Sunday, October 25, 2020

Some drives seem longer

Today’s drive, from Pine, Arizona, to a boondocking spot a little north of Tucson was about 200 miles. So was Friday’s drive from the North Rim to Flagstaff. But the later one seemed much farther.


One reason is the stretch of 89A from the base of the Kiabab Plateau, along the Vermillion Cliffs, to Navajo Bridge is always a longer hop than I remember. I’ve driven it several times, yet the picture in my brain remains the same. That’s also true of the segment from Navajo Bridge to the junction with 89.  And from that junction to Gap. And Gap to the junction with 160. And from 160 to Cameron. And, well, the whole damn drive is longer than I think.


In comparison, Pine to Roosevelt Lake, to Globe, to Winkelman, to Oracle is just as I expected, even though I’ve driven it only once before.


The brain is a weird thing.

I’m here now

North of Tucson, east of Picacho Peak

Friday, October 23, 2020

The down side

I have a bit of a thing for Mitsubishi Delicas. Cool, four-wheel drive, high-ground-clearance, turbocharged minivans imported used from Japan. I see them occasionally, all tricked out for global adventuring. They’re what VW microbuses dream of being. If I were to get a minivan, the Delica would be my first choice.

Or not.

Today I witnessed the problem with driving a rare imported vehicle. Traffic on US-89 in the Navajo Nation suddenly backed up. We crawled at 35 MPH until there was a passing lane. That’s when I saw what had been holding us up. A Delica belching smoke, trying to limp to Flagstaff. My heart went out. Oh man. Good luck getting that fixed. I pictured the couple stranded, waiting for an engine to be found and shipped from Japan. Or needing to find a totally new vehicle.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Steel Tent just passed 300,000 miles. Yes, with some repairs along the way, but nothing as drastic as a new engine. And if its engine did blow, a replacement wouldn’t need to be sent on a boat. So I think I’ll stick with good old ‘Merican iron. Even if it’s not cute and exotic.

To the Rim and back

I wanted to get to the North Rim of Grand Canyon early enough to catch the sunrise. I woke at 5:00AM and tried to do the mental math of when I would need to leave camp. For some reason (not having looked it up) I thought it was about twenty miles from Jacob Lake to the Rim. It’s actually fifty. I arrived about fifteen minutes after the sun broke the horizon. Oh well. It was still beautiful.

Along the way (once there was a little light in the sky) I saw lots of deer and two groups of bison. Cool.

There were only two other vehicles in the parking lot. And with the visitor center, lodge and cabins closed up it was rather eerie. In a nice way. Like the Martians had taken all the annoying people away in the night.





I guess Bright Angel Point makes you into a bright angel

After checking out the view from Bright Angel Point and the Transept Trail, I drove out to Cape Royal and Point Imperial for a different angle on things. The road goes winds through several different environments, including, alas, burned areas. Again, I was essentially alone. however, the trailhead for North Kiabab Trail was filling up. Hardcore hikers.

I left at about noon. When I reached Jacob Lake, the parking lot for the lodge/store was filled with guys in camo. Hunters. Run, deer! Run and hide! I topped off my the Rolling Steel Tent’s tank and ran for Flagstaff.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Shorter trip than planned

As I write this I’m camped on the Kiabab Plateau, near Jacob Lake, which is the gateway to the North Rim of Grand Canyon. (With cell service!) The plan was to go to the North Rim then head up into Utah for some more hiking. Oh boy! Red rocks and slot canyons! And maybe aspens and cottonwoods turned gold.

But seriously cold weather is on its way. Subfreezing nights, and some rain that could turn to snow. I don’t like freezing nights. And even if it doesn’t snow, rain could make the unpaved roads in Grand Staircase-Escalante impassible. In addition, one should stay out of slot canyons if there’s rain in the region.

So after a quick look at the canyon from this side, it’ll be a U-turn south. Past Flagstaff, at least down to Sedona/Cottonwood/Payson level. Maybe I'll run into some fellow nomads down there.

But where are the walnuts?

Walnut Canyon National Monument, about five miles east of Flagstaff, has some cliff dwelling ruins. A gooseneck in the creek created a peninsula which, if you ignore the thin bit, looks like an island. So they call it the Island. 

There’s a trail from the visitor center, down to the ruins, around the Island, and back up. The trail is paved and easy. It’s the stairs that make one think twice. Two-hundred and forty steps down. Two-hundred and forty steps back up. A sign at the top advises visitors, “Going down is optional. Coming up is mandatory.”

