Dec 30, 2014

Dec 28 - Vulture Peak hike

GENERAL INFORMATION: (from BLM website) Vulture Peak Trail, seven miles south of Wickenburg, Arizona, is a short but steep trail that takes hikers from the base of Vulture Peak (2,480 feet) to a saddle (3,420 feet) just below the summit in only two miles. From this point, experienced hikers can scramble up an extremely steep and narrow chute to the summit of Vulture Peak itself (3,660 feet). The final ascent is not maintained and should be attempted only by experienced and well-conditioned hikers. Vulture Peak Trail meanders through classic Sonoran Desert landscapes, including dense stands of saguaro, ocotillo, cholla, and other cactus varieties; crosses wide desert washes; and offers dramatic scenic vistas of rugged desert mountain ranges and valleys in all directions.

Congress, AZ
Sun rises in these parts at this time of year about 7:30am. I wanted to be rolling by 10am. A little math here reveals the habits of a slow-starting couple who have grown to really savor mornings with no serious plans or commitments. For me, I use that time to mostly read, sip coffee, and nibble. Whether it’s internet news and commentary, one of the few remaining blogs I still read, or the current book I’m reading… I love those quiet a.m. hours.

Today we decided to hike the Vulture Peak trail. And our objective was only the saddle (see description above) as we need to remind our bodies and minds what hiking is all about again. Recent sedentary habits must be reversed; muscles conditioned and strengthened; and minds re-educated about the joys of getting out and doing physical things.

Even getting to the saddle requires some effort as it’s almost 1000 feet of elevation gain between the trailhead and the objective. The steeper and more challenging climb from the saddle to the top is only 240 feet more in elevation... it looked pretty much straight up. But we decided to go easy and since we’re so close we can always do the summit on a subsequent hike.

Heading south on AZ-89 at 10:15am. The drive to the trailhead can’t be more than 15 or 20 minutes. There are two trailheads for the Vulture Peak trail… the first, suitable for almost any vehicle, is only 4 tenths of a mile off Vulture Mine Road, about 7 miles south of Wickenburg. The second is a little more than a mile further, beyond the first, and is posted as a “4 wheel drive, high clearance only” trail. Since our truck is 4 wheel drive and a quick check below revealed relatively high clearance, I wanted to try getting to the second trailhead… mostly just to do it.

After only a few hundred feet beyond the first trailhead the 4wd trail drops down into a large wash. I stopped at the top of this decline, got out and walked the way ahead to see what we were getting into.

Whether it was the rains of this past wet spell or whatever, the trail was severely washed out. And there was another feature a few feet beyond the washed out portion that would certainly high-center the truck. There was really no decision to make. This was a no-go.

click on image for larger size

I do believe a lighter and much shorter wheelbase vehicle would probably make it by judiciously seeking a best-path and slowly easing around obstacles. Our truck, which actually weighs less than 5 tons (about as much as a modest three bedroom house) and has a 152 inch wheelbase, isn’t in the same category as a Jeep or Razor-type desert-buggy. Being more in the mood for a good hike today instead of retrieving a busted truck from a desert washout anyway, we judiciously returned to the first trailhead and started our hike from there. We needed the walk anyway. Interestingly, during our time in the area I saw only one vehicle traverse that portion of trail that spooked us… and it was a Razor desert-buggy. And there was one Jeep that also declined to give it a go. We never saw even one vehicle in the second 4wd trailhead parking area during our 4 or 5 hours there.

The first two-thirds of the hike to the saddle varies from a little uphill to a lot uphill. Once beyond the second 4wd trailhead there are a dozen or more switchbacks and the trail eventually becomes more about gaining elevation than linear distance. Recommend a very good pair of hiking shoes with aggressive soles that can tackle loose rocks and schluf… and keeping your hands free as you’ll need them to assist in climbing. Dar uses a hiking (or trekking) pole and swears by it. She’s pole-ish. I’ve never gotten into the pole thing. I don’t know why… they just don’t feel right to me.

After 2 hours we found ourselves up on the saddle of the mountain and took a break to absorb and enjoy the views of both the east and west sides of the surrounding valley. Since we were climbing up the west side, those views were old-hat by the time we got to the saddle, but the views of the east side were new… at least from this elevation.

A good number of folks continue on up a much steeper “hand and foot” scramble/climb up an unimproved trail to the top of Vulture Peak. Since we’d already climbed about 1000 feet in elevation, another 240 feet was tempting… and Dar, the energizer bunny on this day, almost convinced me to go. But alas, considering our fatigue from the climb the old man held to our agreement that the saddle was the objective today. We will be back in the next few weeks to make an assault of the summit.

