Saturday, December 31, 2016

Monsoons and Hopi Pueblos

October 22-24, 2016

The truck started and ran so I decided to find a better place to relax for a couple days.  The Sam's club was in an industrial area and not very relaxing but I found a casino a few miles outside of town.

Casino's are great places to chill if you don't feel like interacting or want to hang out with a crowd of strangers.  This one had tons of empty parking lots with a few RVs and trucks scattered around them even though the casino itself was small and smoky.  There's no shade anywhere in the state of Arizona (I'm convinced) and as far as I'm concerned a cement lot is as nice as a dirt one when the view is flat anyway.

There's a small puddle of transmission fluid under the truck but I can't get under to see where it's dripping.  Crap.  At least it's a small puddle.  After a day of doing absolutely nothing it looks even smaller.  Relaxation is a good thing.

The next town on I40 is Winslow, AZ which means I had to stop there.  I didn't see a whole lot of exciting things to do in town but it was convenient for doing laundry and pondering the difficulties of water while in the desert.  I was out of water and there hadn't been anywhere to fill up since . . . somewhere in California.  I had jugs I could fill at rest areas but the tanks were empty and that needed to be rectified.  It turned out that I could solve the water, full holding tanks, sleeping and cool place to visit all in one spot.

Homolovi State Park has remains from early Hopi settlements that can be wandered through along with a campsite that comes with water, dump station and, glory of glories - a SHOWER.  I could write an entire entry about how wondrous it was to take a shower after weeks of desert heat and naught but a washcloth and baby wipes to clean with.  And I had clean sheets.  It was going to be an amazing night.

But first the pueblos.

One site is uncovered but there is little to see except pits.  It's a lonely, windy hill with nothing to see for miles and the solitude is perfect for contemplating what life would have been like in 6000 BC.

Undoubtedly many people take potsherds as mementos but I was happy to see that many people would place potsherds on rocks for other visitors to see.

Cultural note:  The Hopi consider the area spiritually alive and do not want the word "ruins" used.  When I walked through the second site that has been reburied to protect the artifacts I could feel what they mean.  I have a new respect and perspective for ancient living areas.

All in all a great day.  I had water, empty holding tanks and a lovely (treeless) place to spend the night.

Sometime in the middle of the night I awakened to thunder and panicked cats.  No rain, just thunder and lightening.

And then it rained.  Hard.  I sat up and closed the vent over the bed as soon as the rain started and then sat there for a few seconds trying to figure out why I was still getting wet.

The rain was coming in the cabover window hard enough to reach the middle of the camper.  I slammed the window closed and closed all the other open windows and vents.  In the short time it took me to close the cabover window the bedding on that side of the camper was soaked.  Zowie.  At least most of the rest of the bed was dry so I went back to sleep.

Butch, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with wet sheets.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

It Truly is Grand

October 20, 2016

The weather after Mojave was much nicer and I was less concerned about finding a cool place to stop.  Good thing because there isn't a lot to see between the preserve and Williams, the cutoff to the Grand Canyon.  There is no overnight parking in the National Park so the plan was to leave early, spend the day and find a place to park in the forest on the way out.  That was the plan anyway.

The leaving early part worked fine and was a good idea for finding a place to park.  Even this late in the season the park is packed and campers were two deep in the long spaces by the time I got back to the rig.  Maybe the incredible weather played a part but based on the number of rental RVs I suspect that the canyon is always packed.

Here's the deal with the Grand Canyon:  Go.  Just go.

I could post a zillion pictures and it would never capture the majesty of the canyon.  I seem to have taken about a zillion pictures so I will post a few.

The North Rim closes for the winter (The North Rim is higher in elevation) but the South is open all year barring road closures for bad weather.  The Rim Trail connects view points, information centers and the village and there are free shuttle buses that stop multiple places if you don't want to walk the whole way.  
I walked to the village and saw a sign for a ranger talk starting shortly about the California Condor.  Ranger talks are pretty interesting so I grabbed a rock and stuck around for the talk.  This is where the plan fell apart.  It seems that the best time to see these (four foot tall!!!) birds is at sunset when they return to the rocks to roost for the night so instead of leaving early I decided to drive along the rim and pick a handy spot to wait for sunset.

It was gorgeous even as the sun went down and it started to get cold but alas, I saw no condors.  

Now I'm stuck driving back in the dark down a different road that leads to Flagstaff instead of Williams.  No problem - I'll still be in the National Forest and can find a place to stop.  Yeah, no.  Way, way dark, roads are unclear and there is a forest fire burning somewhere.  

OK, no biggie, I'll just head to Flagstaff.  Google Terrain tells me that there is minimal elevation change along this road so I shouldn't need to worry about stressing the transmission.

Google Terrain sucks.  

