Saturday, November 28, 2015

Hi Ho it’s Ajo!

As we continued on our southern journey to Benson, AZ for the winter, we decided to take a side trip across the desert to Ajo (Ah-ho), a small former mining town that’s a loooong way from anything.  From Ajo it’s 130 miles east to Tucson, 112 north to Phoenix, and 160 miles west to Yuma.  But, it’s only 43 miles south of Gila Bend….which has a McDonald’s!

So why did we travel here?  To visit Organ Pipe National Monument, a place we visited in 2008 and thoroughly enjoyed.  But first, a bit about Ajo.  Like many Arizona towns, copper was the reason people came here.  Mining started in the 1850’s, when ore was shipped around Cape Horn all the way to Wales.  Ajo visitor CenterMining continued here until 1983 when the New Cornelia Mine shut down, leaving a pit that measured one and a half miles long and 1100 feet deep.  Today, the town struggles with few job opportunities Ajo Squareand a community largely composed of retired folks and Border Patrol employees.  Driving through town, you see remnants of company housing that’s been refurbished, a few businesses, and the main business area, the Plaza.  The Plaza has been restored to it’s original lAjo Churchook, and while not exactly bustling, has a number of businesses and a visitor center in the original train station.  Across the street is the very pretty Ajo Federated Church, an interdenominational church.  You can see the visible efforts the town has made to improve it’s image.  Many buildings have murals, and we were struck by this unusual but colorful mural.  And no, we have no idea what it’s supposed to represent:Ajo Mural

We stayed in Ajo at the Shadow Ridge RV Park, a nice park with very friendly owners.  From the park, it was a comfortable drive to the monument, which is onOrgan Pipe NM1 the Mexican border.  Organ Pipe isn’t a well known or much-visited park due to its location, but is well worth the trip.  We checked into the large and informative Organ Pipe Cactusvisitor center, then crossed the highway to the Ajo Mountain drive, a 21-mile loop.  We followed the well-maintained gravel road east into the mountains, all the while surrounded by lush desert landscape.  Saguaro, Ocotillo, and Chain-fruit Cholla  were common, and we began to see Organ Pipe cactus as the elevation climbed.Organ Pipe NM2 Organ Pipe Arch Rock

It was a beautiful drive on a beautiful day, and not wanting it to end, we decided to drive the border road to Quitobaquito Springs, a drive of 14 miles west from the main highway. Border Fence This road was closed until recently due to the danger of smuggling, but a ranger advised us that there were now over 500 Border Patrol agents in the area and that they had reopened the road to travel.  As we turned onto the road, we could see the border fence nearby.  The fence, about 12 feet tall, continued up and over the hill until it was out of sight.  Border Fence with TiresAs we drove to the other side of the hill, the fence suddenly disappeared and was replaced by a low barrier that could easily be crossed.  We realized that we were probably in the area under surveillance from Border Patrol camera towers we’d seen earlier, but it was still a surprise to see how small the barrier was.  Border Fence2As we’d seen on the Texas border, a narrow road of smooth ran along the fence.  The tires you see in the picture are hooked up behind trucks and dragged along the road daily.  Anyone crossing the fence into the U.S. will leave footprints to alert the Border patrol.  It was strange to sit this close to the border that we hear about being so fortified, looking through a flimsy fence at traffic on a major Mexican highway.  A while later we arrived at the end of the road, but found that visiting the spring required a fairly long hike through the desert.  Since we were the only car in the parking lot, we decided to try it again some day when there were others around.

From Ajo we traveled east to Tucson and then on the the Escapees Saguaro RV Park in Benson where we’ll spend the next few months.  There’s always plenty to see and do in this area, so stay tuned – we’ll be back!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nevada Notes

Leaving Northern California's lava beds, we continued south through the mountains to Susanville, CA and finally to Sparks, NV and one of our favorite parks, Sparks Marina RV resort.  Gaylord HotelWe checked in for a week so that Brenda could make a special trip to meet with our daughter, Kim, who is a  Flight Attendant (FA) for American Airlines.  She was being recognized as one of the “Top One Percent” of American’s FAs at the Dallas Gaylord Resort.  Proud mom was invited to attend, and Reno was our best option forBrenda, Kim, and Keisha her to fly from while the cat and I were left alone to fend for ourselves.   So off she went for a night of celebration at tKim on Stagehe “Flight Champions” banquet, some quality time with our daughter, and a chance to reconnect with some old friends.  She had a great time, and couldn’t say enough about the banquet.  The setting, the food, and the recognition ceremony were amazing, and Kim and mom flight Service Championcame away very impressed.  It’s always great to see an employer recognizing employees who excel.  Congratulations, Kim – we’re proud of you!

 

From Reno, we headed east along “America’s Loneliest Road” to Ely, where we hoped to visit the Great Basin National Park.  The road actually isn’t that desolate, in fact it’s much more interesting than Highway 95 from Reno to Las Vegas.  There’s an interesting story how the name came about, and how the Nevada Tourism Department uses it to their advantage – read about it here.  Unfortunately, the weather in the Great Basin was horrible – fog, low ceilings, and rain – so we continued on to Las Vegas and the Nellis AFB RV park.

