slow and unpredictable. It was truly a test of PATIENCE. We pulled out the bikes and went for a ride on our familiar turf. In between bike rides and reconnecting with friends Amy, Al, and Charlie. The taxes came together and I did a happy dance.
We’ve never been in Borrego Springs this late in the year—quiet, uncrowded, very mellow. The weather was perfect.
Then back for the final visit to the dentist. And, guess what? Los Algodones was way less crowded too. On our final visit Jonathan finished up his dental work for the season, we walked back to the border and right up to the checkpoint. No line at all. Kind of makes you want to do all those dental visits in the off season. How much heat can you stand?
Back in Borrego we added a couple of extra days so I could meet up with my cousins. I’ve been doing genealogy research for several years. Last year I was contacted by a surprise cousin, Rosie. She’s the granddaughter of my Uncle Jack. Turns out good old Uncle Jack had three children that none of us knew about. Ya gotta love science. DNA said we’re cousins. And it was pretty easy to believe when I saw a picture of Rosie’s Aunt Kristie sitting on her Dad’s lap at about age two and I thought “Hey, that’s me!”. We looked so much alike-right down to the way we sucked our fingers. I was able to verify the story and through Rosie got in touch with Charlene, the granddaughter of my Aunt Virginia. Charlene lives in Desert Hot Springs, just a stone’s throw north of Palm Springs. It was the weekend of the Coachella Music Festival. We braved the traffic (it wasn’t bad) and Charlene opened her home to us. Rosie drove from her home in Corona, CA. We had fun getting to know each other and compared our research notes, family photos, and shared stories.
The Road Home
Once we decided it was time to head home it was a bit like horse-to-barn. We left on Monday–the day AFTER Coachella weekend. Very slow moving traffic, but we made it as far as Bakersfield. We found a mellow and friendly spot, Bakersfield Travel Park, to overnight and then continued north the next day. For quick overnights we prefer places that are quiet, friendly, economical. Amenities don’t mean much to us.
We came home to a beautiful, sunny day–pulled out the porch chairs, poured a glass of wine, and said thank you to all our friends and family and all our blessings. Now if I can just remember where all my stuff goes…..
I have several “forever” friends and they are a treasure to me. You probably know what I mean. They are the ones that you did silly things with, or cried with, or just hung out with day after day, night after night. If they are the ones from when you were a kid then your parents knew them really well and they knew your family too. From them you might have gotten a clue that not everyone’s family was just like yours. And that was okay. I’m talking about the kind of friends that you can go for years without seeing and then they can drop in without much notice and you pick up the conversation as if it was just put on “pause” yesterday. It’s the kind of friendship that this prose/poem talks about.
Jonathan has a group of special friends. They call themselves “the gang of four”. These four guys have been getting together for more years than any of us can remember. Jonathan recalls being friends with John from grade school, hanging out in San Jose, CA back in the days when roving bands of boys would show up at your house at just the right time–dinnertime! When Jonathan joined the Boy Scouts he moved up through the ranks and became patrol leader. His patrol group included his old buddy, John, and a new friend, Rick.
As the years went by John, Rick, and Jonathan remained friends and were joined by Pat. They all attended James Lick High School. After high school, Jonathan joined the Army. He spent several years, finishing his military service in Germany. He declined the juicy re-enlistment offer which would have sent him to Vietnam, and returned home to make use of the GI Bill. He was attending San Jose City College and working night shift at the hospital as an orderly. He was so young when he got out of the Army that he had to wait a few months before he could buy beer. (That’s after learning to drink stiefels of beer on the base and in local towns near Giessen.) At the age of 21, as the older guy, he was very popular with his buddies. He tells stories about them waking him up to “go buy beer!”
Marriage and family calmed them down, but not much. And the friendship remained. By the time Jonathan and I got together in 1979 the “gang” was solidly established. I clearly remember the first visit to meet them all. It was in San Jose where Rick and Karen were living at the time. That’s when I met Pat’s wife, Susie, and Rick’s wife, Karen and John’s then-wife, Nancy. Everyone had kids. As families grew and jobs changed the former San Jose buddies left for greener pastures: Jonathan to Oregon, Pat to Washington, Rick to Texas, and John to Northern California. Every once in a while someone would get the idea that they should have a “reunion”. As the kids got older and the distances longer, camping together became the thing to do. Grand Canyon, Burney Falls, Mesa Verde NP, Lake Tahoe (more than once). Lots of kids, lots of fun. And then, quicker than the nod of a buffalo….no more kids. Now the kids have kids and when we get together it’s just us, a group of old friends getting together. It’s always the same: lots of talking and drinking and eating and more talking. We are by no means all of the same opinion.
