Chillin’ at Altitude

Duchesne County, UT – July, 2017 Choosing a destination, or even a direction, can be difficult when you have too many options. We hadn’t made any solid plans for the month of July past visiting the North Rim and Bryce Canyon. We finally made up our mind where to go and we headed north.

We first stopped in Richfield, Utah along I-70 because we needed a few things. We stayed at the only campground in town, a KOA, for which we paid almost $50 per night. Other than plenty of retail options there was nothing special about the town of Richfield. It was a flat space between barren hills.

After getting the things we needed we were anxious to move on. We had plenty of time so there was no reason to make any long or multiday drives. Even though our next destination was only 150 miles away I found a campground halfway there and booked it for 2 nights.

Huntington State Park was a man-made oasis in the desert. It was surrounded by fields that, when irrigated, appeared to produce crops to feed livestock. Further away were some brown mountains. The lake appeared clean and the locals certainly enjoyed its waters.

We had a site that backed up to the lake, sorta. The water level was way down so the shore was some distance away. It was a nice site though with a good view and reasonably priced at $25 for water and electric.

My favorite thing about this park was the 3 mile walking path all the way around it. It was relatively cool if you hit the trail early enough in the morning. The only downside was that sometimes you would get a whiff of a truly awful smell. Jim said it was the fertilizer they were spraying on their fields. It was good motivation to pick up the pace through those sections. Other than that it made for a very pleasant walk each morning with bees buzzing, bunnies hopping across the path, and fish jumping in the lake.

We weren’t at all sorry to leave as we were really excited to get to our next stop. Avintaquin Campground in the Ashley National Forrest is at 9,000 foot elevation which sounded like heaven. So even though there was limited information available about it, we took a chance and booked 3 nights. At $5 per night it would help offset some of our more costly campsites as well. It had absolutely no services; no electricity, no dump, no water.

We obviously expected a climb to get there and had no concerns about our 1 ton truck being able to handle the roads. We got stuck behind a semi with tandem trailers that was crawling up the mountain between 8 and 12 miles per hour for the entire four mile section of 8% grade. We then pulled onto the road to the campground which the few reviews we found said was a good road and discovered it was the real challenge. It had somehow escaped me that it was a whole mile of gravel to the camp.

It was barely more than a one lane road with hardly any place to pull off if you were unfortunate enough to meet someone. We also still had several hundred feet to climb and most of that took place on one short hill. It was the only hill Jim has ever seriously worried about this truck pulling the camper up. He had to switch to low 4 wheel-drive, all the time praying no one topped the hill in front of him.

We made it though and gratefully pulled into the campground and found a place to pull over. Jim let the truck cool down, and did a little chilling himself. And I walked the loop our site was located on and made sure it was safe to drive.

I wasn’t crazy about how tight the loop road was but I was confident we could make it. Thankfully our site, #5, was at an angle that would make backing in pretty easy. It also turned out to be the levelest of the ones in that loop. Here we are all snug in our site.

I don’t think Jim will agree to come back again but our 3 day stay has been wonderful. There is one site not too far behind us but thankfully noone has used it during our stay. There is a barbed wire fence about 40 feet from our front door and I will admit the neighbors on that side do sometimes look at us a little weird.

Storm clouds formed each afternoon. Twice they circled all around and we only got a sprinkle. But one afternoon the thunder was calamitous and the clouds were pretty ominous looking.

It rained for a good while and we even got some pea sized hail. In general the weather was awesome though, with highs in the mid 70’s and lows around 50.

The same road we drove to the campground on continues past the camp for 13 miles. It is called Reservation Ridge Road and it is a scenic backway. There are plenty of boondocking sites along the way. If we did return here we would likely choose one of them rather than stay in the campground.

We decided to follow this road on a Friday morning and see what there was to see. There were lots of views of the surrounding mountains but most of those views were only visible through a stand of pines. Rarely did we get an unobstructed view like this one of a valley and mountains to the north.

