Thursday, April 30, 2015

Another Change in Plans

We would have liked to stay in Prescott longer, because we still had more hikes that fellow hikers had recommended to us.  But this was the only time since we left home that we had reservations for our next stop.  We had an appointment with the Grand Canyon!  As we headed north, Mark commented that this was our first time as far north as I-40 since we left Weatherford three and a half months ago.

Because we were hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the 26th, we wanted to be in Williams, Arizona on the 24th.  That would give us the day of the 25th to travel to the Grand Canyon National Park and make the last minute check in that is required before overnight hiking.  Everything had been carefully planned and we had done our research.

We have been anxiously watching the weather forecast for the Grand Canyon.  This hike can be brutal if it is hot, or it can be tough if it is windy.  One thing that we hadn't considered (perhaps because we have been in the desert so long) is how uncomfortable it would be if it rained.  There is almost no shelter on the hike, so hiking in the rain would be miserable.

Originally the forecast for the 26th was cool, but a storm front stalled out over Arizona and we were suddenly faced with a forecast for the morning that we would start hiking that looked like this:

Yikes!  80% chance of snow and temperatures that feels like 21 degrees! We started going through all our winter clothes in the motorhome, trying to come up with something that would shed water and keep us insulated from the cold.  Where are our gloves?  What about wearing trash bags over our hiking pants?  Where is the insulated underwear?  Being wet and very cold on a windy, stormy day for hours on a long hike doesn't really sound like much fun!

This hike has been on our bucket list for a very long time.  It has been something we have been looking forward to, and now we were both dreading it!  We were praying for another change in plans.

We got on the phone with the company that handles all the reservations for lodging at the bottom of the canyon.  We couldn't change our hiking date to the 27th or the 28th, but they could change us to the 29th!  The forecast for the  29th (and the 30th when we hike out) would be warm and sunny.

We feel so blessed that we have the time to sit tight in Williams for an additional 3 days and have the opportunity to make the hike under better circumstances!  In the meantime, we are making the best of the rainy, cold, windy days.  We have cooked big meals, checked out the movie channel, caught up on blogging, and we are trying to plan our next stop. 

We checked out main street Williams, and got rained on before we circled back to the car.  We took refuge from the rain in the jailhouse, but it was a little crowded.

The town of Williams is a little touristy complete with a mock western town with old facades and a fake jail.   But the town really cashes in on the fact that it is on Route 66.  You can see "66" on most of the signs of Main Street. There's a Route 66 Diner,  a Route 66 Gift Shop, a Route 66 Bar, a Route 66 . . .  Since we lived a couple miles from Route 66 for the last 35 years, this felt like a little piece of home to us.

In between rain and sleet storms, we explored some of the Coconino National Forest Roads.  Made of the bright red native rock, the forest roads were actually pretty with Williams Mountain in the background.

We started a very pretty hike into the mountains, trying to keep up some exercise regimen.  We started at a park on the edge of town, and were immediately in a boulder strewn pine forest.

But when the rain started again we ran all the way back to the car.  We guess that we did get a little cardio exercise in that wet dash back to cover.  We have seen several sleet storms among the rain storms, and the view from our side window looks like this.  (You might note from the picture that we were blessed with the corner site here at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park.  So we got a view of the open field on the other side of the fence--as well as the lone pine tree that they had to make a special jog in the fence to accommodate.)

But the real trump to the miserable weather came on Saturday night when it started snowing.  We thought when we moved into a home on wheels we wouldn't be seeing any more snow.  But it was coming down in snowball-size flakes that quickly covered the ground and our car.  Mark ran outside to take a quick picture, and this is what he looked like when he returned. 

In fact, we had two inches of snow on the car when we woke up for church on Sunday morning.

The mountains we can see from the motorhome got a good dusting of snow, and it was still white on the mountain tops on Sunday afternoon.

Weren't we just running away from the desert because it was getting too hot?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jerome and Tuzigoot

We have been happy to explore Prescott, Arizona, for the last few days.  But we keep hearing that we just have to see Jerome!  It is said to be the most vertical city in the United States, and it literally hangs on the edge of a mountain with a 30-degree slant.  We couldn't get a good picture of its verticalness (is that really a word?)  But we did get a picture of Denisa preparing to devour a double dipped chocolate covered frozen banana that we bought as our only souvenir in Jerome.

