A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dec. 13 - 14

“Everyday was creative, because when you don’t have it handed out to you, you make your own.” – Elizabeth Payne McGhee, Allensworth resident.

We drove into the Central Valley and stayed to the little farm roads avoiding the interstate and major highway as much as possible. Many years ago in doing this, I discovered Allensworth State Park and thought a stop by to see it again would be nice.
Col. Allen Allensworth was born a slave and escaped from servitude in 1862 when he was 12 years old. He went north and joined the Union Army, which he eventually made a career out of achieving the highest ranking of any black at that time when he retired at the turn of the century. He came to California with his wife Josephine and had a dream to build a community, a colony as he called it, for other African Americans to help themselves create better lives. In 1908, in Tulare County, he found the Promised Land and put his plan to work. The little colony of Allensworth prospered for a short time but eventually faded away due to Allensworth’s untimely accidental death (he was struck down by a motorcyclist), declining water tables and the realignment of the railroad to a different town nearby. A couple dozen of the original homes remain, lovingly restored complete with furniture and artifacts from that time period. It is well worth a visit.
I was amazed to find a campground here for I did not remember one the 15 or so years ago when I was here last. I was even further amazed to find this campground had showers, but the amazement didn’t end there. The showers were FREE! One did not need a fistful of quarters in order to take a bath. I needed to tell the ranger girl in Arizona about this State Park.
Later that afternoon I noticed on the electronic read-out panel for all systems on board the Little BOX that the LP (propane) was down to its last indicator light – red - meaning “You better do something about this soon.” I went outside to check the gauge on the tank. The needle was resting on “E”. The refrigerator/freezer is powered by propane. I thought about this and figured if at sometime before morning the “check” light on the frig begins to flash, I could just as easily open the door for the air temperature is colder than your refrigerator is at home. Then I thought that might not be a good idea. I didn’t want my bag of salad to freeze, so I decided to leave the door shut if the propane fizzles out.
The next morning all systems were going strong. I looked outside the window and could see all of twenty feet. There was fog so thick you could chip away at it with an axe. Of the twenty feet I could see, the ground was a blanket of frost. Inside the temperature read 35 degrees and I had a pussycat that had no interest to come out from under the covers. Then I lay back in bed and thought about the residents of Allensworth 100 years ago.
We left camp at 9am and continued on the farm roads heading north. It was a bit of a challenge as I was armed only with a California road map. I plan to set up a little cardboard file cabinet in the Little BOX and keep all my maps in it for the future. We drove around the town of Hanford in search of a place that sold propane. Here for the first time I see Christmas decorations in all their glory. It is a nice feeling to not have been exposed to all of this for the 5 weeks previously. This has been the most nonsense Christmas season for me, ever. Like the song, Twelve Days Before Christmas, is just about right.
Finally by chance I located a mini-mart that sold propane. The proprietor was straight out of Afghanistan with his full rich thick black beard and mustache. I liked this guy. He was bundled up against the cold more so than I am wearing a heavy-duty army coat that further enhanced his image to me of a Mujaheddin rebel fighter. In spite of the red light and the needle being on “E” the tank took only 11.5 gallons. I had 2.5 gallons left in it.
We pulled off Hwy 99 early in the day to check out a sign denoting a State Park, with camping. It looked to be a small State Park by the map, but worth the 5-mile drive to check out. No one was there except the old ranger guy. They had showers (I should arrive home clean and fresh) and the ranger guy points out one spot that has electricity at no extra cost! How cool is that? We were in five star luxury with all the lights burning, the radio playing and unlimited time on the laptop to catch up on all my notes. There is no Internet connection but the laptop I feel pulls a lot of juice from the batteries in the RV so I need to be cautious otherwise, but not now!
I took a little walk around the campground and discovered a river slowly flowing by. It is the Merced River. I sat there on the banks for a long time thinking how this water had cascaded over Nevada and Vernal Falls then flowed through Yosemite Valley several days earlier.
Since I am only 3 hours from home I hung around for a while, tidied up the ship, and even broke out my new mini vacuum cleaner that I haven’t used yet. Hey, why not do cleaning and stuff in a nice setting rather than at home in the neighborhood ?

This afternoon I will be home but this is not the end. It is just the beginning. Distant roads are calling me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No use being stupid if you can’t use it.