We finally found an overlook to the South. The spot of blue smack dab in the middle is a little mountain lake.

Since the road was curvy and just one lane we were grateful we didn’t meet another vehicle. We did have to put up with some local traffic. Like this guy who wasn’t taking any bull. He refused to move for a minute but finally yielded the right of way.

The entire trip was between 9,000 foot elevation and just under 10,000. I loved the wildflowers in every color.

The only part of the trip I didn’t enjoy was at the very end of the road where it made a long decent while clinging to the side of a very tall hill. The scenic backway then ended abruptly in the middle of nowhere. We planned to take a different forest road back to a highway and return by way of the blacktop.

We turned down that road and were confronted with barely a tunnel through the trees and a mud pit the length of a football field. Nope, it was back the way we’d come. I didn’t mind at all except for having to climb up the side of that hill. Here was my view straight down the hill from the passenger seat.

I know it doesn’t look that bad but as we climbed higher those aspens got farther and farther away. We had an uneventful trip back and enjoyed seeing the views in reverse. We saw pheasants on the way in and again on the way back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pheasant in the wild before.

I had hoped we’d see an elk or, better yet, a bear, both of which are supposed to be common in the area. We probably saw a thousand chipmunks. They were constantly zipping across the road in front of us.

The next day we drove down from the mountain to the town of Price. We got a few groceries, filled the truck’s tank, and picked up lunch. We then chose a spot on the map we thought would be good for a picnic.

We drove 3 miles of road that wasn’t much better than the scenic backway from the day before except it was paved and they had widened the road on the corners so that it was almost 2 lanes. That was good because there were alot of corners. It was just one switchback after another.

At the end was a parking lot with a few picnic tables overlooking Price Canyon. We had the place to ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch with a view.

On Sunday morning we reluctantly came down off our cool mountain and faced the heat of summer again.

North Rim of the Grand Canyon Part 2

North Rim, Arizona – July, 2017 Once we set our sights on returning to the North Rim this year, I started looking at camping options. They were basically booked through the end of the summer but I checked back every now and then to see if there were any cancellations and I finally saw a spot available for two days right after the July 4th holiday. It wasn’t in the national park campground but in the national forest campground just a few miles outside the park’s gate. We would have preferred a longer stay but I continued to check back and never saw another option.

We made good time getting across the country so when we got to our destination a whole day early we decided to boondock our first night. We had thoroughly researched the area through freecampsites.net, the Days End directory available from Escapees, and on Google maps. We had a couple promising locations scouted out.

Our first choice was my favorite because there was a large pullout at the intersection of the gravel road, Forest Road 257, and Highway 89A. We pulled over and walked what turned out to be two roads leading into the woods. There were plenty of options and we chose a lovely site that was far enough from the highway to significantly reduce road noise.

We never saw another camper and the only traffic on the road was a few forest service trucks going by. It was a little hot until the sun went down without electricity, and therefore AC, but we persevered. The only other downside to this campsite was the flies were occasionally thick.

We were eager to explore the area and see how it compared to the way we remembered it. We set off for the Jacob Lake Inn where we spent that fateful night during our first visit over 20 years ago. It was pretty much how we remembered it except the phone booth is now a closet.

We didn’t really plan to visit the rim that afternoon but we were so excited to finally see it that we made the 45 mile drive anyway. The parking areas were almost full in the early afternoon so we parked some distance from the rim. The lodge sure looked different than I remember, mostly it seemed bigger. But a sign out front confirmed the lodge hadn’t been significantly modified since the 1930’s. The only other difference was that we both clearly remember a large parking lot right next to the lodge and there are rental cabins built there now.

We hurried through the lodge and finally got our first look at the Grand Canyon from the North Rim.

We then walked down to the viewpoint below it for a good view of the canyon and an even better view of the lodge.

We followed the path under the lodge to more views. I was surprised to see an abundance of lizards. The winters must get awfully long for these cold blooded fellows.

It was HOT and very crowded so we happily called it a day and headed home to enjoy our private camp site.

