02-07 to 02-11-2018 Tucson

Tucson.  Even the name has a bit of a romantic ring to it. I will always associate it in my mind with one of my favorite books by Barbara Kingsolver, “Animal Dreams”.  I imagine the heat before the monsoons come because of the way she described it, not because I have actually lived it.  I imagine coyotes in the washes and the wet dust smell when the rains hit the dirt and flood the washes.  Barbara Kingsolver left Tucson behind for a more sustainable life in Appalachia, her original homeland, but I will always think of her as a product of the Southwest, just because that book and “Pigs in Heaven” were the first books I read that she wrote.

Tucson from the viewpoint on the Catalina Highway to Mt Lemmon

Our friends love living in Tucson, or maybe love-hate I should say.  They say the summer heat is almost unbearable, and for a moment they thought about relocating to the Hill Country of Texas, but it was hot there as well, and humid, and a LOT more expensive.  Still, the early mornings even in summer are beautiful and the evenings give them the opportunity to enjoy their shaded porches.They love the monsoons, and would always drive back to Tucson from Rocky Point in time for the big rains with amazing skies.  Their beautiful desert style home in the suburb of Sauharita looks toward Madera Canyon and there is a wash in their back yard that is home to many critters, although Wes said that there are fewer humans creeping through the wash than they saw a few years ago.

Their gardens are walled and manicured, planted for 15 years now with desert plants, cactus, and mulched with rock and gravel.  Wes is meticulous and his gardens are beautiful.  On our first day visiting with the two of them, we sat outside in the sunshine at the umbrella shaded patio table and had another one of Gayle’s glorious meals.  Gayle can take anything, even simple store bought pulled pork, and make it seem as though you are dining in a fine restaurant.  Lovely dishes, beautiful presentation, little condiments to accompany the meal.  I try to emulate Gayle quite often when I make dinner for someone.

Mo’s long time friend Joan, who once lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco when Mo lived in Monterra, has relocated to Tucson in her retirement as well.  She and her husband settled in to Green Valley, in an area insulated from so much, including any residents under 55.  It is a beautifully manicured community, and now that Joan is without Joe, she says it is a perfect place for her to be in her 80’s.  She loves the heat, loves her desert garden, her life and her community.

We travel to Tucson to be with these friends, not so much to visit Tucson.  There are some amazing things to see and do near and around the city, though, and each time we go it seems we find something new to enjoy.

After lunch at Wes and Gayle’s, the four of us thought, “Why don’t we go to Tubac?”.  We had been there in the past with Joan, but there was an art show going on, and I had a bit of an ulterior motive.  Mo and I were still cruising for some outdoor art pieces for the house back home, and Tubac is a plethora of all kinds of art, indoor and especially outdoor art with that colorful southwest bent. 

It was a warm afternoon, and even though the crowds were big, Wes found a place to park and we slipped into the paths and walkways meandering around the galleries and restaurants of Tubac. The area has been populated by humans for millenia, first by the mammoth hunters, then the Hohokam, followed by Pima and native O’odham, who greeted the Spanish when they arrived in the early 1700’s.  The Jesuits built missions there, and there is an historic presidio in addition to the Tumacacari Mission ruins which we visited later in the afternoon.

The galleries were wonderful, and with the addition of all the art booths for the juried show, we had lots of eye candy to peruse.  I looked long and hard at several pieces for the house, but it was Mo who spotted the very best one on an upper exterior wall of Michele’s Gallery.  We bought the sun sculpture, and Wes dutifully carried it back to the car for us.  We also found a colorful metal sculpture of sunflowers, toned down a bit from the bright southwest colors, but still pretty for our home back in Grants Pass.  Wes also carried that one back to the car for us as well.

We took Mattie on a leash with her halter, and it was a bit challenging to say the least.  So many little dogs!  And of course she wanted to play with them all.  Some of them she thought deserved a bark and she was really a pain in the neck.  Mo spent a lot of time holding her in and scolding her.  I think our big mistake was letting her play unfettered with the big old red bloodhound that lived near the apartments in Klamath Falls.  He was her best buddy and would let her jump and climb on him, and drag him around by the lip.  She didn’t have to learn manners playing with Red.  Now she needs some manners and it takes constant attention.

Wes drove south just a mile or so to the Tumacacari National Park, where the ruins of the Tumacacari Mission are protected.  We entered with our geezer’s passes, and Wes offered to stay outside the walls with Mattie so that Mo and I could both go in the park, where dogs are NOT allowed.

