The Local Mountains: July 24-29, 2022

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Seventy minutes away and nice trails from the campground. What’s not to like?

The last hurrah, five nights in our local mountains. Amelia goes back to school on August 3rd. Crazy, huh? Only us old folks remember school not starting until after Labor Day. It’s still the same amount of school days, more or less, just more holiday time during the school year. Therefore the summers are shorter. As a kid, I really used to look forward to the long summer break. I guess today’s kids don’t know any different.

It’s easy to spot someone who enjoys their job and is excellent at it, because it’s so rare. Beth, the site manager at Laguna, El Prado, and Burnt Rancheria campgrounds is one such person. The site manager basically is in charge of the camp hosts and runs the campgrounds. She’s a real character with a heavy Boston accent that seems so out of place in the San Diego mountains. Her companion, Bailey, a poodle/healer mix is always by her side. And the stories she can tell!

No mechanical issues for the truck or bikes. And no injuries, just a little blood on this old man’s skin. Nowadays, I just brush by a plant and it seems to happen.

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The Laguna Campground Meadow Loop site 4. The square wooden posts lining the road were quite intimidating.

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Gorgeous day

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Grazing cattle

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El Prado Cabin built in 1911 was the first permanent ranger station in the Laguna Mountains.

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Storm Canyon Overlook: Whale Peak on the right and we could see were we boondocked outside of Agua Caliente.

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Neighbors…sometimes they are great, sometimes they are multiple families like this. The yellow rectangle is the generator and the oval is the screen so the kids could play video games. What the hell?!? Thankfully they were only there two nights.

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After the multiple families left, we got a great neighbor. This one dude and his Fretree Inflatable Lounger Air Sofa Hammock. In case you didn’t know, these loungers are all the rage.

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Old man sitting under the awning watching the rain fall and listening to the rolling thunder that went on and on for an hour. What an absolute delight.

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One afternoon we took a short 1.4 mile hike to Foster Point.

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This was the draw to Foster Point. A direction finder showing 17 peaks.

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We dig stuff like this.

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Turkey crossing on Old Country Road

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A slow afternoon

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On our last ride we did the epic Noble Canyon trail. Over 20 miles and 2800 feet of climbing! This is the sweet middle downhill section.

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What a snob! 😉

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Mountain Mahogany

Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park: July 13, 2022

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Morning at Scorpion Anchorage

Here’s a real duh, Channel Islands is the least visited National Park in California. I’d venture to say most people don’t even know it’s a National Park. There are eight islands in the chain, five are part of the National Park. In 1980, it went from National Monument status to National Park. Santa Cruz is the largest island. It is 24 miles long and 2 to 6 miles wide. The highest point is Devil’s Peak at 2439 feet.

I had two things that I really wanted to see, the Island Fox and an Island Scrub Jay. We saw both. The Island Scrub Jay was number 318 on my life bird list. And as a bonus we saw a Bald Eagle. What surprised us was the amount of plants endemic to the island. It was beautiful, and must really be something in the spring.

As we were boarding the ferry with sixty other folks we were kind of bummed about the amount of people. It’s not what we envisioned, but much to our delight, once we docked and separated into the two groups, kayakers/snorkelers and hikers, there were only seven hikers! We walked around for five hours, all by ourselves, taking it all in. It was amazing. Another nice thing, hardly any trash at all, as close to pristine as one can probably get in this world.

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The day adventure begins, departing Ventura Harbor. The ferry ride was just a little over an hour.

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Channel Islands Marine Wildlife Institute rescued this harbor seal three months ago. He was on the boat ride with us. We don’t know the specifics except that he was injured and malnourished. He’s now healthy and ready to be released.

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A pod of Common Dolphins followed the boat for awhile

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Greene’s Dudleya, this was so exciting for us! We love dudleyas and have different species planted in our yard and in pots. This is considered a rare plant and is endemic to the Channel Islands.

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Cliff Desert Dandelion

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Island Bristleweed, a rare species of shrub endemic to the Channel Islands. It was quite striking and beautiful. 

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Island Fox, it only lives on six of the eight Channel Islands. It’s about the size of a house cat. We were lucky enough to see four of them.

