Got Rocks New Mexico? Texas?

Past time to catch up with the end of our 2015 trip.  It’s a long one so you can always just look at the pretty pictures!

12/2/15 We left Arizona and drove into New Mexico, stopping in Deming for an early dinner at Si Señor – highly recommended!  We drove on to Rockhound State Park and found a camp site.  Located in the Florida (Flor-ee-da) Mountains southeast of Deming, the park is a great place to hike and collect rocks of all kinds.

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We tucked in for the night and turned on the heat.  The temperature got down to 22 degrees but we were comfy in the bus.

12/3 After a delicious breakfast of pancakes, yogurt, and coffee, we set off to hike the trails and look for rocks.  Everything is uphill from the campground.

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Rockhound State Park allows you to hike anywhere on or off the trail in search of geodes, crystals, thunder eggs, or any of many other types of rock.  You can carry a pick or other digging tools and are allowed to keep up to 15 pounds of rocks.

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We spent three hours hiking up trails and arroyos and picking up “pretty rocks” for our garden.  After studying the geodes and thunder eggs at the visitors’ center, we were no closer to being able to identify such.

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With no room to carry our collection, Larry loaded them into an appropriately sized flat-rate box and mailed them home.  They might have been a pound or two over the park’s collection limit.  The lady at the Post Office had seen heavier flat-rate boxes and wasn’t impressed.

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12/4 We packed up after breakfast, took another short hike up into the rocks, and then drove back into Deming for errands, supplies, and another trip to Si Señor for some great green chile chicken enchiladas.

On our way out of town, we passed a cowboy standing on a corner, holding the reins of his horse.  He was wearing a six-shooter, a cowboy hat, and holding a “Need Work” sign.

Our next stop was City of Rocks State Park northwest of Deming.  Are you picking up a theme here?

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City of Rocks is a collection of large volcanic boulders in the middle of a desert landscape.  This is where we met for the first time in October of 2006, nine years ago.  We managed to get the same campsite on the west side of the “city” and settled in with a campfire.

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12/5  The next morning we hiked among the rocks for a couple of hours enjoying some sunshine and a bit of warmth after the cold night.

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OK, if you insist, more rocks…

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The winds picked up in the afternoon and continued into the night with slightly higher temps in the 40s.  We baked brownies in the camp oven to celebrate our return to this special place.

12/6 Mag took a walk on the desert trail after breakfast and was relieved not to encounter any rattlesnakes as we had on our first meeting here.  We packed up and drove to Faywood Hot Springs nearby for an hour’s soak in the springs.  The Springs have seen better days but provided a nice hot soak.

Reluctant to leave New Mexico, we nevertheless had plans to see some sights in Texas on our way home to have Christmas with family.  It would be great-granddaughter Melody’s first and we didn’t want to miss that!

By nightfall, we had left New Mexico and hoteled it in El Paso for real showers, a steak dinner, and a Krispy Kreme donut.  Civilization does have its perks, and we enjoyed our dose of grease and sugar.

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12/7  We were headed for Big Bend National Park but there are a lot of desert miles between El Paso and Big Bend.  Fortunately, we love desert.

We stopped in Van Horn, where lunch at La Cocina de Maria was very good.  There is a picturesque hotel in Van Horn, although it is rumored to be haunted.

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Driving on, in the middle of the desert before reaching Valentine, Texas, we came across an odd sight.  A small storefront building near the highway with the name “Prada” on the front.  Across the highway was a man with camera and tripod taking photos of the building.  He was wearing roller skates.  We are not making this up.  It turns out the building is an art piece with an interesting history:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prada_Marfa

We later passed through Marfa which has a growing art community and a lot of reconstruction going on.

We stayed the night in Alpine, a pleasant little university town.  We stopped for a cappuccino at Cedar Coffee Supply and a walk through downtown.

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There was a historic hotel downtown, The Holland, that was quite inviting.

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12/8 Driving on towards Big Bend, we stopped in Marathon, Texas, after spotting some very colorful buildings which turned out to be “Eve’s Garden” bed and breakfast.

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Finally, we reach our destination, Big Bend National Park.  We realized that, due to time constraints, we were not going to be able to see and do all that we wanted in only three days.

Our first stop was the Persimmon Gap Visitors’ Center at the far north end of the park.  From there it was 26 miles to Park Headquarters at Panther Junction and another 23 miles to Cottonwood Campground where we spent our first night.  It was a scenic drive.

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When we got to the campground, there were only 2 or 3 other campsites in use and we had our pick.  We shared the campground with a group of javelina.

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Although they generally ignore humans, they will defend themselves if one gets too close.  They are omnivores and will eat small animals.  Don’t tie your dog to the picnic table as some have learned.

After securing our campsite, we set off to hike at Santa Elena Canyon where the Rio Grande has cut through a spectacular wall of rock.

