Saturday, January 31, 2009

California, here I come....

We pulled into Pio Pico in San Diego County, Southern California after what turned out to be a long day on the road getting here. The wind on the top of the mountains was so bad that it took two of us to keep the door from getting ripped off when we needed to stop to check the brake lights on the tow vehicle. We'd heard talk of awnings getting torn off coaches here- even when they weren't extended! This was such a day. And as it was blowing DOWN HILL as we crested the top, it felt like we would be thrown down the mountain. The other side of the mounatin. Where the bear went. To see what he could see. But slow and easy won the race and we made it safely across. Pio Pico is in the hills in southern Cal. as well. No cell phone. No computer. So trips "out" to take care of business and keep in touch will be the order of the stay- something on the order of 11 days. We don't have a sewer hookup here either, just water and electric, so the quad is helping out by towing the "blue boy" to the dump station. Beats harnassing Greg up to that honey wagon and whipping him to get him going!

Ya hate to sound too whimpy, but all three of us! are tired from playing so hard with our Arizona friends and having way too much fun crammed into a short period. So today was a day of reorganization and "potsing" around with things we've been putting off. It felt good. And this close to Tijuana, it felt like the proper thing to do was get out the sombreros and take a little siesta. Abby got right into the spirit of things as illustrated. Oh, that girl can nap!

So California's on the map now. The "visited states map company" has apparently been taken over, so now Hawaii is showing on the new version. That should make Marjie happy! Officially though, we're down to three remaining states to color in- Nevada, Colorado, and that gosh darn North Dakota. Hmmmmmmmm.

And the new map company has a Mexico mapping program as well, so hopefully when I get a chance (and have enough battery time left) I can add that widget to the blog. Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! And now....California dreaming.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cruising The Colorado

What a way to wrap up our visit to Arizona! So far in our tours of the state we have been dealing with dust and sand and everything dry. Not so this day, as we packed up the gang, the grills, and the personal flotation devices and headed off for a cruise on the Colorado River out of Fisher Landing on a couple of pontoon boats. It was bit windy and a tad chilly, but nothing was going to do anything to dampen the spirit of the moment. It was a sensational day.

Once again we find ourselves totally indebted to Gary and Judy Skaggs and their friends for showing us a wonderful time here in Yuma. Like Lynn and Judy Yoder and their friends a couple weeks before, they prove that the state you are visiting is important, but the State of Mind is much more important. We have fun with these folks no matter where we find them. They have energy and enthusiasm for life that borders on the amazing. They are downright inspirational.

Until we meet again....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

And The Weiner Is...

One last group ride to some old mines out past Fisher Landing and along the Colorado River made for a great final ATV event for our stay in Yuma. We'll extend the stay a couple days to take advantage of an invitation to go for a pontoon boat ride on the Colorado in a couple days if the weather holds. But today we found a place in a big wash, out of the wind to build a nice fire and roast some weiners. A nice picnic adds another layer of fun to a day in the desert. What fun!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Connecting With The Past

All this month we have been "playing" with friends that we met in Alaska. It is great fun now. And it was great fun THEN as well. When I wrote about Lynn and Judy Yoder a while back I had a link to the Chicken, Alaska experience where we met them. And I thought I would offer you some links to our time in Alaska with Gary and Judy Skaggs as well. I've been so pleased with the response to our Arizona adventures, that surely you might enjoy some of the Alaska experience. If you do enjoy some of these posts, you can read the entire Alaska adventure by using the archive to go back to all of the posts from May, June, July, August, and September of 2007.

These links will take you to selected posts along the way:

The Fourth of Alaska (talks about Clint's race up Marathon Mt.)

Alaska Wildlife Photos

Beautiful Downtown Anchorage

Flat Top

More Odds And Ends (includes the story behind Moose Turd Pie)

Up By Palmer Creek

Hope And Resurrection

Flowers of Hope and Resurrection

Ninilchik Hub
(quad riding on the beach)

"Barn" To Be Wild
(hog racing and a state fair)

Alaska In Review

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Best Westerns"

The more we have explored the South West, the more I have been thinking about the old Western movies and TV shows that were in their heyday as I was growing up. And the most recent foray into the desert on a quad camping trip really put me back in touch with a lot of the lives and times portrayed in those flicks. Then recently a friend sent me a link to an audio/video clip about just those very matters. To be clear, this is not a production I had any hand with in any way. But since it's circulating in the public domain, I doubt anyone will mind if I share it with you. It will play for a while. There is a delay in the middle where the music changes and relaunches the second part of the video. Hang in there through the whole piece. You will see all your old favorites and many you may have forgotten. It's a true nostalgia piece, and I hope you will enjoy it....

Click on Westerns to view.

Riding Into The Desert Night

I was a little apprehensive about what was planned as a four day and three night quad-riding / camping trip into the desert. While we used to camp a lot when we were canoeing back in New England, I haven't done that for more years than I can recall. And while some people call living in an RV and staying at a campground- camping - it is NOT. In fact I haven't had a sleeping bag or a tent or a camp stove or a nesting camp kitchen set, and all that jazz in a long time as well. But picking up those few items was easy enough at local sporting good stores, so that wasn't the problem. And since we had already been anticipating getting into a bit more of this kind of camping in areas where we might be able to get with the new Quigley Van but not the motor coach, this was as opportune a time as ever to start regathering the gear.

But the "big boy ride" had put me on short notice that inexperience is just that...and small matters like mountain goat trails and paths narrower than the bike and dunes higher and harder to climb than a 5 story building and hills and valleys that didn't look navigable to my eye could, and would, be likely to pop up once again. And there was no idea in anyone's head that it would end in a day, so just grin and bear it. This was an endurance run. This was a camping trip. A real camping trip. So we saddled up and headed out into the desert. Into the day. But also into the night.

Now I suppose I could have either kept or tried to duplicate here what might have been my diary of the trip, but in all honesty there was too much happening every minute of every day to even attempt that then, let alone here. Maybe some night around a campfire ALL the stories can be told hence. But for this post I will just select a few incidents and stories for a more tailored telling.