Although we frequently stop in Las Vegas, we avoid the downtown and strip with their crowds, people trying to hand out sales material, and the clouds of cigarette smoke.  If we feel the need to visit a casino, we hop on the outer parkway and head over to the west side of town, where there are upscale casino resorts with a less touristy crowd.  But mostly, we relax, shop, and explore the natural beauty of the area that most visitors don’t notice.  RR Visitor Center ViewOn this visit, we made a trip to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a BLM-managed public area with stunning vistas and a remarkable visitor center.   You can spend a few hours RR Visitor Center View2there viewing the exhibits, reading the interpretive placards, and wandering along the paths while enjoying the desert landscaping and scenic views.  It’s worth a visit just to spend time there.  But it’s the 13-mile scenic drive that attracts people to the tune of over one million a year. RR Canyon2 If you’re a tourist from Iowa or Louisiana, how can you resist the opportunity to see something so convenient and so different?   The wildly colored red rock looks unreal in some areas – as if it’s some kind of hardened red taffy.   RR Canyon5Even on a dreary weekday in October, the line of cars stretched far ahead of us; a mix of rentals and cars with out of state plates.   People were enjoying the warm day and walking the trails that weave their way through the rock formations.  Wild BurroWatching it all with a bored expression was a wild burro, a common resident.  As we continued to drive the loop, the road pulled away from the cliffs and wandered up and down through the desert landscape, giving us some great views of the towering rocks:RR Canyon8

RR Canyon13

RR Canyon10

The short trip to Red Rock Canyon provides and interesting diversion from the traffic, glitter, and glitz of the Las Vegas strip.  Looking for another diversion, we decided to revisit Lake Mead’s main marina and compare the water level.  The lake water level continues to fall, and is a few feet lower than our last visit  (April 2014 on left, Oct 2015 on right).

Lake Mead MarinaLake Mead 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re still traveling south and visiting interesting places, so stop back and check on where we’ve been!

 

 

 

Sunday, November 01, 2015

An Undiscovered Country…….

For us anyway, was the area of Northern California that lies just south of Klamath Falls, Oregon.  As we left the coast this year, we decided to take a different route down to Reno,  so we left I-5 at Medford and drove east to Klamath Falls.  Once there, we headed south, crossing into California just south of town and into the town of Tulelake.  In our travels, we’ve seen towns where parents, frustrated with the antics of their teenagers, gather together to vent their anger by giving the high school teams an embarrassing name.  We first saw this phenomenon in Tillamook, Oregon, where when entering the town you see the high school building with large letters that say “Tillamook High School – Home of the Cheesemakers!”  Tulelake SignApparently that same frustration existed in this small town, as we were greeted with this sign on entering town.    I had to wonder if the girls teams were known as the “Lady Honkers”….and is the Junior Varsity the “Quackers”?
OK, enough of that.
We spent a couple of days in the one-store town of Tionesta, population 30, at a nice little park called the Hawk’s Nest.  From there we drove to Lower Klamath Falls National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1908 as the nation’s first migratory bird refuge.  Over 80 percent of the Pacific Flyway’s migratory waterfowl stop here, and the 50,000 plus acres of lakes and marsh attract thousands of ducks, pelicans, and birds.  Although we visited during the early part of the migration, the lakes were covered in Coots, Grebes, White Pelicans, and a variety of ducks:Tulelake View
We watched as the White Pelicans, surrounded by Grebes and Coots, gathered in a group to drive fish into the shallows:White Pelicans
We enjoyed the refuge, but were fascinated by the Lava Beds National Monument, a place we’d never heard of. Lava Beds NM Sign Covering over 46,000 acres, the monument is a beautiful area of lava flows, canyons, and lush desert.  Two things made this place special for us; history and caves.  The history of the area is extensive, but we were especially interested in the Modoc Indian Wars that took place here.  Briefly, during the winter of 1882-83, a small band of Modoc Indians led by Keintpoos,  known as “Captain Jack” refused to remain on the reservation and entrenched themselves in the lava beds.  Scattered fighting ensued until in January 1873 when the Army attacked the Modocs in force.  Fighting in fog, cold, and the confusing terrain of the lava beds, the Army, defeated, gave up the fight.  This was followed by a number of meetings between Captain Jack and the Army, led by Brigadier General E.R.S. Canby, a Civil War veteran.  No progress was made, and the Modocs, believing that if they killed the enemy leader the Army would give up, ambushed the General at a meeting, killing him.  General Canby was the first general killed in the Indian wars, and as a result, the Army ordered an additional 1000 troops into the area.  Eventually Captain Jack was captured, and he was convicted of murder and hung in October 1873. 
Battlefield HoleWalking the trail through the area where the battles took place it’s easy to see how difficult it was to find and dislodge the Modocs.  The broken lava provided nooks, crannies, and natural fighting positions, many of which are still visible today.  Although it’s an area of rock and desert, it’s still a beautiful place to stroll.Stronghold View1
Stronghold View2A bit down the road, we came to the site of General Canby’s murder and a replica of the original marker:Canby Cross
The other fascinating thing about this area is the caves – nearly 800 have been mapped.  These are lava tube caves – some are large and developed with trails, some are “ice caves” that contain ice year around, and others run the gamut from easily accessible to those that require scrambling on hands and knees.  Skull Cave EntranceWhat we found remarkable is the open access – just visit the interpretive center, answer questions to be screened for white-nosed syndrome, check out a helmet and flashlight if you like, then go caving.  You’re on your own, a remarkable approach to exploring a cave these days. 
We normally think of lava beds are pretty desolate; but driving through the monument provided some truly beautifully vistas:Lava Beds NM View1
Lava Beds NM View2
Finally, as we drove through the area, we came across this remarkably healthy looking coyote.  It’s not often we have the opportunity to see such a beautiful animal, and it seemed to enjoy the attention:Young Coyote1(2)
Young Coyote (2)
We’ve made it back to Benson, AZ and the Escapees park where we’ll be spending the winter months.  We still have more travel to catch up on, so look for another blog soon!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Leaving Yaquina Head

