Christmas In Tucson

December 15 – December 31

One of our best Christmas holidays ever! Thanksgiving was a bit lonely, but Christmas was grand with Ethan and his girlfriend Stephanie in town to celebrate with us. We enjoyed time just being together, which is the best part of any holiday.

Catalina Foothills

We rented a condo in the Catalina Foothills for the week so we’d all have plenty of room and a full kitchen for baking.  It was a nice treat to take long showers and not worry about filling up the RV tank.  We also had use of a washer and dryer with no quarters required!

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Our view of the Catalina Foothills and the 15th green.

No golfers in the bunch, but we were interested in all the activity on the course.  We watched the greenskeeper move the hole, and use all kinds of moving mower things to groom the grass.  Roadrunners, cardinals, doves and other birds we couldn’t identify enjoyed the golf course, too.

Jackson got a segment of cholla cactus stuck on his back from walking under a tall specimen.  I was able to pull it out, but he flinched the whole time.  A good reminder to steer clear of the pokey things.

Meanwhile on the inside, we made Chex mix and baked dog biscotti which has Jackson totally spoiled.  That’s all he wants to eat now.  We also enjoyed our turkey and dressing for Christmas dinner cooked in a full-sized oven.

Our ever-changing view.  Clouds rolling in, the shrouded foothills, and pink mountain sunset.  We even had one morning where the hills were dusted with snow.

Christmas Morning

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Jackson got a new toy from Stephanie’s mom and he promptly gutted the thing in a squeaker search and destroy mission.  He’s a professional.

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Stephanie got a walking, tail-wagging, snorting little pig and Jackson wanted it.  Bad.  She had to put in in the bedroom and close the door and he still looked for it every day.

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And the aftermath.

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That dog is so happy to be with his boy.  And we had such fun working a puzzle.  I can’t remember the last time I “played puzzle”.  We all worked on the outside edge, but Ethan and I worked every day to finally finish that booger.  There were the weirdest shaped pieces that confounded us, and in the end we had an extra piece.  Never had that happen before.

Monopoly was the game most nights and everyone won one a round, except for me.  Probably because I just want all the railroads.  One night was Mexican train dominoes and we taught Steph how to play.  Ethan kicked our butts in that game.

Desert Museum

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After the holiday festivities it was time for a little sight-seeing.  First stop was the Desert Museum and the kids loved it.  This turned out to be our favorite place we visited with a mix of scenic views and desert animals.  More like a zoo with desert trails than a museum.

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You don’t need to tell me.  Coyotes give me the creeps and I definitely don’t want to be close enough to feed one.  We heard them yipping and calling at night near the condo.

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View of the valley from the Desert Museum with the sun rays shining through the clouds and Saguaros reaching out like fingers.

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Steph was beyond excited by all the Saguaros and grinning ear to ear.

I liked the owl statue on one of the trails, the yellow flowers and the cactus skeleton.  Ethan and Stephanie wanted their picture taken with all the big Saguaros, and we were able to each take a souvenir rock from the leftover mine tailings.  Mining is big in Arizona with lots of copper, but also lots of different gemstones.  Steph and I picked brilliant blue studded stones.

“Ho, Ho a Boojem” is our new fun phrase after seeing a Boojem tree, named after a reference in a Lewis Carroll poem.  It’s an odd looking tree that is really a succulent.  For all the fun we’ve had with the saying you’d think I’d have a picture to show for it.  Nope.  You’ll just have to Google up Boojem.  Speaking of succulents, Ethan and Stephanie went wild for the cacti & succulent dish gardens in the gift shop and bought a nice big one to take home in a special airplane travel box.

We were also lucky enough to visit most of the animals right after feeding time.  The Black bear was eating a fish and the wolves were munching on something we couldn’t make out.

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We’re not sure what this lovely mountain lion had for lunch, but a lot of face washing was required.

Steph’s little pig-loving heart couldn’t get enough of the Javelinas which, by the way, are not pigs.  They are peccaries.  The coyote was in an enclosure so disguised that we felt like we could reach out and touch him.  Then there were at least three kinds of humming birds – Rufous, Costa’s, and Trochilinae.  I have a lot of photos of empty branches, since they’re so darn fast.

We also watched a training session with the bobcats.  They give them little mouse treats (whole mice) to get them to go into cat carriers.  The docent said this was to help them with vet visits and reduce their anxiety at examination time.  At the end of the session they get a whole bird to crunch.