The history was fascinating, the stories were interesting, and the museum was very well done.  I loved the light and color of the old mission ruins, especially the grain storage jars lined up in the rounded impressions in the old adobe.  Recreating what the past must have looked like is an interesting pursuit, and I appreciate that curators do that for us.

That evening we returned to Wes and Gayle’s home for another meal, this time a fabulous dinner that was again one of Gayle’s masterpieces of flavor, color, and presentation, in beautiful dinnerware, with good wine, and yummy dessert, in their lovely dining room.  Did I mention that it is always a treat to enjoy Gayle’s meals? We didn’t get back to our site at the base until very very late that evening.

The next morning, we had arranged for them to meet us outside the gates of the base to drive up the Mt Lemmon Road.  There were choices, including hiking Sabina Canyon, something that is on our list and will remain on our list.  Madera Canyon is another place to hike, but we only had time for so much, and with the beautiful, clear weather, Mt Lemmon was our first choice.

The road to the summit and the ski resort there is called the Catalina Highway.  As we wound up that curving, and sometimes steep road, we were amazed at what it must have taken to build it.  It was built around the same era ad the CCC roads we have so admired, but didn’t have quite the same characteristics of those roads, so we knew it had to be some other builder.  I found this information on the internet:

Construction on the Catalina Highway began in 1933, owing in large part to the efforts of Frank Harris Hitchcock, former Postmaster General of the United States. As a part of the effort, a federal prison camp was established at the foot of the mountains specifically to supply labor for the construction of the highway. During World War II, the camp was converted into an internment camp named the Catalina Honor Camp, and the internees were forced to work on construction of the roadway. One of the Japanese American prisoners at the camp, Gordon Hirabayashi, was later honored in 1999 when the site of the Honor Camp was converted into the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Area.

The highway would not be completed until 1950, 17 years after it began. Upon its completion, the highway was named after Hitchcock, who had died in 1935.

The original paved road was narrow, in places had little or no shoulder, featured vertical drop-offs near the road, and was bumpy along most of its length due to years of patchwork repairs. It was long regarded as “one of the most dangerous roads in Pima County.” In 1988, the Federal Lands Highway program began a series of seven projects aimed at significantly improving the roadway, with the assistance of the US Forest Service and Pima County. The projects were aimed at improving the quality of the roadway and increasing safety for travelers, while minimizing the impact on the visual aspects and natural beauty of the surrounding mountains. The final project was completed in 2007, at a cost of $15 million, and the road is now much wider and features adequate shoulders, passing areas, and extensive guard rails.”

The road is still winding and narrow, but there are several campgrounds and trailheads along the route that we explored a bit.  Most of the trailheads are much like other hiking trails in the Catalina Mountains, very steep and very rocky, at least the parts that we could see without actually hiking them.

My favorite part was the magnificent view from the overlook area with stone walls, and pathways, old rock restrooms that were a bit like the CCC buildings, and open well worn trails that led to the best viewpoints.  It was thrilling to look out over the canyons and mountains from the weathered granite boulders that formed this famous “sky island” in the desert.  The Chisos Mountains in Big Bend are another example of this typical southwest landscape of mountains rising above the desert surrounding them and supporting a completely different array of plants and animals than are found at lower elevations.

After our day of touring, we settled on dinner for the four of us at the Texas Roadhouse on Broadway, not far from the base.  The food was good, but oh my, the noise!  It made it very hard to relax and enjoy our meal, much less have any kind of conversation.  I don’t for the life of me understand this trend for big noisy restaurants.  Gayle and I decided it makes you eat faster and talk less because you get all wound up inside and a bit frantic. 

We spent Saturday visiting with Joan before returning to the base to dump tanks, take on water, checking everything in the MoHo, and taking long showers. We wanted to be sure we were ready for our Sunday morning exit north from Tucson.

02-06-2018 Heading for Tucson via Ogilby Road

Sometimes on our southern sojourns there isn’t enough time.  On this trip, however, we made sure to get all the way south to Tucson.  We missed our friends and neighbors, Wes and Gayle, who used to live in Rocky Point at least part of the year, and are now located full time in their beautiful desert home in Sauharita, south of Tucson. We have visited them a few times, but it has been a couple of years and we looked forward to sharing some hikes and good food with them.

Imperial Dunes from Highway 78

But first, we had to pick a travel route.  That was easy.  One of our favorite boondock sites in the southern desert is the wide open BLM area near Ogilby Road, just west of Yuma.  Lots of fellow bloggers have landed in these open spaces at one time or another, but I think the first time I heard about Ogilby Road was from Nina, at Wheelin’ It, who wrote some very lovely poetic lines about the place and took intriguing photos that sucked me in.