It was a trip of unimaginable beauty at times. The Arizona skies, especially at sunrise and sunset are magnificent, and there is no better place to see them than in the desert, with the light rising and falling upon and then behind the mountains that define the desert. It was also a test of my ability to run with the pack which met with mixed success. When they ran slowly and I went full out- I kept up. When they ran full out.....well, on more than one occasion I rode up a hill to look for their dust, which I was apparently not close enough to "eat" any more. That is NOT a complaint. And I should state for the record that other than my own personal shortcomings in the driver skill area, I always felt safe out there. I, that is to say me, myself and I, did feel lost at times. But no matter, everyone else knew exactly where I was, whether I did or not. Riding rule of the desert: if lost, stop. Someone will be back for you. I found that to be entirely true and understanding that was a good thing.

The trip was also a litany of personal tests. Was I good enough to get up that hill? If I did, would I ever want to come back down? If I scared the daylights out of myself could I quell the discomfort and hold onto the joy that was also present in the experience? If there was something I didn't have for the trip, could I make do without it, or with something in its place. Could I play the virtual game of desert SURVIVOR without wanting to call off the game and go home?

OK. So what happened out there? We started with a run out to our new starting point by covering ground I was familiar with. That was a good way to start. And in fact we bypassed the "hairy" stuff we had done before so we could get to our launching post and have more of the day left for exploring. It felt like a good beginning to me. And it was. Once we hit new territory the necessary skill level began to climb rapidly by my standards. I should say thirteen of us started out on the trip. The group had varying levels of experience - with my experience dead last. I didn't mind "last" , but I was hoping to avoid that "dead" part. A couple hours in to the ride, the pace was quickening. With riders up front and riders behind, you just "do" what you need to do and there isn't a whole lot of time for lolly gagging and debate. So when we came to a very steep and very narrow two stage climb that led up to a ridge run I gunned it and headed up. But I picked a bad line to the top and rode it off to the left and back down to a lower level that I knew I should not be on- as I had clearly seen the others go up not down. Because a lot of the ride is a follow the leader kind of thing, several riders behind me followed suit. I may have, I say may have, been the first to know it was a screw up but the others corrected course and just zoomed right back up the vertical climb to that summit ridge. Further down did not seem to be much of an option, and, you know, monkey see-monkey do I headed up that stretch of hill as well. But with the others waiting and watching at the top, I made it ALMOST all the way to the top, then started slipping and sliding and ceased making upward progress. They had told me on a climb you DO NOT STOP giving it the gas. Stopping on a steep climb is the worst thing you can do. And though I had no intention of stopping, that was happening anyway and as it did the front tires picked up off the ground and I had this God awful feeling she'd roll. I cut to the left just a tad and gave her some more gas and resumed a little forward progress. By now the two uphill tires came off the ground and I thought sure I was going right back down bike over butt over bike. Now I'm not much of a power sports kinda guy but I've seen them race a few times and if you hold on real tight and throw all your weight to the uphill side, you at least have a chance. So I did that. Hanging closer to the ground than to the bike, and to my amazement and also great relief I climbed the rest of the way up the hill and never did flip that sucker. I freely admit the body lean that saved me and my bike was inspired by a will to survive and an incredible rush of fear and not by even the "remotest" skill of ridership. But it worked, and now I know it does. At the top, "Nice body lean!" "I thought you were a goner" and "Thanks for showing us the bottom of your bike." Nice guys.

Over the remainder of the day, we explored probably half a dozen or more old mines. Some we went in, some we didn't. Because some we could and some we couldn't. Some of us are much more anxious to explore old mines than others. I liked it to a point but not the extreme crawl in on your belly to count the bats type of exploration. For me, the mystery of the mine is who found the vein and how. In my next life, I think I'll be a geologist.

Day 1 came to a successful conclusion and we made camp. Because I had purchased gear and provisions the day before the ride and lashed it all onto the bike as best I could- I knew I pretty much had everything, but had no recollection of where it was tucked. So set up took me a little longer than everyone else. So what else is new? I'm sensing a pattern here! I was fascinated to see that a couple of the guys just rolled out a sleeping bag on the gravel and called it "home." Roy Rogers. Hoss Cartwright. Steve McQueen. John Wayne, step aside, your modern day counterpart Quad-cowboys are snoozing under the same skies where you once chewed a piece of jerky, put your head on your saddle, and sang "nite nite" to the northern star. I didn't look close enough. Maybe they actually did take the seat off the bike for a pillow, as it is easily removable. I don't know whether or not those real men used a pillow at all. Me? I had the stuffable, self inflating red fiber pillow from the sporting good store...and I ain't ashamed to admit it.

Now you know, when cowboys get to telling stories around the campfire over tender viddles and whiskey at night, there can be some mighty tall tales yarned. And this here night was no exception. So as Fireman Ed finished his last bite, he commenced to telling this here whopper of a story. I ain't a gonna say it isn't true. Heck, I just knowed the man a couple days now and he seems like a righteous fellow to me. But my old pal Gary says, If'n it was a fairy tale, it would have to start out "Once upon a time in a land far away." And if it was a really true story told by an Alaskan North Slope Oil guy, it would have to start out "Now this ain't no SH_T." But, this here story started out "When I was kid" so I can't swear it's the truth or it ain't. But this I can tell you and all my PETA readers out there: "Weren't NO Ducks injured in the actual telling of this story":

"When I was a kid....." we knew that ducks loved the taste of raw bacon. But they couldn't digest it properly. Seems it would pass right through those little critters. So we'd go down by the pond, take a rolled up piece of bacon and put it on the end of a string. No hook or nothing, just a string. Then we'd throw that bacon on the ground and the first duck would come running over and gobble it right down. And though he loved the taste, he couldn't digest it, so after only a few minutes, it would pass out the "foul" end of the duck. But as it hadn't been digested at all, it was still pretty much bacon, so another duck would come running over and gobble up the same piece of bacon. Now Fireman Ed had two ducks on a string, and, sure enough, in only a matter of minutes the process repeated itself and out into the bright light of day came our recycled piece of bacon. This went on and on until he got bored with the challenge and had something like 8 or 10 ducks in a row (so to speak) on the string. And when all was said and done, he'd take the bacon from the back of the last duck, pull the string through the dance line, and all the little quackers went on about their business none the less but for minor wear and tear. Or so he says.

