On the Road Adventures

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jan 31

Yesterday was an upkeep day for us. Three loads of laundry, vacuuming, dusting, grocery shopping, repacking the basement compartments to put things back where they belong, and a loooooonnnnnggggg, hot, soapy shower. I don’t mind going for a while with “tea-kettle” showers (important if you are dry camping and don’t want to run out of water or fill up the grey water tank.) But there comes a time when a half-hour shower with tons of hot water is just the best thing ever.

Today we drove about 60 miles north of Tucson into the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, where they are skiing up at the top while we're in shirt sleeves here below. How civilized! We were going to tour Biosphere 2. You’ll remember this from the early nineties when it was built as a completely self-contained and closed system and an 8-person team along with some chickens and goats went to live inside this structure that has its own ocean, rain forest, savannah and two deserts that cover over 3 acres of totally enclosed space.

Even then, it felt like the whole experiment was straight out of a science fiction book. The team was in there for two years before the experiment was canceled because of problems with the environmental balance and now it’s a research center for the University of Arizona.

What a fascinating place! Even though it is no longer completely sealed off from the outside world, it’s as much a living organism as the Earth (Biosphere 1) itself. It even has lungs. They don’t grow crops there any more, but the deserts, ocean and rain forest are still there. The engineering to build and keep this place running is incredibly impressive. It's a one-of-a-kind place that's well worth seeing. This is a shot of the rain forest, which was appropriately steamy and lushly overgrown.

Then we came back and had dinner at the Texas Roadhouse. I’m stuffed!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jan 29

We left Quartzsite today. Yesterday we tracked down more caches. One was positively diabolical and at one point there were 7 hunters prowling around a large, densely twisted tree searching for a rather small cache. It was great fun. Much of our time, though, was spent in camp talking with other new cachers and with old hands who had words of wisdom for us. We had such a good time with the Geo-cachers. Someone came walking through the camp yesterday, took in the ambiance and told one of our members that it felt like a tribe. That’s a good way to describe the feeling of the immediate community that sprung up in just a few days. We also learned a lot about a fun new hobby.

Now we’re in Tucson at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, looking at the rows and rows of airplanes across the fence in the bone yard. We’ll switch from desert to urban life, from rocks and cactus and lots of wide open spaces to art galleries and museums. Oh, yes, we also have to go to the Saguaro National Park and get our senior park pass. There has to be some good advantage to turning 62!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jan 28

We spent yesterday in vigorous pursuit of the elusive geocaches around Quartzsite. It was a beautiful day for it, except that I realized when I looked in the mirror in the evening that I need to be more aggressive about using sunscreen here. Once in the morning just doesn’t do it.

Some of these caches are very clever. There was one named Between a Rock and a Hard Place that turned out to be a tube with a tether that was superglued to the bottom of a rock and the tube was in a hole in the ground. If you didn’t turn over the right rock in that patch of ground just covered with rocks, you wouldn’t find it. Another one named Float had a clue that you needed to bring what everyone needs most in the desert. It was a plastic tube on a power pole and you had to fill the tube with water, while holding a finger over the drain hole in the bottom to bring the cache to the top of the tube so you could grab it. We laughed about that one. Pretty clever, these cache hiders.

One of the caches was right next to a mobile home in one of the parks in town. It was very easy to find, and as we were retrieving it the man in the mobile home came out to talk to us and take our picture. He had been coming down here for the winter for the past three years and said he found it very lonely until someone told him about geocaching and he hid one next to his house. Now he meets new people every day and it’s as much fun for him to watch people find his cache as it is for the hunters. Like I say, clever people.

My favorite of the day was entitled “Crossed when Flooded.” There are arroyos here that fill up with water almost instantly when it rains, especially when it rains like it did last week. The streets don’t have bridges across the arroyos because they’re filled with water maybe three times a year, but they all do have signs saying “Do Not Enter When Flooded.” I know. Seems like a statement of the obvious, but when you’re dealing with the public…… So some fool was out off-roading not too far out of town and obviously thought to himself, “That water doesn’t look too high.” Yeah. It was. But it makes a great place for a magnetic cache!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Jan 26

We moved yesterday. There’s a Geo-caching group holding a rally a few miles down the road from the Boomer group, so we signed up and came to learn more about this geo-caching stuff. If you aren't familiar with geo-caching, people hide caches in the form of bottles, boxes, ammo cans, cookie tins, or other small, hopefully waterproof containers. They contain a log book and sometimes little trinkets or caching coins. Then you go to the geo-caching website and get the coordinates, put them in your GPS and set out on a treasure hunt. Gerry got geo-caching GPS for Christmas and we found one cache near the kids' house.