The next morning we went for a hike in the national forest while we waited for it to be late enough to move to our reserved campsite. After the heat of the last week’s travels, the cool morning at 7900 feet elevation was welcome. The air smelled strongly of the fresh scent of pine and we had the trail to ourselves.

About a mile from the highway we saw a flock of turkey and a herd of deer grazing in the same area. We also saw several Kaibab Squirrel, a very unusual squirrel that only resides on this plateau. It is black with a white tail and fast. I never could catch one in my camera’s sight so I finally swiped a pic from the internet.

After lunch we moved to the Demotte campground which had no hookups and cost $20 per night. The weather was a little more pleasant over the next two days. It still got a bit warm in the afternoons but cooled down by dinnertime instead of by bedtime as it had our first night in the area.

We jumped up the next morning and made the 18 mile drive to the rim before 8 am. We wanted to explore it while it was still cool and before the crowds arrived. It was around 50 degrees when we left camp so I brought a couple layers. But as the sun rose higher it warmed up fast. I chose to start the hike with a light jacket and I shed that pretty quickly.

We headed out to the main lookout near the lodge, Bright Angel Point. It’s a quarter mile hike with some ups and downs but the view is fabulous. As we’d hoped there was only a trickle of people coming and going at that hour.

We then hiked the rim trail. The 2 mile hike was mostly through the woods and the shade was already a welcome relief at 9 in the morning. There was one good viewpoint along the trail that included a bench under the trees.

We hadn’t had a cell signal since entering the park the day before so when our phones started pinging in our pockets we pulled them out and checked all our media outlets, posted a photo or two, and made sure nobody was missing us. Throughout our visit we only got the occasional cell signal on the edge of the canyon. We often found people hanging out at a beautiful viewpoint and talking on the phone. They were usually talking to the office, poor suckers.

After our hike we headed home for lunch. Our plan was to take a scenic drive to another part of the park during the heat of the day. When the time came to leave I wasn’t sure I was up for a two hour adventure but I knew it was quite possible we’d never come back this way so I sucked it up and we hit the road.

It was a 23 mile drive to the end of the scenic Cape Royal Road. It was a curvy, narrow road and the speed limit was 30 but curve after curve often necessitated going much slower. There was only light traffic on the road and it was mostly a joy to drive.

We skipped several pulloffs and drove straight to the end of the road. I was primarily interested in seeing something called Angel’s Window. The trail from the parking lot to the viewpoints was less than a mile round trip. There were plenty of people around but it was nowhere near as congested as it was near the lodge in the afternoon.

The views were amazing!

Angel’s Window is in the middle of that bluff. You can see the Colorado River through it if you zoom in.

Further along the path were more stunning views. Of Vishnu Temple…

… and my favorite, Wotan’s Throne.

The views from Cape Royal were way more expansive than at the lodge which was basically the same view from several different vantage points. It was so worth the drive and I’m very glad we didn’t miss it. We thoroughly enjoyed our return to the North Rim and are glad we finally got to actually see it.

Reflections on a Year Well Spent

Ajo, AZ to Kingsville, TX – January, 2016 The passing of the calendar year coupled with the one year anniversary of us hitting the road is a logical time to reflect on our expectations, realities, and what’s next.

We have been incredibly pleased with our first year on the road. It is everything we had hoped for and more. Any minor concerns we had have virtually vanished. Do we feel safe boondocking in remote locations? Yes. Can we really live on this budget? Yes. Are we gonna strangle each other if we spend every waking moment together and live in less than 400 square feet? Not yet!

Many of our goals revolved around our health. Together we lost over 40 pounds this year. More importantly we are stronger and the aches and pains I feared might worsen with exercise have instead improved.

We try, and generally succeed, at walking no less than 3 miles every single day. But are we ready to tackle mountains? Not yet. Have our eating habits changed? Not significantly.

