After a day in Boise doing exciting things such as laundry, we drove south a few miles looking for the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. If you are thinking that I stopped to take a photo of Absolutely Nothing, you are quite correct. That is what we found in the Birds of Prey Nat’l Conservation Area…Absolutely Nothing. Actually, I’m exaggerating a bit. We also found thousands of shell casings, broken glass, and various items of a rubbish-y sort. I did not photograph them because you can find similar views at your County Dump if you are interested. Why do people figure the desert is a good place to dump their garbage? I am mystified.
Then, the next day, we pottered along for many more miles to discover that there is a road at the bottom of a portion of Hell’s Canyon which dead-ends at the Hell’s Canyon dam. Determined to see the actual canyon and the actual river in the canyon, we drove the 22 miles to the dam, and this is what we saw. It is difficult to capture the massiveness of these cliffs looming over the canyon, but I’ve given it my best shot.
That night, weary from our endless driving, we stayed beside this creek.
After an entire day of climbing straight up, and straight down, and straight up again, we reached the Hell’s Canyon Overlook. Here is the view from Hell’s Canyon Overlook…do you see the Snake River 7,000 feet below us at the bottom of the deepest gorge in North America? Neither do I. I’m not exactly sure what we are ‘overlooking’ here, but I guess this is as close to an overlook as you get. We did see some swoopy limestone ridges though.
We departed from Sandpoint, ID on October 3rd. In addition to my two large dogs, I am now traveling with 3 cats as well. I really didn’t think the hair situation could get any worse, but I was wrong.
We were on our way to Boise and decided to take the scenic route through Oregon to see Hell’s Canyon. It took us a few days to accomplish this because the roads are so mountainous that we averaged maybe 25 MPH. Here is the area we were traveling through.
Because we couldn’t camp at White Sands, we had to find another spot. This spot turned out to be the Three Rivers Petroglyph site, where there are over 20,000 petroglyphs. I’ve seen plenty of petroglyphs in my travels across the southwest, but these were the absolute best. The variety (and sheer quantity) was amazing. I’ve never seen a petroglyph of a human face before this, and some of the animals were pretty great, too. There were many more photos I wanted to include, but enough is enough…go see them yourselves; it is well worth the visit.
Of course I injured myself clambering among the rocks to see the petroglyphs, partially because I had not properly equipped myself with a cane, and partially because a pair of sandals with actual straps to keep them on my feet (as opposed to the more usual flip-flops) is about as close as I can come to hiking boots. A pair of ankles with the strength and stability of half-cooked pasta did not help matters, either. I was congratulating myself on my persistence and willingness (as a handicapped person) to overcome any obstacle in the pursuit of seeing cool stuff, so I stifled my cries of agony and superciliously brushed off the injuries as being of no importance. Then the next day, as I was hobbling down the road trying to walk the dogs with a wrenched knee and some sort of weird (but very painful) abrasion on the bottom of my foot, I felt very whiny and put-upon. So much for my persistence.
After leaving the Gila NF, we tried unsuccessfully to find our way into the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument. This is a huge NM in three separate pieces clustered around Las Cruces. We were seeking access to the portion that is immediately southwest of Hatch, NM.
Information subsequently obtained from the BLM indicates that there actually are access roads into the monument, but I could not locate any of them, as none are on my roadmap. In fact, even though the BLM says there are numerous access roads, their map doesn’t show any, either, nor does it give any directions for finding them. And there's not a sign to be seen on the highway, either. Is this another tissue of lies foisted onto the American Public by the national government? And why would they do such a thing? Alien burial ground? Nuclear wasteland? Oh wait. They don't hide those; they build picnic sites over them.
Ultimately, I blame my Associate Navigator for my failure to find my way into the monument. I’m really beginning to question his competence. However, since I signed him up for the job without his consent, I guess I am getting my just deserts. I should have known he was lying about his qualifications.