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Unfortunately, the river had risen in the last couple of days and traversing Terlingua Creek, which empties into the Rio Grande here, was only possible through deep mud and water, which we had not prepared for.  Yes, we wimped out.

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Nevertheless, we walked around the riverbank and watched a family cross after the dad waded chest-deep before backing out and going the deep muddy route.

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Terlingua Creek

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We drove back to camp as the afternoon sun sank toward the towering walls of the canyon.

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We stopped at Castolon Visitor Center, near the campground, and checked out some of the historical artifacts.

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After returning to the campground, Mag took a walk along the river with her camera.  She was excited when she thought she spotted a big cat across the river – until she zoomed in and discovered some feral vegetation.

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one of the park volunteers came by and reported a great horned owl in one of the trees at the campground.  She said he was a young one whose parents and sibling had recently left, although he looked full grown.

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That evening, around dusk, he flew into a tree next to the bus.  He made a squawking sound, and not the usual hooting sound.  Soon another owl, perhaps his sibling, showed up and parked in a tree on the other side of the bus.  He made the hooting sound and the two of them kept up a dialogue until dark.

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After a beautiful day where the temperature reached 70, we were treated to a nice sunset.  Temps dropped to 28 during the night.

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12/9 After a quiet night’s sleep, we caffeinated up and drove to the Burro Mesa Pour-Off Trail.  Although there are great distances to drive in Big Bend, the drive is always enjoyable.

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We embarked on the trail and Mag was enjoying taking photos…

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Until she dropped her iPhone face-down on the rocks.  All subsequent photos of hers are taken with the Panasonic.

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We walked up a wash and around the bend to find the pour-off. Spectacular!

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We stopped for another short hike to the old Sam Nail Ranch site.

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It didn’t seem the most hospitable location for a ranch.  Mag is betting Sam’s wife didn’t have much say in the decision.  Raising kids in the midst of vegetation that is out to get you must have been a challenge.

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Moving on, we turned south to head up to the Chisos Basin, which has an elevation of around 5400 ft.  The road climbs quickly and the vegetation changes dramatically as it does.  Fall colors were in evidence although this was December.

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We soon found ourselves in a new ecozone.

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Arriving at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, we made use of the wifi at the Lodge to make an appointment with the Apple store in Austin to assess the damage to Mag’s iPhone.

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We found a campsite, lucky #13, and sat outside enjoying the sunshine before cooking steaks for dinner.  We did no hiking at Chisos Basin (this time) due to Mag’s having a health issue and the higher elevation.  We plan a return trip to remedy this.

12/10 After a leisurely breakfast and the usual second coffee, we headed back down into the low desert.  The drive was again enjoyable.  If you don’t care for pictures of plants, you must know that we brake for vegetation!

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The weather was great as we drove on to the Rio Grande Village campground and picked out a site.  Again, there were plenty of open sites and we happened on one with a gorgeous yellow ash tree.

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After claiming a spot, we drove to the camp store and checked out the laundry and showers for later.  Then we drove on to the Rio Grande Hot Springs down an interesting road (no RVs or trailers).

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We walked up a quarter-mile trail to the Springs.  There evidently was a spa here at some time in the past.

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Along the trail are crafts made by Mexican people across the river who leave them with a container for cash and a suggested price.  This is an illegal practice but we saw it in more than one location.

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Arriving at the spring, we found a few people already enjoying the spring waters.  The river had recently overflowed the spring and left a deposit of silt/mud in the bottom but it was nevertheless enjoyable.  The Rio Grande water was freezing cold in contrast to the springs and a couple of young boys jumped from the springs into the river – very briefly.

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Leaving the hot springs, we stopped at the village store for laundry and showers, then drove toward the Boquillas Canyon Overlook.  Did I mention that we love the desert, and desert landscapes?

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The Mexican town of Boquillas Del Carmen lies across the river and one can take a short ferry ride, sans vehicle, from the park over to the town to visit.

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Some on the other side have their own way of crossing the river.  This canoe was spotted from the Boquillas Overlook.

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Back at the campground, it was near dusk but there was time for a walk on the nature trail where we spotted a great blue heron.

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Back to the bus for a dinner of Thai chicken peanut wraps.  Yum.  It reached 80 degrees today, marking the first time the entire trip that we could wear short pants and t-shirts.  Finally found the warmth, but now it is time to head north again.

12/11 Packed up and left Big Bend, continuing to enjoy the scenery on our way out.  We hope to return and spend more time in this park, and especially in the backcountry.  It’s big!

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We left the park and drove toward Ft. Stockton.  We traversed the “Sierra Madre Astrobleme” before reaching Ft. Stockton.  We had to Google that.  You can too!   Reaching Ft. Stockton, we stopped for coffee at The Garage:  Music, Coffee and More.  Eclectic, but coffee was good.

