Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hidden Gems--Great Campsites Across the Mojave and into the Sierra Nevada

I have been really fortunate to find some gorgeous primitive campsites on my travels across southern California.  When I last wrote, I was leaving a private RV park in Needles where I'd caught up on laundry, and I was ready to go to some more remote places.  Well, I sure found them!

On Monday I went to Hole-in-the-Wall Campground in the Mojave National Preserve.  If you're ever driving on this portion of I-40, I highly recommend this gorgeous site.  It's about an hour west of Needles and then 20 miles north on a paved but not maintained road that was no problem for me in my Toyota Dolphin.  

Early morning in the Mojave National Preserve

You know how when you've taken a long side road, you hope it's going to be worth the trip?  Well, yes, this was worth it.  This sprawling primitive campground with wide loops and large spaces is surrounded by stunning mountains in a variety of colors and shapes.  And, even though I was out in the middle of nowhere, I had a good Verizon signal and could stay in touch and look up information about the next leg of the journey.

Afternoon sun on cholla flowers

Hole-in-the-Wall was $6 per night with my Access pass.  It has no hookups or showers, but there is fresh drinking water and vault toilets.  I spent two nights there, then headed across the rest of the Mojave on I-40 because I heard that the weather there would be cooler than usual, making the drive more pleasant.  

 A flock of sheep just off the freeway exit at Ludlow, CA, where I stopped for gas

I drove longer on Wednesday than I ordinarily try to drive.  I'd thought I would stop in Barstow and maybe blacktop boondock at Flying J or Peggy Sue's Cafe.  But I got such an early start that morning that I was in Barstow well before noon and I wasn't ready to stop yet.  So I drove on to the next destination I'd considered, Red Rock Canyon State Park, on Highway 14, north of the town of Mojave.  

 These cliffs at Ricardo Campground in Red Rock Canyon State Park have appeared in lots of movies, including Westerns and the original Star Wars

At this park, just like at Hole-in-the-Wall campground, I was surrounded by fascinating mountains.  I was camped in front of some cliffs that have fluted folds in them, and their colors change all day long with the light.  Plein air painters and hikers would be in heaven here.  My primitive campsite at Red Rock, however, cost me $25, so I shoved off the next morning.  It was also the first of several nights of having little, if any, phone service. 

Then I aimed for Lake Isabella in the Sequoia National Forest.  The giant sequoias and the Sierra Nevada are some of the main draws for me on this trip, besides my ultimate goal of visiting with my son when I get to Seattle.  I've never been in this part of California before, and I'm fascinated by the many miles of public lands to be explored and enjoyed.

 Low water levels at Lake Isabella in the Sequoia National Forest

My experience in the Sequoia National Forest was kind of mixed.  I very much liked the Forest Service boondocking site where I stayed one night along the Kern River, north of Lake Isabella.  But I was pretty disappointed with the neglected condition of the Forest Service developed campgrounds all around the lake.  I don't know if this is because it's too early in the year for them to have the campgrounds in shape, or whether nobody comes to these campgrounds anymore because the water level in the lake is so low, or what.  Anyway, I'd never seen such shabby and depressing Forest Service campgrounds before.

 View from my RV door at my free boondocking site on the Kern river

The boondocking site I had on the Kern River was no-fee.  If you're ever in this area, there are many of these free campsites along the Kern, many with fire rings and a dumpster.

After leaving the river campsite, I kept heading north into more of the Sequoia National Forest.  I sure do wish I had done more research before I got on this road.  I found myself at very high elevations, driving mountain roads with lots of switchbacks, in misty and foggy weather with very limited visibility, in my little 4-cylinder mini-motorhome.  

I'd intended to head to California Hot Springs, a privately-owned spa and RV park in the Forest, but that road was too dangerously unseeable.  So instead I stuck to the main road which I knew would eventually take me down off the mountains into the town of Springville.  

 A fuzzy iPhone pic of me in front of one of the Giant Sequoias

Along the way, I stopped at the Trail of the 100 Giants, which is a wonderful nature trail with a brochure that explains different types of trees and characteristics of how they grow from seedling to towering giant.  I also saw some incredible views, and I was especially awed by looking back from mountain tops to see where I had come from.  It was one of the most challenging mountain driving experiences I've ever had, even after the weather cleared up a bit and there was no more fog to contend with.  

