Canyon de Chelly (Shay) National Monument

45653-dddmApril 21
Another relatively short, pleasant drive brought us to Kayenta and Canyon de Chelly National Monument around 3 PM. We’d made plans to meet friends Don and Dorothy Malpas at the Cottonwood campground for a couple of days of visiting. For them, this was the tail end of their latest multi-month outing that included a lot of 4-wheeling in southern Utah. We haven’t bumped into many friends this time around, so it was especially great to happy hour it with these two. They have a great attitude toward life and traveling, and just hanging around them brightens my mood.45591-deChelly1At first, Kayenta seemed to have begun to prosper. There is a shopping mall with nice grocery and hardware stores, all the roads seem in good shape and even the campground seemed better maintained. It only took a short while however, before we began to see that it was still much the same. The first clue was the gentle tapping on our RV door the first evening. It was a Navajo man, Marc Begay Sr, wanting to sell us some of his paintings on rocks. I was all ready to send him on his way until I actually looked at his work. Really nice. We haggled a bit and eventually bought 3 small paintings. Marc seemed to be a really humble nice man. He told me he lived in the canyon and used to work breaking horses. He’d fallen off too many times and could not do it anymore. To prove it, he proceeded to pop his shoulder in and out several times. This was the pattern every night, but someone different each night. Also the stray dogs are still here. We even saw stray horses wandering around.45593-deChelly1But we were here for the canyon. Wednesday morning we sort of got the lay of the land and decided to first take a drive out along the south canyon. There is almost no hiking in the park. It is mostly private Navajo land and only one trail exists. So drive we must.45601-deChelly1 45608-deChelly1Each of the overlooks gave us a new view of the canyon, whether it be dunes and cliff or the crazy swirling sandstone layers. This is the first time this trip we’ve seen the amazing color combination of cottonwood greens and sandstone reds. Never gets old.45604-deChelly145616-deChelly1We stopped for a time at the White House Overlook. From here you can see a well preserved ruin built into a cave high on the cliff. Tomorrow we will be hiking the 600’ down to the canyon floor and out to the ruins. From here we could judge what time the sun would be low enough to cast light on the white plaster covered structure that is tucked up under the overhang of the cliff. It stays in shadow most of the day, but I wanted photographs with light hitting at least part of it. At 3 PM, it still wasn’t low enough.

We continued on to Spider Rock at the end of the road and enjoyed the spectacular view from the point. Then back to camp and happy hour.45621-deChelly1 45646-paintbrush 45629-deChelly1 45641-deChelly1Thursday we said goodbye to Don and Dorothy and spent the morning relaxing. We’d determined the best time to arrive at the White House ruins was going to be very late afternoon. It is only a 3.5 round trip hike, but with a 600’ decent, it will also give us a nice bit of exercise. The beginning is a pretty easy hike over sandstone on the rim, then it descends down 600’ via switchback trail. There are a couple of tunnels to pass through, but it is mostly wide and easy to follow. Once down, it’s an easy hike in the canyon on a sandy trail over the river and to the ruins.45659-whitehouseWaiting until this time of afternoon to hike and photograph is also a benefit because the lower angled light brings out the texture of the surrounding walls and casts really nice shadows all around. The swirling sandstone layers of the canyon walls were also interesting. The fairly heavy cloud cover was just a bit concerning. Would we see any sunshine once down there?45667-whitehouse 45683-whitehouse 45663-whitehouse 45675-whitehouse 45687-whitehouse45694-whitehouseThe big shock came when we arrived at the ruins themselves. There is a 5 1/2’ high fence that runs in a wide diameter around the ruins making it impossible to approach for some better angles. This wasn’t here 10 years ago and we could walk right up to the lower ruin. I understand the reasoning – the recovery of the fenced off area being a big one. Also, vandalism must be addressed. Graffiti has always been a problem as some of my telephoto images will attest. One date I could read on the white plaster area was 1873.45723-whitehouse 45759-whitehouse 45772-whitehouseCloud cover was pretty heavy when we left, but I could see lots of breaks in the clouds now that we were on the bottom.The whole point was to get here when the light was right. If the sun doesn’t come out, the images I had in mind would be impossible. With the fence being there, I’d already lost some of what I wanted. So it was just a matter of hanging around waiting for those short bits of perfect light. Always a good idea to bring a book along.45788-whitehouseIt did work out very well as it turned out. Once at the site, we got plenty of sunny breaks and moments during the transition from light to shadow. We spent a couple of hours watching the light change and waiting for it to get lower. Luck ran out around 5:30 when the sun went behind clouds for good. Mary headed back, but I stayed on for a little while longer, looking at a few details a little more closely.45794-whitehouseOn my way back up the trail, I passed a steady stream of Navajo in 2’s and 3’s, walking down into the canyon – presumably  on their way home. One fellow stopped me to ask if I’d seen his cell phone. He said he’d slept the night just off the trail (about half way up), but that when he woke up, he couldn’t find it. He did not look in great shape, but he seemed in control of himself. He asked for cigarettes, but I couldn’t help him there. I met Mary at the top, then headed back to camp for the evening. Tomorrow we head for Monument Valley National Monument.45760-whitehouse