Dec. 12
The plan was to go to Red Rock Canyon State Park 20 miles north of Mojave. This is a beautiful little park full of cacti, Joshua trees and marvelous geological formations created millions of years ago out of…yes…red rock. This park we have used for many years as a stopping off spot on the way to or coming back from other desert locations in the south.
When we arrived I was pleasantly surprised that we had the entire place all to ourselves, not that that I suspected a great many campers there at this time of the year. That night I discovered why…we practically froze to death! No wonder no one was here. Even the reptiles have more common sense than I do. They’re all snug in their holes in the ground hibernating till winter passes. I went to bed with long underwear, sweat pants, two pairs of socks and knit cap on my head and still was cold. It was cold enough that Sinbad burrowed under the covers to sleep curled up against my stomach all night. Who was warming who? I do not know but my belly was the warmest part of my body. In the morning, it was 30 degrees outside and a blistering 2 degrees warmer inside.
The sun had not yet cleared the horizon when duty called. I added to what I slept in a hooded sweatshirt, flannel lined Levis, heavy woolen mittens and my NASA spaceman socks and walked over to the open-air pit toilets. Take my word for this, you don’t even have to put it to a test, an ass gasket provides no insulation what-so-ever against a 30 degree toilet seat. None. Zip. Nada. On the march back to the Little BOX I envisioned a fortune could be made by inventing insulated ass gaskets. Now of course this would necessitate a consumer base market for this product in order to make all the research and devolvement feasible, even before I went into production. A bit more thought on this and a look around the empty campground and I came to the conclusion that there are not enough dumb campers as myself out there to warrant any further thought on the subject.
Back in the RV Sinbad showed not interest in wanting to go outside as he is usually waiting at the door. Yes, my cat is smarter than I am at times. I did go for a little walk-about just to let my nose run though. I did the dishes (although it mattered to only a cup and a spoon, but any excuse to have my hands in warm water was reason enough), squared things away and drove out a day earlier than planned. Thirty minutes later at Mojave, I was finally comfortably warm.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The longer a traveler stays in one place, the more reasons he finds for not moving on.

Dec. 6 – 11
The dogs of Slab City won the war. To be honest, we didn’t put up much of a battle. Waving the white flag, we left for quieter surroundings leaving Slab City to the squatters, the near-to-do-wells, the Loners on Wheels (yes there is a group of singles travelers by this name) and the rich in their multi-thousand dollar rigs – why they choose Slab Slum City is a mystery. Don’t get me wrong, I like it there for its diversity if nothing else; if it just wasn’t for the damn constant dog barking.
We found what we were looking for back at Yaqui Wash in Anza Borrego, again having it all to ourselves. The evening brought on a few showers but the next day was pleasant giving me an opportunity to hike the hills in the distance. Here it seemed no one had been before and I walked through totally undisturbed cactus gardens filled with cholla, beavertail, ocotillo, barrel cactus and hundreds of little fishhook cacti nestled in among the rocks.
The next day I hiked the sandy wash down to Tamarisk Grove campground, which was vacant. Across the road was the equally vacant state park employee’s residence, a neglected state park green cinder-block building. The grounds were littered with palm fronds and other windblown debris. I walked around in back and imagined what it would take to clean things up and call this my home.
We continued on to the little community of Borrego Springs centered within Anza Borrego. I spent the day just hanging out, watching Borrego life come and go. I wandered in and out most of the stores, shops and even real estate offices. Yes, I could live here. This is a town I can find nothing to poke fun at so we moved on out to where we camped a month ago. Some have gone with more replacing them but amazingly, the Idaho woman with her Gestapo German Shepherd was still here but had relocated further from the highway. I see now she is younger than what I thought before; an attractive blonde. What is she doing here for so long out in the wilderness by herself? There must be a story there. Is she running away from something or someone, looking for a new place to start a new life? Or maybe it’s no more than what I am doing myself, just seeking a warmer environment for the winter. I wasn’t about to face Rin-Tin-Tin to find out.
It rained that night and the next morning I thought I would be spending the day cooped up, but by noon the sky cleared up somewhat, and I said “hike time”. I bundled up in layers, even with a knit cap on my head and started across the desert to a distant dry lake. By half way there was down to being shirtless, no hat and wished I had not had on my flannel-lined levis and spaceman socks. The shoreline of the lake had a cracked mud surface producing amazing geometrical shapes and patterns. Large folds of thin mud curled back upon itself like paint peeling from a wall. The dried mud was copper colored with flakes of glitter-like mica. And naturally, I left my camera back at camp.
For my last two days here, I thought I would through caution (and a $20 bill per night) to the wind and stay in the state park campground. It is just a few minutes out of town up the alluvial plain towards the base of the mountains. We backed in to the most remote spot the campground offered at the mouth a canyon wash. Most campers are down below in the developed area with hook-ups. There were only a fellow from Oregon and us in the undeveloped area. Being at the base of the mountains I noticed in not too many hours we would be in shade, so after a quick lunch I gathered my gear and started up the canyon to another palm oasis. For all of the times I have been to this park I’ve never taken the time to hike this short trail which is the mostly frequented due to it’s proximity to the campground and visitor center. Now here in December I have it all to myself, well almost. I met a little old lady coming down from the oasis who confirmed my thoughts when I shouted to her on the other side of the wash – I was on the wrong side and had missed the trail somewhere back a ways. The nearer I got to the oasis the more water there was running in the stream. The sound of rushing water intensified echoing within the canyon, although the quantity of water was not that great. It only took a few boulder hops to cross at any point.
The palm oasis was nothing like the one’s I had seen before. They were many more trees, densely packed, full and lush. I read where Hooded Orioles weave nests from the palm fibers hanging them high up in the trees. A species of bat, only two inches long, call these trees home sleeping in among the hanging palm fronds, coming out every evening to feed on insects. Many animals from all around rely upon this yearlong constant supply of water, including the Peninsular Bighorn Sheep for which this park is named. Most interesting though was the Palm Beetle, a two-inch long insect that lays its eggs in the bark of the palm. Its grub is orange in color and burrows holes into the palm that creates little homes for other small creatures. This explained why I had been seeing these perfect 5/8ths inch diameter holes in all the downed palms. “Why would someone bring out there Black & Decker drill and vandalize these trees?”
It was only 3pm but it was cool in the shadows of the mountains and I kept thinking a cup of tea would be nice but I didn’t want to leave this wonderful spot. I could not stop looking back again and again for just one more look as I began my hike out of the canyon, feeling some sort of sadness as if I would never see this wonderful oasis again.
The next morning I awoke to a thick canopy of clouds, which began to cast down sprinkles as the sun rose. By all appearances, this would last the day and may even turn into showers, thus putting a crimp into my plans for the day – more hiking and some bicycling too. However, days like this make for good traveling and we have some miles to lay down for the long trip home, thus we broke camp and sadly left Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