Two days ago we found a cache that had been placed about a mile from the Boomer rally camp, so that made our second official cache find. Then yesterday we tracked down two more near the new gathering. So we are officially up to 4 caches! Woohoo! There’s one couple here with 5200 some, so we have a way to go.

Today was a fun rally. There are five caches. You get a set of coordinates for the first one. Go there and find the cache, look at the piece of paper inside the bottle that is the cache for your next location, and take a colored marble. Put the piece of paper back in the bottle and go to the next set of coordinates. Is this hard? Went great until we got to the third cache, which was right where it was supposed to be, contained the right color marbles, but had no piece of paper for the next set of coordinates. What part of “put the paper back in the bottle” did someone not understand? It generated a little hoopla, but we eventually found all five of our marbles (it’s a terrible thing to not be able to find all your marbles) and reported back in. Since the first group out had a team that found all five caches in 27 minutes, there was no danger of us getting first place even if all the clues had been left in place.

So far, the benefits of geo-caching include a vigorous walk that doesn’t feel like ‘going for a walk’ and a good excuse to wander around in the desert, looking closely at the rocks and bushes. Gypsy really likes it. Now if we can just teach her to sniff out the caches we’ll be set.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jan 24

The rains have gone and we’ve had lovely, cloudless days for the past day and a half. Everyone is busy, trying to make up all the events that were called on account of rain. Besides, it’s really nice to be outside after being cooped up for that rainy day. Yesterday there were all sorts of small gatherings, culminating in a combination chili cook-off and pot luck dinner. I entered but didn’t win. Since the winning prize was a box of malt balls or a picture of the local bookstore owner who is a clothing-optional kind of guy, I didn’t grieve. All my chili did get eaten, though, which is a win of a kind.

We had some visitors in the camp yesterday. They had a ride planned in Wickenberg but got rained and flooded out, so they came here. It was fun to see them riding through the camp. Another visitor was a little hummingbird who was attracted by the red handles of our emergency window, but he didn’t hang around long enough for picture.

And those little stick bushes? They’ve not only popped out leaves, they’ve put a few blossoms out. Brave little flowers.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Jan 22

Rain! Holy moly did it rain! Night before last it rained all night long, a steady rain with no wind. Nice rain. Then yesterday morning the wind came with rain right behind it that had more the feel of a fire hose than a rain shower. The events downtown were all closed down by 11 and we were reconciled to a day in Cleo. I put together a big pot of chili and made some cornbread with green chilis to have for dinner.

And it rained.

And it blew.

And then it rained and blew harder. Then we got the NOAA weather warning of a tornado watch about 50 miles up the road.

And then the rain and the wind got even fiercer. At one point poor Cleo was rocking and rolling so much from the wind gusts that I took the pot of chili off the stove and put it in the sink. The wind was forcing water in through the weep holes at the base of the windows on the windward side, so we had great bubbles of water burbling in. I quickly slid open the window and screen on the down wind side and got a picture of the rain blowing horizontally across the desert.

This morning we had broken clouds and the air was washed so clean that the far hills didn’t look like they were hazed with an overlay of blue, but all the colors stood out bright and clear. Someone who had a surviving weather station announced that wind gusts at his rig had topped at 65 and we had 3.1” of rain just yesterday, which added to the 2” the two days before is more than half the annual rainfall for this area. I’d be willing to bet we’ll see flowers popping out soon.

We went to the RV show this morning, and found many of the vendor tents had not survived the storm, but as I was walking along I passed a tall saguaro with a big hold in the side, and snugly nested in there was a little Inca dove. Her house survived the storm just fine.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jan 21

It’s rained here the last two nights. We were saying it was like Camelot – the rain must never fall ‘til after sundown – but after a pretty nice start this morning, the rains have returned with gusty, blustery winds, so we’re just hunkering down, getting out the games and planning an inside day.