There are two huge and I mean Huge hills to climb before you get to Flagstaff and they look even worse when your vehicle has started running rough and you have no idea why.

I'll skip all the whining and just say it took me almost an hour to find the Sam's club and the hunt was made worse by the raging headache I had and Rigadoon stalling every single time I stopped.  Bo was so concerned that we'd never stop that he kept coming up to the front to remind me that he had to pee and would need Friskies very soon.  

I was never so happy to turn off the truck and go to bed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Mojave National Preserve

October 15-17, 2016

The weather in Boron was tolerable but temps further along the highway looked uncomfortably warm.  I decided to spend most of the day in the semi-shade and head out towards the next rest stop in the evening.  The plan worked reasonably even though the temperature at the rest stop near Ludlow was actually hotter after dark than Boron was when we left before sunset.  Still, I managed to get some sleep and we left early the next morning to head for the hills.

Mojave National Preserve has enough elevation to escape the worst of the desert heat in many places.  I spent the rest of the day at a pullout in the preserve, wandering through the desert a bit before relaxing into the lack of pulsing heat.  It was glorious.  The desert is all kinds of amazing and this was the first of my "how have I spent my whole life not knowing how beautiful this is" epiphanies.

Yeah.  I used to think John Muir was kind of a nut job since he drank tree juice and all that, but no, I think I'm beginning to understand how the beauty of the land affected him and wanting to become more like a sequoia now seems like a more logical next step when seeing what the world has to offer.

I went next to the information center at Kelso and based on recommendations from a ranger I headed to Teutonia Peak for a hike.  It wasn't quite as flat as he seemed to remember but only the last 1/3 of a mile was more of a climb.  The path to the peak passes through the densest Joshua Tree forest on the planet.  The trees were named by early Mormon settlers who thought the trees (really yucca plants) looked like Joshua reaching up towards the heavens.

I want some of whatever those settlers were on.

Joshua Trees gave way to beavertail cactus when the ground started sloping upwards

and at the top there was only a scattering of cactus and other vegetation.  The real draw was the view.

Another excellent place to spend a night.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Off into the Desert

October 9-14, 2016

Fresno was fun not because it's Fresno, but because I was able to meet with an internet friend there.  Seeing someone in real life that you've interacted with online is a little like meeting a first-time friend that you've known for years.

After a day or so I headed down to Bakersfield and discovered that the small leak in the transmission had become something closer to a steady trickle.  Rather than add a quart of fluid every 100 miles I decided to get the leak checked out.  I googled the reviews for nearby shops and chose what seemed to be the best one.

It turned out well although he didn't have the space to lift my rv, he knew the 'sister garage' across town did.  He gave them a call and sent me off with directions.  When I got there I found that they were holding the lift open for me so they could do an inspection to figure out what was leaking.  The answer was "everything".  Fearing they would need to pull the transmission and knowing they were about two weeks out they called another shop they trusted and sent me over there.

Brandon was fabulous.  He pointed out all the places that Rigadoon was leaking and said it could be repaired without pulling the tranny - a one day fix.  I left, he ordered the parts and the next day they put new gaskets in.  Although hanging around the shop for two days wasn't much fun I did get to chat with another customer who told me about his time in the war and as a trucker.  Very cool.

A couple days later and I was on my way over the Tehachapi Mountains.  The one cool thing about this route is that it takes you near the Tehachapi Loop, and engineering marvel that allows trains to climb a steep grade by make a shallower loop around a hill.

Yep, more hills.  I was so worried about the transmission that I missed the exit to the truck stop where I was planning on spending the night.  No worries, right?  It's late in the day and I'll just stop at the next one - it should be cool enough by the time I get there....

So I don't why it didn't occur to me that the desert is going to be hot in October, I mean, it's October!  Leaves are falling, the jackets come out, it's autumn for heaven's sake.  Except that autumn in the Mojave Desert hovers happily around the 90 degree mark.

I am baking while driving into the sun and can only hope the cats have found a cool place to ride.  There is no shade and no way was I going to stop and sit in the sun to do anything so I soldiered on to Boron and the next truck stop.

As I was pulling in desperately hoping for shade I realized that those big semi trailers provide more than enough respite from the sun for a tiny little camper.  We tucked into a spot next to a big rig and settled down for one of the loudest nights yet.

Did you know that trucks run all night?  Yeah.  And they continuously come and go as well.  Butch was terrified but a long, loud night was much better than sitting at 100+ degrees for several hours.

At least we had a nice sunset.

Friday, December 23, 2016

What the Hell Was I Thinking?

October 6-8 or so, 2016

National Monuments are amazing places and a unique resource that allows everyone to experience the world as it was before modernization.  Modernization such as internet access.  The kind of access you want to have when you've put off getting a paper map and rely on your phone for directions.  Without this access you resort to finding the nearest big road and hoping you choose the right direction.