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We continued on to our destination for the night – Caverns of Sonora.  Mag had camped here some 26 years ago and has a funny story involving peacocks, spring-break kids, drunks, and mariachi music.  Hopefully, things will be better this trip.

We arrived just as the last tour of the day was starting, around 3:45 p.m.  It is a 1-3/4 hour tour down and back up 360 steps.  It is a beautifully decorated cave, one that evokes the feeling of being inside a giant geode.  Unlike most caves, it was uncomfortably warm and humid throughout the tour.  Although we took dozens of photos, they can’t do justice to this beautiful cave.  Here are a few.

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After the tour, we camped in the tent area, thankfully alone and without peacocks.

12/12  On the road out of Sonora the next morning, we got on I-10 for Austin.  We noticed frequent signs warning “Guardrail Damage”.  We counted 14 of these before we turned off of I-10.  Hmm, is it the 80 mph speed limit?  Crazy Texas drivers?  This question goes unanswered.

We drove through some beautiful Texas Hill Country, noting that anyone with an acreage of  any size seemed to find it necessary to put up a huge gate with solar-powered opener.  We passed several larger ranches with extra high fences and spotted some exotic game animals ostensibly being raised for hunting.

We passed a huge number of dead and broken cedar and live oak trees.  Texas A&M University estimates 506 million trees have died in Texas, weakened first by drought, then becoming susceptible to insects, herbicides, etc.  It was a sad sight.

We entered the German town of Fredericksburg and Lar decided he wanted some good German food.  While he Googled restaurant reviews, Mag cornered a local and got the skinny on where to eat.  The Rathskeller, located in the basement of an old hospital in downtown Fredericksburg, did not disappoint.

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We walked around the touristy downtown and stopped for coffee.

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We continued on our way to Austin and were glad it was a Saturday and not rush hour as the traffic was crazy enough, and we decided Nascar skills would be helpful here.  We hoteled it again in order to pamper ourselves with showers and restaurant food.

12/13 After breakfast we headed to the Apple Store to get Mag’s phone checked out.  The store is located in “The Domain”, an upscale living/working/shopping area.  There were four purse stores in one block.  Mag allowed as how the purse she’s been carrying since 2008, from REI, was still fine.

Although there were 20-30 people in line when the store opened, we had an appointment and were immediately handed off to a technician.  He told us to come back in an hour while they evaluated the phone.  We returned before the hour was up and the phone had been repaired and did not need to be replaced.  Oh happy day!

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We walked around the downtown Congress/6th Street area and were disappointed with the seediness of the area.  Lar had been here a few years before when it was in better condition.

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Back at the hotel, we had dessert for dinner and watched football.

12/14 Heading for Oklahoma.  North of Austin on I-35, there was construction for 50 miles or more.  Very few construction workers were in evidence, but everything was a mess the whole length of the project.

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Reaching the Oklahoma line, we were tired after 260 miles of Interstate, much of which was under construction, and stopped for the night at Winstar Casino.  The place is huge and is touted as the largest casino in North America with over 8,000 slots.  Reminiscent of Las Vegas, it has different areas representing different parts of the world.

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Spending a couple hours there in the afternoon, we came out roughly $500 ahead and called it a day.  We camped for free in the RV campground with great showers and electric.  When you sign up for a player’s card, you get a free night.

12/15 Headed homeward, we stopped in Davis, Oklahoma, to have lunch with cousin Janie and her husband Bruce at Main Street Bistro.  We need to see these people more often!

After 6,250 miles averaging 17.5 mpg, two minor mechanical issues, and travel through 8 states, 9 National Parks, and 11 State Parks, we were home and looking forward to Christmas with family.

Arid-Zona!

11/10/15  Leaving southwest Utah, we made our way to Laughlin, Nevada, for a brief stay before heading to Arizona and hopefully warmer weather.

We drove up the Needles Highway, the California portion of which was potholed and rough – not recommended.  I guess California can’t afford to patch the holes.  As we had noted on previous trips, gas prices in Needles are much higher than anyplace else.  Gas was $4.09/gallon vs. the $2.50 we had been paying elsewhere on the trip.

11/12  We drove on to Lake Havasu, Arizona, where it was indeed warmer – in the 70s.  The state park was full due to a radio-controlled seaplane gathering.  Are there really that many RC seaplane nuts out there?  We camped in overflow so we could use the showers and drove into town for laundry purposes.  Although we had been to Havasu several times in the past for Buses by the Bridge, we decided it was time to do the tourist thing and walk around London Bridge and have ice cream.

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11/13  We stayed the next night at Cattail Cove south of Havasu which had a nice white sand beach and good hot showers.  It was suggested that we visit the “Desert Bar” further south and Mag recalled Bev telling us about it in the past.  So Lar contacted Bev to see if it would be worth it and if we should go.  “Yes and Yes” was the reply.