(to Ellie, “we” is just myself and my faithful little buddy Sinbad who at times is simply filthy as he loves to roll in the desert dirt. This last camp near the mouth of the canyon, the dirt was full of “fools gold”. Sinbad literally sparkled in the sun.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

We do not take a trip, a trip takes us.
Dec. 2 – 5
We motored north to Parker, crossed over the Colorado River to Vidal Junction then turned south to the very same latitude we were at that morning. 100 miles out of the way for no more than the sheer pleasure of the drive though the desert on a two-lane road. Wonderful. The signs welcoming us to California were not necessary. The condition of the roads were enough notification we were back. Reaching the town of Blythe (which was only 20 miles from Quartzsite had we drove directly west) I decided to drive through town for the adventure. Now here is a place that owning a lumber company or even a hardware store would be a lucrative enterprise. I have never seen a community with so many businesses and stores boarded up with plywood. If there is a town more dismal and depressive than Blythe, I am not interested in seeing it. Six months residence there would justify suicide.
The intent was on finding something along the west side of the river to camp but the only place spotted was the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, a pleasant and tranquil spot along a backwater of the river. Unfortunately, I was down to my last $100 bill and had no change for the $10 fee, yet it was still early in the day so we pressed on to ultimately Slab City out of Niland. We have been here many times in the past and each time I forget about the dogs. Their barking is incessant. At times, the frenzy of barking would rival the start of the Iditarod dog sled race. I wonder how the people stand it. The new RV is wonderfully sound proofed compared to the old BOX and with the music turned on low, the barking ceased to be a problem. That was until the next morning when I wanted to be outdoors for my morning sunrise worship service. “This is one of the reasons I left home” I‘m thinking to myself. I eventually realized the problem area is the squatters who live here full time, or so I hoped. So, before breakfast, we moved off to the outskirts of the “city” and found conditions much improved. We settled in near the pet cemetery. Yes, people who reside here, for either long term or short, sometimes their beloved best friend passes on and there is a nice place set aside for their final resting place. There are several dozen graves nicely laid out with rocks and tombstones crafted out of wood or stone. I can feel the heartache at each and every grave.
The next day I walked over the hill and down to Salvation Mountain and visit with Leonard Knight, the creator of this monument. In 1983 he crashed landed here in a hot air balloon. “I only intended on staying a week,” he says. 24years and 100,000 gallons of paint later at the age of 76, he is still at it. I find him sitting on his sofa out in the brilliant desert sunshine visiting with a shriveled up old geezer who has stopped by, a local no doubt. He brings me up to date on progress, the increased amount of visitors he’s had since the Paramount pictures release of “In the Wild”. It seems a movie crew came out to do a bit on him for the movie. I’ve not seen the movie yet (I’ve read the book) and don’t quite understand the connection between the two. He said he had upwards to 200 visitors a day around the Thanksgiving Day weekend due to this recent exposure. I don’t doubt it. He’s been featured on National Geographic, the Travel Channel and several independent films. In a previous visit with Leonard, I first noticed how he would drop whatever he was doing to go over and greet anyone who stopped by. This would be followed with a personal guided tour, which could very well be interrupted be another set of visitors stopping. In between tours I asked Leonard, “When are you able to get any work done with so many visitors?” He said it is a problem, The man is so conscious about it that if he feels that someone has stopped and he hasn’t greeted them, he’ll hop on his scooter and rush over apologizing for not having done so. What follows is an excerpt from my journal about my day with Leonard Knight, the last time I was here.