I went for it.





It wasn’t as bad climbing the stairs as I feared. I rested twice. I paused a couple of times to enjoy the view.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Truckin’

I thought it would get uncomfortably cold last night. Not only did I have my down quilt, I added my other blanket, just in case. I woke up sweating in the middle of the night and set the blanket aside. In the morning I was able to go out and admire the rising sun without needing a jacket.

That was good.

What wasn’t good were the big gravel trucks that kept driving by, making noise and throwing up dust. I got into a bit of a standoff with one of them while driving in. It was a narrow section of road right after a curve. There wasn’t room to pass even though I was way over to the right with the wheels off the hard packed dirt-gravel mix and and sort of in the ditch. I waited to see what he would do and he waited to see what I would do. He had me outmuscled, so I stared backing up. (Which is something I do badly in the Rolling Steel Tent. Good thing I wasn’t pulling a trailer.) Since I couldn’t see what was happening on the right very well, I moved to the left so I could stick my head out the window and see exactly where I was going and how much road I had. It was also the side of the road with a cut instead of a drop-off. Better to back into dirt and rock than air. I finally got far enough over for the truck to get by. And then another truck. I proceeded on my way only to encounter another three trucks a little farther along. Fortunately the road was wider there.

The view from the Rim is great, but I’d had my fill of trucks, noise and dust. I decided to leave while there was a gap in the convoy.

Rim Road isn’t too bad, as National Forest roads go. A little rough, occasional bumps, and a few sections of bad washboard. Good enough. But when I got back to the highway, man, it felt like I was on a flying carpet. So smo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oth. Just gli-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ding along. No rattles or shakes. Pavement is good! Especially when it’s more than wide enough for vehicles to pass each other. The irony: It took a lot of gravel trucks to pave that highway.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Higher

Yesterday at the base of the Mogollon Rim, tonight at the top. I’m prepared to freeze.




A preview of “winter”

Last night I camped near Pine, Arizona. About 5,300 feet up. Not terribly high. In fact, it’s lower than where I spent the past few months in New Mexico. But that was the end of summer, so it was warmer, of course. Now we’re well into autumn and the nights get downright chilly.

I had spent the previous two nights 3,000 feet lower and 60 miles farther south, sleeping comfortably under my light blanket. But it was down quilt time last night. And heater time this morning. 43°F/6°C. Ah, yes, that time if year.

I’ll be heading to the low desert once the daytime temperatures there cool down to a more tolerable level. The “winter” temperatures in the Sonoran Desert will be similar to last night’s here at the base of the Mogollon Rim. (Yes, I know real winter. I spent two of them in Saskatchewan. Mmmmm, -40° for weeks at a time.)

Change is good, variety is the spice of life, and all that. Hallelujah, let’s get up and sing about it.

Monday, October 19, 2020

It was supposed to be easy


Heart of Rocks Loop is in the center (heart) of Chiricahua National Monument. You can get there by hiking down from the top or up from the bottom. The latter option seemed like a good idea. A gradual ascent in exchange for an easy downhill return at the end, when I’d be more tired. Because I’m an old guy.

The hike started at the visitor center, on Lower Rhyolite Trail. Wide, smooth, almost flat. I was energetic and optimistic. Piece of cake. But then the trail got narrower and rockier. And steeper. Still no problem.

By the time I reached the junction with Sarah Deming Trail I needed a rest. That was only a mile and a half? It seemed farther. A constant uphill grade makes demands (polite requests?) upon the cardio system. My legs were saying, “Yeah, we’re doing some work, but we’re okay.”

Up... up... up...

Sarah Deming Trail continued to climb. Relentlessly. My legs were asking, “Are we about done here?” The last quarter mile is a set of steeper switchbacks, featuring stairs whose rises are about twelve to sixteen inches. (Most stairs have a rise of four to seven inches.)  I was totally burned out and wobbly-legged by the time I reached the summit and the junction with Heart of Rocks Loop. Then, surprise, my phone chirped. There was good cell reception. A small reward, in case the scenery and sense of accomplishment weren’t enough.

After some (more) water, a protein bar and checking my email, it was time for the main event. And a few more steep trail sections. It was worth it.


We humans see faces everywhere

Kissing Rocks

Downhill hiking should be a literal stroll in the park. Except the footing gets trickier. Feet can slide on loose bits, sending you into the arms of gravity. I picked foot placement carefully and avoided any falls or twisted ankles. Leg muscles that had spent the first half of the hike going tighten, tighten, tighten, tighten were now tasked with releasing tension gracefully—over and over and over—while the heart and lungs asked, “What’s the problem down there? This is the easy part.”