And you end up in unexpected places.  Like Susanville California.  There is nothing wrong with Susanville but the road to get there goes through farm and hilly territory with no services along the way.  And you don't find this out until you pass the closed gas station in Adin (population ~300) and see the sign that says 'next services 67 miles'.


So I look at my gas gauge and decide I can go just about 67 miles before I'm out of gas.  Shortly after this decision I discovered the "hilly" part of the journey.  Yeah, 67 miles on flatish land - I'm less confident about the mileage when going over mountains.

Happily I made it and discovered that I have about two gallons left when the tank reads "empty".  Still, not a risk I care to take often.

From Susanville I went towards Yuba and eventually ended up in Sonora.  This is where it gets really stupid.  From Sonora I drove towards Oakhurst along Highway 41 intending to go to Yosemite.

Highway 49 is an insane road full of serious ups and downs as it travels through the foothills of the Sierra Mountains.  Pretty as all get out but at 20 mph much of the way that was one of the longest driving days I have had.  There aren't really any places to stop since the towns along the way are tiny and wouldn't welcome an overnight camper even if I could find a parking lot big enough and level enough to stay in.  Beautiful drive but I think this was the beginning of the end for my transmission.

I got to Oakhurst, add fluid to the tranny and started up the hill into Yosemite.  After about a half hour of creeping upwards I decided that I wasn't having fun and regardless of how beautiful the park might be, I would be tense and unhappy the entire time I was going up and over mountains to get to the lovely places - if I even made it all the way to the gate.  I turned around and headed towards Fresno.  There were still a lot of hills in the way but they got smaller the farther I went towards the ocean.

OK.  Time for a new plan.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Back Roads to More Volcanoes

October 2-4, 2016

When you leave Crater Lake through the southern exit and head towards Lava Beds National Monument you end up going through small towns with a lot of farmland.  At one point I thought maps was sending me down a farm driveway but Google came through and the funky little road took me to a slightly bigger road that went through Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge to Lava Beds.

Lava Beds is a supercool region created by half a million years of eruptions from a shield volcano.  There are swaths of black lava with little vegetation, fields of sage and hundreds of lava tube caves.  They are actively protecting the bats from White-Nose Syndrome and cavers should be prepared to offer up equipment for disinfecting.  None of my stuff has been in any caves so I headed in to explore.

The monument has no restrictions on overnight parking and I saw no reason to rush through my visit.  The advantage to staying put in a nice place is the spectacular sunrises and sunsets that just aren't the same when seen from a truck stop.

Truck stop also don't seem to have drawings and carvings from ancient peoples.  The pictographs are within caves, protected from the elements and although there is a lot of speculation about sacred areas vs convenient place to post some graffiti, seeing the drawings is an amazing experience.


The petroglyphs are at a separate site on a rock that previously jutted out of the lake.  The lake has been mostly drained for farming and the images are protected behind fencing instead of the lake.

Tule Lake was also the site of the Modoc War in 1872 as the indigenous peoples tried to protect their homeland from the settlers.  They lost, but hiking through the fields dotted with lava formations, caves and hidden pits points out how the small band of resistors were able to hold out against the U.S. army for many months.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Crater Lake, OR

October 1, 2016

Almost 8,000 years ago a volcano in the southern Oregon cascades blew its top, creating the deepest lake in the U.S.  The park around the lake is kind of in the middle of nowhere and the drive up is a little steep when you're driving an underpowered motorhome.  Whatever.  All those people behind me needed to slow down and enjoy the scenery anyway.

Or they would have enjoyed the scenery if the mountain volcano hadn't been covered in fog with a healthy dose of freezing rain.  The only thing that could have made the drive more exciting would have been construction that removed the safety wall from edge and ripped out the pavement on corners.

Oh, wait....  Yep.  Rough roads, low visibility and grouchy drivers wanting to pass me.  Although hiking the trails was off the table, the lake was as beautiful as advertised.

You even get the bonus volcano-within-a-volcano on this little island in the lake.  The rangers do a hike and boat trip to the island in the summer but no one was risking the steep trail as the snow was starting to stick.

I wanted to stay and see more of the park but the roads were just too scary.  And it was cold and wet.  Just not ideal sightseeing weather.  

There's no free camping within the park so I headed out the south entrance and down the mountain to find a place to sleep.  A couple miles out I found a picnic spot that was off the main road and had flat spaces to park in front of the tables.  I knew no one would be picnicking any time soon and confidently pulled up to the curb to make dinner.

Although it was chilly when we went to bed, it was freezing when we woke up.  And snowing.

This was the coldest we had been and I was a little leery of driving down snow covered roads even though I assumed they would clear up as I descended.  Driving in the snow AND the dark wasn't happening so I made myself a second cup of coffee to wait for sunrise and hopefully melting snow.  Instead it snowed harder.