11/14 We packed up and drove to the Desert Bar near Parker.  The bar is about five miles out a rough old mining road.  4WD isn’t a necessity, but high clearance is a good idea and you will have to contend with a barrage of 4-wheelers running up and down the road.  This guy didn’t make it!

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The bar is only open from October through April and only on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m.  They are completely off the grid and the place is mostly open-air, making it uninhabitable during summer.

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It is quite an eclectic place and we arrived as a cowboy wedding was about to commence.

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They were also advertising a classic car show but apparently no one was willing to bring their prized vehicle down that road.  For more, see http://www.thedesertbar.com  We had a burger and fries, got the t-shirt, and left.

We drove through Quartzite, finding the place nearly deserted, and went on towards Prescott.  After miles of mesquite-filled desert, we climbed steeply up to the mountains and the beautiful little town of Yarnell, which might be remembered for the fire that claimed 19 firefighters’ lives in 2013.  The town is surrounded by boulders reminiscent of the uplands in Baja.

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We continued on to Prescott where we had some good Thai food and decided to hotel it in order to watch the OU-Baylor game (OU won).  It’s odd that we sleep better in the bus than in a hotel, but we do.

11/15  We arrived in Clarkdale after lunch to visit Geneva and Mike, authors of the blog “It’s not a slow car, it’s a fast house”.  They are located, until the next trip, on VW Bug Blvd.

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Miles and Aaron were there attempting to put a Zetec engine in their Syncro Adventurewagon.  It was a busy place and we wandered around the yard noting the large quantity of VW Bug parts.  Geneva’s dad was a VW mechanic and had quite a collection.

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11/16  It rained off and on during the night and the next morning we headed into Cottonwood.  We had been thinking about Old Town Cafe there ever since our last visit almost three years ago.  They have the most amazing almond croissants.  We got there in time for the last two croissants and noted the usual collection of old-timers sitting around one of the few tables in the place.  After a nice visit with Geneva and Mike, we left for Scottsdale.  Rain changed to snow as we gained elevation but the roads were clear.

We got to Lar’s family’s house in the afternoon and were greeted by barks from their huge Golden Doodle, Luci, although she refused to come out of the bedroom.  Carrie, Mike, and Brandon arrived later and there was a lot of catching up to do.  Luci decided we were OK and came out of the bedroom.  She even sat in on the ironing lesson with Lar and grandson Brandon.

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11/17  The next few days in Scottsdale kept us busy with walks, visiting with family and friends, attending a basketball game and occasionally eating out.  One day we were invited by our friend Trina Lindal to visit her at Taliesen West where she is attending architecture school.  She gave us a wonderful tour of the desert dwellings that the students design, build, and live in while they are attending school.  Here are just a few examples:

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We had lunch with the students in the cafeteria and then attended an informative tour of the campus which was built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

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We had lunch with our friend Bill Barley and on another day, breakfast with Karl and Stephanie Wolz.  We couldn’t resist bringing out the pig snouts for the “Oink” cafe.

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The snouts seemed especially appropriate after we sampled the “BACON DONUT”.

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On Saturday, Carrie took us to “The Big Heap” which was a fun vintage-type flea market, followed by dinner and the OU/TCU game (OU won).  Movies, football, food and visits with family filled the week.  We celebrated Carrie’s birthday a week early, but she was camera shy.

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As we prepare to leave Carrie’s, Luci is thinking maybe she will hitch a ride.

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11/23  We said our goodbyes promising to return in a week for Brandon’s first basketball game of the season.  We reached our friend Hobie’s house near Saguaro National Park West in Tucson in the afternoon.  We have blogged about Hobie before – once at his desert home and last year at his home in Gig Harbor, Washington.  So he should be familiar by now!  Hobie was waiting for us with his delicious chili and cornbread, after which we sat on his west-facing back porch for an incredible sunset.

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11/24  Hobie took us on two hiking trails in Saguaro NP, one a view trail of the valley and the other a climb up to some petroglyphs and another nice view.  As noted last year at Mt. Rainier, we have trouble keeping up with this 88-year young friend.

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That evening we drove into town to have dinner with John and Bergit Ranney.  Bergit is an artist and we proudly display some of her paintings in our home.  She works in many different mediums and showed us some of her beautiful pencil drawings.  Here are some of the painted rocks she did recently:

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Roadhaus overheard our plans to see John (owner of European Auto Tech) and decided to act up a bit on our way to dinner.  Her dash lights wouldn’t work and the engine wouldn’t shut off until the headlights were turned off.  Plans were made to take her in to John’s shop in the morning and in short order the problem was resolved.  John took us for a ride in his “beast” to have lunch.