Hiking In Sabino Canyon

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This outing was literally five minutes from the condo.  We decided upon the Blackett’s Ridge trail with a good elevation change up the hillside and sweeping views of Tucson below.  The looming rain turned us back when we started feeling the drops since we didn’t want to risk losing our footing on the slick rocks.

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Momster and Dad with the valley below.

A few more views before the rain closed in.

Saguaro National Park

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View on the east side of the national park.

The visitor center and all bathrooms were closed and locked due to the partial government shutdown, but we could still take the scenic drive and walk about.

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A boy and his dad.

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Posing with another big boy.  So many arms on this one and likely 200 years old.

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And the top of a rare cristate Saguaro.  These have odd fan shapes at the top like the’re wearing a hat.

So Long, Farewell

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What’s a vacation without a bad selfie?  Honestly I should have let anyone else take this shot.  It’s the only photo of the four of us, so it makes the cut.  We’re back at the Tucson airport to bid a fond farewell to E and Steph.  What a grand week it was and I think they had fun with us, too.

Time to bid farewell to 2018 as well.  Next up – a recap of our 2nd year of travels and our plans for 2019.  See you on the way!

Desert Trails

November 23 – December 14

Like I said in the last post, we didn’t do a great job of planning our November stops.  We ran out of inspiration with still a week of scheduled travel time, so I ended up calling Desert Trails to ask for an early arrival.  Sure thing they said, so our six week stay became seven and we can be still for the rest of 2018.

On The Way

We only had one day to account for between Kingman and Tucson with the new plan, and Phoenix was the logical stop for the night.  I had a heck of a time finding a place that would take us since we’re such “youngsters”.  55+ parks are all the rage and we haven’t yet achieved that milestone.  The manager at the place I chose agreed to make an exception since we’d only be there one night.

It was a nice place with lots of park models, which look suspiciously like mobile homes but aren’t.  They were all decked out for the holidays and the people were very friendly.  They had a lush green golf course, too, but dogs aren’t allowed on anything remotely resembling  the grass.

Desert Trails RV Park

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I researched a lot of places before settling upon Desert Trails RV Park for our winter home.  But still I wonder if I’ve chosen well, especially since we’re set to stay longer than we’ve stayed anywhere else.  RV Park Reviews mentioned words like quirky and different.  They’re only a 40+ park, so at least we’re not too young for this place.  Now that we’ve been here a while, I agree with the quirky, but in a good way.  The people are extremely friendly and most of them come here year after year.

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Part of the appeal is the ability to walk right out into the surrounding desert, thus the name Desert Trails.  If you hike far enough, you can get all the way to Saguaro National Park.  Capturing the best sunset is my goal for this stay.  Here’s my second night’s attempt.

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On my first attempt, I took this one.  Actually I wandered out on the path only to find a couple of professional photographers all set up with their tripod.  They let me stand behind them and capture that big Saguaro and the shadows coming from the mountains.  It was a little too cloudy, but still a nice night to stand around and chat with them.

A few more of my sunset favorites.

Views from our walkabouts.

The other great thing about this place is all the activities.  We’ve been to bingo twice and horse racing.  That’s a complete hoot.  They have six toy horses, and move them through a grid based on dice rolls.  The first horse to cross the finish line is the winner and you win big money.  Well, I won $6 for the big race, so it was a rousing success.  Plus we were hoarse from all the hollering.

They also have nightly entertainment with a variety of musical performers every week and food trucks twice a week.  So far we’ve tried Indian, Peruvian and BBQ.  Then there’s the pine needle basket class I took the first week.  Mom used to make pine needle baskets, so it seemed like a good opportunity to learn a new craft and think of her.  Currently I’m in progress with my ugly basket and hope to finish it before we leave here.  I must say that the Montana needles we’re using aren’t nearly as nice and long as the Florida pine needles.  I’ll post a picture when I finish if it’s not too embarrassing.

Jackson likes the place since there’s a dog park and he has two favorite friends – Ozzie and Gunner.  He’s been to the vet for vaccinations and has a new ramp to help him with getting in and out of the RV.  He’s not too keen on that yet, but hopefully it’ll help with those stiff joints.

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Here’s our public service announcement due to this horrible RV fire that occurred before we arrived.  The couple got out safely thank goodness, but their refrigerator was the culprit and the rig was a total loss.  Working fire extinguishers and smoke detectors can save your life!  I’m so glad we don’t have that kind of fridge in Lucy any longer.