By the time I got back to the bottom part of Rhyolite Trail I started having wishful-thinking-induced hallucinations. I saw a large patch of white through the trees ahead and convinced myself it was the Rolling Steel Tent. Alas, it was just some sunlit cliff face. Not home yet.

Unlike other hikers returning to their mere cars, I had the Most Comfortable Bed Ever awaiting me in the Rolling Steel Tent. I collapsed for and hour and a half.

This was the most exhausting hike this former couch potato has ever done. July’s hike at Garden Creek Waterfall was intensely vertical, but only for a short distance at the beginning. This hike was like five hours on a StairMaster, but with no Spandex-clad cuties panting and sweating next to me. 

Now I have a frame of reference for a 1,600 foot elevation gain in three miles. I know what it's like, and I know can do it.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Well, that’s not going to work like that

 I had run out of my tough guy it’s-not-too-hot-for-me-ism, and meditating on how life is suffering and this brief moment (in the cosmic sense) shall pass wasn’t helping much. So I broke down and got out my auxiliary fan.

And it didn’t run.

The switch is sticky sometimes, so I flipped it back and forth. The fan remained inert and uncaring.

Then I noticed the plug.


Ah, well there’s your problem. Drive down enough washboard roads and things will shake apart. And the liberated pieces will bounce away to some inaccessible hiding place.

My box of electrical bits didn’t contain a solution short of cutting off the plug and hardwiring it to the house system. Ummmmmm, no. At least not yet. The sun will set in a couple of hours and the desert will cool quickly. I can hold on until then. Because I’m a tough guy. Who meditates.

Friday, October 16, 2020

So this is where all the hoodoos were hiding

I arrived at Chiricahua National Monument just as the sun popped above the horizon. Perfect timing. 

The last time I was here, I was fat and had no interest in hiking. So I took a short trail along the rim and looked down into the canyon. This time would be different.

The National Monument has a network of trails and I chose Echo Canyon, which  had been well recommended. Echo Canyon Trail to Hailstone Trail to Ed Riggs Trail and back to the trailhead parking lot makes a nice three mile loop.

The trailhead lot was empty when I arrived. I had the joint to myself. Places like this are truly wonderful when you’re alone. Very quiet, no distracting crowds, no traffic on the trails. The weather was also perfect. A young couple eventually caught up with me because I kept stopping to shoot video. We just exchanged Hi’s and didn’t run into each other again—or anyone else—until we were back at the trailhead, which was full by then.

Since the Echo Canyon trailhead is at the top of the mountain, the hike is downhill. Until it’s time to return. Hailstone climbs gradually, but Ed Riggs is much steeper. Ergh. Those two trails are less interesting, so if I were to do it again, I’d just go back up Echo Canyon. Or, if the shuttle were running, or I was with a companion who also drove, I could continue downhill to the visitor center and get a ride back up to my car.

I had a great time and came back for another hike the next day. Look for that report in a day or two.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Crossing over

There are a few ways to access the Chiricahua Mountains. The more scenic (and paved) route on the east side is through Portal, Arizona, to Cave Creek. That’s where I went this morning for a hike.

There was a group forming at the trailhead and I noticed one of the guys had a sidearm. Hmmm. Did he always carry? Was it in case of an animal attack? Oh well.

I headed up the trail first, but the group caught up with me because I kept stopping to shoot video. They were led by three people in green uniforms—including the armed guy. Ah, Forest Ranges taking applicants or recruits on a training exercise of some sort. Or so I thought.

When I got back to the trailhead there were two Border Patrol trucks. Oh, not rangers after all.


After my hike I wanted to cross over to the west side of the Chiricahuas. According to the Forest Service and Google Maps, there are roads that let folks do that. Google says it takes about an hour to make the 21 mile trip.

If you ever feel like time whizzes by and life is too short, an hour on a bumpy, winding dirt road will feel like two. Or three. But I made it, and it takes less time than driving around the north or south ends of the mountains.

Next up, hiking the trails in Chiricahua National Monument.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

This ain't my first one


Rodeo is the last New Mexico town on Highway 80 before crossing into Arizona

Farewell to New Mexico for a while. It’s time for winter migration to Arizona and California. I’m going to do some hiking in the Chiricahuas before heading to the Tucson area for, oh, a few weeks.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Smooth move

My mind was somewhere far from the details of driving as I pulled out of the gas station and onto a short connector street between two main thoroughfares. I was in the middle of a left turn when I realized the median was a low concrete island, not just lines painted on the street. The edges were slanted, making it harder to tell it was there but easier to drive over. Which was totally illegal. Especially when done in front of a cop. 