After we gave up on Organ Mtns/Desert Peaks, we headed for White Sands Nat’l Monument, which hangs off the White Sands Missile Range like a half-forgotten appendage. We wanted to camp there…my son and I stayed there many years ago (like 30), so I thought we could. However, we were informed at the gate that there was a ‘test’ of some sort the next day, so no one could stay in the monument that night. I assume the military was planning to bomb it into oblivion, in which case these photos are among the last surviving records of what it used to look like. There were several miles of road through the monument on which we were not allowed to stop (a ‘safety zone’) so I had to shoot a bunch of pix from my moving vehicle. This made us very unpopular with the other tourists, as it necessitated moving at a slow pace. It also resulted in a lot of useless photos of my exterior rear view mirror.
In case you are wondering, the sand in White Sands is truly white. Apparently it comprises the largest collection of gypsum dunes in the world (or possibly some other impressive area such as the western hemisphere…I forget). Anyway, the gypsum dunes are plopped down on top of other, normal desert soil sort of like whipped topping on a pie, so it’s quite interesting to drive along on the brownish soil and suddenly see these snow-white dunes looming over the road.
As you leave the Gila Cliff Dwellings NM, you find yourself back in the Gila NF. We actually stayed in more than one spot in the Gila NF, and this is the nicest one. It’s FREE!!!! MY kind of campground!!! Of course, it has no amenities, including garbage service, but who cares? Pack it out. The whole area is just beautiful, and for some strange reason we had the whole campground to ourselves on Friday night. On Saturday, a couple of other misbegotten souls joined us, but they seemed intent on enjoying the silence and the view just like us, so they were no bother.
We were in NM by this time, camping (well, living, really…you can’t call what we do ‘camping’) in the NF northeast of Silver City. So before we left the area, we drove up NM 15 to see Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. NM 15 is basically hairpin turn after hairpin turn. Much of the time, I was in first gear doing 15-20 MPH, so it takes a long time to drive to the monument. It’s worth it, though, and I highly recommend seeing it.
After paying a modest fee of $5, you can hike a mere half-mile up to the caves where these dwellings were built. They let you walk right through the caves and see the ruins close-up, which is educational. As a tourist, I love things that are educational.
I’ll just skip over the next couple of weeks quickly because they were a nightmare that took 5 years off my life.
My Associate Navigator (whom you see here, looking as if bad behavior is as foreign to him as quantum mechanics) got picked up twice by well-meaning citizens because they thought he was lost as he bounced happily through the forest (and probably back and forth across the highway) on exploratory journeys. The last, most traumatic episode lasted three interminable days and nights.
The first day, I rode my trike for 23 miles around the Gila National Forest (which is beautiful, btw) looking for him or anyone who had seen him. The cool thing about that (which I failed to document in pictures…I was in no mood for ‘cool’) is that I rode over the Continental Divide twice.
The second day I drove to the pound in Silver City NM, but it is closed on Mondays so I sat in the Walmart parking lot for a while worrying, and then drove back to the Gila NF in case Shadow had magically returned. The third day, I rode down to the ranger station (that’s only 7 miles) to post signs and talk to the NFS staff. The fourth day, I returned to the Silver City pound and found him (of course) chasing his tail like a maniac and shedding blood all over the cell walls <shudder>. Let us move on.
It was so lovely that I actually drove all the way into Wilcox to get groceries and do laundry and all the way back (and camped on the road outside the monument) so I could ride my trike up the road forbidden to my RV.
‘UP’ is the important word here. I rode 6 miles or so from the visitor center to Massai Point to see the view. We won’t discuss my speed riding up the mountain except to say that many people hike faster than I rode. Fortunately for my self-respect, I didn’t see anyone hiking. It would have been depressing to get left in the weeds by someone on foot. On the way down, though, I did 25-30 MPH. Wheeeeeeeeeee!!!!!! Here’s what I saw along the way.
When we drove from the National Forest back toward Wilcox to engage in the futile process of washing the dog hair and dog dust off the bed and couch covers…this produces a significantly cleaner environment for as many as five or ten minutes at the modest cost of $15 worth of laundry…we stopped by the Chiricahua National Monument just to check it out.
We couldn't see much of the NM because my RV is too long to camp there. It is also too long to drive beyond the visitor center. However, the part we could see consisted of these massive rock formations that loom impressively over the valley.