When I find Leonard he is rearranging ladders for some project he is about to begin. I ask if he needed any help with anything as I thought it would be a fun way to spend the day. He is elated saying if I wouldn’t mind doing some painting on flowers. I say “Sure, just let me go back and get some water and check on my cat.” On the walk back I begin to wonder what I had got myself in to. Then I reason it’ll be a good experience and provide a memory not to be forgotten. I had no idea how true that would prove to be.
I return to find Leonard struggling with the same ladders. “Hi Leonard, I’m back to paint some flowers.”
“Oh praise the Lord, I’ve got about 75 years of work left to do,” he exclaims. “I tell you what; you don’t mind painting do you?” I lie and nod my head no. “What I think I will do is have you paint the waterfall here,” and we walk over to where he has over a 100 buckets of paint spread out on the ground. He picks up a can of deep blue. “This is blue, isn’t it?” I say it is and ask if he is colorblind. “No,” he relies. “Just sometimes blue looks like turquoise.” He wears no sunglasses or eye protection of any sort and in the desert sun, these brilliant colors are blinding. I have not seen him wear a hat either and call him on that. “Usually I do.” So Leonard gets me started on re-painting the 10 foot wide, 20 foot tall stair-stepped waterfall of alternating vertical stripes of blue and white. I learn that the hay bales underneath are plastered with a thick coat of adobe. Then after at least six coats of paint is applied, the surface is then durable enough to withstand the heat of the summer and the infrequent rains of the winter. He leaves me with a jar of glitter that I am to sprinkle over the wet paint occasionally. He says he will come back in 20 minutes or so and check on me and maybe I could help him with another job. The 20 minutes stretches on, what with Leonard giving tours and all, and I am getting into my task. I was getting a deep appreciation for what this man has done.
Some time later, he comes by saying in 10 minutes or so I could help him with something else. I say sure, “I’d just like to finish this…” then thought better, that we should do it now while no one was here. He thinks that is a good idea.
I follow him over to where he has been mixing up adobe in a wheelbarrow. There are four 5-gallon plastic buckets in which he tosses a shovel full of adobe into each and asks me, “Is that too heavy?” Come on Leonard. I tell him to throw in another shovel-full into each one. Fortunately, I decide to see what I was in for before asking for more adobe. We are to climb to the top of the museum, over two stories tall, clambering up loose unsecured hay bales. Up we go, hay bales rocking, feet slipping on slick straw, lifting buckets of adobe up one by one. “How on earth did he ever get these hay bales up here?” I wonder in-between breaths. Once at the top he then asks if I have ever worked with adobe before. I shake my head for I didn’t have it in me to say “no” and wheeze at the same time. He shows me what to do and scrambles back down for some more visitors have arrived.
This is dirty work but I am getting into it. Adobe is my medium and the view up here is fantastic. I empty and spread the four buckets and carefully climb back down for more adobe. While at the bottom, I think about getting some pictures so I wash off my hands in his 50-gallon barrel of mocha colored water. I discover why my hand is sore; I’ve got a piece of straw jammed well into it. I’m sure the nearest first-aid and disinfectant is a half a mile away in the BOX. Then I remember something about the Indians using adobe to patch up arrows wounds and figure I’ll live. I empty out the wheelbarrow and start back up the mountain of hay bales. Half way up and I am whipped. Each time I look up I don’t remember it being that far before. I spread the last of the adobe out on the crown of his creation, etch my name into the wet mud and then, with trembling legs and weak knees, I climb down for the last time. I watch one of the plastic buckets roll and tumble all the way to the earth. I think about that could very easily be me. At the bottom, I am relieved that I didn’t break my neck and will live to tell about this. Leonard is so happy. “I’ve wanted to do this for 2 months.” It was then I learn he plans on bringing up more hay bales in the future so he can start down the backside. I cannot even imagine. Then off he goes to greet new arrivals and conduct another tour. I am spent. I clean up the best I can then sneak back over to finish the painting on the waterfall. When I am done, Leonard wants to pay me $10 an hour for the help. I say that I should pay him just for the privilege.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A true traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arrival.
Dec. 1 - 2
For a place I much maligned, we spent more time around Quartzsite than anywhere else up to this point. Besides mini-marts at a couple service stations, there are only two small grocery stores. One, the Road Runner, plays a running loop of great political speeches of the 20th century as atmosphere for their shoppers. “Ask not what you can do for your country…” well, it was better than Christmas music. I renamed it the “Brown Meat Store” after viewing the selections available in the meat display case. I bought a t-bone at a “reduced for quick sale” price. The other grocery (the name escapes me) was so cold inside that I doubt their meat display case was even plugged in. In fact, the handwritten sign on the glass front said to walk around back and serve yourself. I tried not to think of the hands that fondled the meat. This store too doubled as a hardware store. Picture walking into ACE Hardware (and I swear, the display racks for nuts and bolts, plastic fittings, plumbing needs, etc., are identical to those in ACE) and picking up a loaf of bread next to paint brushes and rollers. Unlike the first store, his magazine rack had a wide array of this month’s nudie magazines to select from, all positioned at eye level and lower. It’s okay, there are no children in Quartzsite; they were banned long ago.

