Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Crazy Week Of Adventure Begins: Kermit Comes Home

   This past week has been just a little bit insane. We have encountered rain, high winds, city traffic, lonely roads, a wonderful lady who drove race cars when she was young, a tiny car named Kermit, a morning surprise, a lone roadrunner, a dog who loves four-wheeling, and ten thousand people we will never meet.

We began this week of craziness by finally finding a car on the C-List that would be perfect for a "toad" to tow behind Flipper (our motorhome, for those of you who have not yet met her). It was a
Geo Metro and it was located near Las Vegas, NV. Sadly, we were not located near Las Vegas, NV.
So, on Tuesday we set out on our way north. All went fairly smoothly at first, with clear skies and clear sailing as we left Yuma and headed up AZ 95 toward Parker, AZ where we would cross the Colorado to catch US 95 the rest of the way to LV. As we went farther north, we began to see clouds ahead. They were puffy and white at first. They didn't stay that way. The closer we got to
Nevada, the angrier looking the clouds became. There was some wind as well but nothing unmanageable, even in a tall vehicle like we were driving. Still, we figured we would beat 
the storm to our destination. Then the orange construction cones appeared and our chance of beating the rain disappeared. We just caught the edge of the real rain, so we received just enough to turn Flipper into one fully mud-spotted and slightly disreputable looking Dolphin. After wallowing through Las Vegas traffic for 40 minutes, we finally arrived at our destination...just a few minutes after the banks closed for the day! We looked at the car and met the owner, a lovely lady who had named it Kermit (because it was a teal green color, of course). We had planned to stay the night in the Thousand Trails park in Vegas until our hostess invited us to park overnight in front of her house; we took her up on her kind offer. She invited us to come in and visit after dinner, and we spent a wonderful couple of hours getting to know each other. It was much more fun than spending the evening squeezed in between other rigs with all our shades down, and being outside of Vegas proper, it was also fairly quiet at night.

   In the morning we bought the car, picked up some tag lights and safety cables and headed back towards Yuma. We left feeling that we had gained two new friends, one an elegant lady with an interesting history and the other a small green frog with a wide open future. We were trying to beat the 40-60 MPH winds predicted for the afternoon; we made it as far as Cal-Nev-Ari (pronounced Cal-Nev-Air) before the wind gusts made it far too dangerous to be driving a target as big as ours. We pulled off at the Cal-Nev-Ari Casino and they were kind enough to let us stay until the winds died down a bit.

   The town of Cal-Nev-Ari is a tiny little community of about 350 residents nestled on both sides of US 95 in the Nevada desert. It was conceived in 1965 by Slim and Nancy Kidwell as a town for pilots like themselves, with an air strip, backyard hangars and a fly-in casino. The town consists of a landing strip, casino/bar/restaurant, convenience store, small motel, mobile home park, RV park, and a post office with a zip code. It was founded on what was an abandoned military airstrip. By taking advantage of The Pittman Act, the Kidwells were able to realize their dream of establishing a town here merely by proving that they could be self-sufficient. The couple planted a field of barley and began hauling water 30 miles by truck from the Colorado River. They dug a well, the barley grew, and the BLM granted them a land patent; a town was born. One of the big draws is the fly-in casino. The day we were there all the patrons had arrived by car, but on a busy weekend as many as four or five small planes may be parked at the edge of the runway out back of the small, smoke filled casino. The entire town was for sale as recently as 2016, for the bargain price of $6,000,000; it is currently off the market.

   We stayed until just about dusk, when the wind intensity dropped a bit and we were able to make a run for it. Joe was hoping to make it all the way "home" to the Yuma area, but it was just too far after having had to wrestle the wheel all day to keep Flipper between the lines. We made the decision to stop for the night when we reached Quartzsite, AZ ("the Q"). We missed the turn in the dark and ended up heading southeast on the 72. While this incredibly bumpy road would eventually take us to I-10, I remembered that it also connected to the eastern end of Plomosa Rd. at Bouse, AZ. We had previously camped along the western end near Quartzsite and really enjoyed it. After all, how hard could it be for two exhausted people and three sleepy cats to get there on a completely unfamiliar road in total darkness at 11:00 at night? And so we boldly turned off into the darkness on a fairly decent, if somewhat narrow and winding road that soon began climbing upward. We couldn't see anything beyond the range of our headlights, but it felt as if there was a void off to our left as we continued our gentle climb. We spotted a couple of BLM boondocking area markers just as we passed them by, but we no longer have the ability to back up with Kermit on a tow bar behind us (this also adds a new element of fun to entering gas stations; just ask all the folks stuck behind us in Vegas after someone blocked us as we were pulling up to the pump!). Finally we saw one in time and grabbed the first big spot we saw on
the right side of the road. Joe went out with a flashlight and announced that he could see a saguaro cactus, but nothing beyond that. We were still fairly certain that there was a major drop off on the left side of Plomosa Rd, and we weren't at all anxious to find out whether or not we were correct!

   On Thursday morning I was awakened far too early by the sound of raindrops on the roof. Imagine my delight to discover that we were camped in the middle of a beautiful forest of majestic saguaro cacti! I like all types of cactus, but saguaros feel like home to me. I didn't grow up around them, but I have loved them since I was little; they are a symbol of the freedom of the desert to me. I grabbed my camera and went out into the spring shower to discover that we were indeed up above the distant valley floor, but there wasn't a cliff anywhere in sight. In truth, there was more camping area to the left of the road than the side we were on. It's funny how different things feel at night, especially in unfamiliar territory. We were in the foothills on the eastern side of the Plomosa Mountains, surrounded by saguaros and palo verde trees.