Now it seemed a bit far fetched for me, but that's not the point at all. Every time a group of friends gets together like this, someone says something or does something that takes on the honorary roll of theme for the event. And this was no exception. I never heard so many duck stories in my whole life. I laughed until I hurt. And next day when we stopped for lunch at a fuel depot and the other guys went inside, I stayed outside and ate my snack sitting on the bike. When they came out I told them about the birds that had gathered around while I was eating my cheese and hard boiled egg. I said since I didn't have a string, so I took a bungy cord off my pack, put a little cheese and egg on the end and sure enough the first bird swallowed it right down, where upon it shot right out....I didn't have to say another word. We were all laughing again. Later in the day, I hit a bump pretty hard and it gave me quite a jolt. Asked if I was OK, I said sure, but I hit so hard and stopped so quick that the lunch I had a short while back shot right out of my mouth, whereupon a duck flew off the Colorado river, swallowed the lunch,...and we were off and running again.

Speaking of which, one day we rode for miles right along the side of the Colorado River. It was interesting to see that even though the river carries plenty of water through the desert, it doesn't really provide any of that water to the desert. It was equally brown and dry even right to the water's edge. Without man and the use of irrigation, the river does not provide water to the desert. I would have thought otherwise.

Now a word about sleeping in the desert night. Already told you what I had for gear. In addition I had a self inflating air mattress. That provides an inch, more or less, of "comfort and cushion" and also some insulation from ground temps. I expected to be uncomfortable. I wasn't. I expected the sounds of the desert to be perhaps a bit eerie as I am not really familiar with them in any degree. But just the opposite was true. I don't know about you, but I never sleep as soundly camping as I do in my own bed. A portion of the brain stays alert and on guard for the unexpected. An animal. A rainstorm. An intruder. Some jackass (wild donkey that is to say). But the night was dead quiet until the coyotes started calling in the hills. It was not the single howl sound they use on old westerns at all. More like a series of yaps and yips, grunts and yelps with a few cries and screeches thrown in, then punctuated by the classic howling that we all associate with the coyote on the hill silhouetted by the moon and howling for all the world to hear. When those sounds came I thought I traveled back in time. The old west and the Greg of the desert had finally been introduced. It felt very nice. They spoke to us at around eleven. Again at one. And again close to three.I tried to stay awake to listen as long as I could more than I tried to get back to sleep. I left the window flaps on the tent up, hoping I'd catch a glimpse. They were surely there. They told us as much. But I never saw a one.

I'd like to tell you where all we rode. Fact is, much of it was just exploration. Locate a mine on the GPS and try to find a way to get there. We rode soft sand and gravel washes, bedrock ledges and big boulder fields, Through cactus patches, flatlands, and hills that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Ridge lines and valleys...and everything in between. We crammed a lot into our time in the desert. We had started with thirteen. By our final day, we were down to five. A few scheduled appointments for some, a mechanical problem here and there along the way, or just a need to get something done other than playing in the desert sent some back early. We "called it" a little early as well when one of the final five started to have fuel line problems. All who dropped off along the way did so at appointed designations where that could be facilitated. Translation: we dropped them off at or near civilization so there was no doubt everyone could get home safe and sound. And no one went off alone. I can tell you a little more about the ride. It was over 200 miles long. Even though we all carried spare fuel, we had to make two fuel provisioning stops along the way, in Ehrenberg and Quartzsite. Driving into town on a quad legally and pulling into the truck stop to fuel up is a major hoot!

Coming into Quartzsite, we had been riding the trail hard all day. Part of it was challenging and slow to the point that none of us wanted to have to turn around a go all the way back. But just a few miles outside of Quartzsite, sure enough the road was posted closed and gates and impassible objects had been placed to prohibit entrance and passage. But we were staring at limited options at that point and the signs posted did not carry the legal requirements for closing BLM land. It seemed as though someone had taken it upon themselves to make some private mining claim on public land and illegally closed what is one of the primary riding access points to the city. Whoever put up the signs surely did not know the riding skills of the group on this ride (present company excluded of course- I hope I've made that clear). Without any damage whatsoever to property or boundary we found away around the first gate and started down the road. There was one camper and one tepee set up once we got inside which I don't think anyone was expecting. But once we passed that setup we quickly came to the closing gate on the other side of the property and this time the only way to pass would have been to cut barb wire fence and we were certainly not going to be party to that. We resigned to turn around and retrace our steps and headed back out the way we had come in. About this time, a wild mad man on a Big Red three wheeler came charging at us from the camp site I mentioned. In my rear view mirror I could see rage in his eyes and fire shooting from his nostrils (you do know that's some sort of metaphor, right?) He was not stopping to ask questions. He was a Brave not intent on taking prisoners. "Him looking scalps, kimosabe." I felt like the herd of buffalo trapped in the canyon with the bows and arrows headed my way as he charged at us faster than I knew those things could go! He passed the two bikers behind me, then made the mistake of trying to cut me off on a trail much too narrow for the two of us to be on at the same time. He flipped twice and rolled the bike over, landing a dozen feet or so below me on the rocks - head first- bike upside down on top of him. I thought he might be dead. Or at least have a broken neck. But no. He kicked the bike off and came charging up the hill at us wearing the one sneaker that had not flown off his foot as he was whipped over and over on his way down the hill. His head was a bloody mess and his attitude was pretty messed up as well. Once we got him to a point where he would hear us out, it was a bit late to say, "Oh, Good Morning" but he did anyway. Strange guy! Whether or not all people who have claims would go to this extreme to run off claims jumpers, which we were most assuredly NOT, is now a thought that shall be forever in the back of my head. Come to find out, he had been in town partying until four in the morning and was much more angry about having been disturbed than about anything else. This I can say for sure. He WAS and IS disturbed. I did NOT give him my Gundyville On Wheels card as we drove down into Quartzsite, but I did wave bye bye! And then, once outside the gate, I rode as fast as that little sucker of a bike would carry me- not entirely sure whether or not there was a high powered rifle and scope trained on the back of my helmet which (are you ready for this???) I will be eternally grateful that I did not buy at TARGET!

So I think I'll finish up with just a couple pics- that's about all I took. Hard ridin' is not conducive to photography. Too much dust on the lens and nothing to wipe it clean with because, well, nothing was clean. Desert dust goes where-ever it wants, and that is everywhere. Besides, the new helmet is so snug that if I ever took it off it took me ten minutes to get my glasses back on properly. There are still some bugs in my desert riding academy handbook.