We nicknamed this first year “The Highlight Tour.” We endeavored to see all the sights out west that we had not yet seen that we would be really disappointed if we never made it to. Many destinations we cheerfully checked off our bucket list. Others were checked and then moved to the growing list of places we plan to return to for a longer visit in the in the years to come. A small few we just didn’t get to but they got moved to the list of places we’ll see on another western roadtrip, hopefully in 2017.

The west was so much more than we expected. Arizona was more mountainous, southern California was greener, everywhere people were friendlier than we ever imagined. Our expectations were surpassed at every turn. But the southwest just wasn’t warm enough for us to want to spend a whole winter.

We experienced several weeks of nighttime lows in the 20s and 30s. It got chilly very quickly in the late afternoon and it often took until almost lunch for it to warm up in the morning. That’s too many hours that we are stuck in the camper staying warm instead of outside being active. We certainly plan to spend a lot more time in the southwest but we will go further south, hopefully to Mexico, for the coldest months of the year.

Since we had committed months ago to being in Houston by mid-February and that was still four weeks away, we decided we were ready to move it on over to Texas. Last year when we were at Padre Island National Seashore we had been too excited about heading west to explore any further south in Texas. So now we wanted to go as far south as we could in Texas to spend a couple weeks before going to Houston as planned.

We had just boondocked for seven days so we stopped in Benson, Arizona at the Escapees Saguaro Co-op for a couple nights to dump our tanks, fill up on water, and recharge our batteries. We loved this park when we passed through last spring. They charge $20 per night plus electric which after taxes averaged out to $27.50 per night. It is a friendly park, convenient, and has one of the cleanest and least expensive laundromats I’d found all year. I was behind on my laundry so this appealed to me.

I was looking forward to making our next stop a winery a couple hours east of Benson. The St. Clair Winery just off I-10 east of Deming, New Mexico, participates in the Harvest Host program which allows RVs to stay at farms and wineries for one night. I joined the program and used it to stay at Tularosa Vineyards near Alamogordo, New Mexico last spring. I had heard about the St. Clair Winery shortly after we had passed that way and was disappointed we had missed it.

I read that you could fill your own containers at this winery with very reasonably priced wine. I couldn’t believe I had missed such a gem! We actually decided to travel further that day but I insisted we stop anyway. This place was awesome! Unfortunately this past year they stopped letting you bring your own containers. Instead you have to buy their container and then you can bring it back as many times as you like.

The prices were still great and the wine was too. They will sell you a filled magnum, the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine, for about $10 and if you bring their bottle back they will refill it for around $6. I loved their sweet white and sweet red. It is probably for the best that I don’t live nearby.

We generally prefer to travel no more than 2-3 hours a day but Jim said he was willing to put in some longer days in order to reach southern Texas’ warmer temperatures. So we passed up staying at the winery in sweet bliss and instead set our sights on the other side of El Paso. After a late start and too short a stop at St. Clair’s we were slated to arrive late on a Friday afternoon.

I kept reading references to bad traffic conditions on I-10 in El Paso and was not terribly excited about heading into that late on a Friday afternoon. So when I mentioned that the Texas Welcome Center at Exit 1, a good 15 miles north of El Paso, had good overnight RV parking Jim agreed that it wouldn’t hurt to stop by on our way through and see if it would suffice for the night.

We had not yet spent a night in a rest area even though Texas has some rather nice ones and 24 hours of parking is allowed at each. The problem is that they are generally very close to the highway and, more importantly, you have no idea how many semis might join you before morning. Semis are rather noisy and not our first choice for neighbors.

The nice thing about this welcome center was that it was set back a fairly good distance from the highway and there were three parking lots; one for cars, one for RV’s, and one for semi-trucks.

We arrived before 3 and were the only ones parked in the RV lot so we took the only spot that had a yard.

We walked in to talk to the folks in the welcome center. They were very friendly and, well, welcoming. So we put out our slides and made ourselves at home. We walked around the parking lot and next door to an RV dealer. Then we made some dinner and watched TV. It turned out to be quieter than some RV parks we’ve stayed at.