What a great day.

Click here for even more photos from our hike up Vulture Peak.

Not what you'd call an easy walk in the desert.

The trail gets steep and rough.

Composite image looking southeast from the saddle.

Vulture Peak in the background... and Dar.

Teddy Bear Cholla look cute and cuddly... but will reach out and grab you...
and won't let go easily.

Dec 26, 2014

Dec 26 - Experiencing Life at Sun City West

Sun City West, AZ
Can't say I've ever experienced life in a real retirement community until now. My attitude about communities of this type was probably like many other "youngin's":  why would I want to live with so many old people? And there's the fear that if you live with them... you'll rapidly become one of them. No sir, just didn't have any interest in that kind of lifestyle at all.

But a weird thing happened this past week. I'm either softening or actually becoming one of them without realizing it. I'm finding life in a "Sun City" is actually not that bad. I'm finding there are a lot more active (even athletic) folks here than I'd ever have thought. And there are so many recreational opportunities and clubs, groups of people with wide ranging interests (literally, almost anything you can imagine), that if you're so inclined you'd never be bored.

Golf may be a dying sport, in part due to the big and increasing cost of keeping golf courses green in a desert, but there are still plenty of them around to satisfy folks with that weird tendency toward self-flagellation. There are recreation centers with what must be a dozen different racket sport courts. The opportunities to get out and move... to raise your heartbeat above "lazyboy levels" are plentiful. You'll only hasten your decline when you choose not to partake.

There's even a grocery store here that falls in the category of "my kind of place". It has a full service wine and beer bar right smack dab in the middle of the store. Cool.  Offering a large selection of craft beers on tap (along with some unfortunate mundane big brands) and interesting wines, it's the perfect place for a break while your partner does the shopping... or, if shopping alone, a perfect oasis for a respite from the rigors of shopping. This was a first for me. It also gave me hope that the collapse of our civilization may not be as imminent as I thought.

We had a very good holiday here with family. Too much food, a little drink, (but offset with a good vigorous walk), watched a couple movies and actually made one of our own.  If you're into wasting about 6 minutes of your life, you can watch what came out of our attempt to make a Christmas Greetings video for the absent family in the frozen north. [click here]  I hope you all are having a good holiday.

Dec 18, 2014

Dec 18 - Rain and White Legs

Congress AZ
Not sure when this weather pattern will change, or if it’ll change at all this winter, but I’m sitting in the bushouse again today and watching what might be described as a “midwest gully washer”. And today is starting as a replay of yesterday… same thing. This is our 9th day in Arizona and we’ve had some measurable rain on 4 or 5 of those days. The desert needs rain once a year… that’s what the big annual monsoon is supposed to take care of. But the monsoon is over in September... what we're experiencing is not unprecedented, but it's not normal either. In any case, this is shaping up to be an unusually wet December.

Weather patterns often stick around for a while… or an entire season. Whatever it is we’ll deal with it. But it sure would be nice to get a little sun on these lily-white legs one of these days.

Dec 12, 2014

A Seasonal Love Affair

As a Midwest boy, born and bred, I never anticipated this later-in-life attraction for the desert. It’s axiomatic that a person tends to prefer the surroundings that were imprinted on him during childhood, just as your parents religion tends to be yours, and your preferences for food are often right out of your mother’s cookbook. Like it or not, we’re indoctrinated during childhood and neither reason nor reality have much to do with most of our attitudes, preferences, and prejudices.

But my indoctrination to Midwest lush green summers and white frozen winters has faded away in the last few years. Driven by the invention of the wheel and the innovation of putting several of them under your house, adding a motor, and being able to move from one place to another at will, a nomad with a calendar can seek out an optimal environment for living. Perfect all-the-time places only exist in fiction, so to maximize enjoyment one must move once in a while.

Not yet strong or tough enough to sample the desert in the summer, I have fallen in love with her for the winter. The day-long low angle of sunlight and the resulting vistas of popping color, shapes, and shadows; varied landscape reliefs; cool dry air (but warm by Midwest winter standards); unusual interesting plant life; burrowed and sleeping snakes (not a fan of snakes); vast expanses of public lands; and a proper shortage of other people… these are the things I’ve come to love in her.

As so often happens to lovers, the affair is intense but short-lived. Flirtations from other temptresses are noticed… then felt… and eventually lure the fickle nomad to stray. That, and the knowledge that your seasonal desert mistress is going to turn into a hot bitch, too hot to handle, as she does every year, mean it’s time to move on.

But I know, deep down, I’ll be back again. That “feeling” never seems to dissipate completely.