Then there was the rainstorm during our second week here…

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We saw the flash and heard the loud crack of thunder.  Wow, that was close we thought.  After we saw the fire trucks leaving, we knew that lightning strike was more than close.  Fortunately the palm tree was the only casualty.  I can’t take credit for the photo.  It was just passed around the campground and shared with the local news media.

Saguaro National Park

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Saguaro is our last national park of the year for a grand total of 16 in 2018.  We can’t believe how many giant cacti there are.

It’s another installment of where the pavement ends, but the gravel scenic drive gave us great views of the valley and, of course, Saguaros.

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We took a short hike to see the petroglyphs.  And that rattlesnake sign is no joke.  The Arizona black rattlesnakes are abundant here, although we haven’t seen one yet.  This was a short visit, but we’ll go back again before we leave the area to see the east side of the park.

Desert Plants

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Saguaros are the stars in this desert and have a unique accordion structure.  This allows them to shrink and swell depending on how much water they get.  Also, those big fellows weigh over a ton, and up to almost 5,000 pounds.  They live to be 150-200 years old and they don’t start to grow those iconic arms until they are about 75 years old.

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Then there’s my Incredible Hulk better known as the palo verde tree.  They have green bark because it’s filled with chlorophyll and does 2/3 of its photosynthesis.  I swear it looks like someone covered the whole tree with green paint.

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The jumping cholla has fruit that hangs down like strings of beads.

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Then there’s the creosote bush with its dainty yellow flowers and grey fuzzy fruit.

Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens With Friends

There are several couples we’ve met on the road who are fellow full-timer RVers like us.  We follow their travels and they follow ours in the hopes that we can reconnect at some future destination.  Rich & Kathie, one of the first couples we met, are wintering in Arizona this year and were only about an hour away for a few days.  They graciously agreed to drive our way and we spent the afternoon catching up at the Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens.  It was fun to wind our way through the cacti and swap stories from the road.  At least with people we’ve met before, we can get past the typical questions.  Where are you from?  What did you do before you retired?  How long have you been on the road? Blah, blah, blah.  Instead we could skip the surface stuff and update on our families and favorite stops from 2018.

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I could kick myself for not getting a picture of the four of us, but here I am with my two desert snowmen.

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Lots of arms on this guy.  He even has eyes and wears a hat.

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My favorite thing at Tohono Chul was the hummingbird garden.  They had several varieties, but the Costa’s were the most beautiful.  This is the clearest one I captured.

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Isn’t he a beauty with that striking purple head?  Blurry, but they are fast suckers and I just couldn’t focus fast enough.

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This could have been such a great shot.  Bright purple hummer getting nectar from the brilliant red bottle brush.

Kathie and I snapped hummingbird pictures while Pat & Rich talked and waited for us on the bench.  From there we all headed to dinner.  Hopefully we’ll cross paths again in Arizona before the winter is out.

Other Stuff To Do

Of course it is Christmas, so I suspended my blog posting to finish up our shopping and get the cards in the mail.  We also got haircuts so we could look decent in our passport photos.  They went in the mail for renewal so we won’t be expiring while we’re in Canada next year.  A trip to the dentist for me and a trip to the vet for Jackson rounded out the doctor visits.

We’re also experimenting with window coverings to keep out the heat.  We have a magnetic shade for the windshield, but still need something for the side windows.  So far command hooks worked for the door window, but velcro did not.  The sun melted the adhesive right off.  Now we’re going to try magnets on the other windows.  A work in progress.  Other than that, we’re taking it slow and reading lots of books.

Next Up: Christmas in Tucson with Ethan & Stephanie.  See you on the way!

 

 

Echo Bay & Kingman

November 17 – 22, 2018

This was supposed to be the post about our return to Valley of Fire State Park, a place we originally visited while in Vegas for my friend Barbara’s destination wedding.  We vowed to come back and camp there since the red rocks were amazing.  Unfortunately lots of people had that same idea.

On The Way

We left Lone Pine and continued our drive down scenic California 395.  As we got to the lower part of the Sierra Nevada range, we could see the smoke from the Malibu fires drifting across.  That was our first smoke in quite a while and fortunately as we turned eastward, we got away from it.

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It was one of our rare overnighters, and we stopped in Barstow, CA to get gas, propane and groceries.  Jackson made a friend when we checked in.  He is a huggable dog.

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I took this not so great shot with my cell phone as we drove along.  Just what are those crazy plants out there?  Turns out they are Joshua Trees and so unique looking.