   We looked up the weather for the coming day and discovered that it was going to be windy again to the south of us, so we decided to just stay where we were for another night and enjoy our sonoran desert surroundings. Our new plan was to hit I-10 Friday morning and head in to Blythe, CA to smog and register our new family member and then head back east and catch AZ 95s at "The Q" for the final part of our journey back to Yuma. On the way west, we saw the eastbound lanes were closed by a big rig that had burned to the ground. Traffic was backed up for miles, and it wasn't going to improve any time soon. In Blythe, the registration process went surprisingly smoothly, but we were forced to take CA 78 south because of the accident on I-10. We don't really like 78; it is narrow, rough, and gravelly. The scenery is beautiful, but people drive way too fast for safety and there are very few pullouts or passing lanes. It was on this road that we had our windshield cracked by a flying rock thrown up by an oncoming RV when we first arrived in the Yuma area, so we may be a bit prejudiced. Be that as it may, we didn't have much choice so off we went. The highlight of this portion of the journey was finally seeing a roadrunner just a few miles from our campsite. He was, well...running across the road! I have to admit, the artists really did get the motion of the true roadrunner correct when they created their cartoon roadrunner; the color and sound, not so much!
   It was really a relief to finally arrive back at our boondocking site. It sometimes surprises me how much it feels like coming home, complete with familiar sights and sounds and really awesome neighbors to greet us and welcome us back. It may not be a stick-and-bricks, but what more could you really ask for?

   Stay tuned for part 2 of the wild and crazy week! Until then, take care My Friends!     

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Valley Of Names: The Crazy Week Of Adventure Continues

   Although the first part of last week was really crazy and hectic, the weekend was just amazing and full of adventure. Saturday was mellow and we just hung out and rested, spent a little time futzing around with Kermit and went in to Yuma for groceries. Sunday, however, was a different story. We were invited to join our friends Bob and Tina, Jim and Barbara (and their dog Abby), and Phil and Karen for an off-road trip to the Valley Of Names. This valley, located near Winterhaven, CA is an amazing place full of history and mystery. The aforementioned area is a large valley of rolling dune-like hills and washes covered in large and small rocks of mostly dark coloring. No one knows who first began the tradition of using these rocks to spell out their name across the sand colored hills, but we know it started some time before the Second World War. General Patton had a secret training camp near Bouse, AZ and apparently used the area near what is now Winterhaven as well. He referred to the
valley we visited as Graffiti Mesa back in the 1940's.
   By the 1960's the tradition had become a rite of passage for local off-roaders, and by the '70's it had been embraced by the Snowbirds and winter visitors as well. The local high school kids
discovered it in the '80's and there was no turning back. The area of valley floor covered in names and other mysterious messages swelled from the original four acres to roughly 1200 acres. It is visible from sattelites in space and you can find it on Google Earth. Tours are available by both jeep and airplane, and while I'm sure the view from above is spectacular I really don't think you can top the excitement of getting there by the off-road trails provided by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). Some trails in the region are easier and could be done by a reasonably good driver in a high clearance vehicle, while others are more challenging and require a dune buggy or four wheel drive rig. Maps are available from the BLM office in Yuma, or you can go as part of an organized group or on a paid tour. Remember, it is always a good idea to travel the back country with at least one other vehicle; not all areas have cell service and you could be stuck for a long time before someone else comes along if you miscalculate or break down! Pay attention to the trail markers so you have an idea where you are should you need to call for help, and be aware that weather conditions can temporarily or permanently close trails. Maps may not be up to date and completely accurate, as Mother Nature has a mind of her own and a somewhat wicked sense of humor!
   We enjoyed touring the Valley of Names, stopping often to read and photograph the messages and memorials dedicated to friends and loved ones. Whatever the compulsion is to leave a lasting mark here on the valley floor, it is apparently quite widespread. It is astonishing how much planning and desert sweat equity has gone into some of these mysterious glyphs. Most of the easily attainable rocks have long since been used up by the more than 10,000 works of art already in place. For any who wish to add their own message, it is necessary now to bring your own rocks (please do not raid someone else's creation to make your own; Karma will get you!). Some artists use alternate materials, like colored golf balls or painted rocks; others add special touches like a vase of plastic flowers to their memorials. Some have dates included, but many do not and the year of their creation will remain forever a mystery. The sheer number of names in this valley is somewhat overwhelming; they stretch out almost as far as the eye can see. Some of the more intrepid artists trek long distances away from the road to make their mark on history. Some have a stick planted vertically so their creator can find it again; others have solar lights to illuminate the surrounding darkness, perhaps to bring a touch of civilization to this lonely place in the desert
   With Bob and Tina's help, we were able to find the Xscapers logo built here by  the group a couple of months ago (hint: look for the nearby Led Zeppelin name). Every few years, according to one tour guide, some of the locals who appreciate the magic of this place come together to clean up the plastic bags and debris that inevitably make their way to this place. They also carefully replace any rocks that have been kicked or otherwise removed from the artwork left upon this gravelly canvas. Although it is located in a secluded place at the base of Imperial Valley's rugged Cargo Muchacho Mountains, I'm not sure anyone could ever truly feel alone here. There is just too much company amongst the sand and rocks where thousands of strangers have left a little piece of themselves behind to create a silent community in the desert.

