March 27, 2004

Winterhaven, CA – Algodones Dunes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 5:17 am by diandy2004

During our drive from Phoenix into California we experienced winds of 20-30 mph buffeting the RV.  Gusts like this, when hitting the side of the RV, makes for an exhausting drive.  You must keep a constant tight grip on the steering wheel to make sure you don’t get pushed out of the lane.  It’s almost a workout, because when the drive is done your arms are truly tired from the tension.

Immediately across the border into California is a small town called Winterhaven.  We stayed here with the hopes of some more sand-sledding in Algodones Dunes (Imperial Sand Dunes).  It would’ve been too dangerous though because of all the dune-buggies, atvs, dirt-bikes, etc that were racing all around.  I’ve never seen so many, or such a variety of off-road vehicles before.  We started to consider how much fun everyone was having and looked around as to where to rent an ATV, but couldn’t find a place.  You may have seen these pinkish-beige dunes before in the movies – they filmed Star Wars here.

Algodones Dunes

Algodones Dunes

Boondockers at Algodones Dunes

Boondockers at Algodones Dunes

We did get to play desert golf, however, while were here.  Just imagine:  no green grass, sand for your “greens”, and rocks or desert pavement everywhere else.  We thought we played poorly before, you should have seen our scores here!  We were joking that it was the way to ruin a perfectly bad swing.  If you missed the ball, or even just topped it, the impact with the hard surface would jar your entire body.  But it was fun, and the course was humorous with each hole being decorated in a very unique style.

Desert Golf - Fore!

Desert Golf - Fore!

Golf Course Markers

Golf Course Markers

Golf Course Markers

Golf Course Markers

I know I’ve mentioned in other posts about some of the desert plants that I’ve learned about and found interesting.  Well, here’s two:

Ocotillo in Bloom

Ocotillo in Bloom

The Green Palo Verde

The Green Palo Verde

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March 25, 2004

Arizona – Tucson and Phoenix

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:44 pm by diandy2004

We stayed in a campground in Tucson called Desert Trails RV Park.  The campground had trails on their property that connected to trails within Tucson Mountains Park, which led to Saguaro National Park (West).  We rode our bikes through the desert areas several times during our stay.  There is a variety of cacti, not just saguaros but chaintree cholla, joshua trees, ocotillos.  Some that we saw were dead, so all that is left standing is their ‘skeleton’.  Very interesting to see.  I’ve also enjoyed see the jackrabbits with their big ears.  Biking through the parks has been fun and relatively easy.  The hardest part is dipping in and out of the drywashes.  They can be steep and rocky and drop you into a sandy bottom, and usually there is a bend in the trail, but you have no steering in the sand.  You also have to be careful, because if you do fall there is a good chance of landing on one of those cacti.  And I’m speaking from experience!
Desert Biking in Saguaro

Desert Biking in Saguaro

We visited the NP, San Xavier Mission, and the Sonora Desert Museum.  The plants and the wildlife of the desert are very unique.  I’m fascinated by the ocotillos, Palo Verde trees with their green trunks, and other desert bushes and plants.  Many of the plants are in bloom right now – both the cacti and wildflowers.  Andy has also begun to call me a “bird-nerd” because I’ve been trying to identify all the new birds I’m seeing.  I love the hummingbirds.  I also love the song of the Cactus Wren because he sounds like he is laughing, a big-belly laugh.  You just want to start laughing right along with him.  We’ve also had a family of Gambel’s Quails visit our campsite several times.
San Xavier Mission

San Xavier Mission

Hummingbird at Sonoran Desert Museum

Hummingbird at Sonoran Desert Museum

Diane at Sonoran Desert Museum

Diane at Sonoran Desert Museum

In Phoenix Andy and I spent our first day apart.  I went to visit a dear friend – Cathie Jansen, and Andy went bike riding.  Andy rode his bike to Luke Air Force base and watched the F-16’s taking off, landing, practicing touch-and-go’s.  Luke is the largest F-16 training facility in the country.  We found that Phoenix averages about 10 degrees hotter than Tucson, which affected our attempts at running.
Some more of our “Firsts” and other miscellaneous comments:  we’re learning to live with mail-forwarding; trying to run at elevations; dealing with nose-bleeds from the dry desert air; and shooting pool is becoming one of our favorite pasttimes in the RV parks.

March 19, 2004

Arizona – Benson Daytrips

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 5:17 am by diandy2004

Our first stop in Arizona was Benson.  Benson is off of I-10 in the southeastern corner.  We thought we’d stop there for 2 nights to see Kartchner Caverns and keep on moving.  We stayed almost a week – what a pretty area.  The RV Park we stayed at (Cochise Terrace RV Resort) was just part of the reason we were so content.  But we also were not aware of all of the day-tripping opportunities in this area as well.