Many miles later, I was relieved to pull into a gas station in Springville and reach into the passenger seat to take my wallet out of my backpack and...where was my backpack?  I looked everywhere, but I knew exactly where it was.  Back at 100 Giants, hanging on a hook in a vault toilet stall.  That was the last place I'd seen it.  Probably 50 or more miles back up that scary mountain road.  

And what a dilemma I had now, because I needed more gas in order to drive back up there, but I had no money or credit cards because they were in the backpack.  Plus, what if I got all the way up there and someone had already stolen the backpack or taken it to the rangers office?  And there was no way I wanted to get stranded up there overnight!  It was cold enough on the Trail of the 100 Giants for me to wear a fleece vest and gloves around mid-day. 

Fortunately I knew there was a ranger station in Springville, and I headed there.  The women in the office were great.  They called a fire crew that was up somewhere in that area and had them check the 100 Giants bathroom on their way back to the ranger station at the end of their work day.  So I spent the afternoon outside the ranger station, sitting in my RV, eating a sandwich, reading a book, trying not to be nervous.  And it all worked out perfectly.  The fire crew brought me the backpack with everything intact.  Money, ID, credit cards, etc., all there.  What a relief!

At the end of that too-exciting Friday, I was glad to pull into a quiet Corps of Engineers campground a few miles down the road from Springville at Lake Success.  It was a nice campground, nothing as wildly natural as the previous several nights, but a good place to calm down and think about things.

I found after getting rather anxious driving mountain roads that perhaps I have overestimated my interest in the Sierra Nevada.  Or maybe I'd like to look at it more from the foothills, rather than venturing up onto every available terrifying mountain road.  

 Last night's view, at Lake Kaweah

So last night, I found myself another Corps of Engineers campground to stay at on Lake Kaweah, about an hour up the road from the last COE stop.  And tonight I am another hour-and-a-half north at a third COE campground, Island Park on Pine Flat Reservoir, which is pretty much straight east of Fresno. 

I may go back up into the mountains to visit some more National Forest lands and to go to Yosemite National Park, but I've already bypassed the remainder of what I anticipated seeing of Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia National Park.  I am realizing my limits.  I appreciate more now what it was like for Steve when he realized his limits and decided not to make this trip with me. 

 Tonight's campsite at Pine Flat Reservoir

I'm staying at my current campsite for two nights, hooked up to electricity and water for the first time in a very long time.  I'm feeling very grateful for electricity and running water, and I've finally been able to fill up my freshwater tank, so I have water for dishwashing and flushing when I'm primitive camping.  Amazing how these simple things that we normally take for granted (power, water, being able to flush a toilet or take a shower, etc.) become so important and gratifying when you're on the road.  

My house batteries are low in power, and that's why I'm going to just sit here hooked up to electricity for a couple of days.  If they're recharged in a day or two, great, I can go on.  If not, I will have to stop and get the batteries checked and possibly replaced somewhere along the road.  This stop also gives me time to consider what's next.  Probably Yosemite.  I can't see being this close and not going, even if I find the drive a little harrowing. 


Monday, April 20, 2015

Sweet Rolls, Swap Meets, and the Blues--Ajo AZ to Needles CA

Roadsign seen near the Carefree Highway 

A couple of days after Steve went home to Why, I headed back out on my trip to Seattle, this time solo.  With Steve's help, I had reorganized the rig a little bit and offloaded things I wasn't likely to use when traveling by myself, such as the small propane barbecue.

Nope, I'm more of a "I think I'll find a bakery and a thrift shop" kind of gal.  And, in this, I've had a most satisfying week.  

Some petroglyphs at Painted Rock near Gila Bend, AZ

For the first few days I was back to traveling solo, I went very slowly and stayed on remote BLM lands, kind of rerouting my itinerary.  I spent a couple of nights on Darby Well Road outside of Ajo, then I headed up to Painted Rock Petroglyph Site, which is west of Gila Bend, AZ, off of I-8.  There is an 11-mile paved road that goes up to Painted Rock.  The campground is just desert land with some picnic tables and fire circles, but it's also inexpensive ($4 I believe with my Access pass) and quiet, and the rocks are interesting.  I stayed one night only, because it was hot during the daytime, and I wanted to escape the heat by continuing north.

