Monday, February 27, 2017

Winter 2017 Part 2

Kris here:

Our last post was from Yuma, Arizona and we have so much more to share. We are visiting family and friends in the Phoenix area now, but we did not simply drive from one city in Arizona to another . . . that is not our style. We came by way of Mexico, California, and Nevada before returning to Arizona. Here are the highlights . . .

Before going very far down the road from Yuma, we had a little more geocaching business related to the big event. We revisited the small Mexican town of Los Algodones to attend a breakfast event with fellow geocachers and find 5 caches in town. (On our last visit a few years ago, we found only one.) It was so much more enjoyable in the cool of winter than when we broiled there before in summer.
with fellow cachers in Los Algodones, Mexico

Another prime objective for this trip is to revisit national parks that we have only experienced in summer so after waiting in line for 30 minutes to clear customs and walk back to our truck on the U.S. side, we set off for Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. We drove north past the Salton Sea and traveled along Box Canyon Road to the south entrance to JTNP and selected a campsite. It was too hot to camp here on our last visit so we were eager for some desert camping where we could leave the back of the truck open to the night air. We selected Fortynine Palms Oasis for our hiking destination and were not disappointed. It was a moderate three-mile hike involving a 300 foot elevation gain over the mountainside, 300 feet down into the oasis, and retracing ourselves for a few minutes before other hikers arrived. The temperature was 72 degrees and the blue sky was stunning. We timed our return to the campground late enough in the evening so that we could spend time driving across Pinto Wash well after sunset, stopping to gaze at the stars and get a faint hint of the Milky Way. Standing under the night sky in the stillness and darkness all by ourselves is part of the magic of the desert.
Joshua tree

hummingbird at our campsite

on the way to Fortynine Palms Oasis

You can see the oasis far behind us.

Almost there....
Brian at the end of the trail.  The palms can grow more than 80 feet tall.

We spent the next night at a Cleveland National Forest campground, then drove the winding scenic road down into San Juan Capistrano the next morning. We enjoyed an unhurried visit to the mission and were amused by the students on field trips who were clowning around and feeling glad that our days of chaperoning field trips are over, at least until we voluntarily go with grandkids.

Retablo in the church, Mission San Juan Capistrano

ruins of the old church destroyed by earthquake 200 years ago

We drove across the LA area knowing that a heavy rainstorm was predicted. We saw the ocean from the Pacific Coast Highway on our way to Ventura, and passed up our state park where we had reserved a site, and checked into a motel. Our boat trip to Channel Islands National Park was canceled and we endured a whole day and two nights in the motel until the rains abated. We will have to plan that excursion for another day.
view of Pacific Ocean from Malibu
(dark clouds in the other direction as a storm was approaching)

The #1 destination for this trip was Death Valley National Park, a park we have never been able to visit in the past when our traveling was limited to summer months. What a stunning, expansive, remarkable place. Because yesterday's rain dumped .6 inch of rain (the valley gets only 2 inches a year on average), some park locations were closed because of road washouts. We still had plenty to see and do and spent three nights in the campground.

on the way to Death Valley, California

on the way to DV

Our first stop in Death Valley National Park - Panamint Valley

We drove out to Badwater Basin – lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level – and walked out onto the salt flats. We visited the ruins of the Harmony Borax Works and hiked into Golden Canyon for about a mile. We drove up to Dante's View overlook (elevation 5475 feet) and looked down into Badwater Basin more than a mile below. Panamint Mountains to the west had snow on the peaks and the size and scope of Death Valley is truly awe-inspiring.

Harmony Borax Works ruins - you can see the big wagons that were pulled by 20-mule teams
Harmony Borax Works
282 feet below sea level - lowest point in North America
Salt under our feet in Badwater Basin
Golden Canyon Trail
Golden Canyon trail
This panorama picture doesn't quite capture the immensity of Death Valley - taken from Dante's View
sunrise as we left Death Valley NP

We were reluctant to leave Death Valley, but we had reservations at the El Tovar Hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon so we crossed southern Nevada without stopping in Las Vegas (again, not our 'cup of tea') and back into Arizona. Our favorite campground in Kaibab National Forest near Williams was closed for the winter, so we stayed at KOA to be close to the start of the next day's adventure.

One item on my bucket list has been to see the Grand Canyon in the winter when there is snow on the ground. We have also promised ourselves that one day we would stay in a national park lodge. We also wanted to take the historic Grand Canyon train from Williams to the canyon, so we set off on the train and stayed one night in the El Tovar Hotel. There was no precipitation in the forecast when we went to bed so I was pleasantly surprised to see snow on the ground the next morning. I was prepared for this! I put on my long underwear, a jacket over my hoodie, and gloves and we went outside in 22 degree weather to stand at the rim and watch the rising sun light up the canyon walls – magic! We made use of the park shuttle bus system for the next few hours before boarding the train to go back to Williams.