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Joshua Trees look like something Dr. Seuss would have dreamed up.

Not Valley Of Fire

The next day we drove through Vegas to get to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.  It’s a first-come first-served campground (or FCFS in RVer lingo), and we’re feeling good about finding a place since we’re arriving on a Thursday.  The great big CAMPGROUND FULL sign greets us as we pull up to the park gate.  Well drat.  The ranger tells us that 25 miles farther down the road there’s availability at Echo Bay National Rec Area on Lake Mead.  Since Lake Mead was a place we’d considered for a stop, we motor on.

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We weren’t sure we’d be able to get an electric site at Valley of Fire, so we did come prepared to dry camp (no electric, water or sewer).  Good thing since that’s all you get at Echo Bay.  Here’s our site right on the cliff side looking down on what used to be filled with water.  No longer.  The lake is a good bit smaller now with the drought.

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Our lake view.

When we arrived, the camp host told us we might be visited by wild burros, coyotes and a fox .  Yes, a fox.  This particular fox scored some hotdogs from the previous campers, so it was likely to make a return appearance.  We heard the coyotes howling at night, but never saw any wildlife.

Echo Bay

This turned out to be a nice peaceful spot to spend a few days with no distractions and we practically had the place to ourselves.

 

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Moon rise over Echo Bay.

More Echo Bay and beautiful deep blue Lake Mead.

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Another curiosity we noticed on our drive in.  Just what is this foot high fence for?  The camp host tell us it’s a tortoise fence to keep the huge tortoises from getting to the roads.  Apparently if you hit one, it will send you off the road.  We kept our eyes peeled, but never saw a tortoise either.

Thanksgiving in Kingman

We didn’t do the best job of planning our November stops and weren’t sure where we’d end up for Thanksgiving.  Death Valley was a consideration, but we didn’t want to spend the holiday in the middle of nowhere.  Kingman, Arizona was on the way to our wintering spot in Tucson, and just about the right distance for one of our 150 mile driving days.  I found a place to camp, so Kingman it is.  At least we’ll be within shooting distance of a real grocery store to get the fixings for our Thanksgiving dinner.

On the way we were able to take a back way to avoid Las Vegas traffic and see some of the red rocks we missed at Valley of Fire.

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Las Vegas in the distance.  As close as we wanted to get for this leg of the trip.

Blake Ranch RV Park & Horse Motel

Our home for the Thanksgiving holiday was at the Blake Ranch RV Park and Horse Motel.  Yes, they do have accommodations for horses, but there weren’t any staying while we were there.

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It’s back to the desert with prickly things and sharp gravel, so Jackson has to get used to the boots again.

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It wasn’t a bad place to be, but it was right off the interstate behind a truck stop.  At night I could feel the vibrations from all the idling semis in the lot.  Even the earplugs didn’t help with that.  Kingman did deliver on the grocery store, however, so I was able to cook us up a turkey breast, pecan cranberry stuffing, mashed potatoes (in the amazing Instant Pot), gravy, and green beans.  We had a nice quiet day with just the three of us.

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Here’s Pat’s contribution to the meal and the only advantage to being near an open truck stop on Thanksgiving Day.  Dunkin’ Donuts was open, too.  Just so you know, the crueller is mine.  Pat gets to eat those icky cream-filled turkeys.

Another holiday is in the books and we added the Arizona sticker to our camping map.

Next Up: The last stop in 2018 – Desert Trails in Tucson for seven weeks!  See you on the way.

Lone Pine

November 10 – 16, 2018

We’re seeking some warmth after the damp cold in Lassen and also saying farewell to the Cascade Mountain range.  Of course it’s hello to the Sierra Nevadas, so not a bad trade.

On The Way

What a difference a few hours makes.  We left a shady secluded campsite at over 5,000 feet among towering firs in Northern California and drove 150-ish miles to the Nevada desert to camp at a casino.  We’d been pretty cold and welcomed the sun and warmth.  Of course this is high desert so the nights are even colder here and our low plunged to about 20.  But the big bonus was full services, a dog park for Jackson and a surprising grassy patch.

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Jackson thoroughly enjoyed his grass for two nights just over the Nevada border outside of Reno.  We put a new state sticker on the camping map, too.

Lone Pine

Lone Pine, California is right at the foot of Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48.  Boulder Creek was our campground just outside of town with views on all sides.

