Saturday, November 22, 2014

Be careful what you ask for, vehicle edition

We stayed at Lake Havasu a day longer than planned because it got windy with gusts up to 55 miles an hour.  Wind like that makes RV driving no fun. So we hunkered down an extra day, then headed further south.

Now we're at the Desert Breeze Travel Camp at the Yuma Proving Ground, a military base 25 miles north of Yuma. After we arrived, we did some long-neglected chores, like laundry and rig cleaning. Then we took our tow car to the local Honda dealership as the engine was hesitating when the key was turned. Jim thought it was a starter problem and it turned out we needed a new one.  Since the car wouldn't be ready until the next day, the dealership offered us a loaner from a rental agency. 

The car rental place picked us up at the dealership in a shiny, brand new, freaking big pick up truck. Jim kiddingly asked the driver if we could rent the truck. After some paperwork but no further discussion, we were handed the truck keys.  Guess Jim's kidding nature did not come across clearly. That truck seemed as long as our motor home.

Good news, though:  After we paid $750 for a new starter and retrieved the tow car, we decided to spend our spare change on a beer in downtown historic Yuma -- and discovered the brand new Prison Hill Brewing Company. There is always a silver lining.
Lake Havasu on the day we decided to sit out the wind instead of driving to Yuma.  
Jim standing between the loaner truck from the Honda dealership and our rig.  We could have used it as a tow car, with the truck pulling our motor home instead of the other way around.
Jim and his Prison Hill IPA at Yuma's Prison Hill Brewery, which opened the end of August.  The brewery's name comes from the Yuma Territorial Prison (now a museum) which held murderers, polygamists and more from 1876 to the early 1900s. Then it was a high school whose nickname was "the criminals." The new brewery/restaurant is across the street from another place we like: a pub called the Pint House.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Last year we made a short stop at Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and Jim wanted to go back as it's a great place to kayak. I had some sort of bug that first trip and spent most of our visit “upstairs,” as we call the sleeping compartment over our rig’s cab.  This time I got in two paddles and Jim did three. All the photos below were taken from Bev's kayak.

From what we’ve read, there are times of the year when the actual lake (created by the Parker Dam about 40 driving miles south) is so busy, boaters can walk from one boat to the next across the lake and not get wet feet. Luckily for us, the lake and the city were more sparsely populated both times we’ve visited.

The town came to be when developer Robert McCulloch started buying lake shore property so a company he owned could test boat motors. (McCulloch was also in the chain saw business -- Jim said he used many a McCulloch chainsaw during his days with the Oregon State Department of Forestry.) The city was formally established in 1963 and now has about 50,000 residents. 

The London Bridge is a Lake Havasu tourist attraction.  Designed in 1799 and opened in 1831, the bridge started to sink due to heavier traffic of the 20th century so the city of London put it up for sale. Lake Havasu City founder Robert McCulloch bought it in 1968 for $2,460,000 and had it transported from its original spot over the River Thames.   

Close up of London Bridge's stones and railing.  Click on the photo to make it larger and you'll also see a line of swallow nests. 
A guy takes a photo of a catfish caught by his wife in the channel near the London Bridge.  Before they tossed it back in, they told me it measured 28 inches. (Jim guessed it weighed 8 pounds.)  The secret to catching catfish, they said, is usually chicken livers -- but this one was caught with anchovies.
Per Lake Havasu's visitors' guide, Lake Havasu has 24 light houses -- most of which are 1/3 replicas. That's Jim in his kayak to the right. We camped not far from this lighthouse at Lake Havasu State Park for $30 a night. 
Mountains north of Lake Havasu City. Besides Lake Havasu City, Robert McCulloch also founded Silverlakes, CA; Fountain Hills, AZ; Pueblo West, CO; and Spring Creek, NV. And no, we haven't heard of any of them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Meeting a long-lost cousin

My Mom has an older brother and a younger sister.  My immediate family was/is close to my Aunt Helen and her three daughters. But my Uncle Russell left Ohio (where my family lived) when I was young, and I only remember meeting him once. Russell was tall with wavy hair, and in my little girl mind he looked like the handsome Red Skelton I saw on TV.  