On the way back from Albuquerque we stopped in Scottsdale, AZ (clean and scenic) where Pat and Susie have a home. Rick and Karen flew in from Austin, TX and John was wandering around the southwest looking for fun stuff to do. Unfortunately, his wife, Pam, couldn’t join us…She’s still working! We spent three days just re-connecting. While the guys are the main “gang” the women have become good friends too. We discuss amongst ourselves and occasionally try to get a word in edgewise with the guys. I’m not sure why.
In my last post I wrote about the Conspire Conference in Albuquerque. I noted that the conference was attended by 2300 people and live streamed by 27,000. That’s what was in my notes and when I looked at it the next day I wondered if I’d gotten carried away with my zeros. In a recent communication the Center for Action and Contemplation gave the stats: the attendees–2300, and almost 3,000 people registered for the live stream. I did get carried away with the zeroes.
“Albuquerque is at the crossroads.” I saw this over and over again. And it helped me to understand the city, just a bit. This was our first visit. In our previous travels we have only driven through on the freeway from east to west. That’s not the best introduction to the city, or any city really. Because it’s a major crossing–I 40 runs east-west and I-25 north-south–it’s a tangle of on-ramps and off-ramps. For the unfamiliar it’s confusing and intimidating. For the locals it must be comfy because they are jetting along, in and out, and changing lanes with what seemed to us, reckless abandon.
So, for literally thousands of years this one special place has been a crossroad: from the ancestors who crossed the mountains and followed the river in order to meet and trade, to the Spainish Conquistadores, the pioneers, and folks in more recent years “gettin their kicks on Route 66”. On the west side of the city the lava rocks are littered with petroglyphs. On the east side of the city the Sandia (Watermelon) mountains glow pink in the evening. The Rio Grande flows south on it’s way to the Gulf of Mexico near Matamoros, Mexico.
Getting Acquainted and Getting Around
We parked the Arctic Fox at the Isleta Lakes RV Campground at Islet Pueblo, just a few miles south of town (see previous post). We were able to ride the commuter train from our campsite at Isleta Lake into downtown Albuquerque (ABQ). It’s what I wish all transportation systems were like. The Railrunner is the cutest little train you could imagine. It arrives at the station. You get on the train. To let you know that the doors are closing it goes “Beep, beep…beep, beep…beep, beep”, just like a road runner. No worries about ticketing. If you’ve found the app you can save money by buying on line. But if not the friendly ticket agent can sell you the ticket that you need. Our tickets for a full day pass, good for the buses too, cost $2 apiece (for Honored Citizens). If you buy them online it’s only a $1. Can’t beat that. The train rolls along smoothly and stops downtown exactly 18 minutes later at the Alvarado Transportation Center. That’s where the buses connect, as well as Amtrak and Greyhound. There’s only one stop in between: the one that connects to the airport. The train goes all the way to Santa Fe and pricing is based on how many zones you cross.
Once we started walking around in the city we got an entirely different view. We really liked ABQ.
Old Town Albuquerque
On our first foray into town we walked the mile from downtown to Old Town. We located the Convention Center where my upcoming conference would be held (five minute walk from the train). We regrouped at Humble Coffee for coffee and scone before continuing on.
Old Town hunkers around the original plaza, anchored by San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church. There’s a small museum and gift shop on the west side of the church where the initial convent was located.
I had fun talking with ABQ native, Alma. She told me about the foundress of the convent, Sister Blandina Segale, SC, a very interesting woman indeed. I was so intrigued that I bought At the End of the Santa Fe Trail, a collection of her journal writings begun in 1872 and continuing though 1892. She writes with humor, honesty, and clarity. She was born in Italy and her family immigrated to Ohio when she was a young child. She joined the Sisters of Charity, the order founded by Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. This order is a social services tour-de-force and still very active. At the age of 22 they sent her ALONE to Trinidad, NM and she lived and served there and in Santa Fe and Albuquerque most of her life. She is credited with confronting mobs to deter lynching and is respected for having brought reconciliation out of conflict. This tiny woman changed the world around her. She’s the subject of an episode of Death Valley Days.