When we awoke in the morning one pickup truck camper had joined us in the RV lot and a dozen semis had stopped in their lot. Surprisingly a couple motorhomes had chosen to stop in the semi lot. Weird! We were pretty pleased with our free camping location especially since we had gotten a good night’s sleep and saved $40 on the campground we planned to stop at.

We got a very early start the next day and drove about 450 miles to Junction, Texas. I had read about a city park in Junction that had free camping and all the reviews were good. We decided to drive through and if we didn’t like what we saw we could head over to one of the town’s RV parks. We expected a large gravel parking lot but what we got was amazing. The park was spread out near a small dam. There was a motorhome parked along the lakeshore and we nabbed a spot at the other end of the park below the dam. This was the view out our front door.

There was plenty of room for lots of other rigs but it was just the two of us on a Saturday night. I imagine it is a very popular place in the warmer months.

We got going the next morning intending to make it all the way to our destination about 6 hours away. But when we ran into construction on Highway 77 near Kingsville we agreed we had had enough driving and that this was close enough. I found us a campground on the nearby Baffin Bay for a couple nights and that is where we began the south Texas portion of our journey.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Ajo, AZ – January, 2016 Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was the last item on my list of must see places in Arizona for this go around. I wanted to see it primarily because my father said my late mother had loved it there. It isn’t really on the way to anywhere and I was tempted to save it for another visit. I am so glad we did not as we enjoyed the area immensely. We decided to spend two nights and one full day exploring there.

We started the day visiting the town of Ajo. I wasn’t expecting much of the town so I was pleasantly surprised. It was a rather large mining town until the mine shut down in the 1980’s. What remains is a town of around 1,800 people and some rather impressive buildings. This was their school during the town’s heyday. It has since been renovated to house artists.

They also have a town plaza, some pretty churches, and lots of cute homes. The town has an obvious artistic bent. We spent a pleasant couple of hours walking the town and then driving a scenic loop around it. It was a lovely drive, but all the drives in the area are scenic. We just love the craggily mountains here.

After a morning exploring Ajo we returned home for lunch and then made the 25 mile drive south to Organ Pipe. The afternoon was a perfect 75 degrees and sunny.

We checked out the visitor center first then made a short drive to the head of the Desert View Trail. We wanted to stretch our legs and this trail was a nice 1 and a quarter miles up and over a hill. It had some nice views and the largest concentration of Organ Pipe Cacti we saw all day.

After our walk we didn’t mind getting back in the truck again. This is a very large park so the choice was primarily which scenic drive did we want to make. Since it was already 1 pm we chose the 21 mile Ajo Mountain Scenic Loop. It was a good choice. The views were spectacular, especially during the trip in.

We stopped about halfway at the Arch Canyon viewpoint.

We decided to take the Arch Canyon Trail which was said to have good views of the arch and was supposed to be 1.2 miles out and back. It turns out the best views of the arch were from the trailhead and at 0.6 miles when you’d expect to be at the end of the trail it was really just the beginning of a climb up the rocks that appeared to promise a good view of the back of the arch but never delivered.

You could see a tantalizing small part of the arch and it seemed certain that if you climbed higher the view would appear. Just a little farther we told ourselves, as soon as we get to the other side of this boulder it will materialize. We climbed another half mile and the view never improved. We finally turned around. It is a great hike, and even a fun climb, as long as you don’t expect anything more.

It was a long and rewarding day. This area could easily keep us entertained for a week or more when we return some day.

We boondocked outside Why, Arizona, at Gunsight Wash BLM area which I found on freecamping.net. It is free with a 14 day stay limit. We pulled in on a Monday afternoon and saw around two dozen rigs while we were there. They were fairly spread out. We found a place pretty far in with a lot of space between us and our nearest neighbors.

There are supposedly two roads into the area but really there are a hundred paths in and around the small shrubs that cover the area and it is impossible to tell which is the main one. We broke the handle on our dump tank while maneuvering through one tight spot. It’s not too bad just a little confusing but if you have a large motorhome, or a new rig you don’t want to scratch, I’d recommend staying near the entrance.