After Uncle Russell left Ohio, my Mom occasionally received thick postcards from him in the mail. The cards consisted of glossy pictures that folded out into one big line of connected photos, and came from far away states like Florida and Texas. As I remember, there was never a return address -- at least not one where he stayed for long -- and the only message said “Love, Russell.”  After a while, the cards stopped coming.

Just like we didn’t see Uncle Russell, we also didn’t see Russell’s ex wife and three children, who moved to California after Russell and his wife divorced.  When I was older, however, Mom would tell me about letters she received from her nieces and nephew, about photos they sent of their kids, and sometimes of phone calls. I met one of the cousins, Sonney, when he rode his motorcycle to our farm. Sonney was grown and married; I’m 11 years younger and was in high school or maybe junior high at the time. I never met the girl cousins.

Five years ago Jim and I drove our new-to-us RV to Salt Lake City from where we’d purchased it in Banning, California. Afterwards I talked with my Mom about our trip. She said our route on I-15 must have taken us close to Adelanto, California, where one of my girl cousins -- Bobbie -- lives.  I had no idea.

This time when we drove through California, I was only slightly better prepared. Jim and I travel a little bit by the seat of our pants, and don’t plan many of our stops very far in advance. But I called my Mom to see if she had  Bobbie’s contact information in case we ended up near Adelanto, a town in the high desert between Barstow and Los Angeles. She had Bobbie’s address but not her phone number. With the little Internet connection I had, I confirmed that the address was probably right but could not find a phone number on line.  

Once we got out of Death Valley, we had cell phone coverage so I called Mom again.  She’d found Bobbie’s phone number and had left me a message, but it didn’t get through the non-connectivity that is Death Valley (at least if you have Verizon). Jim and I found a place to camp near Barstow and I called Bobbie. Her husband, Claude, answered.  After I introduced myself and asked for Bobbie, he handed her the phone saying “It’s a long-lost cousin.”   Bobbie agreed to a visit the next day, and even invited us to her home for lunch.  We went. And it was lovely.  

Thank you for your hospitality, Bobbie and Claude. I hope we keep in touch.

Bev, first cousin Bobbie, and Bobbie’s husband Claude.  Bobbie and Claude have five children, eight grand children, and a house-full of beautiful family photos.  Claude retired after a career with the City of Pomona, CA, while Bobbie had a cake decorating business. And, of course, they both raised those five kids.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Death Valley and more

We’ve had limited phone and Internet access before on our travels, but never so little connectivity as since we left our home in Salt Lake City November 2.  It was a tad unsettling, at least for Bev.

But we're now in Lake Havasu City, AZ, with good Internet connection. Here’s some of what we’ve seen/done since we last posted:

--- Southern Utah’s Snow Canyon State Park is a beautiful place.  We really recommend it, especially if you like to hike.  The park has 22 hiking trails -- many are in the easy to moderate categories -- and over 170 technical climbing routes if you are more adventuresome. There’s also a three-miles paved biking trail plus equestrian trails.

One caveat about Snow Canyon:  As we mentioned in our last post, our campsite was very narrow -- 12 feet wide -- as are all the sites with electric and water.  There are a couple of great dry camping RV sites, however, plus a very pretty tent camping area.
---Next we spent two nights at Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, about 50 miles north of Las Vegas.  Valley of Fire has two spectacular campgrounds nestled in red rocks; about 25 spaces in the Atlatl campground have water and electric. We did four hikes, all of them off White Dome Road which starts near the Visitors' Center.  The hikes were short but not that easy; several of the trails were sand slogs and/or had sandstone steps covered with slippery grit.  But beautiful and worth it.  

--After Valley of Fire we went to Death Valley National Park, the hottest, driest of the national parks.  As the park brochures says “To the uninitiated Death Valley National Park appears to be a vast, empty wasteland, but to the aficionado it is a place of wonder and endless stories.”   As expected, Death Valley lacks much in the way of the color green, but the mountains, hills and flats of Death Valley includes all possible shades of brown, gray, white, and rust. 

--Then we made a stop in Yermo, CA, where we had decent cell phone but spotty Internet at our campground, so again no post.  We did have a lovely experience, which I’ll write about later.