Monument Valley National Monument
April 2445800-monument1Another easy drive north though Kayenta to Monument Valley National Monument. We haven’t been here for several years now and it is always interesting to see what changes have occurred. Did a spire collapse? What else have they now built? This time was a real shock though. Way back when, we could camp in a somewhat primitive, but really nice campground right on the edge of the rim. Then the Navajo built a 2-story hotel on that rim and removed the campground. We could still camp across the road on another very rough open space. The view, I think, was actually better and more people could back-up to the edge. We were told by our Navajo guide then, there were plans for an RV park in this space.45807-monument1Regrettably, this has come to pass in a very poor way. The new RV park provides a level space with a picnic table. There is no power or water or dump station provided. All for the sum of $50 off season! Plus, you have to still pay the $20 entrance fee. Unless we hit the lottery, we will not be camping here anymore.

We made reservations at the privately owned RV park, Gouldings RV Resort, which is just across the Arizona border in Utah, which is just across the highway from the entrance to the monument. They wanted $44/night, but also had a $22/night area for dry camping. It was just a big lot next to a giant propane tank, but it was quiet enough and even the scenery was nice. We also still had access to all the amenities. There is one other dry camping campground run by the Navajo located about a mile from the entrance, but it is in a wide open sandy area. The wind that has been whipping up, would be a killer in that spot, but it is also $22/night. So we got set up and finished the day catching up on chores.

April 2545811-monument1We were up early this morning and set out for the 9 mile loop road through the monument. We drove the 6 miles to the entrance station, but arrived too early to have to pay to get in, so we just drove through to the loop road. The gate for the road would not open until 8 AM officially, so this was when we investigated the new campground. Most of the view spots were now taken up by little cabins. We’ve heard these are going for $150/night. A great spot if you can afford it. The RV spaces were level and pretty close together and only a few had a premier view.  Not a great development.

The cloud cover was going to be a problem again today, but it was good to see these sights anyway. 8 AM came but still the gate was closed. No matter, we just drove around it and began the tour.45816-monument1 45837-monument1 45842-monument1 45847-monument1 45856-monument145872-monument1At one of the overlooks, I photographed “The Cube” a giant sandstone boulder. There were also other wonderfully shaped boulder strewn around and I spent some time playing around with those. The light was pretty good for this because it softened harsh shadows without completely flattening the color.
45888-monument1 45891-monument1 45894-monument1It was a nice morning but got progressively more windy. Rain was forecast for a little later and into the evening, so we were hoping for some nice clouds and wet saturated sandstone tomorrow. We headed back to camp, and as we pulled into our space, I noticed what looked suspiciously like the emergency hatch laying in the sand next to the rig. We’d left it open a little before we left and a gust of the increasing wind, even here in our well protected spot, ripped it off the top. I thought it had to be trashed at first, but as I inspected it, I saw the there was not real damage to the cover. The little rivets holding the cover to the hinge had failed. I found the lifter next to the hatch – it had also been ripped out of the crank but only slightly damaged. I duct taped the hatch back on for the time being – later I’ll go into Kayenta again and pick-up the items I’ll need to repair it.

April 26
We had just a very light rain for just a few minutes last night. It’s still windy, and early it looked like we would see no sun today either. We planned to set out again in the afternoon anyway, so we did a short little hike around the RV park grounds. They are nestled in a nice little embrace of sandstone rock and hills. We followed a path that promised a hidden arch view, and after almost giving up, finally found it. The sky was beginning to clear now, and patches of sunlight lit up sections of the arch.

We set out again around 4 PM to do the loop drive once more, but this time with much more sun and great clouds. First stop was at the main overlook. I alway like to stop and photograph these rocks in front of the Mittens. Sort of like standing in Ansel’s footprints. He photographed this spot way back when and it has become kind of a photography roots thing to do for me.45903-monument2We hit most of the same spots and photographed much the same stuff, but it always amazes me how different light changes can make.
45921-monument2 45923-monument2 45933-monument2 45957-monument2 45973-monument2 45982-monument2 46018-monument2We finished up where we started the afternoon, and watched the light change over the valley. We were soon to loose the light for the evening when it went behind clouds, so there would be no crazy sunset tonight. We were ready for dinner anyway since it was now nearly 7 PM. We’re having lots of late dinners now that sunset isn’t till 8.

Tomorrow we head out for several days in the Valley of the Gods area.