   Having enjoyed a brief overview of the Valley Of Names, where curiosity could easily keep you wandering for hours (or possibly days), we headed out to find a different route back home through the mountains. As I mentioned
previously, maps can be deceiving; the road shown on ours as going through to our destination was in fact a dead end. It probably was as indicated previously, but mining debris and rock slides are a commom hazard amid these jagged peaks. Roads and trails commonly dwindle down to nothing and trail markers are often on the ground or missing altogether where trails meet.  While there is currently no mining activity here, the remains of a large number of mines can be seen along the rocky slopes. Some have ruins of sluices and other mysterious wooden structures; others are merely openings in the hillside. We came across one while exploring trails leading out that still had some structures standing, but after walking partway up the road snaking up to it we decided against trying it with our vehicles, as the track quickly turned into something that looked more like a rock slide than a road. Even with Jim and Barbara leading the way in their dune buggy this trail was just not going to be possible for our vehicles. The fact that it ended in a blind ridge was an additional hazard as it would require walking a long way uphill to scout it out before even attempting it. Getting a vehicle to the top of a ridge and finding a sheer drop on the other side means you have to back down a track that was a challenge to get up going forward and was definately in our plans! So, once again we turned our little three vehicle entourage around and tried another trail.

   Having spent several hours happily exploring alternate routes, we were finally forced to admit the best choice was to partially retrace our original course until it intersected with Power Line Rd, a less interesting but more reliable way out. It was really amazing how well the three very different vehicles (a vw dune buggy, a Suzuki Samurai and a trail rated Jeep Cherokee) all handled the terrain equally well in different ways. Joe and I rode in air conditioned luxury with Bob and Tina in their Jeep, while Jim and Barbara led the way in their cool Barris dune buggy and Phil and Karen followed in their Samurai, a legendary on and off-road workhorse. While the Jeep's longer wheelbase and wider profile might be an issue on some trails it handled these without a problem, and much of the time it wasn't even in 4WD! Whenever the trail looked a bit dicey, the dune buggy was our go-to vehicle because of it's light weight and versatility. The Suzuki we knew could go almost anywhere, and it did.

   It has been a very long time since the summer I spent off-roading around southeastern Utah with my Uncle Fran (who wrote and illustrated dozens of off-road guides to the Colorado Plateau country from his home base in Moab) and this was a welcome change of pace from travelling in a motorhome. While Joe and I were initially looking for a dune buggy or baja bug to tow behind Flipper, we finally chose the Geo Metro because of it's spectacular gas mileage (and because the buggies and bajas we looked at never seemed to have a title; come on people, put the title somewhere you can find it again!). While we are enjoying having the option of zipping around in "Kermie" instead of driving the motorhome everywhere we go, we will still keep our eyes open for something that can function as well off-road as on. Our dream combo would be an MCI bus with an interior
designed specifically for us towing something like a Myers Manx dune buggy. With a rooftop deck and 3000+ watts of solar... and a scooter on front and back...and a full sized bathroom...and a king bed...oh, and a gourmet kitchen...and a gourmet chef to run it... Yeah, O.K., so I'll just keep dreaming, but all my dreams from now on are going to include some kind of a vehicle that can take us on off-road adventures like this one. There is so much of this incredible country of ours that just can't be seen from paved roads, and I don't want to miss any of it. I love being able to view new horizons with a childlike sense of wonder and adventure, always eagerly anticipating
 what is just beyond the next turn, around the corner,
 or over the next ridge. Until we meet again, keep on
 searching out your own adventures, My Friends!   

   A big "Thank you" to Bob, Tina, Jim, Barbara, Phil, Karen and Abby (woof woof!) for inviting us to share this adventure with you. Good friends and good times are everything you need in life!

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A mighty conflict is taking place

    Here in the far southeastern California desert a mighty conflict is taking place as spring struggles to steal the landscape back from winter's cold grasp .Days here at this time of year can be warm and sunny or cold and windy, but at the end of day the temperature inevitably drops faster than the setting sun. Sometimes the azure blue sky hosts a selection of pillowy-soft clouds; occasionally they darken and treat us to a brief rain shower, sometimes warm but more often not. When it rained last week the wind blew so hard that only the side of the coach facing into the storm, the roof, and part of the windshield received any moisture at all. I took advantage of the raindrops we did get to wash the windows on that side of our motorhome. In this arid desert region one quickly learns not to squander the gifts nature blesses you with.

    While the shower was brief and light where we are, other nearby areas were granted a more significant amount of moisture and I am excited by the knowlege that somewhere deep within the beating heart of the desert country the beginnings of a blazingly beautiful spring bloom is taking place. I can see it in the lone red-orange ocotillo flowers hesitantly appearing here and there atop tall spiny stalks, but mostly I can feel it in the energy of the very earth and sky above and below me. There is an electricity in the air, an expectation of the magical transformation just around the corner. Spring becomes a lightning rod for all the energy of the vast universe, and it is channeled into those first brilliant red blossoms. A promise has been made and accepted; life and color will return to this harsh and dusty land. Wildflowers in every color of the rainbow will carpet the valleys and slopes, and the fierce cacti will once again don their Sunday best in a brief but spectacular display of flame-bright color. The soft spring rains will come and the water holes will fill again. For a few short weeks, color will wash the southwest like an artist's canvas; scarlet and crimson, gold and lilac...all the colors of a blazing sunset will fall to earth in one unbelievable shower of life.

    As always in the desert, there is a high price to be paid for the unparalleled beauty of this annual re-awakening, for spring is followed quickly by summer. The bright hues of spring rapidly succumb to the earth-shattering heat of summer. The desert once again adopts a mantle of dusty sage and hazy purple, and the silvery-grey horizon becomes obscured by a shimmering curtain of heat as far as the eye can see.

   Desert dwellers, both human and animal, have learned to appreciate the short respite spring provides us here. Snakes and lizards reappear after the cooler temperatures of winter have gone, as do the scorpions and less hardy insects. Birds sing cheerily while perched among the thorns of cacti of various sizes and shapes. Hummingbirds search eagerly among the brilliant blooms of trees and wildflowers, darting about in a quest for their favorite nectars. They are easily distracted by bright colors and often hover around our red Honda Helix scooter!