Doh. 

The officer cited me for failing to yield to oncoming traffic (him) instead of an illegal turn and being a numbskull. Smaller fine. He was a nice enough guy. 

With all the driving I do, I’m a little surprised this hasn’t happened before. Several times.

A rather agreeable place

Friday, October 9, 2020

Among the hoodoos

There are at least a couple of routes to Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Study Area. The BLM recommends turning from US-550 onto New Mexico 57 and driving 13.5 miles to the site. There’s even an official sign at that intersection. Meanwhile, Google Maps recommends County Roads 7820 and 7786 from Nageezi to the last mile of NM-57. I decided the BLM knew best how to get to its place. 

They didn’t. The first part of 57 is paved, but with lots of potholes, crumbling tarmac and bad repairs. The unpaved portion had deep ruts from times when the road was wet. It was drivable but not at all fun. I returned via the other route. Google knew what it was talking about. Although it was mostly unpaved, it was pretty good by dirt road standards. And the paved part was in good shape.

At the trailhead you’re surrounded by flat grassland in every direction. Where’s the cool stuff? About a mile down a sandy two-track, in a valley. Ah-ha. Hike on.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

I’m a cave man

I didn’t find any hoodoos while wandering in Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, but I stumbled upon a small cave. There were ashes on the ground, so someone had spent time there before.

I’m not (totally) lost

The Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area was calling me. It’s a very desolate place in northeastern New Mexico that features some astounding hoodoos. The thing is, there are no established trails to the picture-perfect sites, just a vague map at the trailhead and hundreds of thousands footprints fanning out in every direction. Did the hikers who came before know where the hell they were going, or were they like Moses’s Israelites wandering forty years in the desert? I just headed out to see what I could see. 

After a while a type of serenity settled in. No agenda other than getting back to the Rolling Steel Tent before dark. Just experiencing being alone—and just fine—in a hostile environment.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Not a cat in sight

My first visit to Catwalk Recreation Area a few years ago was a disappointment. A massive flood through the canyon had torn up most of the walkway, and parts of the road and trail were covered with troublesome gravel left by the receding water. 

Now a section of the walkway has been rebuilt. I imagine it’s more dramatic during spring thaw and the monsoon season, with high water boiling down the canyon, but at least this time if year there’s no worry about being washed away.





Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Big Boom

One of these years I want to go to the place that played a significant role in terrorizing several generations. Because I’m weird that way.

The Trinity atomic bomb test site is about three hours away, on the White Sands Missile Range. It’s open to the public twice a year. Whenever I happen to think about visiting, the next public day is months away. And I’m not good about marking future events on my calendar. (Do I even have a calendar?)

I thought about it today because of a video I watched. “I should finally go there. I wonder when the next public day is.” 

I googled it.

The first Saturdays of April and October. Oh. That’s today. Head smack.

But I didn’t miss it. It was canceled because of the pandemic. So now the first Saturday in April goes on my mental calendar. I might remember that better because it’s just before my birthday. I can be there thinking about Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Cold War, Khrushchev saying he would bury us, weekly and daily air raid drills, bomb shelters, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how ten-year-old me didn’t know if he’d be around for his eleventh birthday, much less his 69th. It’s good to be alive.

Friday, October 2, 2020

I’m not like that anymore

Sometime back then

I was going through my stuff and found my journal from the mid-90s. It wasn’t a great time for me. Here’s an excerpt:

For the past while—the past year, certainly—I’ve been “in touch with my anger.” I’ve let out a lot of built up rage, and it feels good. I’ve allowed myself to be mad at things that make me (and any normal person) mad. But maybe I need more focus. I find myself inflicting anger on innocent people, just because I can. I need to direct it at the source of pain, not the first poor sap who crosses my path.

I remember that version of me. I’m so happy to not be him anymore. And I’m happy to no longer be the me from the early 2000s. The anger was back, along with pessimism and anxiety. Something needed to change.

Would retiring, selling the house and giving away my stuff to live in a van be the change I needed?

Yes.

Van dwelling isn’t a trouble-free life, but it’s my life, the life I was meant to live. At least now. Those angry years? I was trying to live someone else’s life and it was a very bad fit.