Goosenecks & Valley of the Gods
April 2646143_gooseneckI drove the 20 miles back to Kayenta this morning to pick up some small nuts and bolts so I could reattach the emergency hatch to the RV. The wind had torn it from it’s place but not damaged it at all. I just had to remove the flimsy rivets and replace them with the nuts and bolts. Actually it was a good thing the rivets were flimsy. It they were sturdier, the wind would have probably ripped it off anyway, but would also have torn the holes. I’ll just keep it closed when away now. The crank was an easy fix. Just had to place a new screw in to hold the riser support in place.46137_gooseneckWhen I returned, we dumped and filled with water and hit the road again. We only had to drive another 30 miles to Goosenecks State Park. It’s about as bare bones a park as you will find – a few picnic tables along the curvy edge of the canyon. But for $10 we could camp anywhere along the edge we wanted. We could have driven a good 1/2 out along the edge if we wanted to get more remote, but opted for a nearby space instead. The place is pretty quiet anyway. No water, no dump, no trees, but oh, the view! The San Juan River is what has carved these narrow, twisting curves in the landscape. This section is particularly curvy, so it makes for some nice scenes.

April 2746044_VOGWe decided an afternoon drive through Valley of the Gods would yield better light and cloud conditions, so we spent the day catching up on blogs and such. During the afternoon, clouds began increasing, with the heaviest concentration over Cedar Mesa. It was pouring up there as we later found out from rangers. But down on the valley, it was simply verga – never reaching the ground. Well, sometimes it did, but only once did we really see or feel any at all. What we got was tumescent cloud formations casting dramatic shadows over the wide valley.
46058_VOG 46066_VOGThe road itself is around 17-20 miles of good graded dirt. It rolls along through the valley, sometimes a straight shot, other times winding around the base of the mesa or other formations. Looking at some of the formations, one really understands why the valley got it’s name. Some are reminiscent of Egyptian God sculptures, others resemble victorian queens.46057_VOG 46060_VOGThere were a wide variety of wildflowers and a few blooming cactus, though not in abundance.46055_VOG 46068_VOG 46081_VOGWith the clouds, the light was constantly changing, going from flat to contrasty in moments. This all made for great fun for us as we hop from location to location throughout the valley.46047_VOG 46072_VOG 46086_VOG 46089_VOG 46094_VOG 46106_VOG 46111_VOGAround each bend or rise in the road, new vistas are revealed. We kept thinking we were done, but then another curve would require one or the other of us to stop again.46114_VOG 46120_VOG 46122_VOG 46126_VOG 46116_VOGThis was about the best light and cloud conditions we’ve ever had here. On other visits, we’ve encountered blazing hot temps with nothing but harsh light, or too overcast or windy. Today was one of those rare days when making images was easy. Our next several days, we’ll be exploring the Cedar Mesa area. We’ve never done much here other that Natural Bridges, so we’ll see some new parts.

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Homolovi State Park

April 17
While we were visiting Little Painted Desert, we stayed at Homolovi State Park, near Winslow. There was quite a nice little widely spaced campground here. We were able to get a great site for 2 days with a view of the prairie all around us. The weekend was booked, but we only needed the 2 days for what we wanted to do.45042-homoloviYesterday evening, we were up at Little Painted desert (last post), so today we wanted to explore Homolovi a little better. The park was populated by a number of different native peoples, then later by Mormon settlers. There are two indian sites and an old cemetery to explore. We first the Mormon cemetery. We could have driven the 3 mile round trip road there, but it was so nice this morning, we chose to walk. It was very quiet and visibility was pretty good all the way to the San Francisco Peaks. The cemetery was quite small and it seemed a number of the graves had pretty much returned to dust.45054-homoloviLater in the day, we went out to the Homolovi 2 archeological site. It is typical of partially excavated pueblo’s, but one thing stood out – the amount of pottery shards laying around. It is not uncommon to find these pieces, but here people seem to have picked them up, but placed them on the various rocks laying around. Most parks really don’t like visitors to even touch artifacts. I suppose they are happy no one takes any. It is certainly a temptation. We touched but did not take.45094-homolovi 45066-homolovi 45067-homoloviWhen we talked with the ranger in the visitor center later on, he let us know about a couple of petroglyphs locations. The best was at the end of an established trail that really wasn’t advertised much. He said he waits until people express interest before telling them how to get there. We followed the path for around 1 1/2 miles, and found some nice examples.45083-homoloviOur second morning, before taking off for Holbrook and Petrified, we walked the 1 1/2 mile road out to the Homolovi 1 archaeological site which was pretty much like the site 2 with pottery shards everywhere. Just before getting back to camp we found a dead jackrabbit just below our site. There are quite a few of these guys hopping around, but this one was done. It was interesting how it seems to have just laid down as if to sleep. I could see some scratch marks in the sand around it, recording it’s last movements.45103-homoloviNow we move on to Holbrook and Petrified.

Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park
April 17-2145332-Pet2For the past week we have been visiting Petrified Forest/Painted National Park. The drive From Winslow to Holbrook went smoothly and once there, had to settle for a couple of nights at another KOA. There just isn’t much camping around here – most of the land belongs to the Navajo Nation. We found out later about a native owned RV park at the south entrance. If you can get by with no hook-ups, it’s free. With electricity, it’s $10. No water or dump, but for the 1-3 days most people spend, it’s very doable. Cutting out nearly 40 miles of driving is the bonus. We moved there after 2 nights at the KOA.45115-Petrified45112-PetrifiedOver the next 3 days, we traveled up and down and back and fourth, all over the two main sections of the park. Instead of trying to chronicle each day, I’m just going to post the images from each area we explored. Mornings and evenings and same place, different days, will be combined and it’s up to you to decide which is which. Since we couldn’t get into the park until 7 AM, good morning light was in short supply. Best light was usually from mid-afternoon till sunset, but with cloud cover, even mid-day worked well for images.45485-Pet3Blue Mesa was a place we visited several times as we moved between sections. The road spurs off from the main park road about halfway through the south section. It then rises up to follow along and around the top of the mesa. The mesa’s name comes from the predominately cool range colors of the sedimentary layers. As the mesa has eroded, the layers have been revealed, with blues purples and green and magenta – all in such intriguing shapes and states of erosion. All along the loop could also be found great examples of petrified wood. In some places, the ground around a log had largely eroded away, leaving it on a pedestal of sorts.45119-Petrified 45355-Pet2 45136-Petrified 45155-Petrified 45358-Pet2 45203-PaintedThe north section is know as the Painted Desert. I think it is an appropriate name. Depending on time of day, it can change dramatically. Passing clouds dapple light over the land below, revealing constantly changing highlights. Other times, the high mid-day sun will eliminate shadows, but wash out colors. This can also be nice when it creates a more pastel look. This is probably my favorite section because of the wideness of the view. At a few of the early turnouts, closer vantage points let you get a little more personal.45397-Painted3 45412-Painted3Also in this section, a short trail along the edge can be walked from one of the viewpoints to the former Inn, now a museum of sorts. Maybe a half mile or so. A nice little leg stretcher, but really, the best views are from the road.45228-Paint2 45241-Paint2 45416-Painted3If you have the time and energy, you can hike into the landscape.45235-Paint2 45417-Painted3 45450-Painted3 45441-Painted3 45376-Painted3 45509-LongLogsOn our last day at the park, before leaving, we ventured into the park once again to hike the Long Logs trail. This loop is about a mile and a half, but you can add another mile by hiking out to Agate House – a reconstructed pueblo indian ruin made from petrified wood.45501-LongLogsAll along this trail there does indeed exist many nearly whole trees, now petrified. Nice Yellow Mariposa Lilies and Evening Primrose were all over the place. We were there early, but the sun was behind us and making compositions without our own shadows in the frame was difficult.45514-LongLogs 45516-LongLogs 45519-bunny 45534-LongLogs 45528-LongLogs 45535-LongLogs 45553-LongLogs 45558-LongLogs 45563-atgateHouseThere is a nice view all around at Agate House, and the reconstructed walls were fun to look at, but by now, the sun was getting high and the light harsh. We were visited by this little songbird. Haven’t quite identified it yet, but sang to us several times before flitting away again.45570-atgateHouse 45293-Pet2 45288-Pet2Our next stop will be Canyon de Chelly a bit north of here. We will be spending 2 or 3 days viewing the canyon and ruins and will be meeting up with friend Don and Dorothy for a visit.

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More Stops Along the Way

April 14 & 1544893_route66OatWe arrived in Needles after quite a long and windy drive, but it was good to be back on track with everything working well in the LD. Chuck gave us a look when we told him where we were headed. He pointed to the palm trees down the block and said that when they bend the far in the wind, he knows it is bad on the highways. According to the weather reports, we were at the southern edge of the wind warning region and felt it wouldn’t be a problem, though we could defiantly feel the rig rock as we drove. As we came into Needles, over on the opposite side of highway 40, a large semi lay twisted on it’s side down a steep embankment, it’s cargo scattered all over the medium. About a dozen Caltrans pick-ups were parked all over the medium while workers cleared the wreckage. Guess it depends on the gust. We had planned to keep going the next morning, but the wind warning region was shifting south with us right in the middle. We decided to stay in Needles an extra day to let it pass.
44852_route66There isn’t a lot to do in Needles. We did have Route 66 to play around on, so while it was still quite windy, we set out in the Rav. The portion of 66 we were near was not terribly exciting though. It did boast a small dusty and battered enclave known as Oatman, but it was so overtly touristy we didn’t even get out of the car. On the way up to town, we came across a section of road where folks had decorated the various creasote bushes with Christmas ornaments and tinsel and such.44882_route66The real draw for us were the burros. At our campground, the owner said they had pretty much taken over Oatman, so you know, we had to check it out. as we drove through, we only saw one wandering along the street getting snacks from the tourists. A little disappointing then, but as we reached the outskirts, out in a large clearing were the rest of the bunch.
44880_route6644877_route66There were well over a dozen out there lurking like a bunch of juvenile delinquents. When we got out of the car, they began approaching. First one, then another, and eventually we were surrounded by these very docile animals. They just stood there around the car waiting. One always worries about an animal that can, well, kick like a mule, so we were careful. Eventually they completely surrounded the car to the point some were actually leaning against it and wouldn’t move. By then, Mary was back inside and I had to have her reach over and open my door to push a burro away enough for me to get in. He moved reluctantly, but he moved.