Here's a look at the dunes playground outside of Ehrenberg. Yes, they ARE bigger than they look, and even a good rider can get caught up in the soft sand and be in a bit of a jam.

I thought I'd give you a really short slide show of The Unknown Rider riding down one of the bigger dunes so hopefully you get some sense of scale which is clearly missing in the individual stills:

Slide Show

The view after being "attacked" on our way into Quartzsite. Sky God smile down on Greg and friends.

Each morning I would ask what time I should be ready to head out. Nine? You wish. Eight? Not even. Then when? And the answer was always the same. We leave at "Dark Thirty." Because while sleeping in has it's place in life, it doesn't in the desert. If you miss the morning light, you have missed way too much of a beautiful day!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Squeeze Me, Baby

Today has been a day of preparation and provisioning for what should be a 4-day, 3 night, atv ride into the desert. As busy as we have been, even that is a stretch of time and energy, but too good an opportunity to pass up. Sorry to say I have taken a few short cuts with our large group ride of a day ago. We trailered the bikes and buggies to the starting point, then rode across the flats and dunes to a place they call Graffiti Valley. It's not a place where someone wrote ON the rocks, but rather a place where everyone since General Patten's training troops were stationed here writes in the desert WITH rocks. It was reminiscent of rock writings we say on the way to Alaska. Then off to a canyon ride they call The Squeeze. Starts out something like a quarter of a mile wide and gets narrower as the ride goes on. Some places you jump off your ride and walk back even narrower ravines just to see what there is to see. We finished the ride at what most assuredly is a gigantic chunk of coral - right there in the middle of the desert. It doesn't get much more curious than that.
Here's a slide show of the day's images:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Big Boy Ride

Marilyn and I are almost always together. We like it that way. But today, the "girls" went to the home show and the tent flea market. And the boys went on a big boy ride. A manly ride. A brave and daring thrill ride along the ridge of the mountains outside of town. No wimps allowed. No girlie girls or girlie men allowed. So what in the world was I doing in the middle of the pack? John led the way today. Jack played follow the leader. My job was to keep close tabs on Jack. And Gary was the tail gunner- a job of great title and authority which translates loosely to "make sure Greg keeps up and doesn't get lost in the desert." Fine. OK. I'm cool with that.

Where the road departed and we headed into the dunes and foothills, leader of the pack pulled us over for a strategy session. "Now boys, we'll be ridin' at 25 to 30 miles an hour today. Try to keep up. The way this works is you keep the tail lights of the guy in front of you in plain sight. You keep the head lights of the guy behind you in the rear view mirror so no one gets left behind. If we turn off the main trail, pause there until you know the rider behind you sees the turn off. Fine. Ok. I'm cool with that. But the next number I saw on my speedometer was 38.

Several miles later. lead rider circled the wagons one last time before heading up what looked to me, from where I sat upon the big seat of my Honda Rincon 4X4 700 power horse, nicely decked out in camo and wearing my new gloves without fingers and my sand sock dust mask and my shiny new olive green helmet, remotely like a road or path or trail of some sort, but more strikingly like a suicide mission of a trail that extended up and along the mountain ridge as far as the eye could see. John: "Now, fellas, we don't want anyone getting hurt out here today. So, Greg, if you feel a little apprehensive about the ride you are probably (the word "probably" struck a chord with me immediately) gonna be OK. But if you feel really fearful about something, then just don't do it!" Fine. OK. I'm really cool with that.

And so off we went up the first real climb of the day. On a trail no wider than the bikes. That was very steep. That was covered with loose rocks. Whose sides fell away sharply down the mountain on either side from the get go and got worse with every tenth of a mile we covered. My palms were sweating just like at the dentist office. This IS fun! My eyes wanted desperately to look left and right to get a perspective on my position on the mountain and a sense of my level of safety or my imminent demise. But no. Huh-uh. Glue those baby blues on that trail and try to quell the hyperventilation that was trying to take over. I kept thinking to myself. Fine. Ok. I'm cool with this. But I quickly realized that it was TOO LATE to not do something I didn't want to do. And at this point I can't say I was too sure either way. The choice had been made. Turning around on that trail was not an option because it was also not possible! The phrase "a snowball's chance in hell" came briefly to mind.

The higher we got, the more the nerves tried to take over. But I had a leader out in front, Jack's tail lights high and in front of me, and, when I dared to glance at the rear view as I was instructed, Gary was still back there. Fine. OK. I'm getting better at this.

At the tippy top of the first major leg of the climb, again John found a spot with enough room for a conference before proceeding. "Greg, You doin' OK, fine, you good with this?" I searched for an answer rattling around in my brain. I really didn't know what my answer would be until out it came: "Well I suppose I'm doing fine, OK, I think I must be good with all this- because I soiled my shorts three times coming up that first hill, but have only wet myself twice since then, so yeah, I'm good with this.

With that bit of comic relief I actually was good, and while it was big up and big down the rest of the ride, from that point on in my head it was all down hill. Never got 100 per cent comfortable- and that's a good thing. A small dose of fear helps the tires to stay on the trail, or so it seems to me, and until I can replace the fear with the skill that is required to ride the way these guys ride in confidence at every know, say it with me: "Fine. OK. I'm cool with that."

I wish I had the talent with a camera to give a sense of the elevation and sharp angle of the sides of these hills (you can call them that if you like; I'll stick to mountains, thank you very much). Pick a point, any point, on any ridge of any of these in the picture and picture yourself dwarfed by the landscape and scurrying along that ridge line like a cricket on the edge of a hot tin roof in the desert. You can almost get a sense of the challenge by trying to use this photo as your map and see if you can trace a route from one side of the picture to the other. That IS what we did. Here is one hint: it is much more difficult than it looks.

But good companions, and good riding tips took all of us, me included, to the top and back down the other side without major mishap. To say it was an exhilarating ride is a severe understatement. To say parts of it were pretty scary to a guy who doesn't much like heights in the first place- well, that's playing things down too. "But glad I am", as Yoda used to say, "I traveled to that dark side to see the sights from up high on the mountain." I couldn't see forever, but I DID see California, and isn't that just about the same thing?