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Amelia looking up at Montañon Ridge

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Santa Cruz Island Buckwheat, another shrub endemic to the Channel Islands

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Looking east on the Scorpion Canyon Loop trail as the fog was clearing and Anacapa Island coming into view

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Looking west on the Scorpion Canyon Loop trail

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Silver Lupine

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California Fushsia

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A half a mile from the pier is a campground with 31 sites in a grove with the largest Eucalyptus trees we’ve ever seen. The trees were planted in the 1880s for shade, fuel, pier pilings, and other building projects. There’s also two huge piles of cut down trees. That’s were this pic is from. The squiggly lines are made by Eucalyptus Longhorned Borers that usually attack stressed or damaged trees.

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Fog lichens (Niebla homalea), trippy stuff, it looks like it belongs under the sea

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Here’s another look at the fog lichens. They form small fist sized tufts typically on coastal rocks. Their shrubby growth form intercepts wind-blown fog, enabling these lichens to become hydrated and begin photosynthesizing without rain.

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Scorpion Anchorage in the afternoon, you can see all the kayakers & snorkelers on the beach and in the water. The ship is the ferry we came over on and the pointy island in the distance is Anacapa.

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Northern view on the Cavern Point Loop

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Cavern Point looking west

There’s so many places to see, and the clock is ticking, but if the opportunity arose, we’d visit the Channel Islands National Park again, a different island, and in the springtime.

Ventura/Ojai: July 9-17, 2022

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Uh-oh, no bueno. And no, that’s not me under the truck.

The best laid plans of mice and men…we were so fired up to leave for vacation, especially after our first summer trip was scrapped because I got The Covid. The night before, we were hitched up and completely loaded except for the bikes. We went to move the truck, but it wouldn’t start. My brother was the mechanic, not me.  But I knew enough to know we had a dead starter and a real predicament on our hands. The Airstream was hitched up on a downhill slope and the truck was unable to move.

So that night I contacted Eric Mobile Mechanic. He showed up Saturday morning with a new starter. He had a hell of a wrestling match with the Tundra, and I was having doubts. Three plus hours later, he won the battle, and we were good to go for a 1:00 pm departure, which is not the ideal time to drive through Hell A (translation: Los Angeles).

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Eric Mobile Mechanic: a God fearing, Marlboro smoking, Monster Energy drinking, determined guy.

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Foster Residence Campground Site 10 was a little tricky to back into, but a nice site.

We were living the high life; eight days of full hook ups at the cheap, cheap rate of $38 a night. Foster Residence is a Ventura County Campground. It’s located in the sweet spot between Ventura and Ojai.  In Ventura, most days the fog never lifted and it was chilly. In Ojai, it was hot. Foster Residence had absolutely delightful weather. It’s a small campground with only 16 sites, 10 of them full hook ups. There’s a bridge about a quarter of a mile away that clanks every time a vehicle crosses it. That’s about the only downside.

You can pretty much find dirt trails to mountain bike everywhere. However, not everywhere is a mountain biking destination. Ventura/Ojai area is not a mountain biking destination. We did four rides; Romero Canyon in the Santa Barbara front country, Ventura River Preserve in Ojai, Sulphur Mountain, not too far from our campground, and Harmon Canyon in Ventura. Harmon was fantastic! We highly recommend it.

So, you’re probably wondering, if it’s not a mountain biking destination what were we doing there? It was the opportunity to spend some time with Denise and Rob and visit Channel Islands National Park…that’ll be the next post!

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Talking about milking something. The dude lived there from 1961-67.  The height of his drug abuse era. It wasn’t a great time in Johnny’s life.

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Amelia approaching the main intersection of Romero Canyon.

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Near the top of Camino Cielo: the land mass above Amelia’s head sticking out of the fog bank is Santa Cruz Island.

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This made me happy 😃. Originally it read E.J. Harrison & Sons. Some black duct tape fixed it.

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We weren’t taking any chances! Anytime we were gone, we locked the bikes inside the Airstream.

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A clear and breezy late afternoon at Emma Wood State Beach.

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Mother Nature’s artwork

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Denise and Rob’s beautiful non-hook up site

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Amelia and Denise, her other mother, on the Ventura Pier. They share quite a history and are very close.

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They radiate joy and love when they are together.

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We visited three breweries. Ojai Valley Brewery was my favorite. The Sugar Bush Pale Ale was excellent.

All in all it was a pretty good trip, especially when you add in the Channel Islands visit. We were feeling particularly blessed just breezing through Hell A with no traffic. What a rarity! We were just south of Corona, about an hour from home and Amelia needed to pee. Me, I can always urinate, so we exited off the freeway, then back up the on ramp, and stopped on the wide shoulder.  We both did our business, jumped in the truck…nothing. It would not start! F@#k!!! Unbelievable. An hour from home, stuck on the side of the road in 105 degree heat. A couple of good samaritans stopped as we were waving jumper cables, but the battery wasn’t the problem. So we called our insurance, two and a half hours later the tow truck showed up. The heat was really beating down on us during the wait. Towing a truck and an Airstream 66 miles isn’t cheap!