The desert smells different after a rain and I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s not that nice, fresh-washed smell you get in greener places. It’s more astringent, like, Gerry says, wet rail ties. I can’t say I’ve ever smelled wet rail ties before so I’ll have to take his word for it. Considering that a lot of the vegetation here is creosote bush, that does make a certain amount of sense.

When we first got here, some of the bushes looked like a jumble of dried sticks. Now, with the rain to give them encouragement, they’ve started putting out tiny, tentative leaves.

I saw a yellow-rumped warbler yesterday hopping around in the bushes yesterday but he flitted away before I could get the telephoto lens on the camera. We saw them a frequently last summer in Alaska, so I guess they’re wintering over in Arizona, too. I just saw another little bird in mid-air, but he was moving a lot faster than his little wings should be able to take him. Hope he made a safe landing.

Here's a well-gnawed saguaro cactus that I talked about yesterday.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quartzsite - Jan 20

I am going to tell you something that some people might find really weird. I suffer from a well seated illusion that the world talks to me. The pasture might radiate contentment or a longing for water; the ocean thrums with a massive satisfaction in its greatness; a mountain might say to me, “I’m magnificent – don’t you agree?” And I agree and we have a lovely conversation. Some places are exuberant, with figurative arms outflung, bursting with life and joy and wholeness that makes my heart sing in chorus with them.

The desert isn’t like that. The desert doesn’t “fling.” It’s quiet and contained and silent, almost miserly in its conversation. Each plant has its own space around it and it is death to the interloper who tries to share that plant’s bit of space. The mountains are bare, broken bones that wear no softening cover of vegetation. When I say, “You are magnificent” there is no response. The desert does not care to be in conversation with me. It’s too busy hoarding itself, thinking deep desert thoughts that have no concern for a brief transient human.

Don’t mistake me. I admire the desert greatly. I love its palette of colors: greys and creams, siennas and umbers, with the only contrasting color the dusty, muted yellow-greens of the plants. I love the sky that is so vast that you can see day after tomorrow on the horizon. I adore the night sky where the Milky Way is an almost solid white band across the sky and Mars stands out like a red beacon in the north-east. I like the silences and the sparseness and I am awed at how persistent life is in the face of the harshness. A mesquite bush may not be hospitable but, by God, it’s there, stubbornly growing in the face of all opposition. A saguaro might be half eaten by, what? Whatever eats saguaros. But the other half is still going strong.

So I say to the desert, “You are magnificent.” Even if the desert just sits there in silence. And perhaps I hear the faintest whisper coming back.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jan 17 - Quartzsite Day 1

This is going to be a different kind of journey. We are sitting out in the desert near the little town of Quartzsite, Arizona, which is just off the intersection of Arizona 95 and I-10, south of Lake Havasu and Parker. We’ll be here two weeks, so we’ve gotten out the “patio,” the woven 8x10 mat that we’ve staked down into the desert shingle, the lawn chairs and table, and put out the awnings.

We’re dry camping here with more than a hundred other RVs in the Escapees Boomers group we belong to, and this is only one of many large groups of RVs that have congregated here. A friend of mine tells of coming over the hill on I-10 one January shortly after the movie “Independence Day” came out and, upon seeing thousands of RVs scattered across the desert, frantically tuning around the radio to find out what kind of unimaginable disaster had happened that had driven all those RVs out into the safety of the desert.

No disasters, just a party that started out small and grew like crazy. I liken it to Burning Man, only we don’t have attendance fees, the desert here is not as sandy, it’s a much better time of year to be here and there’s not enough organization to even create a Man to Burn. And we have our Comfort Air bed and espresso maker.

There is a schedule for this group. We all get together for happy hour at 4 pm. If we want to. If not, no big deal. We’ve met some old friends, already made some new ones, and Gypsy was delighted to greet Cheksi and Bisshi, her two German Shepherd walking buddies from last year.

The keyword for this journey is Relax. It’s going to be wonderful.