This little town used to be a mining town.  There was once 10,000 people living here, most involved in mining or entertaining the miners after a hard day's work.  When the mines closed down in the 1950's, it would have become a ghost town, had it not been for all those saloons and bordellos becoming boutiques and restaurants.  It was hard to find a parking place with all the tourists flooding into the town in the middle of the week.  We have heard it is impossible to get a parking place here on the weekend.

Since Jerome got its start as a mining town, we also visited the Little Daisy Mine.  The shaft here is 1900 feet deep, and lined with concrete.  In layman's terms that would be 650 feet deeper than the Empire State Building is tall.  We looked down into that shaft, but you couldn't even hear when a rock hit the bottom far below. This is Mark trying out the "elevator" that took the miners to work each day down a very long shaft.  If he had any thoughts of coming out of retirement to become a miner, he and his claustrophobia have decided against it.

This was a very successful mine, as it produced 5.5 tons of gold, 221 tons of silver, and 397,000 tons of copper between 1915 and 1938.

It was only 15 miles from our camping spot to Jerome, but took close to 30 minutes to make the drive.  It was one of those winding highways that motorcyclists crave.  The views were beautiful!

While driving around other surrounding towns like Cottonwood and Clarksdale, we saw a brown national park sign.  Since we purchased a national park annual pass, we followed that sign to Tuzigoot.  On the way, we had conversations about what we might find at such an oddly named national park. It turned out to be an archeological site that was a simple rounded hill in 1930.  But two young archeologists found enough evidence that there were the remains of an Indian pueblo village from the 1100's under that hill.  As they unearthed walls and artifacts of a once thriving community, they chose the name Tuzigoot for this village.  This was the view from the bottom of village, with Denisa standing almost at the top.
This is a view from the top, with Mark bringing scale to the remaining walls that used to be the latest in apartment-dwelling just 900 years ago.  They also have a good interactive display at the visitor's center, and we felt like we learned a lot about life in one of these pueblos so long ago.
The last stop in our road trip day was down a dirt forest road deep in the Mingus Mountains.  Again, we just followed random signs down random roads to come to the hang glider launch pad.  At an elevation of 7815 feet, this is the view straight east that hang gliders see right before they run off the edge of that concrete slope.  We were sad that the winds were blowing too hard to watch someone catching the thermals while we were there.  But we were told that they are breaking hang gliding records from this site on a good day.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Finding old friends in our new town

We like driving around a new town, finding things to explore and seeing what life might be for its full-time residents.  As we were driving through a new area of Prescott, we saw a big banner outside a local church.
We looked at each other in amazement.  We went to high school with a guy named "Ira Brown."  Could this be him?  A quick google search confirmed this was the same Ira that graduated from Beaver High School two years before we did.  We were going to have to "come and meet" that new pastor.  Since we haven't seen Ira in almost 37 years, you might say that all three of us have changed a little.  We showed up on Wednesday evening, and managed to intercept him in the parking lot as he got out of his pickup.  We were giggling as we greeted him because we assumed he wouldn't recognize us.  We had a great time introducing ourselves, until he realized who we were.
That led to an hour of laughing about old times at Beaver High School, and updating each other about the last three decades.  We were just sorry that his wife, Paula (also a Beaver alumni) was visiting their grandchildren in El Paso.  We would have loved to see her again.  We were also sorry that we couldn't stay around until Sunday to hear one of his sermons.  That just gives us another reason to come back to Prescott!

From church to exploring a saloon, we also made a stop in historic downtown Prescott.  Right off the courthouse square is a row of saloons called "Whiskey Row."  We had lunch at the most famous, the Palace Saloon.  It first opened in 1877, and the quarter-sawn oak and cherry bar is part of that original establishment.  
It's the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona, and USA Today calls it one of the 10 best bars in America.  This watering hole serves up a pretty mean half pound bacon cheeseburger that was big enough to split.  Here's a handsome cowboy coming out of those swinging saloon doors now!