We awoke to a cacophony of coyotes each morning. And they continued to serenade us throughout our morning coffee. Other than that the area was incredibly quiet and had the most amazing sunsets!

The BIG Tent, Flea Markets, & Gold

Quartzite, AZ – January, 2016 We have read about Quartzite for years so there was no question we were going to be there our first January out west. For anyone unfamiliar with Quartzite it is a small town in the desert that isn’t much more than a pitstop on the interstate during the summer. The surrounding desert offers tons of free and cheap boondocking so in the winter it is a haven for full-timers and snowbirds.

Every January for 9 days an RV show takes place there. There is a huge tent with exhibitors set up in and around it. During this time the number of visitors really spikes and there are thousands of RV’s parked in the desert in every direction. Here is a pic taken from above our campsite. If you zoom in you will see tons of white specs, each a camper, and the spot where they get really dense is near town. This is one of the less popular sides of town and the hills hide some of the more packed camping areas. Take my word for it, there are a lot of us.

Since Quartzite is not a very photogenic place I am going to throw in random pictures of the only cute things that were in abundance, puppy dogs.

We arrived the Thursday before the show started which also happened to be my 46th birthday. After we set up we drove in to town to have a look around and we stopped by one of the many flea markets to stretch our legs. This particular one happened to be primarily devoted to rock enthusiasts (not the music, the mineral kind). Quartzite also hosts a huge rock and gem show earlier in the month.

I had been fighting a cold ever since the last day of our cruise so there weren’t going to be any wild celebrations for this birthday but I did request takeout pizza for dinner. Jim and I stopped by Silly Al’s Pizza and had a couple beers while we waited for them to make our pizza. Given the size of their crowd we were surprised when our pizza was ready in less than 2 beers. We took it home and had a fabulous dinner.

Friday we headed to town after lunch to check out another huge flea market. This one was near the big tent so it had a lot of RV related items among the standard t-shirt, jewelry, and knickknacks for sale. I managed to spend a whole $1.50.

Saturday, the day of the big show, finally arrived. We got there at 9 just as the show opened which was good because we navigated the tent pretty well to start with but by the time we left a couple hours later it was getting crowded and hard to move. I have to admit that as hard as we tried to keep our expectations low, we did end up slightly disappointed by the show.

We had put off buying the few RV related items we did want until after the show thinking we might find them there so we wouldn’t have to order them. We did not. Jim was hoping to see a solar dealer that has had a booth there before and held seminars but they didn’t participate this year. He didn’t find what he wanted for the price he wanted to pay at any of the other dealers or the stores in town that offer solar.

In the days when I was collecting things and had a house to decorate, I would have loved their flea markets. We visited the ones on Main Street away from the big tent on Sunday and they had some really great old stuff, signs, and the like. But we aren’t allowing ourselves to buy anything that is not absolutely necessary. We are still culling through all the stuff we haul around and thought we couldn’t live without and donating more stuff every month or so.

The Quartzite gathering is as much about getting together with other RVers as it is about the show and flea markets. There are many groups that meet there in the desert; families, clubs, and friends.  They host get togethers all week long and I’m sure we could have joined a party or two but I didn’t feel like being very social with my cold.

We did love our free campsite at Dome Rock. We found a great spot and didn’t have any close neighbors. There are four wheel roads and ATV trails into the surrounding hills that could have kept us busy hiking for a week. We hiked up and around the nearest hill and found a mine shaft. It was a pretty solid looking tunnel that went straight in to the hill about 80 feet. Jim had brought a flashlight and insisted on checking it out.

There were also people panning for gold around us. One afternoon there was a group of men near our camp with metal detectors. They were running shovelfuls of dirt through a dry sleuth. Jim engaged them in a conversation and it turned out one of them was a well-known expert in the field of metal detecting and gold mining. He generously offered Jim some tips about his own equipment and some information on the process they were using to mine for gold in the wash.