We visited the historic mining town of Bisbee.  The town is built in a tight valley and claims “1000 steps”.  We didn’t count them, but I’m sure they were close to that.

Historic Town of Bisbee, AZ

Historic Town of Bisbee, AZ

We toured the Queen Mine which takes you into the old mine and shows you equipment they used and heard stories from a miner.  Did you know that the miners would like to keep the rats around (so they fed them) because the rats could warn them of a potential collapse?  If the rats ran out of the tunnels, the miners would follow them!  On the way home we drove through the town of Tombstone (no time that day to visit).

We toured the Kartchner Caverns, which were just opened in 1999 and 2003 (another section).  This was an interesting experience.  The staff is pretty regimented during the tour…almost to the point of being uncomfortable.  Their goal is to protect the cave, but I hope they find a better way for visitors to enjoy the beauty without this negative atmosphere.  We also went hiking in the Whetstone Mountains at Kartchner.  We took the 4.2 mile Guindani Trail hiking through canyons, over 8 stream crossings, up to the summit (there was a 2100′ elevation change), and then down the arid south-facing slope.  We saw lots of birds, explored several old mines, and enjoyed the geology of the area.  I even saw my first Madrone tree, which has a beautiful red-peeling bark and pink, bell-like flowers.

Andy Enjoys Exploring Old Mines

Andy Enjoys Exploring Old Mines

We biked the San Pedro Riparian Recreation Area and visited the Fairbanks ghost town.  We wandered around via our bikes on different trails finding lots of old items:  nuts, bolts, nails, cans, spikes and other items.  We stopped at an old cemetary and an old mill (where they used to make minerals into a powder).  While scrambling around the mill we came face to face with a rattlesnake.  Ooops!  We’ll have to learn to be more careful.

Mountain Biking in the Riparian Area

Mountain Biking in the Riparian Area

Another day we went hiking at Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains.  It was a pretty area with large rocks and boulders, but without maps or adequate hiking information we did not get to see as much as we would’ve liked.  Instead of being *a* trail, the area was a lattice-work of trails.  No map = No clue.  So we had to constantly pay attention to our return path so we could reverse our hike in order to find our car.  Maybe next time we’ll be better prepared.There were more activities we could’ve done in this area, but we decided it was time to move on. Here are some of our ideas for our next visit to this area: Chiricahua National Monument (for large boulders), Amerind Foundation (a Native American Museum), Ramsey Canyon (Nature Conservancy), Patagonia/Sonoita (Also, Nature Conservancy).

March 14, 2004

Deming, NM – Rockhounding

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:34 pm by diandy2004

Deming, NM is very popular for rock-hounding.  This is a fancy term for looking at rocks.  But the geology since west Texas has been beautiful.  The color variations and formations have been fascinating.  Coming from limestone-country, I guess it doesn’t take much to impress us.  But the rocks are pink, purple, red, green, beige, yellow, etc.  And all combinations thereof.  So we went hiking at Rockhound State Park and hoped to find something of interest (not too heavy or large, though!) – perhaps a fossil or a geode.  We did find lots of pretty rocks, petrified wood which you could still identify the bark and rings, wildflowers in bloom, and we saw Ibex (a large persian goat with antlers that curve over their back).  All in all, a very good day.

Andy the Rockhound

Andy the Rockhound

Heart-shaped Cactus

Heart-shaped Cactus

During our hike around the park we tried to find as many different shaped cacti as we could find – heart, mitten, Mickey Mouse, etc. It was a twist on the treasure hunt, but was quite fun.

Bloomin' Cacti

Bloomin' Cacti

Rockhound State Park has a nice RV campground.  We’ll have to remember this for the future since most of the private ones in Deming are on the highway.

March 12, 2004

New Mexico – Snow, Caverns, and Sand Dunes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:15 am by diandy2004

Our first activity after arriving in Carlsbad, believe it or not, was not the Caverns, but to drive back into Texas to hike in the Guadalupe Mountains.  We hiked in Dog Canyon, which was more remote and generally used for backcountry hiking.  We were surprised to find snow on the ground!  We hiked the Lost Peak Trail/Tejas Trail.  It was beautiful with lots of conifers and canyon views.  The rangers were two of the friendliest Park Rangers – well, they are either naturally friendly, or maybe they were just bored and lonely since this section of the park doesn’t see a constant stream of visitors.

Diane hiking Dog Canyon

Diane hiking Dog Canyon

We also visited Carlsbad Caverns, of course.  The caverns are huge.  Which was part of the beauty and part of the drawback.  Formations were so far away you couldn’t see detail, but the size of the caverns was awe-inspiring in itself.  We chose to do the Natural Caverns Entrance and the Big Room.  Carlsbad has “backcountry” caves, but it sounded as if most only have vertical entries.  If we ever get into serious caving, it would be interesting to come back and try those.