My undoing was the day I stopped at the post office to mail some post cards. I got back into the Little Box to leave, sat there looking out the windshield at this tent structure across the street with a sign WYO DISCOUNT GROCERY. Having nothing else pressing for the day, I thought I would check it out. The place was chocker-block full of grocery items most all at $1 or less. There were bins full of dented canned foods at 25 cents each. Now they had me. Happier than a rejected hog at a meat packing plant, I went shopping. Minute Maid orange juice in the 10 pack cartons, $1.49, lemonade 10 pack for $1.00. Large boxes of crackers of all varieties, $1 or less. They had Biscotti sticks, the brand you get from Costco, in boxes for $1.00. Then there were the gourmet items: Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Gourmet Mediterranean olives, $1.49. Garlic and jalapeƱo double stuffed green olives, $2.49. And for you Starbucks lovers, bags of coffee, $4.00. With these items and more, plus an armload full of dented Chef Boyardee cans, I was a happy shopper. I would have purchased more but had already hit a grocery store a few days earlier and groaned at the fact that I paid over twice as much for a box Barilla spaghetti than I could have bought here. Then across the street was another Dented Can Store! I went in there too just to marvel at the prices. Perhaps I could come to like Quartzsite after all, a thought that somewhat frightened me, so I felt we best move on before I found myself walking into some real estate offices.

Just a side note before we move on. The Hi Jolly BLM camp area I stayed at the most is 3 miles north of town. Four days in a row as I drove into town I saw the very same hitchhiker in the very same spot, standing there dejectedly with all his world possessions by his side in two bags. Four days! This is not knowing if he even had logged in some days there before I moved up to the north end. Lastly, I removed Quartzsite from my dead zone list. I found Internet hook-up at the Spilt Rail RV Park nearby. Thanks Mr. Cooper, whoever you are.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A reason I love the desert...the full moons are like no other.
Nov. 26 – 30
Back home in Quartzsite (!?), we squatted down in a different BLM camp area which was for some unexplainable seemed reason nicer than the other two. How that can be I do not know for the terrain around here is the same for hundreds of square miles. Maybe it is just me and I am getting into the groove of living in the land of limited income wayward vagabonds. Hey, that’s me! I learned from my neighbors Bill and Louise out of Alberta Canada that the winds were pretty fierce while I was away - good timing on my part, as if I knew what I was doing. Bill was a truck driver, driving fuel trucks mostly to the frozen wastelands of Dawson Creek and Whitehorse. He retired after rolling his rig, which caught fire, and he received burns over 60% of his body. (I got to see the skin grafts) His wife is a little short thing about as wide as she is tall, who has this obsession of constantly moving rocks about and building elaborate fire pits. She likes to rake the sand also. Nice folks, he in his late 70’s and she in her 60’s, “She’s much younger than I.” Both suffer from arthritis and vacate Alberta every winter for 6 months at a time, then have to re-cross the border for at least 24 hours. Silly government rules.