From the "reflector", so called, at the end of the mountain trail, we could look over the green agricultural fields of California. My orange whip, now proudly sporting an American flag, waved over all the land. And it was just fine. Really OK. And I was cool with that!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mean, Green, Composite Machine

We purchased a Honda Rincon ATV in Pennsylvania. We put a winch on it in Ohio. Got a cover for it in North Carolina. A cargo basket and rear carry bag in Arizona. A whip (an 8 ft. flag to mark the rider behind hills) we found on a day trip to California, which is the next stop on the trip after our stay here in Yuma. Today we headed into town for riding gloves, rear view mirrors, and the helmets that we must have for riding in California. To that end, we sropped by RySon Motorsports on the North Frontage Road in Yuma where Gary said the best selection and deals on helmets was to be had. That proved to be spot on AND we got a demo on how to use goggles, not from the owner, but from the "owner-to-be", his son, who was as "into" motor sports as anyone I ever met. He was also a very accomplished salesman, as demonstration is a great sales technique. We were tickled by the good service and thought it appropriate to mention the business and the staff here. On the way back from that shop we picked up a small American flag to add to the whip, leaving only the "horn" to be located and installed to complete the package.

Such is life on the road and being constantly on the move. Seldom can everything that needs doing be completed in the calm and comfort of a single stop. It is challenging, but fun at the same time, and doing business with people is just another way to meet and make new friends along the way.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Will Ride For Food

We've all seen the guy on the side of the road with a sign that reads "Will Work For Food." Some of them will and some of them won't- would rather have a quick buck in the hat and off you go.... But here in Yuma, our pals Gary Skaggs and his bride Juneau Judy and all their friends "Will Ride For Food" for sure! Once again we were desert riding with a band of ATV riders. The gang back in Brenda packs a lunch and has a picnic. This crowd sets the GPS for a burger and heads out. It was some great fun. We made a pit stop at Ligurta, an old road house on the old stage coach line, outside of Yuma ( I can heartily recommend the mushroom burger). While the climate still has this ride in the desert, there was also a lot of greenery as the irrigation ditch we rode along is used to water huge fields of crops, much of it different types of lettuce. Here and there we found some would be "catchers" trying their luck in the canal with a fishing pole. Didn't see any fish though. The weather has been warming but the water is still a bit too cold for the "big bite" to be on.

Seems like there is a daily gathering of the riders at the end of each day for happy sunset hour and there is more than one karaoke machine in the crowd if you wanna get up and let go a song or two. I practiced my "Elvis." There is NO photographic evidence of that fact - and glad of it.

I've been playing it easy the last couple weeks trying not to make a bad situation worse- I split a crown right down the middle. I called my dentist back home in Florida for advice- even sent him digital pictures of the half that fell out, and he suggested getting a new temporary crown put in if I could find a place to do it inexpensively. After a little research and quite a bit more assurances from friends out here, I decided to pay a visit to the town of Algodones, Mexico. Our friends from Alaska, Gary and Judy have gone there many times and, since we don't have Mexican auto insurance in place, they offered to drive us down south of the border and give us the tour. This makes the second state and the second country that they have been so kind as to show us around- and they are really good at it too. The "ciudad" is about 8 miles down the road. You actually go into California to make the crossing. It's a wonderful little Mexican market town. At almost any market stand, you can buy a serape, some beads, a sombrero (the hat not the drink), a t-shirt, or some pottery. But what makes Algodones "different" is that each merchant can also take you to his favorite dental clinic or for an eye exam, or even to the pharmacy where they pretty much write you a prescription for whatever you need. It is not a scenario that you can warm up to quickly if you are accustomed to waiting four months for an appointment back home. And I've been mulling it around for a while, but since nothing else had turned up I decided to give it a try. A quick interview with the receptionist at the Valenzuela Dental Group, two pages of forms (the simplest I have ever filled out in at any doctor's's office), and off to the free exam room (which included x-rays) for a look-see and a quote on the work needed. Admittedly, my palms were sweating a bit, though the same thing happens in any dentist office if to a lessor degree. No, the old crown could not be fixed. Yes, they could do a new one jolly on the spot and the price was agreed to. El cheapo. Now if it will just El Stayo in place. 45 minutes or so total in the office and then off to lunch at Paraiso to test the adhesive on a couple of beef enchiladas, which were excellent, by the way, especially with that queso blanco sprinkled nicely on top. I nursed a goblet of Marguarita for 20 minutes before eating (the doctora made me do it). That set up the adhesive rather nicely. I have a great deal of respect for dentists who recommend tequilla immediately following any dental procedure. I will recommend that to Dr. Logrippo next time I see him I think. Though maybe I won't. Anyway, this evening I am happy to report that the new "tooth" is hanging in there. So far, so good. I don't really know why I should be so suspicious of medical care in another country. When we lived on the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras I blew a disk in my lower back and had to have spinal surgery. That went really well too and cost a mere fraction of the same surgery in the states. We joke about it, but it is not true, that the surgery was performed with a machete!

Here is a look at a slide show of our first big burger ride in Yuma and our day in Algodones:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Class of Brenda High Yearbook

Wow, what a week it was. Sorry it has to come to an end so quickly. Here is the 2009 Class of Brenda High. Not high school. I'm talking about high on life. This high energy, always on the go, outwardly friendly and slightly raucous and irreverent gang of desert lovers made us welcome and took us out to play in the desert here just about each and every day we were here. We learned a lot. We laughed a lot. And once again we met a whole slew of people who we will surely look forward to seeing again. What brought us here was the hope of visiting with friends made in Alaska. Lynn and Judy were great hosts and their friends are across the board great folks who treated us like family. It comes as no surprise to us that most of them have also been to Alaska and think of it as one of the truly great destinations in this world of ours. We couldn't agree more. So from the get-go we had a lot in common.