Our first time here in 2014, we came in from the south, but after George and Patsy talked about a back route between El Centro and Ogilby Road, we decided to give it a try. With our 26 foot rig the road was a lovely ride, driving past the Imperial Sand Dunes.  The dunes were quiet on this Tuesday, but the tracks on the sand showed just how busy they must be much of the time with 4 Wheeler’s running about.

Google Maps tried to insist that we take a short cut to Ogilby Road, and we said, no way, it was a bumpy dirt road and we could see that the real Ogilby Road wasn’t too far east from where we were.  I told the google girl to stop talking and we found our own way in from the north.

We found a great wide open spot, not far from the hills toward the northern end of the main boondocking area and settled in quickly.  We set the chairs out in the cool shade and read, took the dog for some walks, and simply enjoyed the incredible silence of the desert as sunset approached.

I could stay out here for a lot longer than a single night, but it really was just a pass-through for us this time, and a pleasant one.  Only problem for me is that when we are boondocked in the desert like this, I have to get up repeatedly during the night to check out the stars, the darkness, and the silence.  Incredible.

The next morning we took our time with a good breakfast, a nice walk, and an easy pack up, since we hadn’t unhooked the Tracker, and didn’t even need to drop our jacks on the level desert floor.  We simply pulled in the slide and drove off.

The eastern route toward Tucson is fairly straightforward along Interstate 8 until it intercepts I-10, but that also seemed a bit boring.  Instead, at Gila Bend, we turned south toward Ajo, a place we have heard about often but we haven’t been there in the MoHo.  Many years ago, Mo traveled to the Copper Canyon train, and their tour came back through the US near Organ Pipe Monument, and Ajo.

We were heading for Organ Pipe, but were so enchanted with the little town of Ajo that we spent all our free time there and had to skip the side trip to see the monument.  Next time, I hope.  I still love seeing photos of this place.

We have friends who have a house in Ajo, but they are currently in Rocky Point.  Judy once had a house in Ajo, and we always wondered why in the world anyone would live there.  After visiting, we now understand.  It is a quirky, artsy place, with cute little funky stucco houses that sell for $69,000 or so.  There are some galleries, a few stores, a great museum, and some gorgeous churches and buildings. 

We loved the artist alley with murals lining both sides of the street. We both said having a little house in Ajo would be a fun way to spend winter time in the desert.  But no, we have the MoHo, and we don’t need another little house anywhere!

Continuing east toward Why, we passed Darby Wells Road, another well documented site for boondockers.  Would love to explore that one someday as well, but our friends were waiting and we needed to get on to Tucson.  We also passed the road leading south toward the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, where RV Sue and her crew were camped for a couple of weeks.  Those mountains along the western edge of the refuge looked really inviting.

We passed Kitt Peak, where google was kind enough to answer my questions regarding the huge observatory at the summit.  I guess the next time we go to Tucson it might be fun to take a trip up there to see the huge solar telescopes.

Family Camp at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Tucson

All our extra sightseeing delayed our arrival time at Davis-Monthan AFB to just after 4:30 PM, (we lost an hour to the time zone change).  We were delighted to see that the office was still open, but not so delighted to discover that the Family Camp was completely full except for the overflow area.  Overflow sites are $11.00 per night, and are the only way to eventually get into the full hookup portion of the camp, since there are no reservations.  The office people told us it was a 6 to 10 day wait for a site.  Hmmm.  At first we thought about just paying for 1 night and looking for a park somewhere, but were discouraged by the information that almost all the parks in the Tucson area were full, thanks to the famous Tucson Gem Show that was in full swing.

What the heck, we decided that dry camping for the four days we expected to stay in Tucson would be a piece of cake.  We had full access to all the amenities. 

The laundry room with the cheapest and best machines on the road was just a hop from our rig, the bathrooms as well, with their nice big showers and hot water.  There was an easy dump site with air for tires, and potable water where we could take care of the necessities with a simple drive around the block. There is free coffee and cappuccino in the camp office, HD TV and full computer hookups with direct access.  Does anyone carry cords for direct card access any more? 

We had terrible Verizon service, however, and that was a big surprise.  Verizon was fine elsewhere in the area, but at the base and nearby it was 1 sketchy bar.  We haven’t popped for any kind of boosters since we aren’t on the road all the time and have managed to do without, but it did get a bit frustrating while we were there.

We do love the family camp at Davis-Monthan.  It is clean and well maintained, and the base is big and has a great commissary.  Mui would love it, Erin.  Smile There is a golf course, a movie theater, good gasoline prices at the on base station, a fitness facility and a pool.  We never have any time to really partake of all the stuff, but we did enjoy the dog park for Mattie, right outside our door.