We continued on, taking another part of 66, and found some nice examples of blooming ocotillo before heading back to camp for the night.
44896_route66 44898_route66

Little Painted Desert
Thursday, April 16
44918_littlePaint1We read about this place in one of our photo guidebooks. It is a little known county park that sits on the rim of a badlands like canyon. Located about 13 miles north of the Homolovi campground, it is touted to be every bit as nice as Petrified Forrest/Painted Desert National Park, just on a smaller scale. So we decided to check it out for a day or so.44927_littlePaint2 It highly lived up to it’s reputation for beauty. The park itself is just a couple of rundown and graffitied viewing structures and picnic tables along the rim. There is a chopped up gravel road with a few turnouts to enjoy the view. We visited twice on two different days and no one was there either time – and this is at sunset when the is great. The first evening there, the wind was stiff and icy. We could only be out 15 minutes at a time before scurrying back to the warmth of our car.
44952_littlePaint4 44965_littlePaint5Of course it is a much smaller area, but well worth the trip out there44990_littlePaint6 45006_littlePaint7 45014_littlePaint8Afternoon thunder showers are not unusual around here, and it often leads to spectacular cloud and sunset pictures.
45018_littlePaint9Our next stop will be the actual Petrified/Painted Desert National Park. As luck would have it, it will also be a free weekend for all national parks. Not sure what it will be like people wise.

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Catching Up

Tuesday, April 14
44676_Highway1OakCatching up again after more than a week. With most of our problems solved, we decided to stay in Pismo for a few more days. I couldn’t get in to see The Tire Man, Chuck Carvitto, and wife Sue, until Tuesday, April 14 (yesterday actually), so there was no need to leave just yet.44726_pismoEgretPismo is a great place to just chill. In the mornings and some afternoons, we walked along the beach for a couple of miles or explore the inlet. There is little wind in the morning and the beach smooth. Lots of interesting polished rocks and shells to be investigated.44730_pismoTracksSand dollars abound in quite large numbers. I was a little disturbed to watch a mother and son walking back to camp with both hands piled high with them. I though that wasn’t allowed on state and federal lands. Anyway, on the next mornings’ walk, we saw dozens more of them, so I guess not much to worry about there. This particular morning, we even found living Sand Dollars.
44743_pismoDollarHave you ever seen one move. Very slow and sort of in a spiral direction. The bottoms are covered in tiny feet that push them along. It looks like the try to burrow into the soft wet sand. The tops are also covered in tiny hairs. Pretty cool. Our walks sometimes led to the little beach town of Pismo, where we found great ice cream and saltwater taffy. Not to overly cutesy for an area like this.

Lots of sea birds along the surf line as well. We’ve seen cormorants, protected snowy plovers, egrets, curlews, and more. Afternoons were windy but bright.
44653_egret-44639_curlewGodwitSandpiper-44767_pismoplover44690_seaLionsWe took off another day to check out the elephant seal rookery up the coast a bit. It was it’s usual spectacle of undulating blubber as the creatures lumbered toward the surf. A docent informed us that we were in luck – we were just in time to see the daily migration of seals from high on the beach where it was too hot, to down in the surf line where it is juuusssst right – about 40 yards. The excitement for the day!44694_seaLions 44698_seaLions 44702_seaLionsThere was a nice assortment of wildflowers around the Hearst Castle area.44712_lupine 44718_lupine1On the way back, of course, we had to stop in San Simeon for a bit of wine tasting.

Saturday, April 11
A travel day that put us at the Bakersfield Desert Palms RV Resort for the night. Walk around the “Resort” a bit in the morning, playing with the palms, shadows, and RV’s in their spaces.
44777_RVpark2- 44773_RVpark1- 44791_BakeLDThen it was on to Red Rock State Park, where we plan to spend a couple of nights before our visit to Ridgecrest. It was very pleasant when we got to the campground in the early afternoon on Sunday. We lucked out with the only paved space that wasn’t reserved for disabled campers. The sites are quit well spaced, but the downside is drought caused water restrictions – RV’s are not allowed to take on water, and the dump is closed. But for 2 nights, not a problem. We set up quickly and sat outside enjoying the perfect temperature in the shade of the LD. After dark, I went out to make some night exposures of the Joshua Trees and stars.

Scouting locations for the night shoot.

Scouting locations for the night shoot.