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Not good and not fun.

The next day, Eric Mobile Mechanic came out. This time he solved the problem in five minutes. It was a blown starter relay fuse. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. But like I said, my brother was the mechanic, not me.

Hurricane, Utah: Spring Break 2022

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Amelia & Monica on Wire Mesa

I won’t bore you with the traffic hell we experienced coming and going, but ugh…the Pink Jeep Tours are now at the Valley of Fire. And wow! We could not believe all the new housing developments in Vegas, St. George, and Hurricane since we’ve driven through the area three years ago.

On our third day of riding we were at Gooseberry Mesa. I was going up some steep rock, my chain slipped off the rear cog, and I ended upside down like a Desert Tortoise, with my bike on top of me. I could hear the girls close to me so I waited for them to get me upright. Their voices were not getting any closer. I figured they were probably sessioning something, so I started yelling, “I need a little help!” That got them to me quickly. They were quite worried to see my predicament. Once they got the bike off of me I was fine, just a bloody finger.

Through Strava, we saw that Monica, an old friend, we haven’t ridden with in years was in St. George with her family.  Amy and her texted each other. They were on their way to Hurricane. So the girls set up a ride for Thursday morning at Wire Mesa. We were both ecstatic.

Thursday morning, five minutes before we were leaving to go meet them, I blew out my back putting on my biking shorts. Unbelievable! I haven’t experienced that extreme pain in over a decade. A nerve gets pinched in your spine, then your muscles contract and start to spasm. It is so bad you can’t even stand. The worst part is having your wife roll you on your side and hold a Tupperware container while you urinate. Good times! It’s crazy how crooked you become.

I’ve actually been battling this L4-5 herniated disc since my thirties. Stretching, regular Chiropractor visits, and keeping my core strong has kept it all in check for years. Truth be told, I probably have slacked off on the core strengthening. And now I’m paying the price.

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Tradition says on your first evening in town, you ride Church Rocks.

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We spent the first 4 nights at Quail Creek State Park site #14. We were reminded again why this town is called Hurricane. We experienced sustained winds of 35 mph and gusts over 40 mph. So windy we couldn’t open any windows for fear they would blow off their hinges. For air circulation we kept the front door open with the screen door closed all through the night. If you were a paranoid person you would be concerned about an axe murderer walking in and killing you. We aren’t paranoid, but we did end up with a layer of sand on everything.

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Marlene and Amelia on Little Creek Mesa rock.

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Marlene getting crazy.

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Little Creek Mesa Public Swimming Pool

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Don’t fall!

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Amelia on Gooseberry Mesa. The terrain is quite different from Little Creek Mesa. Definitely more difficult and technical.

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I can spot a teacher a mile away. These three with Amelia are from Chico. We ran into them on The Point at Gooseberry. Marlene and I were cracking up listening to the four of them going on and on about the profession.

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Being on The Point never gets old.

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Amelia showing Marlene the line. These girls are always riding stuff I don’t even attempt.

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Not too long after my upside down Desert Tortoise trick I smashed my rim. Instantaneous flat tire when all the sealant spewed out.

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I’m getting ready to take the wheel off to put in a tube. I think the girls might’ve been getting a kick out of all my issues. Amelia is giving a sarcastic thumbs up behind my back while they are quietly giggling.

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Our last ride with Marlene, the Rock n Roll Trail from our campground. Fun and completely different than all the rock we’d been riding.

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Goodbyes. Marlene left for home right after the ride. It sure was awesome having her join us for three rides.

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On our off day from biking we did an enjoyable hike on the outskirts of St. George. I have no idea why the trail is called Hellhole. It certainly wasn’t.

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Desert Alyssum

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Woolly Daisy

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The canyon walls towered above us.

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This is where we turned around. We would’ve kept going but it was the day we were checking out of the campground. It ended up being a nice little 4 mile hike.

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Scarlet Bugler

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California Evening Primrose

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Three nights at WillowWind RV park. There are three new RV parks in town that are definitely cutting into the WillowWind business. On Friday night we had three empty spaces next to us.

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Friday on Wire Mesa, Amelia going down rock, Monica watching, and her daughter following. I was at the Airstream trying to get my crooked body straight.