Now I really wanted to get going so I walked out to the main road to see how many cars had driven over it already.  I also saw the sign informing me that I was still in the national park and overnight parking was not allowed.  Woops.  I guess I should have realized that such a nicely kept picnic area was not a national forest amenity.  Well now I really needed to leave before a park ranger found me and yelled at me.

Fortunately the air warmed up fairly quickly when the sun came out and the snow on the road turned to slush.  We left mid morning to head for the next adventure.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

It Gets Real(er)

Leaving Portland on the 30th of September marked my first forays into places I hadn't been.  I headed west towards Mount Hood intending to spend the night there.  Turns out that the nicest places are marked as government campsites (pay) and the less nice places have scary roads.  How scary?  I started down one which almost immediately degenerated into a scrawny path with no way to turn around.  It's along the side of the mountain so I don't mean there was underbrush blocking a turn, I mean there was a steep hill on on side and a dropoff on the other. At first I drove along assuming that at some point there'd be a parking area or trail head that would allow me to turn.

Then I reached the rock.

The road/path scooted around the edge of a large boulder that was blocking the path and that would have been okay except for the tree that had fallen right next to the boulder.  Earlier travelers of the path had driven over the tree several times so there was kind of a way through but damn it was skinny.  I somehow managed to wiggle through without hitting either the tree or the rock and kept going.  About ten minutes farther along there was a pullover section that was big enough for me to turn around without falling over the side of the hill so with a huge sigh I headed back towards the main (well. not dirt path) road.

Then I reached the rock, again.

Curiously in the space of 20 minutes I had managed to completely block this thing out of my mind.  Once again I tried to thread my way through and was almost there when it seems I angled away from the tree a bit too soon.  Nasty scraping sound but I was not going to stop there to look at it.  I eventually reached the road, headed back towards the highway and decided I didn't want to stay near Mount Hood after all.

Eastern Oregon is stunning and perhaps the most awe-inspiring section is around Warm Springs.  The road turns a corner to hugely open views of a deep canyon with a scattering of houses at the base.  Sadly no pics but the drive down into and back out of the canyon is amazing.

I stayed on the road until Bend and discovering that there were no places to stay (for free) I went a little further to the Deschutes National Forest.  I saw a sign pointing to the Lava Cast Forest and on a whim I decided to check it out.

This is where I made the decision to never again go somewhere without first researching it.

A mile or so along the road it suddenly becomes a poorly maintained, seriously washboard road that limits speed to less than 10 miles per hour in many places.  Especially in an rv.  The boys and I jiggled along for a very long time and never saw any more signs for the forest.  Fortunately my gps got a signal and my phone realized that I was not in Salem but in the middle of a forest.  On Lava Cast Forest Road.  At this point I had no idea if there was really something to see ahead or if the entire drive had cool stuff along the sides that I wasn't recognizing as cool.

Having no clear reason to keep going forward, I turned around and headed back, figuring I'd go as far as I could before it got dark and stop there for the night. The way back never seems to take as long as the outward journey and I reached the paved part of the road at dusk.  We pulled off the road into a wide spot and I spent the next half hour trying to find all the things that had jiggled off the counter while driving.

I still don't know what the lava cast forest is.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Misty Mountain

September 20-22, 2016

Three days on Mount St Helens is probably not enough time, but it was all the fair weather she gave me. After leaving my friends' house on the 19th I hightailed to the rest stop nearest the turnoff to head up to the National Monument.  I wasn't hopeful the next morning after awakening to a thick fog that hid even the nearby freeway but I headed for the hills anyway.  A grueling 1.5 mile climb to the Johnston Ridge Observation Center later I was greeted with this:

Front view.

The view from the side.  The crater is to the left.

The fog was kind enough to stick to the lowlands and give the visitors a clear view of the crater complete with steam coming from the vents in the center.  37 years ago that was a pointy mountain until she collapsed, sending many tons of her mountainside tumbling down into what was previously a deeper valley.  Over the years rain and snow have begun carving into the looser rocks and soil of the landslide creating a hellscape:

All around there are hummocks - chunks of the mountain that were deposited as the mudflow ran into the valleys:

These used to be inside a volcano

And here is the Toutle River, patiently carving her way through the 200 or so feet of rock and ash that was dumped in her path.  I'm pretty sure this is how the Grand Canyon got started.

Despite having 59 days of warning earthquakes not everything was taken out of the area.  Scientists expected a much smaller blast area and unfortunately some of them lost their lives when the mountain erupted.  The area was actively being logged and a few pieces of logging machinery didn't fare well either:

As I was coming down the hill from seeing the logging equipment The Mountain looked as though she'd had enough of the sunny day and started collecting her rain cap for the storm that would unleash that evening.

It poured all night long and I left early the next morning to head to Vancouver.