We made our way to the Albuquerque Museum and spent several hours there. Several days would have been more appropriate. We lucked into a special exhibit: Visions of the Hispanic World: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum and Library. What a great exhibit. The exhibit “tells a rich story of cultures settling in Spain and bring the best and most innovative elements of their heritage to the Iberian Peninsula and the Spanish colonies.” Beginning with pottery from the Bell Beaker culture, a Bronze Age, 4,000+ year old culture known for their bell shaped vessels, and continuing on through Islamic, Medieval, Golden Age Spain and Colonial and 19th century works (El Greco, Velázquez and Zubarán) in the first part. The second part was Goya through the 1920s in Spain. It was overwhelming to stand in the presence of all this beauty.
And that was just the special exhibit. We lost ourselves in the remaining galleries. My favorite is called Only in Albuquerque. I learned so much about the resources, courage, and traditions of the people of New Mexico.
I had really come to Albuquerque to attend the Conspire Conference. While Jonathan enjoyed various trailer repair projects and a full day to himself at the Natural History Museum and Planetarium, I engaged with 2300 other seekers at the Conspire Conference. People came from every state in the US and 14 foreign countries. We were joined by another 27,000 who “attended” via the live stream . This year’s theme: The Universal Christ.
Father Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and one of my favorite Catholic teachers and writers. In 1986 he founded the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), right here in Albuquerque. It was about that time that I first heard him speak and began reading his books. I love the clarity and simplicity with which he writes and he has inspired me over the years in my own spiritual practice. I know his work is familiar to many of you, but if not, or if you want to learn more check out the website at: cac.org. As he ages he’s carried his vision forward and is supported by a huge staff of very gifted, mostly young, people.
Conspire comes from the Latin word conspirare–to breath together. We spent 4 days doing just that. Fr Richard was joined by Rev Jacqui Lewis from The Middle Collegiate Church in NYC (middlechurch.org) and scripture scholar, John Dominic Crossan. We had time for group practice, meditation, and prayer. I made new friends and had fun. I don’t really like being in crowds that big and have “attended” the live stream conferences for the past few years, but it was good to be there and to share in the process of coming together to do good in the world.
I was really impressed by the diversity of people attending: faith, color, gender, age, sexual orientation. All welcome.
I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface here. We had some cold and windy weather. We didn’t get any hiking/biking time and so I’m looking forward to spending more time in Albuquerque in the future. Perhaps you’ll join us for the seventh and final Conspire Conference next year–May 15-17, 2020?
It’s been an unusually cool and rainy three months in Borrego Springs. It was time to leave for our planned visit to Albuquerque. We gave ourselves a full week to get there, without any particular game plan or deadlines. Our friend, John Sanguinetti, started out with us.
We left on a day when the weather finally turned warm and dry. Flowers were blooming everywhere. Our friend, John Sanguinetti, started out with us. He had been camping at our site in Borrego for a few days and was heading in generally the same direction, so we decided to keep in touch.
After you’ve been parked in one spot for three months it’s a lot of work to pull up stakes. No early start, but, as I said we had no agenda. We decided to try a slightly different route than we’ve previously taken. We headed out to the south, rounding the tip of the Salton Sea before turning north toward Blythe, CA. It was our intention to boondock–dry camping. There are a number of spots where it’s legal to just pull over and spend the night (or the week), and if you’re self contained, as we are, it can save a bundle of money. I found a BLM wide spot in the road called Snaggletooth Primitive RV Camp. It came highly recommended and looked like it was perfect for our needs.