   The mild temperatures attract tens of thousands of RVers (some put the numbers upwards of 500,000 throughout the California and Arizona desert country) for the winter season. Like others wintering here, our primarily outdoor lifestyle meshes well with the cycle of life in this region. The mild sunny days allow for hiking, cycling, and exploring off-road trails with 4X4 vehicles (which most folks here tow or carry in a toy hauler behind them). These adventures, followed by crisp, clear nights gathered around a campfire bring people back year after year. Friendships are formed and renewed, travel plans are made, and mobile neighborhoods develop. In the late winter, we are joined by photographers and myriad artists eager to capture the brief glory of spring in the desert.

    Most of us will follow the spring north, individually and in groups, staying just ahead of the hot weather. This can be accomplished by either going further and further north, or by going up in altitude; both option allow for many choices within the southwestern portion of the U.S. Some travelers will return to an established home somewhere the snow has just melted; most will continue full-timing year 'round. Once you have enjoyed the uninhibited freedom of a nomadic lifestyle it is hard to return to a stationery existence. After all, what other lifestyle allows you to prolong the beauty and magic of spring halfway through summer?

  Come join us and experience the magic, My Friends!      -Lynn
***Stay tuned for more adventures and meanderings of the mind. We were finally able to fix the "glitch" in the system so that you can subscribe to our blog; thanks for your patience!***

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Free-spirits enjoying a full time RV lifestyle

   If you are considering joining the community of free-spirits enjoying a full time RV lifestyle but are concerned about the lack of access to a gym or exercise facility, let me put your fears to rest. Nearly every facet of living in a 280 square foot recreational vehicle (some are larger; many are smaller) could, and probably should, be considered an ongoing exercise routine. Some of those things, like hiking or cycling, are obvious but many others are more subtle.

For instance, every time I need something from the exterior basement cargo bays I am forced to adopt a system of squats and crunches that would make any fitness guru proud. While trying to avoid kneeling in  a veritable forest of tiny "ankle-biter" cacti, I carefully squat to unlock and unlatch the two handles on each hatch. Then, (being on the wrong side of 50 years old) I try to avoid having to stand back up again by attempting to lean back far enough to allow the top-hinged cargo door to open upward in front of me. This usually results in a back-flip that would struggle to score a two at any Olympic competition. After retrieving the item I am after I do a quick manuever to avoid the locking mechanisms protruding from the underside of the door while duck-walking backwards to safety, with the predictable result that I hit my head anyhow. For those of you who attended school in the 50's and 60's, this operation counts as your "duck-and-cover" practice for the week. After this fiasco, there is the routine of re-entering the RV with your hard won prize (while possibly experiencing a slight double vision issue from the bump rising on the top of your head). For those of you who have never experienced the joy of using RV stairs, be aware that they move. So does the entire rig. Seldom at the same rate. Entry with your hands full can replace both the balance beam and the vaulting horse, with perhaps a bit of the rings thrown in.

 Now, if yoga is your thing...I give you the RV shower! There has never yet been born a humanoid who fits conveniently into a motorhome or trailer shower. Some rigs have better units than others; none have one designed to be used by a carbon-based life form currently in existence on this planet. Although the shower on our Dolphin motorhome is light years ahead of the one on our previous GMC Classic coach, it is still almost impossible to open the door outward while actually standing in the small bathroom. Should you elect to expand you horizons by opening the bathroom door (which does conveniently make the bedroom and bath into a master suite, loosely speaking), you will undoubtedly allow access to one or more of the cats; cats and water do not play well together, especially in a confined space when you are ready to step into the shower! After you step into the minuscule stall is when your yoga skills really come into play. It's not a bad idea to brush up on your Tai Chi skills as well.

   The oriental art of movement combined with just a touch of ballet will likely get you through the preparation of a simple meal onboard your travelling home. If, like us, you and your travel mate both enjoy cooking and you have indoor pets, it might be a good idea to include a bit of meditation and some deep breathing exercises to keep your blood pressure under control during the dinner process. While it may look more like you are landing a jet plane or signalling to aliens, it is very possible to eat well while living in an RV full-time; many out here are gourmet chefs. In fact, most full-timers will tell you they eat healthier out here than they did in their stick-and-bricks home.

   For some real fun, on travel days there is the dreaded motorhome gas station window wash. This particular exercise consists of an absurd combination of jumping jacks interspersed with a selection of modern dance moves while holding a drum major's baton and is usually capped by something resembling a badly executed flying dismount...while wearing flip-flops and a baseball cap. While this rarely results in clean windows, it does seem to amuse the folks in the little four-wheelers and so is considered a worthwhile effort by most.

   There are myriad other opportunities to replace visits to the gym, like the push-ups employed while peering under the coach to make sure the jack are up before moving (and the sprints used to get within rear view mirror range when they aren't), or the ladder climbing you do to clean the solar panels. In our case there is also the removing and reloading of our bumper-mounted scooter, which has turned out to be a team sport (which is why we are selling it); a big "thank you" going out to Jim and Sasha for their help with this!
There is no doubt that living full-time in an RV of any kind is challenging, but those of us who it do agree that the rewards FAR outweigh the challenges. The sense of freedom offsets the frustration of pouring kitty litter in a 30MPH wind; the spectacular scenery you can change at will trumps the difficulty of a small kitchen; the ability to follow your perfect temperature ("chasing 70"); the opportunity to see other parts of this vast continent and choose the piece you eventually claim as your own...these make up for any and all of the small inconveniences involved in our nomadic lifestyle. I wouldn't trade it for all the gym memberships and dance classes in the world. I can't emphasize enough that if we can do this, you can too! Start planning and dreaming and researching now; don't wait another day. Call it your daily exercise!

                                        See you all out there soon. Peace!    -Lynn

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Friday, February 16, 2018

We held our collective breaths as clouds of fire and smoke erupted from beneath the Mighty Falcon Heavy!

