Friday, March 30, 2018

Quartzsite: An Adventure in Boondocking

Our very large campfire circle.
March 1 we left our Winter home in Picacho Peak and headed over to Quartzsite. We have heard a lot about this place over the last couple of months as the big RV show went on and the towns population grew with Winter Residents. 
BLM land around Quartzsite is a destination for boondockers-intrepid RVers that live for extended periods of time without hookups. We are fascinated by the lifestyle and wanted to experience a bit of it.
We are here to attend a Boondocking Rally hosted by Howard and Linda Payne of RV-Dreams. We met the Payne's in 2014 at an Educational Rally they presented in Elkhart Indiana. The information that we learned from them helped us to get started in full-time RVing and we were confident in our ability to learn boondocking skills from them as well.
Our first 4 nights in Quartzite were spent at La Paz RV Park-with full hook-ups before moving to the Rally site. 
Those few days gave us the opportunity to explore this community and to learn a little bit of the history of the area.

The welcome to Quartzsite sign has camels on it. It is an interesting clue that camels are an part of the history of the American west. The experiment began in the 1850's by order of Jefferson Davis who at that time was secretary of War.  Seventy-seven camels were brought to the southwest territory and utilized as pack animals to build a road from Fort Defiance to  California across the Arizona desert. The experiment was moderately successful and might have continued had it not been for the Civil War and the loss of Davis's support. The camels were released into the desert when the program was abandoned and lived there for many years. Tales of camel sightings and of ghost camels have become local legend.

Hi Jolly's Tomb.
The camels handler Haiji Ali (Americanized to Hi Jolly) lived out his life near Quartzite and is buried here. 

The lost pilot sign is still providing direction in the desert.

Out in the desert in a fenced area of sand and cactus is a 100 foot long series of letters that spell out Quartzsite and an arrow with an N pointing North. The Quartzite Rock Alignment also know as the lost pilot sign was fashioned in 1945 for flyers of Patton's Army Air Force who became disoriented in the never changing desert landscape. The arrow pointed to the airfield to guide the novice pilots back home. 73 years later the rocks remain as a testimony to those airmen and their ingenuity.

Japanese Internment Camp Monument
Postun Arizona is home to a more somber point in our history. Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation land is where 3 of the 10 WWII Internment Camps for Japanese Americans were located. The camps were torn down and all that remains to mark their place is a monument dedicated in the 1990's by the camps survivors and their families. 

Fred with an Air National Guard friend Jeff Harran

Fred has a friend from his Air National Guard Days that lives in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. We were able to meet up with Jeff and visit for a while. He was kind enough to give us a tour of one of his Fire Stations and to tell us a bit about the history of Lake Havasu. 
We enjoyed lunch in the shadow of the London Bridge.
Jeff suggested a great cafe for lunch with outdoor seating that overlooks the London Bridge. We enjoyed burgers at Makai's and walked over the bridge. 

It was fun to see all of the British flags and London Bridge signage as we walked across the river.

Our boondocking site on Plumosa Rd
Monday morning we packed the Behemoth, emptied our holding tanks, filled our water tank and headed over to Plumosa Rd where the Rally was being held. We stopped to get a 14 day permit and found the Rally site where Howard was directing incoming rigs to positions on the perimeter of the clearing facing inward. We felt like we were circling up the wagons for the night. Some earlier arrivals had made 3 fire pits in the center of the circle and there were big stacks of wood waiting for the sun to go down. Fred and I set up camp and went out for a walk to meet the neighbors. 
We found that most of the Rally attendants were pretty experienced at dry camping and felt like the novices we were at our first rally.
The schedule was pretty loose.  Seminar's by Howard and Linda on 3 of the mornings, one on one walkthroughs of our unit to give individualized advice and a lot of conversation with others about the problems and pitfalls that can arise if you don't manage your tanks and electrical systems prudently. 
We had a hotdog and hamburger night, 2 potluck dinners and 1 potluck breakfast during the week. There were campfires and field trips and caravans to the grocery store. The desert sunrises and sunsets were spectacular and the night sky the brightest I have ever seen.