Jim got his metal detector out and enjoyed a few hours of detecting and digging in a nearby wash. No gold yet!

American Girl Mine Boondocking

Ogilby, CA – December 2015 We spent the week at a great boondock location that was conveniently located for our brief visit to Mexico I wrote about last. Ogilby is a town that is no more. It was at the intersection of Ogilby Road and some railroad tracks. All that is left now is some graves and a foundation, a school perhaps. It is 6 miles north of I-8, 13 miles from the Algodones border crossing, and 17 miles from Yuma.

There are lots of boondocking options in the area but we chose to make the second right after the railroad tracks onto American Girl Mine Road and preferred it to the other places we saw that week. It was free to stay with a limit of 14 days. There is a fenced area with a water truck a short ways down and we turned left just after it and then went across a large dip. We found a great spot where a previous inhabitant had practiced some rock art.

The area wasn’t crowded at all. There were about a dozen or so rigs there that week and plenty of space for us to spread out. The road is well maintained and was graded or watered almost every day we were there. Even though the American Girl Mine appears to be active we only saw 2 mine trucks on the road during our stay. The wind blew all week from the north and I was grateful we had chosen to park north of the road as it looked like the campers on the south side of the road had to deal with a lot of dust every time a vehicle went by.

We arrived during a dust storm and were not looking forward to getting engulfed in sand while setting up. Thankfully when we got to our turnoff the nearby mountains blocked the wind. It was even pleasant enough to take a walk after lunch while the wide open spaces to the south were still getting slammed by winds the rest of the day.

There was so much to see and explore here. Many of the hills are actually piles of tailings, leftovers from the mining operations. There was also some abandoned equipment around. This was what was left of a chute used to load ore into trucks at some point.

Up Ogilby road a few miles is the Tumco ghost town which we visited twice. The first time we went late in the afternoon and walked the 1.5 mile loop trail barely making it back to the truck before dark. There are numbered markers on the trail but they were out of brochures so we could only guess what they meant. But most were obvious; graves, a well, the remains of a building.

The next time we went earlier in the day and headed in to the hills past the town to explore. We found this mine shaft all blocked up for our safety. Darn!

And lots of cool old mine equipment.

Tumco was a pretty big operation at one point.

Just past the spot where we camped American Girl Mine Road goes to the right and if you take the left fork you are on a road designated number 710. We took this road a couple miles past the fork until it got too rough for our truck to continue and there we discovered a huge abandoned pit mine.

Jim did some research and we believe it was the Obregon mine and town. We didn’t find any relics of the town or the mining operation here but it was fun to walk to the bottom of the mine. It was less than a mile to the bottom but I swear it was 3 miles out. Even though we were there at noon the sun was so far in the southern sky that the light never did reach the bottom of the pit so it was tough to get a good picture.

We stopped and explored several areas along the road on our way back from the pit mine. There are many holes in the sides of the hills and you can’t help but wonder if they are mine shafts. Most aren’t. One such indentation we went to look at turned out to be nothing but on our way back to the truck we stumbled upon the only open mine shaft we found all week.

We poked our heads in and noticed it was very warm inside and there was a faint odor. Jim ventured in about 10 feet, far enough to poke his head around a corner to try and see the end. He had only his cell phone flashlight and could see about 20 feet with no end in sight. He heard some noises (animals, ghosts, his imagination?!) and finally hustled back to the entrance, none too soon for my liking.

We also discovered this awesome rock along the same road.

Jim is very interested in rock hounding and metal detecting and this is the perfect area for both. He has a very nice metal detector he is still getting used to so he got it out during our stay and practiced with it. Mostly he found pop tops and old cans. We also picked up small rocks we found on our jaunts and tried to identify them on the internet. We could easily spend a month in this spot next time we are in the area just poking around every corner of these hills, looking in every hole, and inspecting rocks.