Dec 10, 2014

Dec 9 - Big Tree Weeds and Burgers

This is the post I intended to write last night.


Don't think I mentioned yesterday that we had to stay in "boondocking" at the Escapee Co Op Park in Pahrump. They were full-up. That was OK by us as we're experienced boondockers, it wasn't going to get below freezing, and it netted us another free night. During this four day trip from Sutherlin we stayed in a pay-to-park RV park only once.

Woke to a sunny sky and, after spending more petrodollars on dino juice, we were on the road before 10am. Topping Mountain Springs Summit southeast of Pahrump we dropped down to the Vegas Metroplex and swung onto I-15 intending to exit immediately onto I-215. But nothing doing... they've changed things around this interchange since our last trip and there is now a separate turn for I-215... which I missed. Shit! Now heading north into the area of "the strip", I took an exit with the hope of being able to do a 180 and get back to I-215. I think it was Tropicana Blvd and a 180 we did. Minimal damage except to my orienteering pride.

Steady progress to Boulder City and then across "the bridge" at Hoover Dam. Nothing of note to report as we drove to, then through, Kingman AZ, caught I-40 for 22 miles to where US-93 cuts off to the south toward Wickenburg and Phoenix. A few miles before Wickenburg we turned east on AZ-71 to Congress and then back on AZ-89 to the Escapees Park called North Ranch. This will be our homebase for the next three months.

North Ranch has an Escapees RV Park, but it also has a large community of deeded lot properties. Two good folks from Timber Valley have a couple lots here and, with a proviso, agreed to rent one of those lots to us for the winter. The proviso is that they’re trying to sell the lot we’ll be staying on, and if they do, we’ll have to vacate. Worst case, that means we’ll move over to the RV park which we had intended to stay in this winter anyway. So, for at least a while, we have a nice big lot to bounce around on… and the feeling of being in a more-or-less regular subdivision.

When we arrived at the lot we got out to inspect the RV parking pad and found an oddity: there was a 12 to 15 foot tall tree growing right out of the middle of the pad. Now that’s odd. Why would Bill and Barb put a big tree right in the middle of their RV pad? While we were pondering the situation a couple neighbors pulled up and introduced themselves as Russ and Liz. They were there to chop down that tree, which turned out to be a weed. That’s right, a 12 to 15 foot high “weed”... with a 2” thick base. But a sawzall made short order of the weed, and Russ even hauled it to the plant recycling place on property. Turns out this plant is called “tree tobacco”, is not native to the USA, and actually contains nicotine and other harmful chemicals. Some folks do indeed smoke it too. It also grows so fast it’s being evaluated as feedstock for biofuel production. Hmmm. One neighbor insisted this thing was not there just a couple weeks ago. If that's the case I hope the stump doesn't regenerate and spring up overnight. It could lift and roll the bushouse onto it's side.

Once parked and more or less settled, I treated my sweetie to dinner out. We tried the only sit-down restaurant of note in little Congress… Nichols West. For a Tuesday night it was moderately busy. We both tried one of their burgers and mine, a Bistro Burger with caramelized onions, bacon, goat cheese, and arugula was the best hamburger I’ve ever had. Or, it might have been the best hamburger I’ve had in a long time. Or, it might just have been the mix of a completed trip, a beautiful woman, a craft IPA, and just enough road fatigue to produce the perfect receptive atmosphere. In any case, I’ll be going back for a second shot at that burger… to see if it’s as good as I remember.

Dec 9, 2014

Dec 9 - Arrived in Congress

Just a quick note...  we arrived at the Escapees Park in Congress today.  We're "home" for the winter.  I'm beat... and I'll write more tomorrow.  Time for an IPA, a burger, and a long winter's nap.


Dec 8, 2014

Dec 8 - Sunny Skies and Buzz Strips

Looking back, and then ahead, at the weather situation, it appears the weather gods have smiled on us again. Last weeks news was the large rain/snow/wind event that hit almost all of California before spreading eastward. About everyone knows how much those poor souls in that forsaken state need rain, but when they get it, the hills which were laid bare by the massive fires of this past summer, start sliding away. My god... drought, fire, rain, slides... what have they done to deserve all this?

Well anyway, once that storm passed we took off from Sutherlin. And the "going" has been pretty good. But now we're hearing about the second big storm setting it's sites on the Golden State... one that's supposed to hit them Thursday or Friday. We waddled our way through between storms... almost perfectly timed. By accident, let me assure you.

Tonight we're at the Escapees Coop Park in Pahrump NV after a very agreeable drive from Hawthorne, a distance of about 280 miles.