It is late afternoon one day as I work on my notes watching the dove and quail outside my window. I look up and take notice of the darkening skies; they are expecting rain for tomorrow. This is too interesting to be sitting inside for, so I brew up a cup of hot tea and go out. I stand quietly away from the Little Box looking all around. There is a blanket of clouds overhead with rips and tears here and there allowing the turquoise blue sky to show. This cloud cover adds another dimension to the quietness of the desert - a closed in room feeling. I can hear the whistling wings of dove as they flutter about in the arroyo behind the Little Box, and then in an instant, as if the commander issued orders to “move out”, flocks of them fly overhead to their evening roost. Their day is done. The Gamble’s Quail too have settled in. I do not hear my hummingbird bird friend who frequently investigates the bright red strip on the RV. When I was very little, someone, most likely my mother, told me to color the mountains in my Crayola drawings purple. I can now see why. It is so still and quiet, with not a hint of a breeze, that even with my problematic hearing I pick up sounds in the distance that otherwise would go undetected. Every night in the desert is special, but this one is unique in its own special way. I am mesmerized standing out within it all, gazing around, and soaking in every aspect of this out of the ordinary sunset. Surely, I must look odd just standing off by myself, tea cup in hand, slowly turning about taking in this wonderful experience, but I don’t care. This is fabulous and nothing can possibly change this precious moment. Behind me, I hear the sounds of footsteps crunching on the gravel road. Couples are out for an early evening stroll and this one in particular has their little rat-dog along. I pick up snippets of the woman’s conversation as they pass by: “…said they’ll do a biopsy…could be cancer…she doesn’t know yet till the results…I couldn’t hear much, people were talking around me…” I go back inside. My tea was getting cold anyway.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Quartzsite, where you find Velveeta cheese in the gourmet section of the supermarket.

Nov. 23 - 25
Perhaps I should explain my comments about Quartzsite. Although I only saw a fraction of what will be in another month, it was all I needed to see. Those there already are doing so with the thought in mind they will be there, in that spot for several months. Thus they have their little area all staked out, solar panels facing the sun, satellite dishes searching the heavens, Astroturf spread out, plastic flowers (some brought along their potted plants), a low wire or wood/plastic picket fencing encircling the perimeter to keep Fifi confined, their wind chimes, banners and whirlygigs working in the wind, mailbox erected (there is no mail delivery) along with a fancy name plaque “Bill & Mary Jones” staked nearby and let’s not forget the occasional Gnome or other garden decoration. Now I fault these people not one bit. That’s their thing and God Bless them (oh I forgot about the Stars & Stripes flying proudly somewhere within their domains – plus a few Rebel flags were noted) and if I had to evacuate Minnesota every winter, I might be right in there among them. The big attraction in January & February is the huge flea market, RV show, gem show and what more shows I do not know, and don’t really need to find out.
After two days, I pulled out the map searching for an escape route and headed east once again with Saguaro National Monument in mind. We stayed at Picacho State Park about 20 miles before the monument. If all Arizona State parks are like this, California needs to take note. $12, no forms to fill out, pick your own spot (which has been duly raked clean – I felt bad disturbing the lines in the sand) and free hot showers! The ranger lady said all their parks have showers and went on the regale me about her experience in one of the few California State Parks with showers “and I had no quarters!” It was a cold night which I later discovered we’re at 2000’. We need to get back down to the lowlands near the border. Saguaro has no camping and the nearby county campground left a lot to be desired. It had all the appearances of trailer park.
Back on the road through forested valleys of saguaros for nearly all the 200 miles to Organ Pipe National Monument. Organ Pipe campground showed itself to be like no other campground I have ever seen. It is pie shaped with 208 sites, all complete with cement parking pad, table and freestanding bar-b-que, neatly lined next to each other row by row fanning out on the level plateau. It is best to imagine a drive-in movie theatre without the big screen and snack bar, and then replace the speaker posts with saguaro, palo verde and ocotillo and you have the picture. However, I liked it there. There were only a few campers so there was a nice buffer zone between neighbors. Two days and a few hikes later (my legs are still squawking) we moved on, heading back to where we came from days ago. I wonder if the Velveeta is on sale?