In fact, we decided that dry camping at DM AFB is pretty darn nice, with the sites being spacious and much more roomy than the somewhat close sites in the main park area.  I think next time we come to Tucson, we will simply plan on dry camping and enjoy the openness and not bother paying the $22.00 per day for full hookups.

We knew the next few days were going to be filled with fun and friends, so enjoyed a bit of down time.  The generator only ran for a couple of hours so that I could process photos.  I did manage to keep photos processed on this trip, but didn’t even think about trying to upload them to SmugMug until we were safely back in Oregon with our full cable unlimited WiFi.  It certainly helped when I got back home to only have to do the writing without having to do all that photo processing as well. 

We spent the next few days with our friends, enjoying the dog park and walking with Mattie, and being treated to some of those fabulous Arizona sunsets. 

We even had an evening visit from a wandering javalina, who seemed to know exactly where he was going.

Does this qualify as a “the end” photo?

01-14-2015 Refuge Days with Judy

Current Location: Imperial National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Yuma Arizona

It has been three days since we left the relative urban environment of the Coachella Valley to travel east and south.  The route is familiar again.  A short way along Dillon road to the east intercepts I-10 and once again we are traveling toward Quartzite, passing last years boondock site at the entrance to Joshua Tree, enjoying the reasonably smooth pavement of this part of the interstate.Imperial NWR with Judy (3 of 54)

We were in Quartzite before noon, with the cloudy skies invading the desert to the west gone and replaced with varying levels of warm sunshine.  We gassed up at the Pilot at $2.06 per gallon with our .03 discount.  It is rather amazing to fill the tank of the MoHo with less than a hundred bucks.  We parked in the lot east of the station, with few semi’s parked there, thinking it would be OK.  We didn’t back in, but parked at the far end of the lot crossways.  No one was anywhere near us.  But by the time we got back from our short shopping foray, a big rig had parked in front of us, and while we sat there preparing to leave, another slid in even closer.  I think we broke some rule and did some quick backing up to get out of there before we were completely  boxed in.Imperial NWR with Judy (4 of 54)

Quartzite was the same as ever, windy and cool in spite of the sunshine, long rows of stalls with tons of stuff, and the tool store and bead store that we saw last year.  Mo didn’t find what she was looking for and there wasn’t a single thing that I needed or wanted.  A few items at the less than stellar grocery store reminded me that if you come to Quartzite, you should probably have anything you need already in your possession.

After a very short stop, we were again rolling south on Highway 95, past the Kofa Mountains and toward Yuma.  Temps were fairly cool, and some big black clouds in the sky to the south indicated that rain was either coming or going. Unusual in this part of the desert at this time of the year.

Imperial National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Arizona side of the Colorado river, and the access road is at the huge Yuma Proving Ground.  We turned west, and were surprised that the road was unpaved a few miles before we reached the refuge.  The washboards weren’t too bad, actually not as rough as I-5 can be in parts of California.Imperial NWR with Judy (6 of 54)

The large puddle, however, stopped us cold.  In the southwest there is no way of knowing how deep the puddle may be, or how soft the roadbed is beneath the puddle.  We were in a quandary.  At the lower level of the wash where we were stopped, there was no phone signal, so I couldn’t call Judy at the visitor center to ask about the big puddle.

Instead, we unhooked, Mo turned around with the baby car, and I backed the MoHo up the road a few hundred yards to the intersection.  I was attempting to get a call through when a man in a golf cart showed up and offered to lead us across the puddle, insisting that it was perfectly fine.  We asked him to go first to prove it however, before we slowly crossed the scary puddle of water which turned out to be pretty easy.  Still, as they know in the Southwest, you never know about these puddles so better safe than sorry.  We later heard that Barbara, of Me and my Dog, had attempted to visit Judy that same morning, and the puddle made her turn around without even trying to cross in the car in which she and a friend were exploring. 

Imperial NWR with Judy (7 of 54)Seeing Judy again was great. We met last year in Anahuac NWR, so the meeting didn’t have the “new” thing, but was instead a happy reunion.   We stopped in at the Visitor Center since it was her work day and let her know we had arrived and then settled into our campsite with plans to meet for supper when Judy got off work.  Emma was as happy and excited as usual, but before long she settled down and enjoyed the company.  Judy’s site overlooking the pond is fabulous.  The view, the patio, the shady side of the rig stays nice and cool (I think that should be a good thing most of the time).  All the bloggers who weighed in encouraging her to move to the 30 amp site were right!  A good move.