Even though we are on permanent vacation, we still have to do normal people things like having the oil changed in the car and getting haircuts.  We accomplished both of these in Prescott.  Actually, Mark got the first hair cut.  When he came back with the right amount of hair still attached to his head, Denisa asked for the same stylist.  That might be our new system for getting haircuts on the road, as a bad haircut would be less traumatic for Mark than Denisa.  We also found a good dealership for the car's oil change.  When we dropped off the car at the local Honda dealers, we opted for a hike around the lake right in their back yard.
 Again, we were scrambling among the Granite Dells.  Sitting here is a little better than sitting in the customer lounge at the dealership!
Today's hike was around Willow Lake, another of the five lakes close to Prescott.  We are getting to be such locals that we have even learned how to pronounce the name of this town.  We found that Prescott rhymes with "Biscuit." 
We have seen some man-made pictographs among the caves in state parks in Texas, but we think the unusual markings on these granite dells must be God's pictographs.

The granite boulders go on and on, and we hiked for almost 8 miles getting around this lake.
Someone probably should have looked at the trail map a little more closely, because we were 3/4 around the lake when we realized that the last part of the trail was flooded.  We had to decide whether to hike 5 miles back, or get our feet wet to finish the circle.  We went for the wet feet, but it wasn't pretty.  We wouldn't recommend this circular path, but it was another adventure as we continue wandering His wonders!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Day at Watson Lake

Our new friends, Bill and Paula, mentioned that they enjoyed Watson Lake while they stayed here, so we headed there on our first full day at Prescott Valley.  Watson Lake is a city-owned area, so it only costs $2 for a parking pass to enter the area.  Have we mentioned that we are so impressed with our new town?

While Mark finished pumping up our inflatable Sea Eagle kayak, Denisa was wandering around the shore taking pictures.  We saw many pairs of mallards, and this pair was napping on the shore while we were just a few feet away.  Much of the lake is surrounded by huge granite boulders, so this area is called "The Granite Dells."  You can also see a couple on the trail, and we'll be taking that hike later.
 We also had a Canadian goose guarding the boat ramp, with another view of the water we are preparing to launch on.
We had a great time kayaking the entire perimeter of the lake.  Most of the time we were weaving in and out of rock boulders and our view from the kayak looked something like this . . .
Since we were on the water in the middle of the day and in the middle of the week, we were the only ones on the lake most of the time.  Of course, we did have some company from the local water fowl.  We love watching them take off, including those first few wing flaps when it looks like they are walking on the water.
The far west side of the lake goes into a shaded area, and looked like we were on a completely different body of water.
As we paddled under a cottonwood forest, it also looked like we changed from spring to winter.  The floating cotton looked a little like snow on the water, with cottonwood "snowflakes" in the air.
We paddled for five miles around the lake and because we were taking our time and enjoying it so much it took us 3.5 hours!  Then it was time to roll up the kayak, and hike the trail around the lake.  This was the view of the lake from one of those tall granite hills, showing the boulders that we had just paddled around.
The granite dells were just as much fun to scramble over as they were to paddle between.  It was a great hike on a beautiful day!  These are our favorite two shots from a hike that took us all the way around the lake.  The trail is well marked with painted white circles on the boulders to follow.  Mark thought a goose with a sense of humor could lay some white goose poop around the rocks just to confuse hikers.

 We were at Watson Lake all day, and would certainly recommend it to anyone staying in the Prescott area!  Just in case you might think that there are no flowers among these granite dells, Denisa spied a pink-flowering tree to frame one side of a picture of the lake.  Flowers, clear blue water, interesting clouds, and granite dells all in one picture.  Score!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mark!

Denisa thinks Mark is sure looking handsome on his birthday for an old guy!  Happy Birthday!

Years ago we agreed that it was the responsibility of the birthday boy (or girl) to plan what they wanted to do to celebrate their day.  Denisa has always planned fun activities that usually involved taking a day off work and going somewhere special.  Mark has usually opted for a meal out at a favorite restaurant after working all day.  So it's not surprising that Mark's birthday wasn't a super-exciting celebration this year.  He claims that it's really hard to plan something special to do to because living on vacation is special every day.