LH From Nye BeachIt’s been a while since I’ve updated our travels, but we’ve been busy at our summer volunteer positions here at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.  These three month, like all of our volunteer adventures, has been personally rewarding for the both of us.  We learned new things, made new friends, and visited new restaurants – what could be better than that?

We’ve never been to such a busy place;  this year the visitor count will likely exceed 400,000.  We met people from across the country and from all around the world who came to experience the historic lighthouse, tide pools, hiking trails, and Interpretive Center. 

The Interpretive Center, where Brenda worked at the information counter, was where most visitors started their tour.  Here she helped people sign up for the Beatrice and Brendalighthouse tours, advised visitors of tide pool conditions and whale sightings, and provided general information about the area.  There were days when she logged over 500 visitors in her four-hour shift, but Brenda kept smiling!  Especially on the days she worked with Ranger Beatrice, her best bud!

Interpretive CenterThe Interpretive Center was one of the best we’ve seen in our travels.  There were two theaters, one built to resemble an 1800’s steam ship. 

On a quiet morning before opening, I spent time trying to capture some of the  exhibits. On entering the main room, there’s a wall with current and projected tide and weather information, a well-stocked gift shop managed by the Friend’s Group, the children’s area, and the information desk. To the left, you pass the main theater and Whale Wall in ICenter the area where marine mammals and seabirds are displayed. The Gray Whale on the wall is life-sized to give visitors an idea just how large they are. Continuing on, you come to the lighthouse area, with exhibits on construction, daily life, and the incredible Fresnel Lens.LH Keeper's ExhibitFresnel Lens Display

 

 

 

 

 

Children's Area

One of the areas that the staff emphasizes is involving children, and the center has an area devoted to children’s games of the lighthouse period along interactive environmental education displays. There’s also a “Junior Ranger” program complete with official badge!

Harbor SealsFor me, being a “tide pool guide” was an experience I’ll always remember. Learning about the tide pool inhabitants and passing on that knowledge was both enjoyable and rewarding. It was difficult work, Lighthouse from Cobble Beachslogging up and down the cobble stone beach and slippery tide pool rocks, but with the waves crashing, gulls screeching, and Harbor Seals on the rocks it was magical. And high above was always a view of the lighthouse.

The rock formations or “sea stacks” are intriguing. This one is called “Pinnacle” from one vantage point, and “Stegosaurus” from another. Note the harbor seal comfortably snoozing:Stegosaurus Rock (Small)

Another view shows the basalt rock and it’s sharp edges formed when the lava flow reached the water:Cobble Beach South View

When the tides was in, I’d rove around the lighthouse area and provide information to visitors. The two biggest questions…”have you seen any Tufted Puffins?”, answer – nope, none here. And, “have you seen any whales?” – oh yeah, we see whales almost every day. WhalesEach year when Gray Whales migrate from the warm Mexican waters to the Arctic, about 200 stop and spend the summer off the Oregon coast. Since they’re bottom feeders, they tend to stay relatively close to shore where they’re visible. At 40 to 50 feet long and weighing 30 to 40 tons, they’re quite a sight when they surface.

One thing we won’t miss is the weather. clip_image001Daily highs in the low 60s, cold north winds often exceeding 30mph, and unpredictable fog were the norm. Each day I noticed people arriving in sandals, shorts, and short sleeved shirts, obviously from the other side of the coastal range. It wasn’t long before they’d be draped in blankets, towels, and my favorite for the year, a woman wrapped in her car’s floor mats. From our RV site we could often look down at the fog as it moved in.

We’re traveling again and will be taking our time getting back to Southern Arizona for the winter.  We have some interesting places to visit, so be sure and check back!