Now about the masks- desert ATV riding is dusty riding. We keep a safe distance between us, lay back at a turnoff 'til the guy behind sees where we're headed, and just generally keep an eye out for everyone's well being. But desert dust is known to carry something they refer to as Valley Fever. It's a fungal infection that CAN be very problematic whenever the soil is disturbed in any desert region. I put a link to Mayo Clinic's definition and a brief discussion of "the fever" if you are interested. I spent the better part of one day mostly without a mask and that was a mistake I won't repeat. I could feel the dust in my lungs that night and it made for some uncomfortable coughing I could have done without. Now about that Class Photo:

We did and saw a lot more this week than I have time to put into this post. But here are some images from the Brenda High album with commentary...

WELCOME CENTER: It wasn't the Chamber of Commerce for the Desert. It was just an old stone building used at one of the old gold mines in the area. It is still in remarkable condition all things considered. And riders of the desert make this one of the number one ATV tourist attractions around. Complete with a guest register and a bed, a flag, and a weather station (which is a rock hanging on a wire- if it's moving, it's windy; if it's wet, it's raining; and if its dry, well, its dry) people ride out here and leave something of interest for the next person to happen along. There were a couple bottles of beer (very warm beer), a couple cigarettes, a pen and pencil, a knife, some business cards, even a brochure or two, hence the name. The caretakers sit just outside under the eve to welcome weary travelers. And "Old Moe," the guy that used to mine the place- he's buried off to the side. As you can clearly see from his tomb stone, "Moe is no moe..."

The desert was greening up a bit early this year. Not much rain, but more than usual this time of year has things a little "bass ackwards." Even the first few blooms are showing up, something more likely to occur in February or March. But even a little rain renders images of a dry desert. Dust gets wet, then dries to form a floor that looks like this: crusty on the top, dusty just below.

Hey! Who called the desert doctor for the "spinal" tap? Quick. Oxygen for my tire!

Is this what they mean by "reach out and touch someone?" Choya cactus are seemingly so aggressive that they will just jump off their own plant to get a piece of anyone who happens to get too close. Using your hand to pull them off, however carefully, is a mistake you will make only once. I promise.

It occurs to me that in the ongoing life discussion of whether or not size matters, some things are more obvious than others. While it may or may not, as the discussion goes, really matter, size is often impressive and compare-and-contrast photos help us to keep that in mind. When I tell you a Saguaro cactus can get pretty big, this will give you some idea of that what I'm talking about:

A few of the trails we have been riding all week are well worn and maintained to the point that even those with novice ratings traverse them fairly well. We got into more and more challenging situations as the week progressed. There are some very steep hills (they go UP and DOWN, don't ya know) and some very sharp turns. The rocks are not the only obstacle to the course. Cactus is everywhere and only too happy to remind you of that should you venture too close. In this series, our new buddy Don picks and chooses a path down one of the dry river beds. Don is an experienced driver. A good driver. A bold driver. A brave driver. A fearless driver. Marilyn thinks he must surely have driven a tank for the military at some point in time, maybe for the ROTC program at Brenda High. But Don drives a side by side ATV and should remember that his passenger is at his side when he passes the next cactus. Or he may be taking IT for a ride too....all the way back to camp.

They call it "dry washing." It's a method of capturing and recovering placer gold deposits from dry dirt and sand by running it through a classifying hopper and passing it over a vibrating sluice. No water is used in the process (at least not until cleanup). They should not, however, call it "washing" as this is much more about getting dusty and dirty (note the flying clouds of dust and the face masks) than it is about washing anything. Still, it works once you know what you are doing and we got some great hands on training....with the end results of actually finding, as Tom Massey says, " a goodly amount of gold." "Goodly amount" translates into not really enough to weigh, not big enough to hold in an open hand if the wind is blowing, and not enough to take into town to sell or spend - BUT, enough so you don't work all day and go home feeling like a "loser." Some prospectors say they prospect for the fun. Some for the exercise. Some so they don't have to pay dues down at the gym. Horsefeathers! If you didn't fully intend to find some gold you wouldn't be out there in the first place, so don't give me that "I'm just enjoying the day" crap (even though I ALWAYS do!)

Class of Brenda High Varsity Sports:
Ken and Linda, Mark and Alita, pay attention! Those of you (and I am not one among you) who fancy the game of golf and believe that the true goal of life is to play every course of interest that ever there was, simply must play the 18 hole (yes, it is full size) golf course that starts just out the back trail of Desert Gold Campground. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. I don't know if you actually pay for a round or not (it might be free with a campground stay- not sure) but whatever the case, you can be sure the greens fees are really really low because there aren't any (greens, that is). And those that have played a round or two assure me that even a great shot can go haywire if it hits one of those big old rocks near the hole. The desert is hard here, not sandy, so there are hazards other than sand traps, and I am relatively sure that my photographic illustration of this particular hazards is one of a kind.

Oh Rats! I know it's going to be hard to see in this photo. I tried this whole week to get a good picture of the nest of the desert rats. It's not an easy thing to photograph because it blends right in with its surroundings, which is EXACTLY what it is intended to do. That, and to protect the entrance to the rat tunnels by using lots and lots of Choya cactus pups. You cannot (well you can, but you BETTER NOT) pick up even one of those cactus pups. They grab on and don't let go. They are downright mean! Which is why I suppose there are so many rats in the desert. Ain't no one going in the hole after them; if they make it home before the coyote or the hawk or the owl grabs 'em - they slide in to home "Safe!" Note the carefully maintained and circular path in to the hole- most noticeable across the bottom of the photo where the spiral "in" begins.

Desert Pot Holes: You think your town has big bad pot holes. Look what shows up every now and again right in the middle of the old trails past the old mining areas. Most have some rocks or barb wire marking them but keeping your eye on the road is just as important out here as it is on the regular highway. Mine shafts are surely the deepest pot holes in the world.

Chrysocolla is often mistaken for turquoise because of the similarity of color in some instances. Actually, it is hydrated copper silicate that forms in the oxidation zones of copper ore bodies. I provided a link above so you could take a look at the gem quality version of the mineral if you wished. It's a beautiful blue to green in its most concentrated form and in that form is highly valued. We found "crusted" versions of the mineral remaining in the veins and tailings piles of the old mines we explored. Not terribly valuable- but beautiful none-the-less.

"Arteries and Veins" is what I'm calling this shot. It was fascinating to look at the old mine shafts, especially those we could get close enough to, or even in far enough, to see where the main shaft was traveling and where the veins themselves branched off and flowed elsewhere.