44810_RedRock 44818_RedRock 44815_RedRockMonday, we got up early and did a rather disappointing dirt/4-wheel drive road. There was evidence of  past flowers, but only sparse examples remained. Back in camp, we doddled a bit since we didn’t need to be in Ridgecrest until late afternoon. We got there around 3 PM for our Tuesday appointment. Chuck was waiting, and actually said he could do most of the job then, and finish it tomorrow morning. We could be away a day early. So we gave him the keys, found the park in town to kill a few hours. On our return, Chuck was done! We were still able to hook up right there at the shop and spend the night.

Just a little more about Chuck. He will be retiring soon after 25 odd years as the Tire Man. He plans to continue suppling his brass tire stems online, so they will still be available through his website. Chuck in one of the rare ones. There is a level of service with him that, while some have come close, none can equal how he treats customers. We spent the night in his lot, and in the morning, he brought us lattes to start the day.

He is a wealth of knowledge and is happy to spend time talking about things he’s seen come into the shop. He showed us several examples of SOB tire stems – his competitors. They pale in quality. Yes, his cost more, but when you see how the others hold up (or not), you begin to understand why his are far better.

Sue has suffered some major health issues, and Chuck wants to be able to spend more time with her. At almost 70, Chuck admitted the work was getting too much for him. Who can argue with that.

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Lake Nacimiento

Sunday, April 5
5843_lake2Picking up the rig at the Ford dealer on Saturday went smoothly enough. The only hitch was that during my walk around, I discovered they had not reinstalled the brass trie stems I use. In fact, they only installed stock stems, making it almost impossible to air the tires without special equipment. They told me the bushings had been damaged on mine and there wasn’t time to get any others ordered and delivered. Slightly suspect, but no way for me to know for sure. This means another visit to The Tire in Ridgecrest. Fortunately, this happens to be close to the way we are going. The $2,600 in repairs are all being picked up by Cordelia RV (I’ll believe it when I see it).5845_lake3It being Easter Weekend, we really didn’t know where we should try to camp. Most all our plans included being well situated long before the weekend. Since we had to punt, Mary found a rather close possibility in Lake Nacimiento – a county park and lake resort just 16 miles west of Paso Robles. A call found there was plenty of space in the dry camping area ($22/night).The reservoir is at 28% of normal, so the water was low, but also about a mile from the regular campground. The dry camping area lay all along the bluff just above the waters edge – better view and more open. We could camp anywhere in the large open space. Doubtless this area is underwater during full lake conditions, but now it made for a pretty nifty camp. The low water didn’t seem to stop Spring Breakers and other watercraft enthusiast from enjoying what was there, so we certainly weren’t alone, but we were grateful to have our high perch over the lake, and it turned out to be quite nice.

Oil pumping along Highway 101 on the way to Pinnacles.

Oil pumping along Highway 101 on the way to Pinnacles. 

On Sunday, we actually went back to Pinnacles for the day. Mary called them the previous night to see if anyone had turned in my glasses that I had apparently left sitting on top of the Rav as we left the campground for a short hike earlier in the afternoon. Apparently, they were thrown off – another in a long line of brain farts and bonehead moves I’ve made so far on this trip. We retraced and searched everywhere we’d been just before that, but never found them. I have back-ups, but they are not quite the same prescription. We reported the loss at the ranger station, then took off.5872_pinn2aBut someone had found them! Mind you, this was 3 days after we left. The case was found somewhere in the campground loop road and turned in. They were still inside the beaten and battered case I use. I was amazed that broken down thing didn’t spring open and scatter the glasses all over the road when it hit the ground, but they were undamaged.5877_pinn2bSince we were there, we decided on another short hike as a leg stretcher before heading back. It was very busy this Easter Sunday, and the day use parking lots were all full. Shuttles were now being required to access the trails. We didn’t want to do the most popular trails anyway, so opted for a portion of the Bench trail that meanders around the valley near the creek. I parked in the tent camping loop where the trail starts – not really allowed. I chose a spot out of the way of the sites, so as to not attract too much attention from rangers. We set out, and not 30 steps from the car, a young ranger in a truck asks us where we parked. I told him and he said all the sites were still occupied even though they seemed empty. When he realized where and how I parked, and that we only planed a 2 hour walk, he said no problem. If you are going to break the rules, break them gently – sometimes it works out.5878_pinn2cThe walk itself was quite nice. We only saw a handful of people along the way, and it was very pleasant and quiet walking among the giant oaks and quickly drying grasses and wildflowers. Even the turkeys seemed at ease.5890_pinn2d 5894_pinn2eHeading back again to Lake Nacimiento, we took an alternate route and found some very nice mustard pastures with oaks, some lovely rolling hills and a cool area of crop fields.5920_rd_to_camp3 5926_rd_to_camp4 5931_rd_to_camp5 5904_rd_to_camp1 5907_rd_to_camp2 5913_produce1 5915_produce2Arriving back at the lake, we found a huge gathering of people and cars and tents all grouped near our rig. They were a lively but well mannered group, and they hung around until 6 pm, but the evening was ours alone.5855_lake1

A Little Time on the Coast
April 7
Nothing went wrong today! Well, almost nothing. We left Pinnacles, now camped at Pismo Beach on the coast – a distance of around 60 miles. We pulled in, found our favorite site unoccupied and got set up. After lunch, I decided I should check over the word the Ford service did. I felt a little paranoid thinking I needed to do it this time, but I vowed to be more attentive to the rig, so I did it. All looked well with the dually’s, but on a whim, I thought I’d check the passenger side front wheel. When we were towed, the driver removed one lug from that wheel so he would have 4 for the dually. Five of the lug nuts by then had either popped off or were lost when the entire lug was sheared off.