 Shorebirds just a few feet off my stern at Lake Pleasant Regional Park north of Phoenix

One thing I am really trying to do on this trip is rely on my intuition.  There are tons of websites that provide information about where to camp, but sometimes I like to just figure it out by myself.  That's what I did for my next stop.  I was looking at my road atlas and saw that there was a nice big lake north of Phoenix called Lake Pleasant, but there were no markings on the map about parks.  But I had a hunch there must be something nice there, and when I looked it up online, there was a Maricopa County park there with campgrounds ($20 to $30 per night) and dry camping right on the beach ($12 per night).  Yay!  I spent a night there parked about 20 feet from the water, enjoying the cool breezes from the lake.  The following morning, though, the breezes had become a really big gusty wind, and I had to wait for that to die down before I could safely pull out of there.

A fabulous sweet roll at Bedoian's in Wickenburg, made by the barista's brother; he makes a fresh batch every morning

I took the Carefree Highway (AZ State Highway 74), named for a small town and immortalized by Gordon Lightfoot, from Lake Pleasant to Wickenburg where I found a wonderful little cafe, Bedoian's Bakery & Bistro, that had great coffee and probably the best cinnamon roll I've eaten in my lifetime.  And that's high praise from a Minnesota girl who grew up with the good stuff.  I spent a few hours in Wickenburg, visiting the art museum which was showing a yearly Cowgirl Up! exhibit that I found inspiring and delightful.  I also visited the Soroptimists Thrift Store a block or so away.  

I haven't listed anything on eBay for quite some time, but I am collecting what we in the antique business call "smalls" to mail to my friend January to sell in her consignment antique store in Truth or Consequences, NM.  Along the road, I have completely filled up a Flat Rate Priority Mail Medium Box which will ship for $12.65, and I have stuff to start the next box or two.  

 My campsite at White Spar Campground

From Wickenburg, I drove north on Highway 89 to the White Spar Campground in the Prescott National Forest, about three miles south of the town of Prescott.  It's a nice primitive (no hookups) campground, very cool at night, and I rested there for a couple of days.  

 A very nice almond croissant from Pangaea in Prescott

The morning I left, I stopped in historic downtown Prescott and found another fabulous stop for coffee and pastry, Pangaea Bakery & Cafe, where I had a remarkable almond croissant and a nice dark fair trade organic house roast.  If you're one of my early blog readers, you may remember that I have a passion for almond croissants and have reviewed them whenever I come across them in my travels.  Pangaea's was a little dry on the outside, perhaps from reheating, but Lord Almighty they know how to put the good stuff inside.  Many bakeries scrimp on the almond paste, but Pangaea's bakers add so much paste that the inside of the croissant has an exquisite custard-like layer.  

Bob Wells, leader of the pack

On leaving the bakery, I went to the Salvation Army for a few trinkets, then took quite a long drive to my next campsite.  I continued up Highway 89 to catch I-40 at Ash Fork, with stops at several thrift shops in Chino Valley.  And an awesome coincidence in Chino of stopping at a Circle K, only to find Bob Wells there, getting some water!  I've known Bob online for years, but this was my first opportunity to meet him in person.  Bob runs a helpful website called CheapRVLiving, and he gathers up people each year for the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, where there is community and an exchange of useful information for living on the road.  He was also featured in a film about mobile living, along with my friend Christine Carrington and other full-timers.   

Just west of Ash Fork, I picked up an old portion of Route 66 that wasn't paved over to become an Interstate.  It goes through Seligman up to Grand Canyon Caverns, where I spent the night and took a tour the next morning. 

A picture taken of me by our tour guide at the bottom of the Grand Canyon Caverns

Grand Canyon Caverns is really kitschy and fun.  It was a huge contrast to Kartchner Caverns, which I've toured a couple of times.  Kartchner is a live cavern, where formations are still growing and the environment is fragile.  Kartchner is owned by the State of Arizona and there are lots of rules to protect it.  Grand Canyon Caverns, on the other hand, is a very dry cavern that has been in private ownership and used for tourism ever since it was discovered and found to not have any gold, silver or other valuable resources.  So the property includes a funky old motel and a barely-tended campground, and you're pretty much over a barrel--you have to spend at least $25 a night to camp there ($35 if you want hookups), plus the 20 bucks for the tour.  But it's fun.