If I reach way down to the lower reaches of my grumble bag, the only negative I can come up with from the day are Nevada's highway buzz strips -- those noise making strips down the middle and sides of the highway. Admittedly a good idea in most applications, but Nevada gets them so close that there's very little room for driftage, windage, or momentary error. From experience I can tell you that at least some motorhome driver's nerves are frayed after a couple hundred miles of periodic electric-shock-like buzzes from simply drifting a few inches too far to the right, over and over again. OK, I'm done grumbling.

Enjoyed the day immensely. Tomorrow we should be at our destination in Arizona.

Notice the "buzz strips" center and right.

Dec 7, 2014

Dec 7 - A Mellow Nevada Day

Good nights sleep last night, in the Susanville Walmart parking lot. Between truckers and RVers there were only three rigs, and everyone was well behaved. It got a tad cool (high 20s) but had enough battery left this morning to heat the place up without arousing Ginny the Genny.

On the road a little after 9am again, and this being Sunday traffic was on the light side. At Reno we got on I-80. Clearly, regulars on I-80 are NOT church-going people or there'd be a lot less of 'em on a Sunday morning.

At Fernley, a brief stop to top off the wing-tanks of the bushouse. Then US-50 to Fallon where we found US-95 aiming south-southeast. Some might say it's a boring drive but we, both of us, just love those vast expanses of space with minimal interference from homo-sapiens. Here, it's possible to top a "rise" and look down and ahead for 20 miles or more... the thin ribbon of a highway fades to a thread... and... and, once in a while, there's not a car or truck on that 20 mile stretch ahead... not one... and you think "wow... there are still places in this overcrowded world where you can have a solo experience like this". Cool.

This was planned to be a short day. About 220 miles. The highway hugs the shore of a sad dwindling Walker Lake for about 20 miles just north of Hawthorne NV. Once a bustling and popular destination lake for fishing and recreation, the level has declined over 150 feet in the last hundred years... in part due to agricultural irrigation upstream. There's no outlet for this lake. Water comes in and stays or evaporates or soaks into the land. This was somewhat manageable as long as there was an abundance of inflow. When that stops, the lake drops and it becomes a polluted saline sea. The fish are gone (too saline and loaded with dissolved solids) and so are the people who came for the fish.

We're at an RV park in Hawthorne tonight. With our early arrival we thought we'd pop for hook-ups, relax, warm up, and prepare a proper home cooked meal. We also got out for an hour or two this afternoon to explore the area. Besides the evaporating lake, the Hawthorne Army Depot (the area's largest employer) has been in decline for years too. This is a lovely area but so many economic factors seemed stacked against it. For all the negatives the town appears to have done a good job at keeping the wolf at bay. The downtown commercial area has clearly seen better days, but it remains neat and clean... not at all trashy. I hope they find a way to make it work.

Dec 6, 2014

Dec 6 - Began Trip South for Winter

While many RVers have already been at their southwest snow-bird destinations for weeks, maybe even months, we just can’t seem to get the hang of this “get there early” routine. I’m a born and dyed in the wool procrastinator… and a card carrying member of the International Institute of Not Doing Much (IINDM).  I try to always find the upside of not doing something. And in this case, not leaving in September or October like those many others, netted us some true high quality time with family and friends one side or the other of the 45th parallel.

But this morning’s predawn bright moon motivated me to kick my last few preparation tasks into high gear, and get ‘em done. Even a balky motorhome stabilizer couldn’t alter the momentum; we were on our way by 9am. This trip is planned to be a quick one… the primary goal is to get the bushouse relocated to Arizona for the winter months. For the first time, we’re taking two rigs with us: the bushouse to “live” in and the truck/camper to explore with. A side benefit, and one of the reasons we planned it this way, is it gets the bushouse out on the road in a serious way… the first long distance run in over a year. I mean, there’s diesel fuel in the tank that’s over a year old, which really should be used soon or ? could it go bad??

But despite all our abuse by lack of use, the good old bushouse ran like a trooper today. Climbing hills like one of TR’s rough riders, it felt the same as when it was new… almost 8 years ago. It’s an amazing machine and one I’ll be sorry to part with (whenever that time comes).

We took I-5 south into California, swung around the south side of Mt. Shasta on CA-89, to CA-44 near Lassen NP, to CA-36 into Susanville. Found an out-of-the-way spot at the local Walmart and settled in for a quick overnight. Tomorrow’s plan is for only 220 miles… about a hundred fewer than today.

It feels great to be back on the road.  Here are a few photos from our day.

I-5 and Mt. Shasta

Yes Folks... that's snow.

On the brakes while dropping into Susanville. 

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...