At Ford, I told my service guy about it and watched him make a special note to check it. At pick up, I asked again to be sure it got done. Yes he said, and in fact they had checked all the wheels, he said. Great, I thought, no need to check it. Back at Pismo, when I removed the wheel cover, one lug nut was missing. I think they never even checked it. I immediately emailed Ford, but to date there has been no reply. I could call, but I feel it is pointless. We were going to write up a great Yelp review, but now it will be somewhat less. I managed to find another Ford dealer who ordered them for me and now I have a few extras. Tomorrow we hike!

Montana de Oro State Park
April 85935_islayCreek1We had a nice rain here all morning yesterday and used the rest of the day for chores. The rain dried out quickly in the afternoon and we had a nice stroll on the beach. Today we drove out the Montana de Oro State Park, looking for some more hiking. We found the Islay Creek Road Trail and thought it might be nice. It headed inland into a canyon that promised a waterfall and old barn as destinations. It wasn’t a  spectacular walk, but did have a good array of wildflowers along the sides of the road. The wide former road/trail was easy to walk, with enough ups and downs to keep up puffing, but the advertised payoffs never really materialized. The waterfall was inaccessible, and the barn farther than we wanted to hike on this now very warm day.
5936_islayCreek2 5943_islayCreek3 5948_islayCreek4We turned around, hiked back and had lunch at the visitor center before deciding to do another hike, Dunes Trail, along the bluffs above the ocean. Surprisingly, these dunes were covered in grasses and loads of blooming wildflowers. Away from the edge it would get quite warm – even hot, then cool nicely as we approach the edge. Amazing California coastal views pop into view as we round a bend, then disappear and become rolling hills of grass covered dunes once again.
5955_duneTrail1 5956_duneTrail2 5964_duneTrail3 5966_duneTrail4 5969_duneTrail5 5983_duneTrail6We finished the day with a visit to the campus at Cal Poly. Mary wanted to check out some architectural experiments done by students and placed over a large hilly area in one section of the campus. Unfortunately a parking permit is required anywhere on campus and since it was late and we were tired, we chose not to stay. We plan on being in Pismo a couple more days before heading out to Red Rock State Park, which is nearby to Ridgecrest. We have to be in Ridgecrest on Tuesday to have the tire stems installed.

Just next to us is a "typical of the area" RV park.

Just next to us is a “typical of the area” RV park.

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Back on the Road

Saturday, April 4
So… I’m just going to pretend that the past week didn’t happen. Except for this part:
A really nice 3 days in Pinnacles National Park. 5770_pinn4As we drove into the campground, we were pleasantly surprised to find another LD already there.They came out to greet us and we met Jan and Ron Chisman, who we had actually already met at Quartzite 2 years ago. We had a nice chat and invited them over for a visit the next day.

A nice little poppy field just across the road from the campground.

A nice little poppy field just across the road from the campground.

5760_pinn2We got up early to beat the and headed out for our first hike of the trip up along the High Peaks Trail. It was a wonderfully cool start, but got warm fast. On the way up, we stopped often as we always do. The light was wonderful and we really enjoyed being out on the trail again. Of course we did get a bit twisted around trying to read a fairy simple map. We ended up having to eventually turn around and retrace our way back to camp, but it was still great.
5764_pinn3This place looks a lot like Alabama hills is spots. As I remember it, Pinnacles is actually part of the same formation the has drifted north over the eons.
5770_pinn4 5774_pinn5 5783_pinn6 5787_pinn7Tuesday we took it easy in the morning and waited until the afternoon before setting out on another hike. Mary wanted to hike the caves trail. This looks like a canyon of sorts, that giant boulder have fallen into. A trail down on ground level was threaded through this jumble, eventually rising up to a very nice little reservoir. We walked around it a little, enjoying all the kids there on school climbing trips.

2295_cave12299_cave2 2303_cave3 2308_cave444423_kidsClimbMany of you probably already know what happened on the way to Pismo Beach, our intended destination. If you haven’t heard, and want to read about it, see Mary’s Blog.

So after we made arrangements for the repairs, we decided to make the best of the situation. One of Mary’s friends from work now lives in Atascadero, near Paso Robles, so we met them for an amazing breakfast at Joe’s Other Cafe. We’ve eaten here before and it is a belly expanding experience. It was fun to catch up with Susan and Fred as well.