If you thought the Can-Can was about dancing girls and saloons, better take a closer look at where that expression really comes from...look closely now.

Rock formations are among the most interesting features of the desert. Sometimes it gets hot enough out there in the desert that they start to look like people you know....but I'm sure it's just the heat! You be the judge.

While there are seemingly limitless trails to take you sightseeing and adventuring in the desert, there ARE some boundaries. Wildlife authorities maintain Wilderness Areas that are off limits to the disturbances that could occur to nature and wildlife if the areas were to be opened. So special habitat and other important areas and features are protected. Reasonable land management provides for use by people and animals and assures that we preserve what needs preserving without removing our own ability to get out there and appreciate what we have. Preservation, hunting, mining, recreation, exploring, studying- all add value to our lives and none should exist at the total exclusion of all others. Areas that are "Wilderness Preservation Areas" are well marked and taken very seriously.

We haven't visited the real Grand Canyon yet, though it is on our "to do" list. So for now, our visit to "The Little Grand Canyon" in the desert at Brenda will have to do. Sure was pretty!

Friday, January 9, 2009

What About Quartzsite?

We spent one day exploring Quartzsite. That was enough for us. But if we ever wished, hoped and prayed for an limitless and unending flea market, then one day would just be the first day of forever. When we lived in a stay-at-home base in Florida, I used to think that everyone who ever owned an RV and had time off in the winter drove it to Florida to park it for the season. Apparently though, there are a million fold more who drive their rig to Arizona and park it in the great desert parking lot of Quartzsite. If you are unfamiliar with the "concept" that is Quartzsite, officially it is a town and it does show up on the map, assuming the scale of the map is adequate. It is, in fact, quite a a sprawling place. Downtown is listed as a two mile wide span; compare that to Key West which is four miles across and you get a sense of the scale. The difference is that the "town" is not made up of housing developments and brick and mortar buildings, but rather RV's, trailers, tents, stick shanties, mud huts, and anything else temporary that provides shelter from the wind, the sand, the cold nights. Additionally, pretty much everyone in the community sells something. A lot of it is pure, unadulterated junk. But not all. Lots of rock hound shops, some neato antiques. Tools. Indian artifacts. Herbs. Oils. Sculpture. Paper art. Hats. Beads. Kites. Mining equipment. Food stuffs. RV supplies are big! Flags. Tattoos. Mexican pottery. Asian Imports. Anything. Everything. If you don't need it, they sell it. If you need it, however, they probably do not. Did I mention junk? Nice junk, though; one man's trash is another man's treasure, and that said, there is lots of treasure here.

From "downtown," in any direction, as far as the eye can see, there are "rigs" parked in the desert. Some are in "parks" with some level of hookup, but many times more are just pulled off the road and into a section of the desert to form some loose enclave....and there they are. I'm sure there must be some rhyme or reason to the way things are managed, but I wasn't what I would call highly motivated to find out. Seeing was disbelieving, and I am content to leave it at that. It was not, as they say, my cup of tea. But well worth the day of exploration and now I can say I was there and I have some frame of reference for the next person who asks me if I would ever like to spend the winter there. Thank you. No. The surrounding area is very nice. And should you ask, "Did you see everything there is to see in Quartzsite?" That is not even possible. And to make that point, this one short story:

Our first stop was the Chamber of Commerce. I use the term loosely. We asked if there was an ATV dealer (booth) in town. The lady tending the office did not know. She said, and I quote, "How could I know, they are out there and I am in here." We asked to borrow the phone book, but there wasn't one. Vendors show up if and when they feel like it. Some years yes, some years no. They can set up where they usually do...or anywhere else the spirit moves them. The "map" of town shows areas where "markets" are established, more or less- even that map was not so hot. Literally, there are thousands and thousands of little "stores" under tarps of one color or another. What used to be called "The Main Event" was purchased by a guy, split into three areas. When we got to where it used to be (the lady at the Chamber apparently didn't know it wasn't there any more), a vendor told us it didn't really exist any more, however we did find the closest thing to it clear on the other side of the highway that runs through town. With all those vehicles, gas stations, even truck stops do really well. All others? Crap shoot.

The most unusual thing about the day: never (at least not in this country) have I found so many people who refused permission to take their picture. Some wouldn't even let me shoot a picture of a table full of generic beads, and one Kenyan guy got downright hostile. I understand protecting artistic propriety ( I owned a gallery and photographs were not permitted without permission) but this had nothing to do along those lines that I could understand. Heck, even the guy wearing the Wisconsin Cheese Head and passing out samples of deep fried onion rings refused to go on camera. When I asked him why not, he said it was because most of his family works for the government. Huh? What? We theorized that there were either some bad drugs in the lot, some WANTED:Dead Or Alive types behind the vendor tables (and under the cheese head hats), illegal aliens, or what have you. But you can be sure, all the images from our stroll around Quartzsite come with a verbal, even if not a written release from those whose faces and/or product appear in this slide show.

Oh, and as for the ATV part we wanted ( a whip flag so others can see us behind a dune), we drove to California and picked one up at a shop just over the border. It was only a few more miles from Quartzsite, but it SOUNDS like a big deal, doesn't it. You will note that while we have now been in California, it is still not colored in on the visited states map. Gotta stay there overnight first! Fair is fair!

Images From Quartzsite

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dancing In The Desert With Brenda

There was no dancing. There was no Brenda, unless, of course, you consider the name of the town where we went riding in the desert with our friends, Lynn and Judy Yoder, who we met at the gold camp in Chicken, Alaska in 2007 ( and some of their friends). It is, rather, a metaphor for a day of touring the desert by "bike." We rode just a bit fewer than 50 miles over a 7 1/2 hour tour. The "dance" seems a good metaphor to me. We waltzed over flat terrain past magnificent scenery, jitter-bugged over some rough mountainous terrain, rock n rolled over some big boulders and tippie toed around all the spines from the cactus along every step of the way. The day, the trip, the company was a thing of beauty. Scenery. Active and working mining claims. Old mining shafts and tunnels and abandoned operations. Wildlife watering holes. Burial sites. Our first participation in group geocaching ( a world wide "treasure hunt" craze based on a combination of clues, computer research and gps navigation). Gullies. Washes. Dry Creeks. Even a bat or two along the way. Oh, and a humming bird, even though only the first signs of the desert greening up were appearing. A ballet in the desert!