So after eating chocolate pie for birthday breakfast, we left our camping spot in Tucson and headed north up the interstate to our next destination.  Driving through Tucson and Phoenix in a motorhome is not exactly a birthday fun day, and it was a longer drive than we usually make.  But we got settled in our new home in Prescott Valley by early afternoon, and we really love it here!  Thanks to our new friends Bill and Paula for suggesting this area of central Arizona for a few days!

We are staying at Fairgrounds RV Park, another Passport America Park that gives half-price camping for members.  That membership has certainly paid for itself, and something that every full-time RVer should do.  The park was close to full when we got there, and we noticed that the license plates of our neighbors were Oregon, Iowa, Ontario, and South Dakota.  It is certainly a place that travelers from all over North America come to stay.

After a birthday dinner at Guido's (complete with a complimentary canoli for dessert) we headed to the Prescott National Forest south of town.  We found ourselves at Lynx Lake. 

Lynx Lake is a pristine lake at high altitude, and we sure wished we had time to put the kayak on that calm water!  Because we've been living in the desert, we haven't seen a lake in a very long time.  It's nice to find out that the town of Prescott is surrounded by mountains, national forest,  granite dells, and lakes.  

After being in the sand and cacti for months, it's nice to be in the mountains with pine trees now. We celebrated Mark's birthday with a nice walk around the lake.

We got a hiking map and have decided we could take a different hike every day for several months without repeating a hike!  The white square in the middle of the map is the city of Prescott.  All the colored lines on the maps are not highways--they are hiking trails.  We are going to love it here, and it's a great place to do some training for the Grand Canyon hike at similar altitude.

The town of Prescott Valley seems to be very new.  They have a new hospital, new library, new schools . . .  On top of that, they have good shopping, and Denisa was certainly excited to find a Trader Joe's in town.  Her favorite purchase was this bag of fresh peas.  If you know Denisa, you should know that her favorite snack every spring is peas fresh out of the garden.  This is her birthday present a few months early!

So we will be in Prescott Valley for a few days until it's time to relocate to the area a little closer to the Grand Canyon.  Until then we are enjoying calling this area home.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Life in Tuscan

We were in Tucson to get the annual maintenance done on the motorhome.  The bad news is that it costs a lot of money.  The good news is that we got to stay in Freightliner's full hook-up sites for free while we were exploring the city.  Considering the price of the maintenance service, that was the world's most expensive "free" camping site!  We were joined by several other motorhomes enjoying their "free" site while awaiting service after the weekend.

We found Tucson to be a city of bicyclers.  They were every where!  There were even some interesting cautionary biking signs in the national park.  This is probably a good reason for us not to ride our bikes there.

But we did some bike riding on Sunday afternoon.  After going to church, we decided that we were too close to the University of Arizona to drive all the way back to the motorhome to change clothes.  So we made a fast stop at Walmart to buy some new shorts for a bike ride.  Mark's entire wardrobe is getting baggy, so he deserved a new pair of shorts.  This is the first time he's bought anything with a 32-inch waist in many years.

So we headed to the University of Arizona and rode the bike trails around campus.  There is a major roadway that divides the two sections of campus, so there are several tunnels for walkers and bikers that connect the two areas. It must be close to graduation, because there were lots of students dressed in academic regalia being photographed in picturesque areas this beautiful Sunday afternoon.  The campus is a nice blend of desert and palm trees, and this is a picture of "Old Main" at the center of the university. 
We've been visiting university campuses for many years with our two sons.  Their favorite stops were always the football stadiums.  So this University of Arizona stadium picture is for Luke and Blake.

But the best find on campus came at the end of our bike ride.  In all our hiking in the desert, we have seen hundreds of dried up century plant stalks and several stalks just emerging from the agave plant.  Denisa had sadly realized she wouldn't get to see one in bloom.  But in our bike ride on the university campus, we found one in glorious bloom!  The stalk was almost 20 feet tall, and is truly a very rare thing to see.  We can now leave the desert happy!