Jim on the Johnson Canyon Trail in southern Utah's Snow Canyon State Park.  The trail led us through a sheltered canyon with red rock cliffs, trees, a spring and a 200 foot long arch. This trail is closed from mid March to mid September; fellow hikers told us the closure was to help protect the endangered red spotty toad.
Jim peering into one of two lava tube on the Lava Flow Trail at Snow Canyon State Park in Ivins, Utah.  Lava tubes are formed when the surface of flowing lava cools, but molten lava below keeps flowing and eventually drains out of a sloped lava field.
Our large campsite at Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park, north of Las Vegas.
Bev on the Fire Wave trail at Valley of Fire State Park.
The Golden Canyon Trail at Death Valley. Jim scrambled to a ledge in the middle of the red mountains in the distance, but I turned back after I bonked my head on an overhanging rock.  Despite my goose egg, it was a pretty hike.
While the park newsletter said this spot at Death Valley is the lowest point in North America, nearby signage claims it's the lowest spot in the western hemisphere. Per the local lore, Badwater got its name when a pioneer lead his mule to nearby water and the mule refused to drink. 
A salt-flat path at Badwater Basin. Brackish water is maybe six inches below the surface and could be seen in several holes along the way.
Some of the mountain/hill views in Death Valley reminded me of melting Neapolitan ice cream, heavy on the chocolate.  This photo was taken  on Artists Drive, a 9-mile paved road through volcanic and sedimentary hills.
View from our rig's backup camera at our spot at Death Valley's Furnace Creek Campground, where we dry camped for two nights. The campground is a huge gravel parking lot with 300 spots, plus overflow.  We were told you can usually get a camping space at Death Valley, no matter how busy the season.
Scotty's Castle in the northern part of Death Valley National Park, is named after cowboy and con man Walter Scott who got people to invest in a fake Death Valley gold mine.  One investor was wealthy Chicago businessman Albert Johnson and his wife Bessie, who became Scotty's friends even though he'd duped them.  The Johnsons built this vacation home for themselves, plus a home for Scotty.  They said Scotty paid them back "in laughs."
View of the Scotty's Castle from Scotty's grave site. A natural spring allowed Albert and Bessie Johnson to create an oasis in an area that averages about two inches of rain a year.
After we drove up and down a 9 percent grade to leave Death Valley NP via its west side, we came upon the gas prices listed above in Panamint Springs. I thought the marker to the right maybe declared Panamint Springs had the highest gas prices in the US. Instead it said that the original store and restaurant was once run by a cousin of Buffalo Bill Cody.  We bit the bullet and bought 20 gallons of gas. 

This view not far behind our campsite at Death Valley's privately run Panamint Springs pretty much sums  up the campground.  Panamint did have a great restaurant, however, with good service, good (but pricey) food and a great beer selection.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

On the road and blogging

We on the road and blogging once again.  Not without a few problems, however.

We planned to leave Saturday, November 1, but the weather forecast changed to windy with predicted 60 mph gusts.  So we pushed our departure back a day.

Saturday night we hooked up the tow car to the rig so all we’d have to do was attach the electrical cord and the brake, then be on our way Sunday morning.  But I not only left the key in the car, but in the on position, which killed the battery. That added "jumping the battery" to our Sunday morning to-do list.  

We decided we’d drive separately for a while to charge the battery, with Jim in the rig and me in the tow car. Just before the rest stop in Scipio, Utah -- where we planned to get gasoline and hook up the tow car -- a coyote ran in front of the rig.  There was nothing Jim could do but hit it. From my vantage point several hundred yards behind the rig, I saw Jim swerve slightly, after which the coyote and his innards rocketed out underneath our motor home. Jim felt bad -- in all the driving he did for the Oregon State Department of Forestry, not to mention in our RV -- he's never hit and killed an animal other than a bird. 

After that there was snow and sleet -- sometimes coming down pretty hard -- for much of the remaining 190 miles.

But now we are in in southern Utah's beautiful Snow Canyon State Park surrounded by red cliffs, black lava flows and sage.  And today's weather forecast says sunny with a high a 58. 

Where the poor coyote contacted our RV.  Looks like we'll be getting repair work done soon.
When we reserved a spot at Snow Canyon State Park, the website said the campsite we were looking at was narrow and that it might be difficult to use slides or awnings.  That's not a problem for us, but we also had to maneuver around just to be able to open our door.
But we like Snow Canyon; it's beautiful.  Here's one view from the campground.