Having blown my budget big-time at the Caverns, I saw no reason to slow down the next day.  I drove the rest of the Old Route 66 loop to Kingman.  Just as I was pulling into town, there was a big swap meet, where I stopped for more resale fodder and also managed to get a sunburn.  It is hot on the West Coast of Arizona!  Then I continued west and crossed the Colorado River into Laughlin, Nevada, where I spent the night at Harrah's Convenience Store, a Shell station across the street from the casino.  It's $7 to dry camp, and the casino will send a van over to pick you up when you want to go eat or gamble.  

While driving into Laughlin, I saw posters about Buddy Guy playing that night at the Edgewater, another casino about 1.5 miles down the strip from Harrah's.  I bought a ticket to the concert and took a cab up to the Edgewater because it was too hot to walk.  I enjoyed the concert immensely.  Buddy Guy does a lot of talking between and during songs.  Mid-song, he'll stop to pontificate on the blues or where music is going today or why people should love and respect one another.  He's a very hip 78-year-old who has recently added more foul language into his act, because, as he says, "After hip hop, what's stopping me?"  I loved his music and his patter.  I felt so energized afterwards that I walked the 1.5 miles back to my RV in the cooler evening. 

 Gourmet treats at the Harrah's Casino Sunday brunch buffet--lox, fresh asparagus, artichoke hearts, blintzes, a mini-waffle with fruit and whipped cream

Upon awakening in Laughlin the next morning, I decided a casino buffet Sunday brunch was in order, so I got the shuttle over to Harrah's and dove in.  The choices were so numerous that I could try only a small percentage of what was offered.  I stuck to things I don't usually eat in my RV, such as blintzes, lox, eggs Benedict, and creme brulee.  Then I headed back across the river to Bullhead City, Arizona, and stocked up at the grocery store for a few days of crossing the Mojave.

I spent last night at an RV park in Needles, California, called Fender's River Road Resort.  There are some motel rooms here and a few RV sites, some right along the Colorado River.  With my Passport America membership, this campground was $14.  This is the first time I've had hookups for over a week, and my Verizon connection has been good here for Internet, too.  So I spent last night and this morning catching up on stuff--a shower, laundry, getting out my computer to do some route planning and write this blog, and I even watched a little TV online last night, too.  

Today I am heading out to the Mojave National Preserve which has a campground at a higher elevation and thus cooler temps.  It's going to be 97 here in Needles this afternoon, but the highs are in the 70s up at the Preserve.  I'll probably stay there a night or two before taking on the next leg of crossing the hot desert. 

I'm keeping in touch with Steve every day and the current situation seems to be that his lab tests from his yearly physical indicated maybe more tests should be run, and Steve is deciding which of these to have.  He'll be seeing his regular physician again soon for some medication to address the gout, and to get advice on how far to pursue other tests, imaging, etc.  Then he wants to head back over to Truth or Consequences, NM, soon where he can stay in our big Class A motorhome with air conditioning.       


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why, AZ, to Cottonwood, and Back Again

 Leaving Why on Monday morning

Well, going a little ways north and then back to Why wasn't exactly the plan.  

We left our primitive campground home in Why, AZ, on Monday so I could get a tooth pulled in Casa Grande.  That went extremely well.  By the next day, I was feeling fine and needed no more pain meds than the Arthritis Strength Tylenol that I take regularly, anyway.  We stayed Monday night at the Casa Grande Motel 6, which was just fine.  

After that we headed north and stayed Tuesday night at a motel and RV park in Cordes Lake, then drove up to Prescott on Wednesday morning.  I was delighted to do some shopping at Trader Joe's.  We also stopped for some new hardware for the bathroom.  Prescott gets bigger and more citified every time I go there.  I was glad to find a bookstore and an AA meeting and then head back out of town.  