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11/26  Thanksgiving.  As we had no plans, Hobie invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with the Unitarian Universalist fellowship he attends.  We enjoyed the dinner and the walk around the labyrinth inspired by Hobie who has two of his own in the backyard of his casita.  No dinner was needed after this feast.

11/27  After a stop at Raging Sage Coffee Roasters, we went to visit Pat Gilman and Paul Minnis, two of Mag’s former professors at OU who have recently moved to Tucson.  After a tour of the house and beautiful desert backyard garden, we had lunch and a nice visit, and Paul gave us a demo of his latest recumbent bike.

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We took a walk in the eclectic 4th street shopping district and popped into a couple of the shops.  On the street we saw several displays of “love locks”, which we had seen in other locations we visited.  A good marketing ploy, we think.

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We met friend Scott Schuhle for dinner that evening at Mi Nidito.  The wait was long but the food was good and we then followed Scott home where we spent a couple of days.

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11/28  We drove up to Sabino Canyon where Scott’s wife Jan’s ashes were scattered recently.  Jan passed away in March after a long battle with cancer and we wanted to visit the canyon in her memory.  We took the shuttle up to the last stop and walked the four miles back down.  The weather was perfect – cool, but sunny.

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Back at Scott’s house we ordered pizza and watched the Bedlam game, OU vs OSU, which OU won, ensuring the Big 12 championship.  After the game we retired to the bus and slept well except for the noisy party the coyotes had nearby.  The next morning we said goodbye to Scott and drove to Whitewater Draw in hopes of seeing lots of cranes.

11/29  We got to Whitewater Draw in early afternoon and no cranes were to be found.  We did, however, spot this Great Horned Owl hanging out in a tree near the ponds.

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Weather was nice during the day – in the 60s, but low 20s at night.  We watched at sunset and no cranes flew in, a contrast to the tens of thousands we had seen in a previous visit.  Looking back, it was the first of February the last time we were here, so we may simply be too early this year.

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11/30  After an early morning walk around the ponds, we packed up to drive to Tombstone to meet our friend Barb Cotton for lunch.  We met at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon and took pictures at the bar and had lunch followed by a short walk around the downtown.  If you’re in Tombstone this winter, stop by and see Barb at the Margarita Cafe.

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We drove back through Tucson and camped at Picacho Peak State Park so that we could attend Brandon’s bball game the next night.

12/1  A cold morning required coffee and a shower in an unheated bathhouse to get us awake and on the road to Phoenix for the game, stopping in Florence for haircuts and lunch.  We were glad to get a chance to see Brandon play and later had dinner with Carrie before driving back to Picacho Peak.

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12/2  Wednesday morning, after packing up to leave Arizona, we stopped at the park interpretive area to learn a bit of the history of Picacho Peak.  We knew it had been the site of a Civil War skirmish, reportedly the westernmost such engagement, but it was also a Butterfield Overland Stage stop.

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We bid farewell to Arizona, for now, and headed east to New Mexico.  Warm weather had eluded us in Arizona except for a couple of days in the Lake Havasu area.  We were hopeful that our luck would change.

Utah Rocks! Part Two

11/6/15  It was a cold morning at Goblin Valley State Park as we had coffee and packed up to leave.  Fortunately, the bathrooms are heated and hot water was available.  We much prefer the facilities at state parks to the ones in the federal parks.  The trade-off is the costs at the state parks are more expensive.

We said farewell to Miles and Aaron and wished them well on their adventures.  We backtracked through Hanksville and headed west to Capitol Reef, a scenic 37-mile drive.  It’s difficult to find a road in southern Utah that isn’t scenic!

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Arriving in Capitol Reef National Park, we were treated to more “oohs” and “ahhs”.

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After settling in at the campground, we went off to do several short  hikes to the Petroglyphs, Sunset Point, and the Gooseneck Overlook.

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After the hikes, we returned to the campground and prepared Spicy Thai chicken wraps for dinner and turned on the Propex – still cold.  After drifting off to sleep under the down, we were awakened around 11:30 p.m. by the sound of yelling, doors slamming, and raucous laughter.  Three cars pulled into the spot across from us and 8 or 9 people got out and commenced to party–until 1:00 a.m.

11/7 Up at 0600 for coffee and packing up – 39 degrees inside the bus this morning. Noted the partiers from the night before were either asleep on the ground, in various small tents, or hanging out the back of a pickup camper.  CU sticker indicated college students – just a “wild” guess.

We drove west into Torrey for gas and food and then took Scenic Highway 12 south on the way to Bryce Canyon.  What a gorgeous drive – there was snow in the higher elevations.  We stopped in Boulder to visit Anasazi State Park, ruins and museum.

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It is impossible to capture the scale and beauty of the drive on Highway 12.  At times you find the road crosses a narrow neck of land between two canyons.   We stopped in Escalante and had a great burger lunch at the Circle D restaurant.