On the train from Williams, AZ to Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon Railway
(not the best selfie)
Last rays of sunlight on the canyon wall
El Tovar when we arrived . . .
. . . and the next morning with snow
The first rays of the morning sun lighting up the canyon wall
Looking down into the canyon with a dusting of snow
early morning flag raising
at Grand Canyon depot
Arizona in February is wonderful so we decided to revisit some national monuments (Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle) on our way to Phoenix. More of our adventures in the next post.

ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Well

Our "home away from home" - this picture was left out of our last post,

Seen while geocaching between Mojave, CA and Death Valley:

Kris is retrieving the geocache here.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Yuma, Az

Winter 2017 - Part 1

Welcome to our blog, friends and family!

I am going to start this post by explaining how this trip came about. We wanted to be in a national park on Feb. 11 – Brian's 62nd birthday so he could buy his lifetime Senior Pass for $10. We wanted to visit Death Valley National Park – a park we have avoided during our summer travels – and revisit familiar places in winter (Saguaro National Park, Joshua Tree NP, Phoenix to name a few). We love the desert and wanted to experience it during cooler weather, so off we went!

We took a week to get out of Texas, camping in three state parks (Buescher, Seminole Canyon, and Davis Mountains) and visiting a high school friend in Bandera (Thanks for sharing your beautiful home and deck view, Lacy!). Having traveled the I-10 route many times, we decided to follow U. S. 90 through Del Rio, Langtry, Alpine, Fort Davis, Marfa on the way to Van Horn. We enjoyed a guided tour of the pictographs in Seminole Canyon, a repeat visit to Fort Davis National Historic Site, and a Star Party at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains.

          View from Lacy's desk in Bandera, TX

            Davis Mountains Sate Park, west Texas

          Fort Davis National Historic Site

           Seminole Canyon State Park, TX

                       Seminole Canyon

                      Seminole Canyon

                         Seminole Canyon pictographs

We spent one night in New Mexico before leaving the interstate in SE Arizona for a few out-of-the-way NPS sites we have not been able to visit yet. We spent Super Bowl Sunday on a 5-mile hike at Fort Bowie National Historic Site to visit the ruins at 5,000 feet elevation - great views and a surprising number of other visitors. Just down the road was Chiricahua National Monument with a nice campground and gorgeous rock formations. The next day found us less than a mile from the Mexico border at Coronado National Memorial, within site of the existing wall.

      Ruins of Fort Bowie National Historic Site, Arizona

      View looking north from the trail to Fort Bowie

        Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

             Chiricahua National Monument

Our next stop was Tucson and one of my favorite national parks, Saguaro NP. Three previous visits have involved summer temperatures and quick photo ops along the scenic drive. This time, we were able to hike for a few hours and really get close to the majestic saguaros.

        Our selfie at Saguaro National Park

     Brian is dwarfed by a mature saguaro

     Kris with a younger saguaro (less than 75 years old because it has no branches yet)
 growing in the shelter of its palo verde 'nurse' tree where is sprouted.

      A very old saguaro (perhaps 150 years old) with branches on branches - magnificent!

Two nights at Picacho Peak State Park within site and sound of the interstate and railroad and a foray down gravel roads into Ironwood National Monument were next (along with a high concentration of geocaches in the area). It was great setting up camp with a giant saguaro standing guard.

        Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

With Brian's birthday fast approaching, we made our way south to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive took us 2 hours to complete – many more saguaros and organ pipe cacti. The Sonoran Desert is quite green in the winter and has more vegetation than other U.S. deserts. We looked forward to a full moon hike with a park ranger, but found ourselves in a crowd of about 50 people armed with flashlights so we declined to join the “herd.” Bright and early the next morning, we were at the Visitor Center when it opened and Brian purchased his lifetime Senior Pass. We look forward to half-price camping fees in federal recreation areas and national parks now. We have been told that the price is going up sometime this year...hopefully, not before I get my pass in May.

     Happy Birthday, Brian - he is holding his pass and has his thumb up.

     Ajo Mountain Drive, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

      natural arch with a tiny one above it - Organ Pipe Cactus NM

      Kris standing next to a mature Organ Pipe Cactus

      unusual crested growth in the heart of an organ pipe cactus.

We are now in Yuma, Arizona to attend a large geocaching event. Yuma has many new housing developments gobbling up the desert and numerous RV parks. We are staying in an RV park in town so here is a look at our “RV” –

Can't wait to camp at Joshua Tree National Park in California tomorrow.