From Prescott, we headed to Jerome, a place I'd always wanted to visit.  I had heard it was built on a cliff and that there is a very scenic road from Prescott to Jerome, but I had no idea it would be such a challenging drive over a mountain, with lots of switchbacks.  We had to stop for a while on the way down the other side of the mountain, because the brakes were getting really hot.

Coming down Mingus Mountain, from Prescott to Jerome

Jerome was a busy mining town for decades, then the mine closed and it became almost a ghost town.  In the 1970s, hippies came and rejuvenated the town as a tourist attraction, and it is definitely a fun place to see.  We went to the very small Jerome Historical Society museum on the main street and to a gift shop or two.  But we didn't stay long, because we had reservations to spend the night at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in nearby Cottonwood.

Another rider on the Verde Canyon train took this picture of a happy Steve and me

We camped one night at Dead Horse, which was nice, but more expensive ($25 plus a $5 reservation fee) than what I usually spend.  It was also a pleasant place to spend a relaxed Thursday morning before heading back towards Clarkdale to take the 1:00 p.m. Verde Canyon wilderness train tour.  And we needed the rest!  I hadn't realized that going to both Prescott and Jerome in one day was going to be so taxing on us.  We didn't drive all that far, but the roads were mountainous and unfamiliar, and we made lots of stops.  We'd pushed ourselves a little too hard.

Verde Canyon Railroad's motto is something about it being the journey, not the destination, which is good, because there really isn't a destination.  You just go 18 miles down into some canyons, past lots of beautiful mountains and red cliffs, looking down on the Verde River Valley.  Then they put the engines on the other end of the train and you go back.  Pretty uneventful, just watching gorgeous nature go by, while the PA system occasionally gave us some information about what we were seeing, in between train-related songs in lots of genres--folk, blues, country, etc.  There were snacks available for purchase in our coach car, and we had an attached car for outdoor seating.  The train never goes more than about 15 mph, and it was a warm, sunny day, so we spent most of the four hours outside.  I'd give this train ride a thumbs up for just about anybody.  The coup de grace was this sappy PA announcement at the end of the tour where we were told how much the owner of the railroad loves America, and dang if a bald eagle didn't come and soar right over us, as if on cue.  Disney couldn't have planned it better.

The view out the back of the RV at Camp Verde RV Resort

Our plan after taking the train trip was to just chill out for about three nights at an RV resort in Camp Verde.  We got a nice spot right on the bank of the Verde River, and we had laundry, showers, a hot tub, etc., all available.  Friday, we drove back into Cottonwood to have the brakes looked at, since they'd gotten so hot on Mingus Mountain, and they were fine.

When we got back to Camp Verde on Friday afternoon, Steve and I had a long, serious discussion about the trip, and I learned that it had not been working out well for him.  He's had foot and leg pain for a while, and we had doctor's appointments and lab tests before leaving Why.  We were called with the lab results after we were already on the road, and Steve's tests indicated he might have gout.  We did some reading online and found out that gout can be controlled with medication and diet.  Steve decided that, feeling the way he did, traveling in a mini-motorhome was not pleasant for him.  He wanted to go home and get his medical problems addressed.

I can totally understand this.  These past several years, my own need for a total knee replacement really threw the monkey wrench into being able to travel and have fun.  Mostly we have gone back and forth between Why, AZ, and Truth or Consequences, NM, just keeping it very simple.  It was disappointing that now, when my mobility is better, that Steve's is worse, but such is life.  

So yesterday, Steve and I drove back to Why, and he will stay here and get the treatment he needs, which will probably mean seeing a specialist in Tucson and getting on some medication.  Once he's on a course of treatment, he'll head back over to Truth or Consequences and spend the summer staying in the Beluga, my Class A motorhome that's parked in a nice little RV park.  

And I will continue on the Left Coast Adventure unless Steve's health problems are more serious than we think, in which case I'll skedaddle back and give him whatever help he needs.  God knows I owe him for all of the great care he has given me.  

It was kind of a shock and disappointment to realize I'll be making this West Coast trip by myself.  But now I've had a couple of days to process this information, and I'm okay with it.  Traveling solo is fun.  Back in 2011, when I was traveling in my first Toyota Dolphin, I had to get off the road and stay parked for a while because I needed a sense of community.  I needed someplace I could come home to.  Well, I have that now, so this is just a trip this time, and I'll come home to be with Steve, as well as see my friends in TorC and Why, in a matter of months.  