We met some great people and hope to see some of them again later in the month at the Reunion Rally. 
It was a great week. I don't foresee that we will ever be living off the grid for extended periods of time, but it is nice to know that with a little pre-planning we can pull into a remote or rustic campground and stay for a week or so.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Birdwatching on the Palo Verde Trail
Organ Pipe cactus thrive in the southern portion of the Sonoran desert. They are not often seen in the United States but 120 miles southwest of us, sharing 31 miles of international border with Mexico is the National Monument dedicated to showcasing their prickly beauty. 
We decided to make a day trip of discovering these unusual cacti so we packed a lunch, grabbed the dog, gassed up the Jeep and headed south.

Organ Pipe Cactus.
Much of the drive was through remote desert landscape and on Tohono O'odham Reservation land. We were happy to spot another crested saguaro on the way.

We arrived at the Visitor Center to pick up a map and trail recommendations. It is a lovely building surrounded by a nature trail that showcases the cacti and other plants commonly seen in the area. 

A small Spring provides water for migrating birds and desert 
dwellers. We were able to watch the rapid movements of Costa's hummingbirds as they enjoyed the garden. Their purple crowns were so different than the Anna's and Black Chins we have been seeing up at Picacho Peak. There were cactus Wrens, Gila Woodpeckers and some really big ravens. We spotted some small lizards near the water but none of the larger animals were obvious in the heat of the day.

The Organ Pipe cactus is large, almost as tall as Saguaro. Its long branches have the same kind of corrugated structure. They grow on warm slopes with Southern exposure in order to collect the most light. They can have crested tops like some of the rare saguaro. The Organ Pipe Cactus got its name for the sound made when the wind flows over it's needles and between it's branches. It kind of made me wish we had gone on a windy day.
There are 2 trails in the Park that allow dogs. The Palo Verde Trail connects the Visitor Center and the Campground, and the Campground Loop follows the perimeter of the campground looking out over the desert and the mountains beyond. Many of the parks other trails branch off from them heading out into the desert via old paths that miners used when they were digging silver out of the hills.

The RV Park has a fantastic location. We were thrilled to learn that our 40 foot rig will fit here and plan on visiting it sometime in the future. It is rustic camping with designated generator hours that I'm sure we will be adequate to keep our batteries charged.
I would love to spend more time in this remote wilderness, exploring the desert trails.

Cactus Wren on an Ocotillo

Our day was made sweeter by a beautiful sunset as we drove north back to Picacho Peak and dinner at the Cactus Cantina when we got there.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Arizona Road Trips:Apache Trail Scenic Drive

The Superstition Mountains from Apache Flats
Picacho Peak  neighbors Gail and Ed suggested the Apache Trail to us saying that it was a beautiful drive through the Superstition Mountains. It is a full day trip from the RV Park so we packed a lunch, extra water and the dog and headed out for an adventure.
The trail starts on Rte 88 in Apache Junction which is close to Phoenix, an hour north of where we are staying.

Rascal liked the ghost town but not the sound of gunfire.
We made our way through Apache Junction stopping at Goldfield Ghost Town, an old mining camp turned tourist attraction. The towns buildings have been refurbished into restaurants and gift shops. We enjoyed walking the dirt main street and wooden sidewalks up hill past the bordello to the back of town where the views of the Superstitions were fantastic. We found a fun little coffee shop and got swept up into the crowd watching a gun fight reenactment. Rascal took exception to the sound of gun fire so we headed back to the Jeep and made our way up the mountain.

Apache Trail runs through 40 miles of desert landscape.
The Apache Trail is well traveled on this portion. We encountered a variety of vehicles from motorcycles to RV's on the paved road. There are a number of formal pull offs and in several other places the road is wide enough to allow you to get off the road to take advantage of photo opportunities. The road is named after the people who created it, using the path to travel through the rugged landscape. It was later adopted by Stagecoach Drivers and in the 1930's it was widened and improved enough to bring in supplies and equipment to build the Theodore Roosevelt Dam of the Salt River.