Owl Canyon

Bakersfield to Barstow, CA – Nov. 2015 We decided to head into the desert and south to escape the cool Pacific breezes. We had reservations in Palm Springs and had 5 days to make a 6 hour trip. The short route to our next destination would have taken us right by LA so we chose a route that would take us away from major traffic and only added an hour of driving time.

Our first stop was near Bakersfield. We chose to stay at the Orange Grove RV Resort ($36 per night full hookups). We loved our stay here so much we extended it to 3 nights. Something about living amid trees loaded with big orange balls just makes you smile.

They also had Wi-Fi so strong we could watch internet TV on it, a really nice workout room we took advantage of a couple times, and great laundry facilities we were in need of.

Bakersfield was very convenient and had just about everything you could want in retail. We had a return we’d been holding on to and needed to get back to Camping World. It was time to stock up on groceries. Our recyclables were piling up and I wanted to recoup my deposits at a recycling center. You know, boring life stuff. And it was all very conveniently done in Bakersfield.

Next we headed to Barstow. I read a blog by Wheelingit about Owl Canyon Campground outside Barstow that sounded like a great place to spend a couple days. It’s a BLM campground with no hookups for $6 per night, first come first served. The road in was a bit rougher than described but it has probably gone downhill since they visited. It was completely passable though, just very wash board.

We got there early on a Friday and had our choice of spaces. Three large groups of tenters showed up later; a group of geology students from the San Diego State College, a Boy Scout troop, and a group of teenagers with no apparent affiliations. The campground was far from crowded though and all the kids were well behaved.

We were pumped to do some hiking on Saturday but unfortunately Jim woke up not feeling very well. When he said he was going back to bed at 9 am I loaded my backback with camera equipment and a bottle of water and headed out to hike the Owl Canyon Trail solo. The sign at the trailhead said it was 2 miles to the end and moderately strenuous. With so many people in the campground I expected it would be a popular trail but surprisingly I didn’t see another soul the whole time.

I don’t hike alone very often but this seemed relatively low risk. I was a little apprehensive about rattlesnakes and did consider whether there was any other wildlife I should be worried about disturbing. The first mile was pretty easy with only small obstacles, a rise of a few feet or the necessity to scramble up a side ridge.

I came across a cave about a mile in. It appeared to go a ways in but honestly I was too chicken to get any closer than this imagining what might be in there. Poking around in dark spaces is Jim’s area of expertise.

After the first mile there were some larger hurdles to overcome. I was pleased to conquer a vertical challenge taller than I am. Thankfully it was narrow enough to wedge myself in as I took advantage of the only foothold and hauled my bag of bones over the top. A couple more large rocks to scale and ridges with inclines higher than I was completely comfortable with that had loose shifting pebbles, then the trail got easy again.

I was determined after all I had overcome to make it to the end. I realized between climbing and stopping to take pictures that I was not making very good time. I hoped Jim wouldn’t worry but I didn’t have a cell signal to text him so I put my camera away and made a beeline for the end of the trail.

I was only 1/8th mile from the end when I saw it, the one thing that could prevent me from accomplishing my goal. A huge brown tarantula was in the middle of the trail. I quickly retreated several feet, he advanced. I nervously got my camera out and mounted a small ridge beside him to get the proof of my encounter.

I could have followed that ridge past him and continued but then I wouldn’t know where he was when I came back by. No, I was decidedly over this hike. I put my back pack on and hustled out of there now on the lookout for rattlesnakes and fuzzy brown spiders. I refused to take my camera out and snapped only a couple shots with my phone on the way out while still in motion.

It was difficult to climb back into that crevice and reach for that solitary foothold on the way back knowing what else might be in there with me. But I did it! I had planned to take a picture of that obstacle on my way out but that thought was nowhere in my head after my decent. I wanted to get as far away from the overhanging rocks and dark recesses as I could and back to the open trail.

I found Jim enjoying the sun in camp and feeling much better. After a light lunch we drove the loop road through Rainbow Basin Natural Area.

All in all, this was a pretty great place to kill some time.