Checking the weather, we discovered that Bryce Canyon National Park was expecting 16 degree temps, so we opted to spend the night 2000 ft. lower at Kodachrome Basin State Park, which is beautiful in its own right – and has hot showers to boot.

We picked a camp site and then went off to hike to Shakespeare’s Arch. “Blow, blow, thou winter wind! Thou art not so unkind as man’s ingratitude.”  Yes, it was 4 layers cold.  

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Back in camp, a planning meeting ensued.  We were growing weary of the cold and decided to spend the next day at Bryce and then camp at Zion which is at lower elevation and is warmer – then head south!  The three-week delay in starting the trip has resulted in much colder temperatures than anticipated.

11/8 Left Kodachrome and drove the short uphill distance to Bryce.  It was 21 degrees and windy as we hiked the rim trails.  The cold and the number of European tourists coming behind us in buses kept us moving at a fast pace.  We apologize for posting so many pictures.  It’s just insanely picturesque.

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Hmm, how did that bus picture get in there?  Never miss an opportunity to post a bus pic.  This one was in the Sunset View parking lot.

After a few hours at Bryce, we headed for warmer temps and lower elevation – with a quick stop when Larry saw the sign that said “Soup and Pie” at Bryce Canyon Pines just west of the park.  A quick lunch complete with coconut cream pie, and we were on our way.

Another scenic drive on the way to Zion National Park.  How come Utah gets all the gorgeous scenery and parks?  We need to petition Oklahoma for one of our own.

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Arriving in Zion on Highway 9, we entered the 1.1 mile-long Zion tunnel.  If you are claustrophobic, you might wish to find an alternate route into the park.  There is no “light at the end of the tunnel” until you are nearly at the end as there are several turns inside.  Oversized vehicles require stopping traffic from one direction so that the larger vehicle can travel down the middle of the curved-ceiling tunnel.  Exiting the tunnel, the road switchbacks steeply down to the canyon floor below.  Just another scenic wonder.

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April through October are said to be pretty crazy here and camp sites require reservations, but this was November and we were fortunate to get one of only a few available sites.  After popping the top, we walked across the bridge to a brew pub for dinner and watched the Broncos lose to the Colts.

Back to the bus and we noticed a young couple camped in the site next to us.  They had no previous camping experience at all and didn’t know how to set up their tent.  They borrowed a hammer from us and with the help of the camp host and Lar, they managed to get set up.  Ah, youth.  They’ll figure it out.

Breakfast the next morning – fresh coffee and cinnamon rolls right out of the camp oven.  Life is good.

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The temps were somewhat warmer but still required layers for hiking.

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We drove up-canyon planning to do more hikes but all the trailhead parking lots were full – in November.  The shuttle buses had quit running the day we came in, so we settled for hikes from camp.  Although spending less time in southern Utah than we had planned, we truly enjoyed all it had to show us.  Now on to warmer climes.

Utah Rocks! Part One.

10/29/15 Leaving Colorado, we entered Utah through Monticello and drove the beautiful route north to Moab through canyon country, our favorite part of the U. S. of A

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Arriving in Moab, we stopped at the Visitor’s Center and picked up some local maps, then went straight to Milt’s, at the suggestion of friends Bob Stevens and Richard & Susie Jones.  Burgers and shakes, yum!

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We then drove around eleven miles west of town on Kane Creek Road where Maggie had camped before, but things have changed in twenty years. Camping is now only allowed in campgrounds.  We camped in the last BLM site just before the Chicken Corners junction.

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The amenities were adequate if not somewhat primitive.  Bring your own umbrella and dry toilet paper.

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We were alone in the area except for tent campers about 1/4 mile away.  It was a good night for campfire and then reading in the bus.  The next morning we drove back into Moab, stopping to look at petroglyphs along the way.

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After restocking in Moab, we drove several miles up Sand Flats Road to Juniper Campground.  Snow on the LaSals!  We opted not to go any higher.

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A cool night called for a campfire followed by a tortellini dinner and reading in the bus.

10/31 Happy Halloween!  36 degrees on a beautiful sunny morning, but Skitter didn’t seem bothered by the cold.

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We hiked around the area and spent a quiet evening reading and journaling.  Meanwhile, back home, great-granddaughter Melody was dressed for the occasion.  Sweet as punkin pie:

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11/1  Drove into town to Moab Coffee Roasters, then headed out to Dead Horse Point.  Found a nice campsite and then drove out to the point for a picnic lunch and a hike on the rim trail.

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The loss of daylight saving time made for a short day, but we managed a campfire before the cold drove us inside.  Great bathrooms at Dead Horse Point, by the way.  Individual rooms are heated and have hot running water.

11/2 We planned to camp on Willow Springs Road (the back road into Arches) where it enters the park, but some recently placed signs said “no camping”, so we opted to go on into Arches the back way.  4WD is helpful in this situation.  High clearance is a must.