Friday, November 23, 2007

This is the center of the world.
There is nothing here.

Nov.18 - 20
On through El Centro, which is an wi-fi Internet black hole, and after a couple hours of fruitless hook-up attempts, we continue on to Yuma Arizona where internet connections are plentiful and gas is cheap – like 50 to 60 cents a gallon less and motorcyclists do not have to wear helmets. Now there are those who may be wondering, so for this one time only, I will list statistics thus far. The first fill up in Victorville the Little Box recorded 18.3 mpg and this day in Yuma, it was 20.2 mpg. Yes, I am smiling every time I fill up. J We went back west on I-8 5 miles to Pilot Knob, a free BLM site for the night. There are Border patrol vehicles all along this Interstate – our tax dollars at work. It looks like a very boring and lonely job sitting in a truck all day perched on top of a knoll scanning the horizon with binoculars. The accommodations for guests in the trucks have all the appearances of the local animal control vehicles back home.
We drove 20 miles north of Winterhaven through agricultural land to another free BLM site recommended by Big Bill at Mountain Palm Canyon. I am not sure we are at the right place but it will do as there are about 70 other units here widely spaced out on a vast bleak volcanic parking lot of a plateau. These are big coaches, fifth wheels and long trailers – not the usual rabble I have been camping with. It is very quiet here too except for the occasional bomb explosion in the distance. At dusk, I went for a walk flushing out a Gray Fox not more than 30 feet from me. If I encounter no other animals on this trip, that fox alone was worth the price of admission. He was very cat-like as he trotted away with his big full bushy tail outstretched. The moon now is half-full and the landscape is amazingly well lit. I look forward to the full moon in a week’s time.
The next day we re-enter Arizona and up Hwy 95 when I come across a sign ‘Mittry Lake’. This is the place Big Bill was telling me about. I had been on the wrong side of the river. So with no hurry to be nowhere in particular we turn off, drive the 20 miles north and find neat little camp spots nestled in coves of rushes along a tranquil small backwater filled with scores of American Coots squabbling and fluttering about. Now another old coot has settled in.

Nov. 21 – 23
A front has moved in and for the first time in over a week, and I am back to wearing socks and a flannel shirt, but I am not complaining. I see it is in the 30’s at home so I am smiling, just like I do when at the filling station. The urge to move on is unforgiving and I leave Mittry Lake without breakfast. Within an hour, we are passing through U.S Army Proving Grounds out of Yuma. With helicopters buzzing overhead, tanks and personnel carriers rumbling past and ordinance exploding off in the distance, this is a nice place to eat a bowl of hot oatmeal. A left turn heads us north and bucking 20 mph plus side and headwinds the 59 miles to Quartzsite, AZ. Two nights at 14-day limit BLM sites (free) south and east of town. This place is the Mecca for RV’ers. There are 100’s here now from all over the country and Canada. After the first of the year, they will number in the 1000’s. I thought this would be a haven for me in the years to come but I’ve learned now, no way. I can’t do it. This is not me. Quartzite too earns the distinction of being a wi-fi Internet dead zone along with El Centro.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How far we travel matters far less than the memories we collect along the way.

Nov. 13 -18
In Anza Borrego State Park and I planned on staying at one a several dry washes just inside the park boundary as we have many times in Land Rovers, the Trooper and even the BOX. However, once pulling off, the sand is much too soft for an RV. Evidently, winter rains have brought in a lot of sediment since we were here last in the BOX. Disappointed we moved on down to the flats where we camped with five other long-term squatters. A woman from Idaho by herself and her large Gestapo German Shepherd, three old geezers (I don’t qualify as #4 yet, I don’t think) and the last vehicle I never saw the occupants. At 700’ elevation and as far south as we are the evenings are very pleasant but there is no moon and it is DARK. Quiet too. I always seem to forget how silent the desert can be. The next day we motored the few miles in to Borrego Springs, a lovely little town I have always dreamed about moving to. I vowed not to venture into any real estate offices. Up at the Park’s visitor center I sat in the shade writing up some postcards, had lunch and watched the tourists come and go. Why do all the Europeans look so healthy? From here south to Yaqui Wash where I am sure the Little Box could go. Amazingly we have the entire place all to ourselves and Sinbad is filthy and lovin’ it. The thought was to spend a couple days here but the nomad in me sends us back on the road the next day and 40 miles later, we pull in to Mountain Palm Springs. Now this is the place for a few days. It is quieter here as we are far from the road and the view overlooking the Carrizo badlands is spectacular. There are three other long-term campers here; all nice folk that I could write pages about. Alas though after three days, and three long hikes, my body is asking for a break and we move on…

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

What I really relish is the total freedom, and the chance to be just myself all the time. An opportunity to do exactly what you want for a short period of your life, that doesn’t happen very often.

