A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

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.