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There were dinosaurs in them there hills. Though long gone, they left some tracks.  Lar had difficulty trying to match their stride.

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Unable to camp where we planned, we drove on into Arches, stopping at balanced rock to make lunch, and on to the campground where we were fortunate enough to get a campsite.

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There were some interesting campers nearby, but they weren’t very talkative.

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With perfect weather, temps in the 60s, we hiked a bit from the campground, enjoying the drop-dead scenery everywhere we looked.

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11/3  The winds came up after dark and battered the bus most of the night.  We got up at 0400, had leisurely coffee, and watched the sun come up.

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Then we battened down the hatches and took a nice drive through Arches.  We stopped at the Delicate Arch viewpoint and climbed the steep trail up to the high viewpoint.  Mag had hiked to the Arch with family and friends many times in the past.

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We took our time traversing the park road to the Visitor’s Center.  The senior parks pass is the greatest thing.  We’ve had ours for a few years now and what a bargain.  $10 gets you into all National Parks and National Monuments free and camping is half-price.

We drove into Moab and filled all the tanks:  water, gas, and propane.  Then checked into a hotel for much-needed showers and laundry. Had dinner at the Moab Brewery and then came back and soaked in the hot tub before the rain and winds hit.

11/4 Left the hotel, stopped at Moab Coffee Roasters, and took off for Bluff.  The weather was great until we got closer to Monticello and snow.  Drove on to Blanding where it was sleeting.

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It was raining when we got into Bluff and we stopped for Navajo Tacos at Twin Rocks.  We had planned to stop for the night at Sand Island and proceed to Muley Point the next day, but we opted to just push on despite the weather.  The weather, however, continued to deteriorate as we approached Cedar Mesa and the Moki Dugway.

For the uninitiated, the Moki Dugway is a steep, graveled switchback road with a 10% grade that climbs up the face of Cedar Mesa for 1200 heart-stopping feet (Mag’s description).  It is narrow in some spots as well.  We have been up and down it many times but today was different.  With Mag driving, we started up in rain which changed to sleet and then snow as we gained elevation.  We have a 10-minute video of this fun trip.  It was snowing hard at the top.

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We turned onto the 5-mile road to Muley Point.  It is normally passable dirt, but now was 4″ deep mud – slick clay.  Mag had been stuck on Cedar Mesa in a similar situation in the past and we didn’t want a repeat.  So we backed out and drove on up to Natural Bridges.

It was cold and breezy but not yet snowing at Natural Bridges although there were signs of more inclement weather to come.  We followed the scenic drive and did some short hikes.

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We got back to the campground just as it began to sleet and snow.  Popped the top and turned on some heat.  We went to bed early after a nice pasta dinner, thankful for down comforters and the Propex heater.

11/5 We awakened to a layer of snow on the bus and surrounding landscape.  Although the temp in the bus was 41 degrees, we turned on the heat and soon brought it up into the 60s.  Hot coffee made the world right again.

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Our plans to enjoy the dark skies of Muley Point and Natural Bridges were thwarted, but the landscape was lovely as we drove north toward Hanksville.

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We soon dropped down in elevation and lost the snow, but the views kept on coming.  We took dozens of photos as the landscape continued to inspire us.  There were miles and miles of deep sandstone canyons and towering mesas.  Here are but a few:

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When we stopped by Hite, we were surprised to find the boat ramps high and dry and Lake Powell just barely visible to the south. We drove on over the Colorado River and up towards Hanksville.

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After gassing up at Hanksville, we went north to Goblin Valley State Park, a wonderland of hoodoos of all sizes and shapes, including Mr. Potato Head.

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Taking a cue from our brother-in-law Stan, Larry appears to try and tip over a hoodoo.  He may have been trying to apply for a position as a Utah Boy Scout leader.  Mag was able to prevent mayhem and we drove on to the campground to find a site.

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As we drove into the campground, we spotted a white Syncro Adventurewagon parked in a site and two guys came out to the road to greet us.  Introductions were made and they recognized the Roadhaus from our website and we recognized them from a Kickstarter project that had been posted on the Facebook Vanagon Owners page.  Miles and Aaron and their dog Nietzsche are in the early stages of a major adventure, taking the van to multiple countries while filming along the way.  You can follow their adventures at http://www.headfirstdiaries.com

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We enjoyed visiting with the guys and we all contributed to dinner and a roaring campfire.  The guys are headed to Arizona after this to install a Zetec in the bus before heading south – really, really south.

Colorado, Rocky Mountain High

10/23/15 Enjoyed a three-day visit with friends Paula and Marvin while we adjusted somewhat to the change in altitude. Enjoyed some tasty meals, good conversation and walks. Eating out with these two is always an adventure. There’s a history here but we’ll leave it at that. 