We avoided the madness and mayhem of San Bernardino and Riverside by continuing east through Apple Valley and Hesperia, which by the way bears no resemblance to how I remember this area 40 years ago. I had my sights set on Lucerne Dry Lake for the night but was lured off road early by BLM signs stating camping nearby. Five miles later this turned out to be another Off-road Vehicle Recreational Area, but mercifully the weekend warriors had already left for home and their Monday jobs. The next day we entered Joshua Tree National Park. When you wake up in the morning camped among towering sandstone boulders, Joshua trees silhouetted by the rising sun, coyotes crowing in the distance, the wing beats of quail flying by and sipping your morning coffee with a little cottontail rabbit at your feet…this is why I am doing this.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Weekend at the time trials, Nov. 10 & 11

God, I love the smell of nitro-methane in the morning. It was great and I’ll just write this much about it: There’s a couple who run motorcycles…fast motorcycles. I’m talking 200 plus material. She is 69 years old and a great-grandmother and set a new record at 218 mph Saturday. He is 80! There’s another guy running a 200mph plus car who is 80. Seeing a car go 200mph is one thing but to see a motorcycle go that fast is amazing. You can’t help from dropping your jaw as they rocket past. Oh yeah, the great-grandmother crashed last month but was out again the next day. I can imagine the get-togethers at the local senior center. The ladies sit around and discuss how one finished her quilt, another started a new crochet project and Louise finally won at Bingo last Friday. “How was your weekend Connie?”
“Oh, not that great. I crashed my motorcycle going through the traps at 184 mph and was unable to run a second round the next day.”

Friday, Nov. 9

You wake in the morning, look out the window and are greeted with new sights, new sounds, and new smells. This is great! Be it a lush fancy campground or a noisy smelly truck stop, this is the beauty of road travel - always something different. The road today takes me through beautiful Bakersfield reputed by a former neighbor to have excellent restaurants (ah…right), over Tehachapi pass, the birthplace of Point Reyes peninsula and down into magnificent Mojave where I have never known the wind to NOT blow. The tailwind is nice till I make the turn south at Kramer Junction Hwy 395. It is a continual broadside of 30mph winds but the Little BOX handles it nicely. Driving the old BOX would have been extremely nerve-wracking. Imagine steering your garage down a windswept road. In fact every aspect of driving this new vehicle is so nice that at the end of the day I am no longer wiped out as before. Soon we’re on El Mirage Dry Lake, the racers are here and I look forward to a weekend of speed.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Thursday, Nov. 8

Off on a bad start. I should of fuel up before leaving home, or at least in Santa Rosa. I forgot about the little known fact of the closer you are to an oil refinery, the higher the cost per gallon. I’m running out of opportunities to get fuel before the San Rafael bridge and after several miss-attempts (I sure am thankful I am not trying to maneuver a huge RV around city streets) I find a Valero station in Marin with diesel at $3.90 per gallon! This is killing me! On down the road with the Bay Area behind me I stop at Altamont Pass to pee. I have to turn on the water pump to wash my hands then resume the drive. Some miles later as I make the long sweeping curve onto I-5, I see myself leaving a wake of water behind me. I quickly pull-off and find water has filled up the basin where the dump valves are. I discover it’s an open valve for the main water drain and having the pump on, drained all 28 gallons of my fresh water. After I refilled my water tank in Westley and ate a burger the day got better and had a relaxing drive down I-5 to Lost Hills for the night.

Monday, November 5, 2007

If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens.

When asked "When are you leaving?", often I've said that once ready I would leave when the weather turns crappy. Here it is November and we're having glorious springtime-like weather. I'll not allow global warming to deter me any longer. I am ready to go and plan to pull up anchor and set off on our journey this Thursday the 8th. This will allow us a couple days to reach El Mirage Dry Lake in the Mojave desert. The final time trails of the year for Bonneville type race cars will be held on the 10th & 11th and I would like to see the cars and motorcycles run. This provides a good opportunity to get the show on the road. And so, ready as we can be, Sinbad and I begin our travels.