Also, Steve and I are thinking that once I get up to Seattle, which is my main goal on this trip, I'll want to be there for a while to see my son and many friends.  So perhaps by then, he'll be feeling better and can fly up to join me for the part where we stay in one place.  

Boondocking on BLM lands near Ajo, AZ

So, right now, I am camped out on BLM lands and enjoying a little time for reorganization before heading out towards the north tomorrow.  I've looked at my road atlas and the Internet and have found various BLM and Forest Service campgrounds all the way up to I-40, and I will probably meander slowly.  I'd like to get back up into the higher elevations within a couple of days, because the temps are rising down here near the Border.  

Sonja is heading to Seattle with me, of course


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Coalescing, Healing, Abandoning in Why, Arizona

 Ready to hit the road! 

After our return from China, Steve and I had to sit in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, for about three weeks to recover from whatever nasty virus we caught on the way home.  We got out of there on Sunday, March 22nd, and headed over to spend some time in Why, Arizona, our home.  Steve has a big 5th wheel that he leaves here and there is plenty of room on our lot for my rig, too.  I hardly spent any time here this past winter because of being busy in New Mexico, and it's nice to be back.

We used to drive from TorC to Why in one day, but we're not getting any younger.  I've learned that for me, with lots of arthritis, I do better driving or even riding for just a few hours a day.  We are thinking of adopting the Rule of Twos on our West Coast meanderings this spring and summer--that is, never drive more than 200 miles in a day, arrive at your campsite by 2 pm, and stay at least two nights once you get someplace.  

 Steve at Karchner Caverns campground

On this two-day drive, we stopped at Kartchner Caverns State Park just south of Benson, Arizona, and stayed at the campground overnight and went on the Big Room tour the next morning.  It was delightful, and I was so appreciative of being able to walk this tour without a cane, in contrast to the time I was there about four years ago.  It made it much easier to concentrate on what the ranger tour guide was saying.  We also stopped in Tucson to have lunch with friends, so our second day on the road, while only driving about 160 miles, was very full.  It was good practice for when we really get moving.  

We've been slightly delayed here in Why, too, due to taking care of our annual checkups and such at the community health clinic in nearby Ajo.  I need a tooth pulled and we're going to Casa Grande on Monday to see an oral surgeon because the extraction might be complicated.  And it's been hot enough here that we're really feeling ready to get going!

 To-do list on a hot day in the desert

We'd originally thought we'd head pretty much due west from Why and go to Yuma and parts of southern California on our way to the West Coast.  However, these health-related delays mean it's going to be quite hot traveling that way.  So, after my appointment on Monday, we're going to head to northern Arizona and explore and cool off for a while, and we'll probably head west on I-40.  

So, in the meantime, we've been just biding our time here.  My cat, Sonja Begonia, has started a travel journal:

I'm working on an altered book.  Here are pictures of the cover and a page that I've altered:

After some contemplation, I have removed the word "eBay" from the title of my blog.  Since qualifying for Social Security Disability last summer, I no longer sell much on eBay.  I may sell a few fun vintage finds along the road as I travel, but the focus of my life has changed to art-and-travel more than eBay-and-travel. 

I do have a book nearly completed about selling on eBay while traveling in an RV, and I will probably publish that within the next month or two.  But what I really want to do on the road in upcoming months is art abandonment.  Making art and leaving it for the right "patron" to find, accept and enjoy. 

Abandoned in the travel section at the local public library

Surprisingly, some of the members the art abandonment group to which I belong seem kind of attached to their artwork and what response it receives from the people who find it.  To me, one of the major reasons to abandon artwork is the removal of ego from the process of making and distributing art.  To abandon means to let go of all concern for or interest in the outcome, and abandonment in this sense is my intention. But, yes, I must admit, I checked to see if my first abandonment had disappeared, and it was gratifying on some level that it had.

For years I have been practicing "letting go" of many things, but, as the saying goes, sometimes the things I let go of have claw marks all over them.  I think this is gonna be good for me.  I look forward to sharing this journey with you.