Photos for this slide show were all taken with the wide angle lens. I had the telephoto along, but anyone who thinks that riding the bike at an average speed of 15 or 20 mph over rough loose terrain lends itself to changing lenses and or getting a more well framed shot has got to give it a try themselves. Oh, and the dust! Nothing kicks up fine dust like a bunch of bikes tearing across a dusty path through the dry desert. This being our introduction to desert biking we hadn't come prepared with "bandannas" to cover the nose and mouth. The others looked on occasion like the Brenda Banditos, but they are probably not requiring large glasses of ice tea to wash out the dust like I am tonight. Actually, I jest! A whisk broom on the bike and the jackets and the boots and the thick cover of brown powder was pretty much dispensed, and only the memories of a great day filled with new vistas and good friends remained.

Slide Show: Dancing In The Desert With Brenda

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2008 Goes By The Books

Happy New Year! 2008 is in the books. Strange year from the perspective of finances, politics, and world events perhaps, but another excellent and exciting year on the road for us. Last year at this time we had ticked off (or should I say "counted") 32 of the 49 states possible to visit by RV without the aid of a giant ferry boat to Hawaii. (Although we did visit Margie in Mississippi and she's from Hawaii if you think that should count...) This year we are mapping 45 of the 49, with only Nevada, California, Colorado and North Dakota left to visit for the fist time. The first three states mentioned SHOULD be a done deal by Spring (in the Rockies), but I'm thinkin' I screwed up big time by missing North Dakota when I could have, should have, gone there. We did manage two more Canadian Provinces (Maritimes) this year as well.

Compared to the 23, 571.9 miles we drove last year, 12,137.1 this year doesn't seem all that impressive, but keep in mind diesel got up there near 6 smackers a gallon and we hold (and use) a lot of gallons. Besides which, the targeted states list is getting smaller, so it doesn't seem like as much of a hurry to reach them all- at least within a certain time frame. With a gallon about 2 bucks a whack now, filling up is a great deal more fun than it was there for a while.

Life on the road continues to hold our interest and out attention. The ongoing discussion of where we may wish to settle next is seemingly far from resolution. Still really like Florida, which is where we started this adventure from. Still like Alaska at the far distant extreme of our travels. Alaska calls to us all the time; however, the long winter nights and sub zero temperatures are doing a bit of hollering of their own.The surprise state of the now going- on- three- year stint to me has been North Carolina and I'm not sure I know exactly why, but I have enjoyed it very much each time we stay in or pass through...and we have done that quite a few times already. New Hampshire and Vermont were quite nice, but I'm really not thinking of returning to New England. Marilyn enjoys the combo of desert and mountains, but sustainable water issues steer us away from living in the desert regions.

Like last year, I am fighting the temptation to list all the places we went and the things we did, many of which we had never done before. If it's of interest to you, and you haven't been previously following the blog, I invite you to use the archives to go back in time and play catch up.

If there is big news (even if for now it is only "little" big news (which is not to be confused with the Little Bighorn, which we did go see) it is that we are actually now earning some revenues from the Google Ads which pop up like magic - new and different each time the subject matter of the blog changes. The blog began as a way of keeping in touch with family and friends- letting them know where we were and what we were doing and seeing, but it rapidly became of interest to others, including those we wrote about, friends of friends who took an interest in the lifestyle or the regions being visited, folks whose faces showed up on our photo journal entries, and mostly to my great surprise, people who are "into" blogs who just happen across our endeavor and for whatever reason decide to follow along, either regularly or from time to time. Afew readers actually say they do so because they like the way I write. Well, don't I feel special? If you'd care to make a contribution to our effort (NO, don't send cash in an envelope!) just click on any Google Ad that may be of interest to you. OK, I reconsidered, you CAN send cash in an envelope if you really feel you must! Just don't be looking for a receipt!

But for whatever reason we are all riding the "bus" together, we thank you for riding along. Friends are the best part of the journey...and we're glad you're riding along!

2009: Here we come!

Was Miranda Right ?

The sun set on the final day of 2008 as we watched from our canyon edge lookout in the GPAA/LDMA gold camp of Stanton, Arizona. Anticipation was building as the final preparations for the New Year's Eve extravaganza, the Shooting of Charlie Stanton, took place over in the old opera house that has been rebuilt by the organization for just such occasions (and also pot luck dinners, dances, card games, and what have you.... It was a fittingly beautiful wrap up (the sunset , that is) for what was for most a fairly trying year. Weather misbehaved, the markets took a tumble of unprecedented proportion, fuel prices ran the gamut from sky high to el cheapo, and political turmoil led to unprecedented political precedent. (figure that one out!)

But on this night, it was lights, camera, action for the Outdoor Channel as they set up to film this annually not-ready-for-prime-time play.

First came the zither and a musical prelude- heavenly....or something like that.

Then came Sheriff Deputy and Master of Ceremonies, Perry Massey, to narrate the action and set the scenes (everybody cheer: Yay. Yay.)

We meet Charlie Stanton, dirty money grubbing, power grabbing, rotten scoundrel who owned the stage house, the assay office, and everything else in town that he could cheat someone out of...Can you say, "Boooooo Hissss ?"

Next we meet the bad bad brothers who do Charlie's dirty work for him until eventually they turn on each other in a fit of poetic justice: More Booooos and hissses please.

(and maybe some booze with the boooos)

And, of course, some love interests and some floozies thrown in for good measure.
In the end, the bad guys shoot the bad guy who is then arrested by the good guy. To this day we know the names and reputations of the bad guys, but the good guys have all passed in to the mist of history without anyone to tell their story and save their good name for posterity. Perhaps there is a lesson here, but I am betting against it if there is.

So why the title to this post? Because when the sheriff came to arrest the brothers for killing Charlie Stanton, one of the brothers(played by brother Tom Massey) had this to say:

"Sheriff, some time ago I met a young lady in a bar. Her name was Miranda. She told me if I ever get arrested for killing somebody, I should make my first call to a lawyer. So Sheriff, do you think Miranda was Right?"

You see, there are perfectly wonderful reasons to study history. How else would we know where Miranda Rights originated....