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Here we are all settled in with Mt. Whitney rising in the background.  The Sierra Nevada range is very toothy at this spot and there’s a good bit of mountain above the tree line.

This turned out to be the location where we threw our best laid plans out the window.  We passed right on by Yosemite National Park thinking the road would be closed at this time of year due to snow.  Just like Lassen, we could have gone, but we weren’t camping close enough.  Rather than make a 2.5 hour drive to get there and just scratch the surface, we decided to table that one for anther time.

Manzanar

Manzanar National Historic Site was right up the road and a place we’d never even heard of before.  It wasn’t in the plan, but we read about it and just had to go.

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This was one of ten internment camps for the Japanese during WWII.  I was so ashamed to learn how we treated those people, many if not most of whom were US citizens born in this country.  All their property and most of their possessions were taken away and they were held captive for over three years.  We toured the museum and the grounds which included a reconstructed barracks and mess hall.

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The over 10,000 residents of the camp made the best of it and built a school, this monument, and even cultivated gardens in each block.  A sobering place to visit, but the exhibits were extremely well done and worth the time.

The Alabama Hills

Next up was a drive to Movie Flats, a road outside of Lone Pine, to see the Alabama Hills named for a Civil War ship.  They’ve filmed everything from How The West Was Won with John Wayne, to Star Trek in this other-wordly landscape.  The most recent filming was one of my favorites, Django Unchained.  There aren’t any movie sets to see, but there are lots of odd shaped boulders.  They’ve been described as potato-like.

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The pile of potatoes is actually the same age as the pointy Sierra Nevadas in the background.  They just formed from different kinds of rock that eroded away to these smoother mounds.

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Moon rising over the Alabama Hills.

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Our goal for the Alabama Hills hike was to find the mobius arch so we could look through it to see the peak of Mt. Whitney.

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We found this arch first and I actually liked it better.

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Found the mobius arch and I was able to frame Mt. Whitney as I’d seen in other photos.  It was a warm day and we had to shed some layers.  Just mid-70s, but warm in the sun.  Then we drove the Whitney portal road about 9 miles up the mountainside to the trailhead.

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At the trailhead is a frozen waterfall!  I was so delighted, just like a little kid.  I’ve never seen anything like it with the water rushing underneath the perfect ice layer.  Speaking of layers, the coats go right back on, as well as my hat and gloves.  That’s what a 4,000 foot elevation change will do for you.

We tramped around for awhile to get a look at the icicles and frozen mist from all the angles.

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Looking back at the Mt. Whitney “teeth”.  Time to head back down as the sun slips away and the toothy mountain shadows claim the valley.

Death Valley

Originally we were going to drive across Death Valley in the motorhome to get to Nevada.  Then I read about the road.  9-10% grades for miles up and down and a twisting, turning hairpin road over another pass with steep dropoffs on the narrow stretches.  I talked us out of that one.

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We took the car for a day trip instead and we’re glad we didn’t go that way in Lucy.

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Gas was $5.14 at Panamint Springs just after the first mountain pass!

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We lunched at Stovepipe Wells after we stopped at this overlook.  We just missed seeing the Canyon Jedi.  That’s what the locals call the military jets flying through the canyon for practice.

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Badwater Basin is 282 feet below sea level and the lowest point in North America.  Not totally stunning views in my opinion, but you just have to go there.  And you’ve heard the saying “but it’s a dry heat”?  Well here’s the quote we read on the signpost about that…

“It was so hot that swallows in full flight fell to the earth dead and when I went out to read the thermometer with a wet Turkish towel on my head, it was dry before I returned”.  — quote by Oscar Denton, caretaker of the ranch on the record hot day of 134 degrees, July 1913

More Badwater Basin, named after a prospector’s mule refused to drink the water.  Not just being stubborn this time.  A view of people strolling way out into the valley, the salty, crusty ground and that sea level marker way up above our heads on the canyon wall.

Our final stop was Dante’s View, reported to be the best view in the park.  I wholeheartedly agree with that claim.  It was a lot of driving, but worth it to get there.

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Dante’s View

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This isn’t the place for wildlife viewing as you can guess.  I think we saw two birds, maybe?  And then there’s this sign.  Bees perhaps?  We’re not sure what that’s about, and we didn’t see any insects at all.

That’s it for Death Valley and the cute town of Lone Pine.  With our new travel plans we’re headed back to Nevada the long way around.

Next Up – NOT Valley of Fire.  Story to follow in the next post.  See you on the way!