   Like millions of other people all around the world, Joe and I recently huddled spellbound around the tiny screen on our I-Phone as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy was launched into space. We held our collective breaths as clouds of fire and smoke erupted from beneath her as she sat on the launch pad. Moments later we cheered in unison as her three mighty engines thrust her massive body towards the heavens, and again as Starman was seen "driving" through the outer atmosphere and out into space. I was reminded of the feeling I had so many years ago as I and my classmates gathered around a tiny tv set atop an ugly grey-green wheeled metal cart and watched an astronaut in a space suit step off a ladder onto the surface of the moon. Whether or not you believe we actually went to the moon on that day back in 1969, it doesn't change how we all felt back then; we knew we had just witnessed something incredible, and that somehow the future of the world had just changed forever.
   Later in the day, as the excitement of the Falcon launch ebbed a bit, I began to relect on what an amazing history of travel and exploration this country has, and how it has inspired the pioneers of
transportation to invent and innovate at a furious pace. Just think about it; a private citizen and his staff of brilliant individuals just launched a massive rocket, complete with re-usable parts, into space. How spectacular is that?! They just completely re-wrote the future of space travel, much like Henry Ford and his peers changed the future of land travel with the advent of affordable automobiles.
   As Joe and I and our three fur-children roam happily around the desert southwest, I can't help but think about the daring folks who first crossed this rugged and expansive part of the land that would one day become America. As we roll along (mostly) paved highways at 55 MPH, I ponder how we can comfortably cover in an hour the same distance that would have taken a wagon train four or five days of struggle in the dust and heat. While we chug bottled spring water fresh from the 'fridge, they would have limited
themselves to an occasional sip of tepid water from a wooden barrel in order to reserve most of it for their staunchly laboring oxen, without which many of them would have died under the blazing desert sun. As darkness approaches we take our pick of the numerous boondocking spots generously provided by the State or BLM on our public lands. We put down our stabilizing jacks to make the coach steady and perfectly level and rely on our roof mounted solar panels and battery banks to provide power to enjoy our evening complete with computers, television, DVD's and enough lights to illuminate an airport runway should we elect to use them all at once (which we don't, for obvious reasons). Early travelers would have fed, watered and groomed their irreplaceable animals, collected firewood if there was any available, built a fire to cook supper, collected buckets of water if they were lucky enough to not have a dry camp, pointed the wagon tongue towards the north star, re-greased the wagon axles and made any repairs needed before falling exhausted into bed (often on the hard rocky ground). A few hours later, they would rise before dawn to do it all again, and again, and again; sometimes for a year or more before finally reaching their destination. The funny part of all this is...most people think we are "roughing it" because we avoid developed campgrounds in favor of boondocking whenever we can!
   As difficult as the trip was for the pioneers who came by wagon and pushing hand carts (never see that in Hollywood movies, do you; not romantic enough!), there were others who came even before they did. It was the explorers, trappers, traders and freighters who first opened the vast western territories. After them came the miners and railroad men and the women who followed them, and of course the beloved and much romanticized American cowboy. Diverse as these groups of individuals were, all of them had one trait in common; they were all willing to leave everyone and everything behind in order to reach out and grasp the chance for a new and better life. Some of them succeeded and many did not, but they were the basis of a hardy breed that came to be known as "The Westerner".
   We see evidence of The Westerner everywhere out here; in the audacity of a stone castle built in the desolation of Death Valley; in the tiny windblasted miner's cabin still clinging to a barren desert peak; and in the remains of a wooden plank road built across seven miles of shifting sand in the Algodones Dunes in California's Imperial Valley.
   Having always been fascinated with this country's infatuation with the automobile, Joe and I made it a point to visit the historic landmark dedicated to protecting the remains of the Old Plank Road. Located just off I-8 on Gray's Well Rd, the monument preserves a section of the wooden plank road used by early auto travelers to drive from Yuma, AZ to San Diego, CA shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. The story of the plank road has all the elements of a good western; a race, a rivalry, a personal challenge, wheeling and dealing by politicians and business tycoons, an element of danger and just a bit of romance.
   The curtain rises on Act I as a growing rivalry develops between the rapidly expanding California cities of Los Angeles and San Diego. The city of San Diego had recently missed out on being chosen as a western terminus for the transcontinental railway and was determined not to miss out on becoming a major destination for the newly burgeoning automobile travel industry. Their major rival in the southern part of the state was the equally important city of Los Angeles. "Colonel" Ed Fletcher, a prominent local businessman and road builder, decided to sponsor an automobile race between Souther California and Phoenix, AZ. The Los Angeles Examiner newspaper, upon hearing of the race, issued a personal challenge to Fletcher. He accepted and a race was arranged to be held in October of 1912. It was agreed that a reporter from the Examiner would be given a 24 hour head start as he raced from L.A., while Fletcher himself would represent his city as he raced from San Diego to Phoenix. Each driver would be allowed to choose his own route. The "Colonel" chose a course which directly crossed the Imperial Dunes, where he hired a team of six horses to drag his car across the
loose sand. He won the race with a time of 19.5 hours.
   The success of this venture caught the attention of Ed Boyd, a member of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, and he and his constituents convinced the Board to make available $8600 for construction costs to build a road across the Sand Hills from San Diego to Yuma, AZ. Meanwhile, Fletcher had managed to raise enough money to purchase 13,000 planks and ship them to Holtville, CA, near where the road would be built. Their cause was further advanced when the Federal Government, in conjunction with the States of Arizona and California, approved the construction of an automobile bridge across the
Colorado River at Yuma. All this was happening as the City of San Diego was planning a grand exhibition to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal in 1915. They were expecting a huge crowd and a good system of roads would be a vital step in increasing automobile access to visitors. This was their chance to show the world that they were a forward thinking city that was looking to the future, and perhaps put one over on their nearby rival!
   The city hired L.F. (Newt) Gray to supervise the building of the new road. Being something of a visionary himself, Gray sank a well at the western edge of the Sand Hills and was fortunate enough to strike water. This was where he established a camp to be used by the road building crews and the area became known locally as Grays Well. In later years, after the completion of the road, the area would become a popular destination for picnics and automobile parties, and Gray would build a small building from which he would sell cold drinks and other road supplies. Rumor has it that during prohibition the cold drinks served became much more refreshing!
   During the construction of the road Gray supervised a mixed crew of both paid and volunteer workers. The crews laid two parallel wooden tracks attached by spikes to wooden crossbars below. These two tracks were each 25" wide. Drivers were required to accomplish the tricky task of keeping each set of front and rear tires on the proper track for the entire distance of the road; a lapse in attention could bring dire results and long delays as cars were lifted back onto the tracks. Driver stress levels notwithstanding, when the 6.5 mile stretch east of Grays Well Rd. was completed on March 4, 1915 it was an almost immediate hit with automobilists. One week later an outing of 25 cars with more than a hundred passengers completed the road and enthusiastically endorsed it with rave reviews!
   The popularity of the newly opened plank road was a mixed blessing for the roadway itself. The almost constant vibration as cars bumped along the wooden planks combined with the scraping of the mule drawn blades used to clear drifting sand off of the road soon caused irreversable damage to the wooden road. The plank road continued to deteriorate, but the original road had proved the value of a means of crossing the Sand Hills by automobile. In June of 1915 the California State Automobile Commission took over the responsibility of maintaining the road, but too much damage had already taken place to save the original two track road. In 1916 they built a new road, this time a single eight foot wide cross-tie style road with double wide turnouts every 1000 feet to allow for passing. The twelve foot long sections, each weighing about 1500 pounds, were pre-assembled at a plant built for the purpose in the nearby mining town of Ogilby (near where we camped on American Girl Mine Rd, which is off of Ogilby Rd). The sections were unloaded from the transport wagons and lowered into place by a crane. From 1916-1926 a permanent maineinance crew was stationed near Grays Well but the job of keeping the road cleared was made almost impossible by the oft-occurring sand storms in the area. Every few days the road was covered by drifting sand which the crews had to repeatedly remove while motorists waited impatiently.
   A road that was impassible much of the time was still better than no road at all, and the bumpy wooden track continued to gain popularity with local and cross-country drivers alike. Traffic jams at turnouts became a common occurrence on the narrow wooden road. Like the story of Robin Hood and Little John, face-offs along the road became the stuff of local legend. One group of multiple cars, when faced with a lone driver who refused to give way, solved the problem by lifting the other car off the track until their group was past and then placing it back on the track! Highway engineers took note and began studying the constantly shifting dunes as they searched for a long-term answer to the problems of keeping a road open across the Sand Hills. What they discovered was that sand hills over 100 feet high actually moved very slowly, while shorter hills moved much more quickly. Acting on this information, in August of 1926 crews completed a new twenty foot wide road with an asphaltic concrete surface on a built-up sand embankment.
   Despite a lingering warm-fuzzy feeling among motorists for the old wooden plank road, it was allowed to deteriorate for many years before a cry went up for preservation. The problem was, not much was left by this time. Several sections had been given away for display purposes in other parts of the country. A large piece was destroyed when the All American Canal was built, and much of the remaining wood had been burned for firewood by people camping nearby. The remaining sections are now protected by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) who, along with the Imperial Valley Pioneer Historical Society, California Off Road Vehicle Association and individual Air Force personnel worked together in the early 1970's to assemble several remaining sections from various locations into one segment to be preserved for future generations. Because of their efforts, there is a nice interpretive display along with sections of the 1916 version of the plank road located at the California Historical Landmark at the west end of Grays Well Rd. (just south of I-8) in Imperial County, CA.
   If you have ever enjoyed an automobile road trip through the Great American Desert, the Old Plank Road is really a must see. If you close your eyes real tight, hold your breath, and stand very still you can almost hear those early automobiles full of intrepid Westerners chugging and bumping their way across the shifting Sand Hills on narrow, creaking wooden planks.