Imperial NWR with Judy (12 of 54)After a great sleep in the silent beautiful desert, Judy stopped by in the morning to pick us up for the day’s tour.  Judy usually does the bird tours on Sundays, but she sweetly offered to do one this week on a Tuesday for us, and for John and Sharon from On the Road Of Retirement.

Imperial NWR with Judy (18 of 54)I have followed their blog for years, so it was delightful to meet them in person and share the morning checking out the ponds and birds on the refuge.

judysuemosharonNo telephoto along today to capture photos of the wonderful birds, but I do have to put a little bit fuzzy one up of the beautiful great horned owl that graced us with its presence and sat quietly in the tree in full daylight posing.  Imperial NWR with Judy (28 of 54)

I added some more birds to my list, with a favorite being the little loggerhead shrike, a bird who skewers his live food onto thorns to keep it in place while he eats.  Hmmm.  I also saw Say’s Phoebe, which without Judy around would have been just another little brown bird.  Nothing quite so wonderful for a non birder who likes birds than to go out with a real birder!

Imperial NWR with Judy (22 of 54)Judy taught us a lot, and shared fascinating information about the habits of some of the residents of the refuge.  We didn’t see the bobcat, but did see the log where she scratches.  We didn’t see the beavers, but saw the fascinating beaver trails crossing the road between ponds.  We didn’t see the coyotes or the burros, either, but got a kick out of the coyote and burro trails.Imperial NWR with Judy (25 of 54)

Later in the afternoon, Judy picked us up again, and took us to the northern portions of the refuge.  There are four overlooks, with views of the remnant lakes that connect to the Colorado River, and at the first one we found so many birds that even Judy was excited.

Imperial NWR with Judy (39 of 54)I added buffleheads and ruddy ducks to my list, even though I know I have seen them in our Klamath Basin refuge.  It makes such a difference to have a birder tell what they are.  I might actually remember now.

Imperial NWR with Judy (50 of 54)Evening was enjoyed with laughs and conversation on Judy’s patio, and probably the best BBQ chicken I ever tasted.  Judy called it New York chicken bbq and spent a great deal of time basting the pieces with a nondescript looking marinade that turned the chicken into a flavorful crispy skinned delight.  Never had anything like it.  Don’t forget to send me that recipe, Judy!

Painted Desert Trail (1 of 45)Wednesday Judy had arranged some kayaks to get the three of us out on the Colorado River, but with the very cool temperatures and the wind starting up early, we nixed that plan quickly.  Instead Judy drove us north again to the Painted Desert Trail, I think the only official trail in the Refuge.Painted Desert Trail (8 of 45)

The temperatures were perfect for the leisurely hike, a mile and a third winding around and up through the volcanic rhyolites, tuffs, and basalts of the 20 million year old landscape, topped off by river gravels from the meandering Ancestral Colorado shining with desert varnish.

Painted Desert Trail (10 of 45)We found some very interesting green rocks, carried down by erosion from the basalt flows to the north, but Judy made sure we didn’t pick one up.  The only place to gather rock is some distance north and east in the Kofa Refuge.

Painted Desert Trail (12 of 45)I learned finally which tree was the ironwood, and we talked a bit about how many different plants are called  “ironwood”.  Nothing was yet in flower, but the lime green of the palo verde trees against the rusty red rocks added plenty of color.  Again we saw burro sign and burro trails, but no sign of a live animal. Painted Desert Trail (27 of 45) This refuge is ambivalent about the burros.  They aren’t attempting to eliminate them as they are at Sheldon NWR, but they are also not doing anything to support them since they are feral, not a naturally occurring species. 

We had the entire morning and trail to ourselves, so imagine our surprise to return to the trail head to see so many cars parked!  Lucky us!  Later in the day we found out that there had been more than 100 visitors to the center that day, and the park was crawling with people, more than Judy had seen in her entire time here since October.

Painted Desert Trail (37 of 45)Home mid day, we packed up a lunch (don’t ever offer Judy a tuna sandwich!) and decided since we couldn’t kayak, we could take a few hours to explore the lower end of the Kofa Refuge in the Tracker.  With only half a tank of gas in the car, and a gas station all the way south in Yuma, we limited our drive to 3 hours and 100 miles.  We didn’t have to worry about the distance in the least.

Painted Desert Trail (38 of 45)We used up the three hours without a problem, but the condition of the road deteriorated enough that our progress was slow and we didn’t have time to actually get over MacPherson Pass to the other side.