Expect the Unexpected: Mayflower County Park and the Blythe Intaglios
On our way north we pulled over for a lunch-break at the day use area of Mayflower County Park, just north of Blythe. That’s when we discovered that the water pump in our trailer was not working. Yikes, that’s kind of important for “dry camping”. Fortuitously, we had landed in a wonderful spot. This is a jewel of a park. It’s quiet, with mellow and friendly staff who gave us permission to pull in anywhere that suited us, in any direction. The weather was perfect, we were right on the Colorado River and John could share our campsite. We decided to stay and see if the water pump could be fixed. It could! Handyman Jonathan and his trusty assistant John took the pump apart and found all sorts of debris blocking the filter. They put it back together again and voila! That night there was a huge almost full moon. I was up early the next morning just in time to see the moon sinking off on the western horizon.
Sarah at the park office told us about these must-see figures–geoglyphs–that can be viewed just off Hwy 95 up a short rough dirt road–the Blythe Intaglios.They are somewhat mysterious and are dated between 250-2,000 years ago. I think that’s quite a range. There are several human-like figures and several animal shapes. Not much seems to be really known about them. They were interesting to see and we did a lot of head scratching while we were there. The figures are protected from off-road vehicle damage by fencing.
After our archaeology side trip we got on the road again and stopped to check out Snaggletooth. We had a hard time deciding if we were in the right spot. It actually looked great, if not a bit isolated. Since it was only about 20 miles from Mayflower Campground we decided it was too soon to stop and continued on with our meandering journey.
Hualapai Mountain Park
We’ve had good luck with county and regional parks and so when I found Hualapai I thought it would be a great overnight stop. You would think that I might consider that a place called Hualapai Mountain just might be up in the…mountains. It was ONLY 14 miles off I-40 and so we headed up…and up…and up. The truck engine roared as we twisted up the narrow and steep road. When we were about 2 miles from the park Jonathan said, “Is that snow!?” Our ears were popping. That was when it occurred to me that there might have been some concerns about my overnight site choice. At 6,000 feet elevation and with those snow covered peaks looming above, the desert environment that we were used to changed to steep cliffs and lots of evergreens. It was like a quick trip home.
Hualapai Mountain Park is a “sky island”–mountain sanctuaries that rise so steeply out of the desert that they serve as biological refuges for migrating species. The peeks that we were looking at are at 8,417 ft above sea level and within the park there are four distinct habitat zones. Like the Chiracahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona the variety of species of flora and fauna is distinctly different from the lower elevations. We saw a squirrel that I swear looked like it had mated with a jackrabbit. I think it’s actually a Tassel Eared Squirrel. At the ranger station we were greeted by Debbie who was so excited to tell us all about this beautiful place. We were almost the only ones there. I was interested, but the shivering was starting to sap my attention.
Hualapai’s roads (including the last 10% grade pitch), buildings, and trails were started as a New Deal project in 1936 and completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). There are miles of trails for both hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding and a newer RV Park area with hookups as well as cabins and tent camping areas. Bottom line: this would be a great place during the summer, a cool refuge when you were melting in the desert heat. We wished we had a week to stay there but it was a lot of work for an overnight.
Homolovi State Park
The brochure reminded us that snow could be expected into late April and indeed snow was in the forecast. And so, the next morning we wound our way carefully back down the mountain and continued east to the fine community of Winslow, AZ. They are definitely capitalizing on the Eagles song from the 70’s as almost every block there’s a “…standing on the corner” business.
We have traveled quite a lot in Arizona. Thirty years ago we went on a 28 day “Four Corners” trip with Rhiannon and Caitlin. We wandered around that area and saw many Navajo Nation and other Anasazi important sites: Betatakin, Canyon de Chelley, Mesa Verde NP. We reprised some of that trip years later with Ellie when she was about six years old, pulling our 16 foot Casita trailer. We added Chaco Canyon on that one. I didn’t feel that we really had visited Hopi Nation locations so I was really glad that Homolovi was on our path this time.
We checked in at Homolovi State Park with the intention to just spend one night but were so intrigued by it that we stayed two nights and I would have happily stayed longer. Homolovi is the ancestral home of the Hopi. In the 14th century the Hisat’sinom (Anasazi) developed a thriving community along the Little Colorado River. When they moved on they covered up some of the more important parts of the community, leaving behind ceremonial Kivas and an extensive system of brick above-ground shelters. Very little of the pueblo has been reconstructed as the Hopi believe that where things are is where they should be. In later years Mormon settlers used the bricks in their own building projects in nearby Winslow. For the Hopi this is their homeland and is a special place to visit to renew the ties of the people with the land. It used to be called “Homolovi Runis” but the name was changed and the Hopi asked that it be given the protection of the state and become part of the state park system. There are two archeological sites and three trails open to the public within the park. Two other sites are off limits. As we hiked Jonathan got the feeling that he was “being herded” and I think we were. My take was that we were enjoying the privilege of walking on the Hopi homeland and where we were welcomed was where we should be. Here, not over there.