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A beautiful moon set as we left Hurricane at the crack of dawn for a long drive home.

Whale Peak: February 17-21, 2022

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Whale Peak, Vallecito Mountains, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

 

We had a delightful 3 nights at Agua Caliente County Park over Presidents’ Day weekend. It seems like we are out there all the time, but it’s actually been 3 years since we’ve glamped there. The highlight was summiting Whale Peak on Friday.

Agua Caliente is sort of R’s (Amelia’s dad) second San Diego County home. The guy is out there multiple times during the season and he always stays in the same site for easy access to the pools. There are two things he talks about incessantly. How you can see a green flash at sunrise from the tarmac on the little airport about a half-mile from the campground and Whale Peak.

It’s Whale Peak this and Whale Peak that. The campground has an awesome view of the peak. You can’t help but stare at it while lounging around your campsite. And every time we are out there with him driving to a hike, he’s pointing with his left middle finger, “There’s Whale Peak.”  The road turns and the peak is out of view, then it turns again and there’s R’s left middle finger, “Whale Peak!” It’s pretty funny, most of the time. It’s probably funnier to me since he’s not my dad.

Fifteen years ago, R and another guy, attempted to summit Whale Peak.  Sadly they had to abort early into the hike due to being unclear about the trail, if there even was one back then. We were so geeked to summit it, knowing how much it would mean to R.

 

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Our ten year old 25ft Airstream International Serenity on the left and a new 27ft Airstream Globetrotter. We made the mistake of asking for a tour of the inside. Damn, it’s nice. The improvements and upgrades are amazing.

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We absolutely loved this dead cactus art piece.

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Rock Daisy

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Amelia did a great job dodging the Jumping Cholla, me, not so much.  On our last day I got a piece in my ankle.

 

And now the Whale Peak hike pictures. We summited via the northern route. It was almost an hour drive to the start, the last six miles on the dirt 4×4 Pinyon Mountain Road. There is nothing marking the trailhead and no signs anywhere on the trail. The path though, for the most part is visible, especially with rock cairns to help you navigate through the large boulder fields that require some hand and foot climbing.  We made a wrong turn at the beginning, after about a quarter mile it became obvious we needed to turn around. Then on the initial descent we got a little off course through the boulders. It’s interesting how going down something is so different from going up. All told it was a six miles, 1,690 feet and two hours each direction.

 

 

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The start: once we got out of the car it was windy and chilly. It was readily apparent we were not properly dressed and there were quiet thoughts about aborting. But we pushed on, the wind died, and it became perfect hiking weather.

 

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Half-way up, Borrego Springs in the background.

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There were still some little snow patches in the shady areas.

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A helpful traditional three rock cairn, but most were only two rocks high.  The wind blows the top rock off.  Occasionally there would be only one rock, which left us wondering and looking further ahead. 

 

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At the summit: that’s Agua Caliente in the center.

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In the distance, Cuyamaca Peak, Middle Peak, and North Peak.

Panoramic video

 

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Placed in 1939

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Lucky us! We got buzzed. What a thrill having a fighter jet scream by right above you.

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Descending the boulders: this is where we got a little off track.

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Looking back at the boulder field.

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The plant variety was amazing.

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We were as giddy as can be, being back at the campground and staring up at Whale Peak!

 

Sunday morning arrived and it was time for us to leave, but we were having too much fun and Amelia had Monday off, so why leave? We checked with a ranger about staying one more night, but our site was booked.  So we headed over to an undisclosed boondock spot. While we were relaxing in the Airstream a couple pulled up, it was obvious they were clueless. He was wandering around looking for a trailhead. Being the nice folk we are, I asked him what he was looking for and he answered Rainbow Canyon. We told him he wasn’t even close. It was a few miles west down the road. The guy was still absolutely clueless and not exactly grateful when Amelia was explaining in detail how to get to Rainbow Canyon and what kind of hike it was. I told the nimrod to hold on a second and I would get the mile marker. I grabbed one of our books, looked it up and told the guy it was mile marker 27.5. He looked at the two of us and said, “What’s a mile marker?”

 

 

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One last treat before we drove home, a glorious sunrise at our undisclosed boondock spot.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood, Arizona: December 18-23, 2021

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Season’s greetings! 

The Adventure Begins

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Unidentified Flying Object?