Painted Desert Trail (42 of 45)The picnic was a stand up affair, with a little bit of wind protection from the car and entertainment provided by a long line of Jeeps coming back down from the pass.  After lunch, we attempted to continue a bit north, but were stopped by a drop off.  After careful examination, we decided against trying it.  Mo and I have done similar obstacles in the Tracker, but it was getting late and we had no clue how many more we might have to try and then still turn around.

Painted Desert Trail (45 of 45)It was important to get Judy back to her site on time, since she was the hostess of a gathering of refuge volunteers and she had 20 Chicago hot dogs to prepare.  At five, the volunteers gathered to visit and enjoy the dogs and chili and some salads provided potluck style and talk about the different refuges where they have volunteered.  It was an interesting perspective on a lifestyle that is considerably different than some full time RVrs.  Painted Desert Trail (41 of 45)

Our three days here in the Arizona desert are coming to a close.  I can’t believe how quickly the time passed and how wonderfully quiet it has been here.  Lucky Us!! It isn’t easy to take time away from working for Judy to show folks around, so I don’t take her generosity for granted.  What a great lady, who gives so much to the refuge world.  Lucky them as well. Imperial NWR with Judy (15 of 54)

Today we travel north again for some off-grid time in Joshua Tree. 


3-21-2014 Advice From A Canyon

Lower Antelope C_144In spite of temperatures in the high 60’s, the sun is high and if not sheltered by some shade, feels white and hot as only high desert sun can feel.  The surrounding landscape reflects shades of salmon, not that bright red sockeye, but the pink Chinook slabs on ice in the fish case, pale and soft.  We are settled in for our last afternoon at the Page Lake Powell Campground, on the main road into the town of Page. 

It has been a good location and a good park for us to regroup a bit, pick up another month’s worth of mail sent by overnight express USPS general delivery.  “Overnight Delivery” in remote locations like this one often mean two overnights, but in our case it was three.  We planned for that possibility with a three day stay, and with delivery not as promised, will get our $19.99 refunded in full.  Good for us, too bad for the USPS.

It is amazing to me, that in all my years traveling around the Colorado Plateau, I never came to Page.  I did know that the Antelope Canyons, once called the Crack and the Corkscrew, were in the vicinity of Page.  I hiked slots all over Utah, and looked at photos of Antelope, but somehow the trip never happened.  It was a bucket list trip for me, one I knew I would have to someday experience.

I can’t help wishing I had done it prior to the 1997 tragic death of 11 canyon hikers in a flash flood.  A Navajo permit was always a requirement, but now non native folks are not allowed in the canyons without a Navajo guide.  Our decision to travel through Page was Mo’s suggestion, and took my breath away.  Yes.  Lower Antelope C_161

The minute we arrived, the young man at the campground desk called their favorite tour group for me, Antelope Canyon Tours.  All photographic tours for the next several days fully booked.  All prime tours for the next several days fully booked.  “Prime” means a tour during the magical light hours of 11AM and 2PM, when the sun shines into the canyon forming the famous light beam that folks come from all over the world to photograph.

DSC_0036With a bit more conversation, after he realized that I was a party of one, (Mo declined this part of the canyon), he called the company again and they found room for me on an 11:30 AM tour for Upper Antelope Canyon.

Visiting Lower Antelope Canyon is completely different.  Entrance to this part of Antelope is administered by a single family, and no reservation is needed at the current time.  You simply show up, pay the $26.00 fee (including the 6.00 tribal fee) and wait for a guide to take your group through the canyon.

I was so excited, and actually nervous on the morning before my Upper Canyon tour.  I knew that it would be crowded, and that the lighting conditions were challenging.  I thought that even though I wasn’t on the photographic tour that I could still take my tripod and read extensively the night before about tips for shooting the famous colors and light in the canyon.

Antelope Canyon Tours uses open 4 wheel drive jeep type wagons that hold 12 people in the back.  They picked me  up at the campground, a free service, and took me back to town where I joined the several dozen people waiting to leave on the 11:30 tour.  I was told then, that without being part of the official photographic tour, I could not take my tripod. 

CaptureWith f8 and f11 being the sweet spot and shutter speeds of more than a minute in some cases, I knew I was doomed.  I thought well, ok, it doesn’t matter really.  I am not coming to this canyon because I want to take pictures, I am coming to this canyon to be IN this canyon, so took off the tripod and accepted that my photos would be personal reminders and not technical perfection.  I set the ISO really high and went for it.

DSC_0067All the photos in the world, no matter how many times you see them, will not give you a clue of what it is like to be here.  All the crowds, all the rushing through of group after group, the clicking shutters, the calls of the guides trying to get people out of the way as the next group comes through, not one bit of this interferes with the amazing visual experience of walking through these canyons.