Canyon Lake
We passed the Superstition Mountain Museum and Lost Dutchman State Park on our way to Canyon Lake. There were stands of tall Saguaro and Ocotillo were surrounded by cholla and prickly pear cactus around every turn. Four lakes are created by the dams on the Salt River. Canyon Lake is the first to come into view. We have seen many boats this Winter and no big water so it is great to finally figure out where they were all heading. Canyon Lake is home to the Dolly Steamboat which offers tours and dinner cruises in this beautiful setting between the mountains. Kayakers were paddling the quieter edges of the lake and fishermen had their poles in the water.
It has been an unusually dry year in Arizona and we could see evidence of that in the exposed high water line.

The small own of Tortilla Flat, which was once a Stagecoach stop is a few miles further up the road. It marks the halfway point of the drive and is the only remaining stagecoach stop on the Apache Trail.  The restaurant there was standing room only with a line waiting to get into the parking lot. It seems to be a destination for many travelers who stop here for a meal and then turn around and return to Apache Flats. There were a lot of desert dune buggies in the parking lot. I imagine it is a nice place to stop when you are hot and dusty from off roading. There is a gift shop, a Post Office and a couple of houses in addition to the restaurant. I read somewhere that the population of Tortilla Flat is less than 10 people.

Just after Tortilla Flat the road becomes a dirt trail.
The road turns to washboard dirt a couple of miles past Tortilla Flat. It is narrow and winding, full of steep drops and blind curves cut into the rock face of the mountain. It is just wide enough for two vehicles to pass except for on the one lane bridges where you wait your turn to cross. It's not a fast drive but well worth the effort because there is something unique and beautiful around each hairpin turn. It was a bit unnerving to meet another vehicle coming around one of those bends. i was glad to be on the side of the road that hugged the mountain because the guardrails don't look very sturdy.

We did fine in the Jeep and also saw several passenger cars on the unpaved portion of the road. 4WD is not necessary but I wouldn't want to drive it in a very low clearance vehicle. That portion of the road is not recommended for RV's, large vans, SUV's, or motorcycles. The desert dune buggies did great. We later learned that General Motors once used this road to test the suspension and maneuverability of their vehicles.

Theodore Roosevelt Dam
The 40 mile long Apache Trail ends at Roosevelt Dam. We drove home through the Tonto National Forest stopping at the Tonto National Monument along the way. The monument is part of the National Park system. It preserves cliff dwellings of the Salado culture. There are two sets of cliff homes. The lower house is easily accessed by a short steep 1 1/2 mile trail. To visit the upper dwelling you must attend a Ranger guided tour on the weekend.  We didn't do either since dogs are not allowed on the trails.

We had a great time exploring the Superstition mountains and are grateful that Ed and Gail told us about the drive. If you are near Phoenix I would put it high on your list of things to do.

Lower Cliff Dwelling at Tonto National Monument.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Arizona Road Trips: Mount Lemmon

We put a lot of miles on the Jeep this Winter. Arizona has some beautiful places to see and we did not want to miss anything.
Several people suggested to us that we had to go to Mount Lemmon so we headed to the Catalina foothills in Tucson and the Sky Island Scenic Byway.

Saguaro cactus love the steep slopes of the Catalina Mountains.
The scenic drive starts on Tanque Rd in a typical Sonoran Desert landscape of tall Saguaro cactus. It was amazing to see them clinging to the side of the mountain as we started to climb. They did not look secure in the steep rocky landscape but from the size of them had been thriving for decades on the rocky slopes.
The road began to climb very quickly and we were treated to expansive views of the city of Tucson as we wound around the mountain.

The cacti gave way to shrubs and low lying bushes.
The cacti disappeared and were replaced by shorter bushes and impossibly balanced rock formations that reminded us of those in Chiricahua National Park.
There were many parking areas that allowed us to pull off the road and really enjoy the views.
The signage at the pull outs was great describing the plants and geology that we were looking at.
Their were several intrepid riders on bicycles struggling up the mountain. We were astonished at their ability as they kept moving around the switchbacks and the long steep grade.

This rock formation at Windy Point reminds me of an Easter Island Moai.
Windy Point at mile marker 17 was one of our favorite stops. Hikers and rock climbers can be seen from the lookout platform, and we saw many people walking out onto the rock formations toward the trails. We are told that this is a popular spot for wedding ceremonies and I can see why. Windy Point is where we started to see bicycle riding daredevils flying back down the mountain road.