   Wherever your journey takes you, Westerners and Honorary Westerners alike, grab the opportunities where you can...we only get one shot to get it right!!
                                                                                                Peace!  -Lynn

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Friday, February 9, 2018

A lack of metropolitan light !

   The past ten days have found us looking to the skies even more than usual. This is due in part to the lack of metropolitan light poisoning where we have been camping and in part to the fact that a lot has been going on up there lately, and I'm not just talking about the usual gorgeous sunsets!
Watching last Wednesday's total lunar eclipse/blue moon/red moon was a totally new experience for us. We have missed many past eclipses, meteor showers and other night-time events due to commonly occurring fog in our hometown on the Monterey Bay. Seen from our boondocking spot along American Girl Mine Rd (or "AMG") in the far southeastern corner of California the moon was sharp and clear, even with a slight glow on the horizon from the lights of Yuma some 20 miles away. The surrounding stars were bright and distinct despite some sporadic cloud cover. This amazing experience was rendered even more special by the fact that it was
shared our new friends Laura and Sasha (laura-n-sasha.com). Laura's science background and past experience as a park ranger provided us with an interesting astronomy lesson as she pointed out the various stars, planets and constellations above us, and Sasha is a great conversationalist and just fun to be around. We saw satellites and airplanes, and I think a total of six shooting stars between us, so we should have lots of good luck coming to all of us. All-in-all, it was a very special night and I feel privileged to have shared in it. Despite the early hour and having slept only a few hours I was still a little disappointed when the rising sun began to wash out the moon, still glowing a soft red-orange. As the eclipse began to wane, we all went back to bed for a few more hours of sleep. It has been awhile since I was up at that time of day, but I have promised myself to do it more often. Although I hate the thought of getting up that early, I find that when I do I really enjoy the sharp bite of the pre-dawn air and the opportunity to watch the sun's solar brush begin to paint color back into the landscape.