I found myself slipping into a meditative state, trying to be in the moment as much as possible while I also tried to change camera settings and frame and shoot.  It was a test, a spiritual test, I am sure. Of course I would love to walk alone at my own pace through this sacred space created by time and wind and water.  Me and a whole lot of other people, I am sure. Some precious places in the world simply require humans to accept that there are other humans around who want to experience them as well.

The trip from town to the canyons takes about 20 minutes or so, with much of it in Antelope Wash on thick soft sand.  It is dusty.  It is rough.  Of all the people on the tour with me, not one spoke English.  I was treated to the sounds of German, French, Japanese, something I am pretty sure was Czech, and several languages I didn’t recognize.  This is a very popular place and people from all over the world make the journey to Page, Arizona, to experience these magical slot canyons.

DSC_0076We were in the canyon just a little over an hour before we were herded back into the trucks and I was dropped off at my campground on the way to town.  I think my hair was stiff with dust and my face streaked from the dust and the happy tears that kept falling as I walked through the canyon.  Dumb.  The place just made my eyes water.

I was so happy that the next day I had another chance to be in an Antelope slot.  Mo and I woke early, and were on the road toward Lower Antelope Canyon a little after 8.  With tours beginning at 8:30, when we arrived there were already many people waiting.  We paid our money and within a minute were in line with our Navajo tour guide. 

Photos I had seen of this canyon showed people entering through the narrow slit in the earth from above, but our entry was on the south side of the canyon down many flights of steep stairs, but wasn’t difficult at all.  The narrow entrance shown in many images of Lower Antelope Canyon is now the exit, or at least for this day it was.

Entering once again into the reflected light of Navajo sandstone was thrilling, and this time Mo got to see it as well. Mo is a bit less excitable than I am, so I was happy to see her eyes widen in delight as we descended into the canyon.  Our tour group once again had people from all over the world, and included several small children, and even folks packing babies in carriers.  I was glad that all I had to carry was my camera!Lower Antelope C_001

Once again, the canyon light was breathtaking.  The morning sun was in the perfect position to reflect and bounce light around the swirling walls in ways that direct lighting could not do.  Our young guide was great, managing all the people gently, and yet still taking my camera for some shots that he didn’t want me to miss. 

Lower Antelope C_154Lower Antelope C_015Lower Antelope Canyon is a completely different experience than the Upper Canyon.  The floor of the Lower canyon is more narrow and the upper part is wider, allowing more light to enter and more bounce.  While orange and shades of salmon are common, in the lower canyon the purples and golden shades seemed to show up in the images more dramatically.  Looking at the sandstone up close, it is all the same soft pale salmon color, but all the color in the imagery is about the light and how it is reflected and bounced around the complex walls of the canyon.

As with any kind of photography, settings make all the difference, with the camera seeing things the eye cannot.  The eye and the soul however, working together in the canyons, can see and feel things the camera will never capture.  All the techniques and tripods and equipment and time in the world can’t capture what it feels like to walk in either canyon.  It is a life time, don’t miss it if you can help it, kind of experience.  Lower Antelope C_060

This afternoon, sifting through the hundreds of images of swirling color, I thought of Erin a lot. Her photos of icebergs in Greenland must have been similar.  Frame after frame of shape and color and light and shadow are so incredibly seductive.  Blue water frozen in place and reflecting light and pale sand frozen in time and sculpted by water, reflecting light, somehow the same. Lower Antelope C_188

I could happily drown in this frozen sand filled with light.

If you want to get lost in the pictures as well, the Jpegs will be posted to a google album in the next few days. Check the link on the upper left side of this blog.  Finer resolution photos will be waiting till I get back home.Lower Antelope C_041

I will close with the “Advice from a Canyon”, from a sweat shirt I bought at Chaco Canyon:

Carve Out a Place for Yourself

Aspire to New Plateaus

Listen to the Voice of the Wind

Don’t get Boxed In

Stand the Test of Time

It’s OK to be a Little Off the Wall

Reach Deep!

Am I on a trip or am I just living life

Agave Gulch Military Family Camp Davis Monthan AFB Tucson AZ High today 67 F currently 48 degrees F and clear

Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaI had a moment this morning, while walking to the laundry, that felt like I wasn’t traveling at all, that I was just living “life”.  I wasn’t on a big trip, I was just doing laundry.  How do you explain moments like that? Of course I am on a “trip”, and yet it feels a bit like full timers feel when they say traveling around the country in a motorhome isn’t a vacation, it is just life.