After a few days, we needed to empty and fill ourselves (sewage management is part of RV living) so we drove over to Patagonia Lake State Park. I took no photos there because it was basically wall-to-wall people, but I enjoyed it SO MUCH, and it’s hard to explain why. There was a beach, and a swimming area, and trails, and boat-in campsites, and families everywhere enjoying playing ball and swimming and having campfires and making popcorn and so on. A lot of the people we encounter on the road are blue-heads like ourselves. We don’t see all that many families, and here they were abundant. Next door to us was a family of about 11 people with two enormous tents and all kinds of kids running around having a blast. It made me feel all sentimental.
Alas, though, it cost actual money to stay there, which we are philosophically opposed to (or else we are just extremely cheap…no comment), so we only stayed two nights and then headed on over to Tombstone (as last year, pretty much a giant yawn) and then to highway 191, and then toward the Chiricahua National Monument. We camped in the national forest between there and Portal.
After our fabulous scenic trek down highway 79, we stopped in Tucson to perform dreary tasks such as getting trike repairs and buying groceries. This took up two interminable days and one night in the Walmart parking lot (thank you, Walmart!!), after which we spent the night by the side of the road going to the Tucson Speedway. More Dangerous Encounters of the Cholla variety. We were so hemmed in by them that I feared they would engulf us like the Huorns in Lord of the Rings and leave nothing but a mound of bare stones.
Then we camped on national forest service land south of Sonoita, on the road to Parker Canyon Lake (AZ 83), where we kicked back for a couple of days and tried to recover from Tucson. We parked under a tree, and aside from a few miles of trike riding, did nothing but enjoy the view.
After leaving the Sonoran Desert National Monument, we took AZ 238 to Casa Grande, then 287 to Florence and headed south on AZ 79. We did this because AZ 79 is labeled a ‘scenic route’ on the map, and I can definitely confirm it is scenic! First, we encountered Cholla cacti that were far and away the tallest I have ever seen. They towered over my head, in some cases.
There were several areas where some of the cholla were blooming. Although they looked very similar in form (I, at least, couldn’t tell them apart), they had different colors of flowers ranging from yellow to brown to dark red.
Whilst taking pictures of the flowers, we got covered in cholla bits, which are called ‘jumping cactus’ for a very good reason. Although you think you are not touching the cactus, you feel pain in your arm, foot, leg, etc., look down and find a cholla bit attached to your flesh. “Hah!” you think. “I’d better get that cholla bit off my arm.”
Think again. That cholla bit has barbed spines, and wherever you grab it to remove it from your arm/hand/leg/foot/shoe/shirt/dog-body-part, it will instantly stick to your hand and dig additional spines into your fingers. In the end, after much pain and bleeding and wild flailing of hands, you will find yourself picking it out spine by spine with a pair of tweezers while each spine holds on like grim death. Try this on a yelping dog who is attempting to pull away from your tweezers to avoid the pain. Then try it on your yelping self, as you attempt to pull away from the tweezers to avoid the pain, and find the stupid cholla bit detaching itself from one finger only to leap over and embed itself into another.
And here, from the Olympian height of bitter experience, are Vagabond Tourist’s Rules for Using Your RV as an Off Road Vehicle in the Desert. Note that this list may not be complete. I shall add to it as time goes on, if applicable.
You’re welcome, and good luck!
We went back to Yuma for one last trip to Food City to stuff our refrigerator with 20-cent avocados, 50-cent lettuce, 79-cent broccoli, 68-cent mangos, etc. (oh yeah...I also got my teeth cleaned and checked in Los Algodones, Mexico for $35), and then departed for the Sonoran Desert National Monument.
I don't know if you've figured this out, but some people describe me as being a teeny, weeny bit cheap. I prefer to call myself 'thrifty'.
In the SDNM, I once again got stuck whilst trying to find a camping spot. Here is the camping spot:
The road along the California/Arizona border (US 95 between CA state 62 and Blythe) was absolutely gorgeous. The desert was in full bloom there, and also when we reached Quartzite.
Then we camped here, on the back side of Joshua Tree National Park. The neighbors here were very accommodating. They had no complaints about my crazy, barking dog. Possibly, they didn’t hear him.
Around the beginning of March, we had to make a hell-bent-for-leather trip to California for some family business. On the way back, I passed this wind farm (a fairly common sight in California). It went on for miles.