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!