There’s a really fine interpretive display at the visitor center. We checked in there to pay for our site on the first day. Gwen Setalla was working at the desk and she checked us in with brisk efficiency–not unfriendly, but reserved. The next day we returned to spend more time to view the exhibits. I had noticed a newspaper article about Gwen and her brother, Dee, both potters who are very active in teaching about Hopi pottery. Her pottery was also on display and is quite beautiful. She is skilled and uses local resources to shape, color, and decorate her pottery. Her brand is Aäs-Kū-Mana— “Mustard Juice Girl”. She is proud to be from the Bear Clan and when Jonathan started to ask questions she was very knowledgeable about her Hopi ancestry. There was also a nice display about Hopi Code Talkers in World War II. I had heard of the Navajo code talkers but was unaware that the Hopi were also code talkers.
Petrified Forest National Park
When I first suggested that we have a stopover and look-see at Petrified Forest NP, Jonathan was a little reluctant. Been there, done that. But I hadn’t; so he graciously acquiesced. As we walked the trails in the park, overwhelmed by the staggering beauty, he realized that his last visit was a brief drive-through on a ten-day road trip from California to Louisiana and Minnesota with infant Jason. That was just a FEW years ago and though the timeless views have not changed, the park facilities have. Plus, we had more time to amble the trails and no crying infant to distract us.
Within spitting distance of the south entrance to the park there’s a gift shop: Crystal Forest Gifts. They allow dry camping for free. We couldn’t have asked for better accommodations. (We also discovered once again that the water pump wasn’t working. This time it was not a disaster because we had carried some extra jugs of water.)
The park has two distinctly different regions. The southern section (south of I-40) is known for the profuse deposits of petrified wood as well as its archeological sites. We spent some time in the southern region of the park as soon as we arrived, walking the Giant Logs trail and touring the excellent visitor center.
Petrified Wood is beautiful to behold. It looks as if someone with a giant chainsaw started to cut it up for firewood and then changed their mind. Why all those straight across cuts? Turns out that because of the hardness of the stone it cracks at 90 degree angles.
We drove through the park stopping at several of the trails to view petroglyphs and pueblo sites. At the Long Logs and Agate House trails our cell phones went black as soon as we started on the trail, so no pictures. As we made our way north the petroglyphs and pueblo outline seen at the site of an ancient village along the Puerco River were particularly impressive. Kudos to the park service for thoughtful management of resources. It was pretty easy driving the trailer through and we knew where we could park, and where we could not.
North of I-40 the terrain changes and the brilliant hues of the Painted Desert predominate. Words completely fail me in my attempt to describe this area. I tried taking photos and those didn’t capture it either.
We did stop at the Painted Desert Inn. This is now a museum with its dining room, cafe, bar, and kitchen restored with original paints and wooden 1950s furniture. You can also buy museum quality woven rugs and silver jewelry. All very beautiful to admire.
Red Rock Park
Just east of Gallup, NM we stopped for an overnight at Red Rock Park. No surprise that there are red rock canyons, but I was completely surprised when I looked up and saw this view.
On Sunday, just six days after we left Borrego Springs we crossed the continental divide and arrived in Albuquerque. I’m such a west-coaster that when I cross the divide I think I’m on the “east coast”. My friends and family in eastern Montana and the midwest think I’m pretty silly.
We headed to our home for the upcoming week–Isleta Lakes RV Park. It is part of the Isleta Pueblo and managed by the tribe. When we arrived on Sunday the two lakes were a very popular spot for families to enjoy fishing and relaxing together. There’s a huge Casino on the hill to the east of us, but our little park is very mellow, close to the commuter train, and pretty quiet–trains don’t bother us.
As I get ready to publish this post the pump has been replaced and it all seems to be working. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!