So, we’re on the US 95 driving through the Yuma Proving Ground on our way to Quartzsite for an overnight stay. We spot this object far away and really high in the sky. It seems to be stationary. If we were anywhere else I would think it was a UFO, but extraterrestrials are too smart to be hovering above this massive US Army installation. Miles later it was directly above us. I’m hanging out the window, being careful not to drop my iPhone, and trying to take pictures of it as Amelia is driving. She says, “Did you see that? It was a sign about the thing in the air.” I was all wrapped up trying to document the sighting and completely missed it. Once you blow by something towing the Airstream, then that’s it, there’s no flipping a U-turn.

But rest assured, the good ol’ internets solved the mystery.

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Tethered Aerostat Radar System

There’s only eleven Tethered Aerostat Radar Systems. They are 208 feet long helium filled blimps and hover anywhere between 10,000-15,000 feet in the sky. US Customs and Border Patrol use them to spot low-flying aircraft that drug smugglers use to bring their drugs into the United States. It can detect activity in distances up to 230 miles. Crazy huh?

The First Stop: Quartzsite, AZ

No judgement here, but Quartzsite is something else. During the winter it’s full of snowbirds, folks living on the edges of society, people just existing, and even nudists. I think it would probably be safe to say a multi-day stay here wouldn’t be our cup of tea, but it’s totally fine for a free one night boondock spot!

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Our one night spot in Quartzsite. The crowds are in the Long Term Visitor Areas (LTVA).

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Quartzsite boondocking

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We caught the full moon rising while in Quartzsite and I was such a good boy this year that Santa came early and gave me a Chumba Stella Titanium Singlespeed.

The Next Four Nights

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is a terrific campground. We highly recommend it, especially if you can get into the Red-tailed Hawk or Cooper’s Hawk loop. The sites are spacious, have water and electric, no sewer, but free showers. In the dead of winter electricity is a must, even more so this trip since we saw nighttime lows of 24 and 25 degrees 🥶. The Airstream furnace keeps the inside nice and toasty. Another plus, the Verizon signal was super strong! So strong we were streaming shows in the evenings.

Sedona is a scenic thirty minute drive away. There’s no denying Sedona is jaw dropping gorgeous, and the mountain biking is world class, but the crowds! Geez, sometimes it’s a little too much for us, so staying in Cottonwood was perfect. We biked two days in Sedona and twice at Dead Horse. The biking is quite good at Dead Horse, but nowhere near as beautiful as Sedona.

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There’s our Airstream in site 63 of the Red-tailed Hawk loop.

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 The view outside our door

Maybe I’m just old and feeling a bit nostalgic, but I loved this gas station in Cottonwood. Who cares if it costs a nickel more per gallon. A two pump full service island and a two pump self serve island. We opted for the self service. No card swiping at the pump. Just lift the handle and start pumping gas. Then you walk into the office that’s a total mess with deer and elk antlers all over the walls, and pay the man. Our first visit there, I walked into the office and told the old man, “Pump 2.” With a cigarette dangling, he told me, “Great, how much?” “Uh…shit, I don’t know, hold on a sec.” I ran outside and got the dollar figure, came back into his office and told him.

I was really hoping he had an old school credit card imprinter that takes a carbon copy impression of the credit card and requires a signature. But no, he had one of those modern machines that you put your pin in and hit the green button.

Two days later we stopped in again to top off the tank before leaving. I walk into the office, feeling like a local, told the old man, “$35.45.” He definitely recognized me from before and nodded, then grinned. He even chatted me up about how happy he was that the days are finally getting longer.

We had blue skies every day, except of course on the winter solstice. That morning we went to Red Rock State Park for a nice hike. The next five pics are from there.

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Oak Creek

 

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My Ansel Adams winter solstice picture

 

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Arizona Sycamore bark

 

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Do you see the deer?

 

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The best wildlife crossing sign…so far.

 

And finally, some mountain biking pictures of beautiful Sedona.

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Red dirt


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I got in a little over my head on the Mezcal Trail that we’ve biked multiple times. And I have no idea how it happened. Amelia was on the correct line, oblivious to the fact that I was way above her. A couple of Red Bull type riders were also up there. They looked at me, a 61 year old on a singlespeed and said, “Dude, you should turn around.” That was great advice!


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Happy girl!

Instead of spending the night in Quartzsite again on our way home, we decided to drive straight through to San Diego for fear of getting swept away by the pineapple express that was bearing down on California. 461 miles and eight and a half hours.  We got home just in the nick of time. Two hours after unloading the Airstream, the deluge began.

R.I.P. Joan Didion