   
 As everyone knows, Colorado has legalized marijuana and we got a bit of an education during the visit. M and P showed us how to trim the plants after drying, saving the buds. 

   
 
There are many ways that marijuana is processed and used here – from smoking to baked goods, oils, and even candy and sodas, which seems a bit dangerous if there are kiddos around. 

  
The THC in marijuana isn’t activated until it is heated, so ingesting the raw buds wouldn’t get you much more than a tummy ache.  There are two kinds of stores here – medical and recreational. The medical requires getting a medical card. The medical marijuana does not contain THC and therefore does not produce a “high”. 

After a pleasant few days catching up with M and P, being treated to some good food, and enjoying some of Marvin’s poetry, we loaded up the bus and said our goodbyes.   

 
10/25 We drove on west, noting the snow on the Sangre de Cristos. We were alerted by friends that Wolf Creek Pass got 20+ inches of snow so we opted to take a more southern route. 

  
We stopped in Salida for coffee at Brown Dog Coffee Co. and a walk around the downtown.   

 

Headed south through the San Luis Valley to Alamosa where we had lunch and a short walk, then on to Chama. The yellow Aspens had grown impatient and departed, but for a few who stayed to greet us.  

 
We camped in Pagosa Springs at a motel campground with hot springs and took an evening soak in the mineral waters.  The next morning, our first-date anniversary, we walked across the street to the main hot springs spa overlooking the San Juan River. 

   
 After a soak and a late breakfast at Rose’s on Main Street, we headed out for Mesa Verde, stopping in Durango for coffee and a walk around town. 

We arrived at Mesa Verde just before closing and drove up to the campground. The store, gas station, and other services were already closed for winter and only one loop was open for camping. 

10/27/15 awakened to 29 degree temps and a white frost coating on the camp chairs. We were nice and toasty in the bus for coffee and pancakes.  

 
We had been warned that Cliff Palace was closed for restoration work and now learned that there had been a rockfall at Spruce Tree House, closing it to visitors as well, although both can be viewed from above. This left Balcony House as the only tour available. Larry took the tour and Maggie stayed up top in the bus after heeding the warnings about lung or heart problems or fear of heights. 

  
After the tour, we drove over to Spruce Tree House and toured the museum. Enjoyed a Navajo Taco and viewed Spruce Tree from above. 

  
We drove on to Cliff Palace, noting the huge burn areas from the fires of 2003 and 2004. Cliff Palace is stunning and never ceases to amaze. 

  
There is no cell service or wifi in the campground, giving us respite from our technology. The only sounds in the night were the haunting yips and howls of coyotes. 

10/28/15 We left Mesa Verde and opted to motel it in Cortez, giving us an opportunity to get haircuts, showers, and do laundry before having a nice dinner at Nero’s Italian Restaurant. 

Maggie lobbied for taking a drive to Ute Mountain Casino after dinner and Lar went along. Lucky jackpot of $3,000 + was the happy result. 

10/29/15 After a nice breakfast with Maggie’s friend Penny, a hospice nurse she had worked with in Cortez in the 90s, we drove up to Dolores to the Anasazi Heritage Center for a visit, then drove out to Sand Canyon Pueblo for a hike among the ruins. This village, in the mid 1200s, had 420 rooms and 100 kivas, with 14 towers. 

    

We said goodbye to Colorado and drove west toward Utah.

Not-So-Flat Kansas

We left Oklahoma on 10/20 and stopped over in Salina, KS, to see family. After a fun visit with kids, grandkids, and great-grandkid, we reluctantly said our farewells and headed west. We did get the little one’s stamp of approval on the bus.  

 
The drive across Kansas from east to west is deceptively flat. The horizon stretches on forever with almost no topographic relief. However, by the time you reach the Colorado border, you have climbed 3000 feet in elevation. 

Is Kansas flatter than a pancake?  Why yes, as has been confirmed in the Annals of Improbable Research, 2003. Really. But in Kansas’ defense, she is only 7th in flatness among U.S. states. 

We found solid evidence of this in far western Kansas in a hidden jewel of a state park, located near Scott City. Dropping down off the flatlands, we entered a beautiful little canyon which is home to Lake Scott State Park. 

     

 
  
The park boasts several campgrounds, lake activities, hiking, and some unexpected archaeology: it has the furthest NE pueblo ruins. 

   
 
We set up camp right before the all-night rains began and had the entire campground to ourselves. After morning coffee, snug and warm in our cocoon, we drove over to the visitor’s center. The rain let up long enough for us to take a walk to the ruins and drive around the lake.  

   
We drove in to Scott City planning to visit the El Cuartelejo museum only to discover that we had been misinformed by the museum website. Instead of opening at 1000, they would open at 1300. 

We opted to drive on west to Canon City, CO, arriving in time for a visit and delicious meal with friends Marvin and Paula.