   We pulled out of the AGM on Thursday morning, sad to leave the people and place we had enjoyed so much, but still eager to track down our next adventure. After a long day of laundry and grocery shopping in Yuma we headed north on AZ95 towards the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, where we planned to spend a few days camped near Palm Canyon. It was already dusk when we turned off the highway onto a road that soon turned to dirt, which was not unexpected. We had been warned that the road could be pretty rough and had thought ourselves prepared, but this washboarded goat track was in a category all it's own when it came to roughness! Drawers bounced open, silverware rattled and at least one cat climbed up on the bed to take advantage of the cushioning (she had never done it before and hasn't since; they prefer to hide under the couch or on the floor beneath the bottom edge of the comforter when we travel). With our 35' class A motorhome, we were limited to about 5 MPH, and we soon realized it was going to take us about 90 minutes just to get to the dispersed camping area, after which we would still have to select a site and set up camp by just the light of the (almost) full moon. Unfortunately, we had to go about 3.5 miles in before we could turn around, as previous to that we were travelling through the bombing range of the Yuma Proving Grounds military installation. We both agreed that leaving the road to turn around where there were signs warning of unexploded ordinance was pretty high up on the list of things we didn't want to do on this or any other night, so we had to wait until we reached the entrance to the wildlife refuge. Lesson learned; always assume the road is even worse than people tell you it is!

   Having failed to reach our original destination, we immediately turned to Plan B (which we hurriedly made up on the spot, while listening to military radar interfere with our radio and who knows what else) and slowly crept back to the highway to head north to Quartzsite, AZ. The one bright spot (pun intended) on the remaining hour-long journey was witnessing an incredible orange moonrise from behind the Livingston Hills to the east of us. After what seemed an eternity we wearily pulled into a spot on Plomosa Rd. north of Quartzsite, near where we had stayed a couple of weeks earlier. We didn't position the coach for best solar or on the flattest section of ground; we were level enough to eat and sleep and that was all we cared about at that moment.

   We spent a couple of nights near The "Q" (as Quartzsite is known to rockhounds and full-time RV'ers) marvelling once again at how the stars overhead and the nearby lights of town both sparkle with their own brand of beauty. Unlike our previous stay, our campsite was visited this time by a pack of five or six yipping, snapping coyotes. Although I couldn't see them I certainly could hear them as they yapped their rowdy way past the back end of the coach, and so could the cats; they were extremely nervous for several minutes after the chaotic crowd passed out of hearing. We heard a pack very close by and heading toward us the following night as well, but they changed direction when they heard us outside putting the awning away.

   The next day our eyes were drawn upward again as the Goodyear Blimp made it's way over Quartzsite and disappeared over the Plomosa Mountains to the east. It was kind of a strange sight out here in the middle of the desert!

After a brief stay at The "Q", cell phone issues forced us westward to Blythe, CA. After solving our recharging issues there, we drove a few miles east across the Colorado River to an expansive and uncrowded boondocking area across I-10 from Ehrenberg, AZ. To access this incredible area, you exit the intesrtate at AZ exit 1 and take the East Frontage Rd past the end of the pavement for around 2.5 miles and you will see all kinds of campsites on both sides of the road. We are camped just above the Ehrenberg Wash, with a view down to Blythe that is quite lovely at night, but smoky during the day due to the burning off of fields right now. There are mountains visible both near and far for a full 360 degrees from our site. The laundromat in Ehrenberg specifically caters to boon-dockers and has dump and fill, garbage and shower facilities as well as wi-fi available. There is also a Dollar General there, as well as all types of shopping seven miles west  in Blythe. For those of you who appreciate interesting military planes and helicopters, this is your spot.We have seen Apache helicopters, numerous jets and cargo planes, and a stealth bomber flying low enough I could probably pick the pilot out of a crowd!

On our first night at Ehrenberg we were treated to another incredible moonrise, this time over the Dome Rock Mountains (I think...it might be Sawtooth Mountain; we are surrounded by overlapping ranges here and it can be hard to tell where one ends and the next begins). This time we were able to enjoy it from a stationary viewpoint and let me tell you, it was pretty spectacular! The moon reflected a golden-orange glow that extended to the hazy clouds surrounding it, making a soft black silhouette of the mountain in front of it (whichever one it is...). The next day I looked up to see... the Goodyear Blimp passing almost directly overhead on it's way back west. Two sightings in a couple of days; what a treat! It brought back memories of a long ago family vacation in Northern California where the Goodyear Blimp paralleled our journey for almost a week. We would outpace it during the day and it would catch up to us in the evening; the next day we would catch up to it in the morning and once again leave it behind, only to have it reappear later in the day when we stopped somewhere. As a child this was kind of a magical experience and to this day the sight of a blimp makes me smile and feel like a kid again.

   The days may have jets and blimps, but the nights out here have stars; oh, my goodness, do they have stars! The sky is black velvet above and blue suede below, and the stars are so bright they don't look real. They look like the ceiling in a planetarium; too perfect to actually exist. It took me two nights of star-gazing to accept that these are actually the same stars I saw from the yard in my stick-and-bricks home on the coast. It really feels like I'm seeing them for the first time, and it makes me hyper-aware of the fact that we have to find a way to keep living this lifestyle for the rest of our lives!