We landed at Davis-Monthan AFB Agave Gulch Campground yesterday afternoon, early enough that the campground office was still open, and early enough to get settled in before the “big” game between the Packers and the 49rs.  Having lived in the Bay Area for so long, Mo is a 49rs fan.  We weren’t able to get local tv with the antenna, but managed to get a pretty good description of the game on the radio as we settled in for a couple of days here in Tucson.  It was a good day all around, Mo’s team won.

saguaros are like icebergs, you just keep wanting to take photos of themIt was also a good day in that there were plenty of sites to choose from here at the FamCamp, and we got a nice one on the outside loop with no one next to us.  This is definitely a great place to stay in Tucson for just $20 bucks per night for full hookups, minus TV of course.  Hence a game on the radio.  Mo bought a satellite for the MoHo recently but it didn’t arrive before we left on this trip.  Oh wait…we aren’t on a trip….we are just living.  Well, we are living without much TV and I find that extremely relaxing.  It is good to get out of the news cycle now and then.  Of course, I do have the internet and the computer for the really important stuff. Like banking.  What in the world did we do when travelers didn’t have access to online banking? 

I had planned to do laundry here because I remembered the nice clean laundry facility with plenty of machines and only 1.00 to wash and 1.00 to dry.  It is a good place to get the rugs and blankets all spiffed up and fresh again and I took advantage of that yesterday afternoon. 

Today we woke to a free day with wide open possibilities.  Local friends in the Tucson area all seemed to be gallivanting off somewhere else, so there were no visits planned.  Instead we decided to explore a different part of Tucson than we saw when we passed through here in 2007 and again in 2011.

setting out on the Canyon Loop trail at Catalina SPMost of the time we have traveled from the air force base toward the south, with one visit to the downtown area.  This time we traveled north to visit the popular Catalina State Park, at the base of the beautiful Catalina Mountains just north and a bit east of town.  As we drove up Swan Road toward Oracle Road the shift in lifestyles and neighborhoods was dramatic.  The flatter areas were lower middle class homes, tight little neighborhoods with lots of cars parked around and small shops and groceries.  With just a little bit of elevation, the houses got bigger, and as we climbed the hills toward the mountains, the houses and shops increased in value with every foot uphill.

Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaBefore long we were in nosebleed territory with Whole Foods anchoring some pretty fancy malls and some houses that looked as big as hotels.  Of course there were also hotels and spas behind huge gates, all with gorgeous views of the city below and the Catalina Mountains behind.  It was beautiful, and especially in January I could imagine living here.  In some other very wealthy life, I am sure.

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and she lived in Tucson when I first started reading her books. She and her husband and family picked up lock stock and barrel and relocated to her ancestral home in the Appalachian Mountains.  She said she wanted to live a more sustainable life, where there was water and soil and you could grow your own food.  Tucson is lovely in many ways, but would be pure hell without air conditioning.

Montrose Pools on the Canyon Loop Trail at Catalina State Park ArizonaStill, as we meandered into Catalina State Park, the Arizona sun worked its magic on us entirely.  The day was clear and nicely warm with a cooling breeze.  The skies were so blue they almost hurt.  Many bloggers have extolled the virtues of Catalina State Park, and it almost seemed like too much hoopla to me, so I was never that anxious to get there.  I was so wrong.

What a gorgeous place to be in January.  We checked out the campground loops and decided that yes, we could definitely spend a week or more here hiking these beautiful mountains.  Funny, because the last time we were in Tucson we thought we never needed to come back unless we were passing through as we did this time.  After our day in Catalina SP, I can see us coming back again for some January sunshine and blue skies.

happy dogThe main reason we decided to visit this park was to enjoy the dog friendly trails.  So often park trails are closed to dogs and it was great to find some areas that let us bring Abby along.  She especially loved the cool water in the creek that meandered though the canyon floor.  We did too, and took our time hiking three miles or so and stopping for photos and just sitting by the bubbling stream. What a perfect day!

We had planned a couple of other activities for the day, but by the time we left the park the afternoon traffic was getting thicker and we decided to skip the tour of the downtown art colony and instead go back home to our waiting supper.  I recently found a nice little crockpot and decided it was time to make a stew, so it had been cooking all day while we were gone.  Nice to come home to dinner all ready to go after a long day.

three favorite kitchen items for the MoHoJeremy wasn’t too happy for us to be gone that long, and did some old cat things that made me not so happy as well.  sigh.  I am glad he is with us….most of the time.  Sometimes not so much. I am doing more laundry tonight, catching up on photos and blogs while I wait for the last batch to finish. 

Tomorrow we will continue east toward Las Cruces.  An easy day of Interstate 10 driving and an early arrival at a Passport America park within walking distance to Old Mesilla and some Mexican food!