After all our time gawking at Saguaro cacti, we hadn't made it to downtown Tucson.  So we downloaded a pdf with a map and descriptions of 23 different buildings.  Denisa is checking out a statue that was item number four on the list.  Check out the turquoise line painted on the sidewalk.  We followed that line on Sunday evening to walk the 2.5 mile trail around the historic sites downtown.  That line made it easy to find the next item on the list.  Good job Tucson!

We also liked the county court house downtown.  This mosaic dome building was as pretty as those old Texas courthouses.
We spent three full days in Tucson.  After paying for our "free" camping site, we were looking for cheap sight-seeing possibilities.  With our national park pass, we didn't spend any money on entertainment.  We're finding plenty of things to see and do for free!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Saguaros in Tucson, Arizona

After our stay in Sierra Vista, we moved about an hour north to Tucson, Arizona.  This is the home of Saguaro National Park, and we have come to love these majestic cacti.  The big one pictured to the right is at the visitor's center, so it has been monitored closely in its life-time.  When it was 50 years old (in 1966), it was 15 feet tall.  Now another 50 years later, it has grown three arms and is well over 20 feet tall.  The small armless saguaro beside Denisa looks like a baby, but is probably 20 years old.  For those of you keeping track, that means the young one would be almost as old as Denisa.

As slowly as they grow, the giant ones must be very old.  But occasionally we would find a skeleton of a dead saguaro.  It's a chance to see the inside of one of these giants.  Once the green outer layer has dried up, you can see that the skeletons are made of tubes of wood-like structures.

We went on several hikes through the National Park, really enjoying the saguaro.  Some of them are huge!  And all of them seem to sprout interesting appendages at very random angles.  So while we recount our Tucson adventures, just expect more Saguaro cactus pictures because we took way too many pictures to not use some of them in the blog.

Doesn't it look like these two saguaro cacti have their arms poised in a running stance?  Denisa thinks it looks like they are racing each other.

We did other things besides hiking through the desert.  We also went to a Farmer's Market on Saturday morning.  Our only purchase was a large bag of kettle corn.  We're still trying to rationalize that anything with the word "corn" in it must count as a vegetable.

We had read that saguaro usually bloom in May, so we were thrilled to find some blooming already in April.  It's hard to take a good picture of a bloom that is 20 feet in the air.  They start blooming at night and will shrivel by the next afternoon's heat.  But the birds and bees love them for that day.

Some of those bees were living in a hive right off our trail.  Now that Denisa has developed a healthy fear of bees, she wasn't interested in a picture.  But brave Mark took a picture to share.  Just imagine a very loud "Buzzzzzz!" and you'll feel like you were there too.

Saguaros are the trees of the desert, and so they provide nesting for the local birds.  All those holes are apartments for families of birds.

We also went shopping for a backpack for our Grand Canyon hike.  Our nephew Brian is lending us a big one that Mark will carry.  But we need a smaller one for Denisa.  We tried on around 20 different backpacks, walking around with 15 pound weights inside to see how bad each backpack felt.  After all that shopping we bought a Walmart backpack--and then it took 3 different Walmarts to find that one in stock again.  Not every day in the life of retired vacationers can be glamorous.  But this allowed for more narrative and we could sneak in more pictures of saguaro cactus.

Another interesting fact about saguaro is that they grow very slowly, and a very small percentage of plants survive.  The seed's best chance to grow to adulthood is if it germinates under the protection of a desert plant like this palo verde.  Denisa's sister, Connie, was a third grade teacher whose students read a book each year about the nurse plant that protects the saguaro.  So if you've read this far, Connie,  that picture is for you!

Some of the areas look like saguaro forests.  We have found in our travels that we are most amazed at those things that we don't have back home in Oklahoma.  But now that we live every where we wonder if our level of amazement will diminish?

We've been in the desert now long enough that all the ocotillo are blooming.  We feel like real desert locals now that we have watched them go from little buds to flaming blooms.

Since you have suffered through the entire blog of cactus pictures, you deserve a good reptile picture.  While we were driving through the 8-mile loop of the national park, eagle-eye Mark spotted this Gila monster sauntering into the brush beside the road.  He put the car in park, jumped out, and got this picture.  Score--another venomous reptile!

 That deserves another picture of ocotillo and an entire hillside of saguaro--double score!