   Stay tuned, My Friends, as we chase the stars across the Great American Southwest!
                                                                               - Peace to All!     -Lynn

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

   Many years ago when I was only 5 or 6 years old, my parents took me to the zoo (in San Diego, I believe). I don't remember much about the visit except riding the overhead tram, and this ridiculous gila monster who was trying to walk while standing on his own foot. He would lunge forward with all his considerable might, but never realized he needed to move his other foot as well! That is kind of how I felt trying to get out of Santa Cruz and back on the road again; like I was standing on my own foot. I finally came to the realization that things were never going to be perfect; some things were not going to get done, or purchased, or stored away in the best spot in the coach. Instead, we chose to fling things in baskets and bins wherever we safely could and boogey on down the highway. We still haven't located everything in the cargo bays and cabinets, but it hasn't slowed us down at all... we are having a blast! The motorhome has been awesome, although a bit more challenging to drive than the GMC was; the cats have adapted better than we could possibly have hoped, and the weather has been great.  Amy, Milton and Rose, the three kitties, hide under the couch or in the rear bedroom while we drive and then come out as soon as we park. They occasionally pop out while we're in motion, but aren't quite brave enough to stay out while traveling yet. Still, I've been very pleased with how well they have adjusted to life on the road. That was my biggest concern with this lifestyle change, as the cats really didn't get a vote and I was worried that they might hate the whole experience. They really seem to like having different things to look at out the windows, at least when the landscape finally stops moving! The only problem so far is that they haven't yet learned the difference between the engine starting and the sound of the generator running, so everyone furry runs for cover when we start the genny!

   We are currently at a gathering of the Xscapers RV Club at American Girl Mine Rd. near Winterhaven, CA (not too far from Yuma, AZ). Today has been very windy, but warm and mostly sunny as a front trying to work it's way into a thunderstorm passes over the nearby Cargo Muchacho Mountains. We are happily camped out in an open area at the foot of the mountains, along with probably a hundred other club members. This is the second half of a two part gathering that began at Quartzsite, Arizona earlier this month. We arrived at "The Q" just before part one ended, so didn't really participate until we arrived here. We were finally able to take the scooter down off the rack and use it to go to the get acquainted gathering last night.

The one bad part of the journey (other than California gas prices!) was on the last quarter mile of the journey here when a motorhome going the other way drifted off the pavement a bit and threw a rock into our curb side windshield, leaving a giant round spiderweb crack near the top. We will have to go into Yuma next week to have it repaired. Thank goodness for insurance!

   So far we have enjoyed boondocking, (also referred to as "dry" or dispersed camping) immensely and exclusively. We have not spent a dime on campsites and this is how we will travel most of the time. We have had cloudy or hazy weather all through California, so have had to boost our solar capacity with the generator on days we don't travel a lot. We expected that at this time of year when the sun is at a low angle and the weather is unpredictable, so no surprises there. We spent our first night at the rest stop at Boron, Ca, which is surprisingly quiet around back in the overnighting area. The second night we had the Heart Of The Mojave dispersed camping area just off I-40 in the Mojave Preserve all to ourselves. There was a little road noise, but very little light so the stars were amazing! We had a hard time convincing ourselves to move on to Quartzite, but the road beckoned and we headed out the next morning as planned.

   What an amazing scene Quartzsite is at this time of year! This small town at the AZ95/I-10 interchange in Arizona has a permanent population of somewhere around 3600 hardy souls. In the winter months when the temperature is warm and pleasant during the day and refreshingly crisp at night, hordes of RVers and rock hounds descend on the town and surrounding area, swelling the population to as many as a half-million people. There are myriad RV and rock & mineral shows, primarily in January and February, and the small town takes on the atmosphere of a
bustling carnival. The "Big Tent" houses over 60,000 square feet of RV related vendors and RV's, while across the road is a rock hounder's wonderland of gems and minerals sharing space with food booths and tool merchants. A giant inflatable ice cream cone entices hot and tired visitors to forgo the indian crafts and jewelry and opt for cooling their palate instead. The RV Pit Stop is a dump and fill operation that runs with the smooth efficiency of a NASCAR pit area, with filtered well water and all the appropriate hoses in place to eliminate time consuming fumbling in RV cargo bays. It is amazing the number of rigs they run through there every hour. There are gas stations, restaurants, rock shops, second-hand shops and gift shops. There is every kind of RV service and repair available, from permanent solar shops to mobile glass repair ( I know, the crack couldn't have happened there; that would have been too easy!). This town is probably quiet most of the year, at least during the hot months, but in the winter it is a true old west boom town.

   Then there are the nights. The nights at our camping spot on Plomosa Rd. (about five miles north of town) were nothing short of spectacular. Although there are tens of thousands of rigs boondocking around  Quartzsite, you can be as social or as solitary as you wish. We came in late and elected to camp by ourselves, as we are still trying to decompress from the insanity of our departure. We had a huge open area all to ourselves with our nearest neighbors being on the far side of a small wash, and it was dark and quiet. We could see groups camped across the road and lights from those camped further back in than us, and the twinkling lights of town in the distance, but mostly we saw stars. Millions of stars! The Milky Way was right over our heads, and the star show went clear down to the horizon, despite the lights from the "Q". I can't tell you with mere words how different the stars are out here away from metropolitan areas; there are so many more of them, and they really do go all the way down to the horizon! When I think back on the six years it took us to get this adventure underway I realize that it was all worth it just for one glorious night under that vast canopy of stars, and we have an endless number of them still ahead of us!

   Be well my friends, and take a few minutes (or hours) tonight to look up at the  stars, no matter where you see them from the show is worth the time!
                                                        Happy Trails!     -Lynn

A Crazy Week Of Adventure Begins: Kermit Comes Home

   This past week has been just a little bit insane. We have encountered rain, high winds, city traffic, lonely roads, a wonderful lady who ...

Utah's Escalante