5815_paso3After breakfast, we decided to do a little wildflower drive along Shell Road. We’ve heard it was pretty much finished, so I didn’t expect much – and I wasn’t disappointed. Everything is nearly bone dry here. Most all flowers have been fried brown, but we did manage to find a few die hards.5802_paso2 5829_paso5Making great photos really wasn’t the point of going out this morning. It was more a way of getting back a little normalcy. Just going through the process of making pictures has such a calming effect, that soon our trepidations of things to come became positive again. We are ready to continue our trip.
5827_paso4 5829_paso5 5833_paso6

An unusual lawn ornament.

An unusual lawn ornament.

By now, we were getting just a bit thirsty. Some of our favorite wineries are in this area, so we headed out for some tasting. At Tobin James, we discovered they were members of the Harvest Hosts group, where for $40/year RV’er can park for one or more nights free. We are already wine club members, so now we have a cheapish place to stay in the heart of the region. They do like you to buy some wine, so well, kinda free. I think we found a new favorite destination. So I am hoping all troubles are behind us and this blog will only be filled with wonderful images and good experiences. We will be picking up the LD tomorrow morning and just have to find a campground on the Saturday before Easter. What could go wrong?

How we kept our cool when things went bad.

How we kept our cool when things went bad.

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Last Day at Great Sands

Monday, October 20
Our last full here in Great Sands. It also marks the beginning of our quick trip home. I definitely wanted to photograph dawn from the top again. The last couple of mornings were too cloudy at dawn and the light was just too flat to make the effort to get to the top. I also like to wait a day or two between hikes up there to give myself a chance to recover. Climbing uses muscles in a different way apparently, and toes and calves are usually pretty sore a day after.4942_GreatSan4-1 4956_GreatSan4-3I managed to convince Mary that getting up at 5:45 AM, to be at the top by 7:15, was a good idea. It is probably 1.5 miles from our campsite to the top, but the end of that first 1/2 mile puts you at the foot of the 700’ dunes. Going up takes a while. Even if you pick the right route, you will be faced at some point with a steep, loose slope of sand. You wouldn’t think you could get so winded trying to get up one of these things, but it seems to goe with the territory.4962_GreatSan4-4 4986_GreatSan4-64994_GreatSan4-7Out the door with our flashlights by 6:15, we got down the main trail to the edge of Medano Creek dunes pretty quickly. I was a little surprised it was still so dark. Just 3 days ago, I could easily see at this time. I guess the days get shorter faster here. I could hear the creek as it whispered by at our feet, but finding an easy path that wouldn’t freak Mary out was a bit of a challenge in the dark. In the end, from the sound of occasional splashes, I surmised she was finding her own way.5018_GreatSan4-10We ended up on the other side eventually, but it was still too dark to see where our planned path took off from. Nothing to do but wait a bit. Too easy to run into that wall of sand to climb to correct the mistake – or go back. It wasn’t long though until we could see well enough to find the starting point.5006_GreatSan4-8 5015_GreatSan4-9 5032_GreatSan4-11Most of the way up we stayed together pretty well. I’d stop often for views, water, and Mary. Eventually She tailed off a little more and I went on. We usually manage to meet up somewhere else on the dunes. It’s not that hard to keep track of the others’ path and eventual location. Just follow the footprints.5036_GreatSan4-12 5044_GreatSan4-13Last evenings’ high winds over the dunes really helped smooth out footprints from the past week. Not perfect, but I was so thankful when I saw it blowing yesterday. The wind can be good!5057_GreatSan4-14I made it to a good starting place well before dawn. There were plenty of clouds, but enough breaks to make me believe sunrise would happen, at least in part. Sunrise started with the tips of the Sangre de Cristo’s lighting up. The recent snow flurries up there have dressed them in a lovely coat of white, and lingering clouds helped diffuse the light to give the entire area a wonderful glow.
4963_GreatSan4-5Off in the far West, I could see as the sky turned from a deep blue at the horizon to a warm rose up high. I watched as the rose lowered to the plain and slowly advanced to the dunes. Eventually, just before the clouds obscured it all, light broke on the far dunes. From this point, light just made the occasional appearance.5068_GreatSan4-15We had time though. We did our usual waiting around thing. Shot a lot of flat light images. Some of these turn out pretty nice, but the star attraction this morning was going to be light. We wandered around for a couple of hours, getting the occasional break, until we felt that even if the sun did come out more fully, it would be very contrasty. We sat down together and split a Cliff Bar while just watching the light change over the dunes all around us.5082_GreatSan4-16Heading down, we stopped a few more times, and of course, now the sun was shining steadily. But we were ready for breakfast and a shower. The rest of the day was dedicated to lounging around and planning our route home. We have several days built in that we intend to use in the Moab area before we really do have to streak home.

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