Leaving Carlsbad, we drove through a town called Cloudcroft.  As the name suggests it was a summit pass.  The elevation at the pass was 8,650 and we had a 6% grade with turns to maneuver.  We’ll be confident RV drivers in no time with these types of challenges.  We could start seeing White Sands NM in the distance once we crested the summit.  At first you couldn’t tell what the “white area” was – clouds? beach?  White Sands was much larger than we anticipated.

We rented sledding saucers at the visitor’s center and went sand-sledding.  I think it’s the best way to experience White Sands.  We spent hours playing.  Crawling back up the slope of the dunes though was a killer.  Remember sledding as a kid (or even skiing)?  2 seconds down, 10 minutes to get back up.  Same thing.  At least we had one good day at White Sands, because then it rained for 2 days.  Yes, it rained in the desert.

Sand Sledding in White Sands

Sand Sledding in White Sands

Andy Sledding the Dunes

Andy Sledding the Dunes

White Sand and Blue Sky

White Sand and Blue Sky

The other thing we enjoyed about White Sands was stargazing.  We’d sit out at night and enjoy the immensity and brightness of them all.

Some more of our “Firsts” (not mentioned in the posts):  Dirt Devils; using public restrooms to conserve on water; having to drive around to find a spot with cellphone service; having to worry about layers of clothes for constantly changing temperatures.

March 6, 2004

Texas – Sonora, Big Bend, and Davis Mtns

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 3:54 pm by diandy2004

Caving in Sonora Caverns was fabulous – if you like crawling on your belly, through tight holes, rappelling into pitch-black pits, and just getting dirty.  We spent 5 hours on a personal tour.  Just Andy, myself and Bill the guide.  However, it just strengthened our understanding that our navigation is horrible!  We would never be able to find our way out if it was just us.  Now that we’ve been to several caves (FL, TX, NM, AZ), we still think Sonora was our favorite – it was small and intimate and very pristine.  You could get close to the formations – but no touching allowed of course!  Sections of the cave reminded me of the coral reefs when we’re diving – delicate and beautiful.

Andy Caving in Sonora

Andy Caving in Sonora

Diane Rappelling into the Pit

Diane Rappelling into the Pit

At the End of our Adventure

At the End of our Adventure

Just to note, in Sonora we had a hailstorm and snowstorm in the two nights we were there, but the caves were a wonderful, humid 72 degrees.  We camped right at the Caverns, which was very convenient.  This allowed us to do a general tour of the ‘main’ cave the day we arrived before joining Bill for our private wild cave tour – “Adventure Level III” – the following day.

From Sonora, we drove straight to Big Bend Nat’l Park in southwest Texas.  As far south as you can go without crossing into Mexico.  Most people haven’t heard of it, which is part of it’s beauty.  Plus, it’s not easy to get to.  It’s on the border of Mexico, just on our side of the Rio Grande River.  I have one word to say about Big Bend – “go”.  Visit it!  It’s beautiful – desert, mountains, canyons, and river.  What else could you want?  We hiked and biked and kayaked.  Well, if you can call it kayaking…the Rio Grande isn’t what it used to be due to agricultural usage and damming up north.  It was only several inches deep in spots, even too shallow for our ‘yaks.  Pushing off the bottom with our paddles and portaging over rocky shoals was required, but it was all worth it for the views from within Santa Elena Canyon.

Kayaking the Rio Grande

Kayaking the Rio Grande

Kayaking Santa Elena Canyon

Kayaking Santa Elena Canyon

We’re learning a lot about desert-life: animals, plants, and how much cactus can hurt 🙂 About 10 minutes after Andy complained on a hike about carrying a daypack that had extra clothes, food/water, and a first-aid kit in it while other hikers had nothing, I kicked up a broken branch from a cactus and the barbed spine(s) dug into my calf. So, note-to-self: keep carrying emergency supplies, you never know when you’ll need them.

Javelinas in the park

Javelinas in the park

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

View of Big Bend and Campground

View of Big Bend and Campground

Biking in the park was also very fun.  We almost went as fast as the cars on this unpaved road.

Biking Big Bend

Biking Big Bend

Exploring during a Bike Ride

Exploring during a Bike Ride

And you can also enjoy the hot spring right next to the Rio Grande.  Just be prepared for solicitors crossing the river to sell you their goods.

Big Bend Hot Springs

Big Bend Hot Springs

Our final stop in Texas was the Davis Mountains State Park and Fort Davis.  We also toured McDonald Observatory. Twenty-forty mph winds kept us from enjoying more of the area, so we’ll just have to re-visit this area another time.

More of our “Firsts”:  awesome animal sightings:  Javelinas, Pronghorns, Canyon Wren, and more; my first tumbleweed; having to rely on payphones to make phone calls due to lack of cell service.