The road climbs around the sides of the mountain in a series of switch backs.
The road continued to climb and we began to feel the temperature cooling down. There are trees toward the top of Mount Lemmon that make you feel like you are way North of Arizona. Aspen, Maple and Ponderosa Pines dominate the landscape.

The upper regions of Mount Lemmon are often covered in snow.
We began to see patches of snow in shady crevices and then rounded a corner and found ourselves in a winter wonderland of several inches of the white stuff on a north facing slope.
We soon arrived in Summerhaven, a tiny town and as far as the road would take us. The appropriately named destination has a coffee shop, pizza parlor and a couple of gift shops. The Mount Lemmon Ski Area is located nearby.

The rocks have interesting shapes and are precariously balanced
Mount Lemmon's peak is at 9,171 feet and Tucson sits at 3000 feet, so our 27 mile drive gained 6000 feet in elevation. The temperature in Summerhaven was 30 degrees cooler than that on Tanque Rd where we started.
We learned that the road passes through 6 distinct ecosystems from Sonoran Desert to Subalpine Forest.  There is even a Mount Lemmon Science Tour app that you can download to learn as you drive.
It was a great experience and fantastic way to spend the day. We highly recommend the experience to anyone visiting Tucson.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Arizona Road Trips: Ironwood Trail

We have enjoyed road tripping in Arizona. Those adventures are even more enjoyable now that we are driving a Jeep Wrangler. The Silverado got us everywhere we wanted to go but was less maneuverable and we had fewer opportunities at parking, especially with the bike rack adding to its length. 

To be honest he Jeep is just more fun.
We have done a lot of driving here but 3 of the trips were spectacular. We recommend them to anyone spending time in Southern Arizona.
The Ironwood trail is a 33 mile long road through the Ironwood Forest National Monument with starting and ending points close to I-10. Part of the road is unpaved with little maintenance. A 4 wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
Ironwood trees are the king of the Sonoran Desert. They live for hundreds of years providing shelter for small animals and act as nurse trees for young Saguaro Cactus. Their dark grey back and silvery leaves make them stand out amongst the all green Paloverde trees. It is one of the densest known hardwoods, so strong that even when the tree dies the wood can take 100 years to decay.
Crested Saguaro near Sasco Ghost Town

We started the drive at Red Rock, on Sasco Rd  (exit 226 of I-10). The first 13 miles were washboard dirt road with some deep ruts and rocks. There was only one shallow water crossing. We saw a few ironwood trees among the Saguaro's and passed the old Sasco ghost town where there are rock foundations and a few standing stone walls of some buildings. 

Sasco Ghost Town foundation
The town was active in the early 1900's when the smelter for the Silverbell mine was located here. Once the mine stopped producing the smelter shut down and the town dwindled away. Sasco's Post Office closed in 1919. We enjoyed walking around the old ruins and trying to guess what type of business or home each foundation represented. If you go walking around wear closed shoes and watch out for broken glass.
There is a beautiful Crested Saguaro visible from  this part of the road. These crowned cacti are quite rare, occurring in approximately 1 out of 10,000. We have been lucky enough to spot 5 of them in the wild and it has been a thrill each time...kind of like that feeling you get when you find a 4 leaf clover.
Continuing on Sasco Rd we started to climb in elevation and get closer to the Silverbell Mountains and a very distinctive formation called Ragged Top. 

Ragged Top
The jagged points on the peak are made of Rhyolite which was left when molten lava formed a plug. We also saw the west side of Picacho Peak for the first time.
Once we reached Silverbell Rd the rest of the journey was on paved roads. The Ironwood Forest is BLM land and we saw several rigs set up in the desert enjoying the peaceful environment. The night sky must be spectacular out there. 
There are many more Ironwood trees on this part of the road as well as Ocotillo, Saguaro Cactus and Prickly Pear Cactus. Silverbell Road runs for 13.9 miles intersecting Marana Rd which leads back to I-10 at exit 236.
The Ironwood Trail is a great short day trip if you are staying near Tucson for any length of time. The views of the Silverbell Mountains, Ragged Top and Picacho Peak are pretty spectacular and the off roading is fun. Our only disappointment was that we didn't see any rock climbers scaling Ragged Top.