Friday, March 29, 2013

Return to Louisiana

After visiting the Johnson Presidential Library and learning about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Garden, we decided to visit the garden. Sarah has an acquaintance, Lynn,  from the Worcester Center for Crafts who lives nearby and guided us for our tour of the garden. I think we arrived at the best season since so many native plants were in bloom. We had a pleasant lunch at the cafe then got back on the road.

Lynn and Sarah at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Garden

Sarah and I pushed on from Austin determined to make Lake Charles, Louisiana. We had a favorable tail wind that allowed us to make almost 15 mpg. We were rewarded with beautiful roadside wild flower displays all along the way. The blue bonnets and poppies painted a continuous rainbow display through the hill country of Texas. We sang the chorus of "Gulf Coast Highway" by Nanci Griffith as we drove that highway ( ) . Such a beautiful song to match the beautiful flowers. We were so happy to experience the blue bonnets. 
Our Blue Bonnet Spring

We arrived at the Sam Houston Jones State Park in Lake Charles late in the afternoon, after the park rangers had left for the day. At the gate, we found a list of available campsites and settled into one of them for the night. We pulled out the next morning with the intention to spend a couple of nights in Lafayette, LA. 

Along the way we passed through the town of Rayne. The town seems to have adopted the frog as its mascot, as in it's "raining frogs". Frog sculptures and murals are everywhere. Businesses have attached 'frog' to their names. The town is now known as Frog City.
A very proud Frog City

 I was told by one of the Airstream people we met in Austin to dine at Chef Roy's Frog City Cafe. It so happened that we were passing through Rayne at 11:00 AM. While that is early for us to have lunch, we pulled in to give it a try. There were no cars in the parking lot and when we walked through the door the entire staff was waiting in the foyer. We were the only patrons.  The owner, Robert Credeur, welcomed us to his restaurant. Wanting to eat light, Sarah and I decided we would each order an appetizer and split an entree. Sarah had the corn chowder and I had the seafood gumbo. We shared the Crawfish and eggplant dish. Shortly after we placed our order, Robert asked if we were from the area and if we liked oysters and sea food. We told him our story and that we were essentially nomads but we both enjoyed sea food. Robert then said he would have the kitchen send us a plate to sample. 

The plate Robert prepared was delicious. Alligator, shrimp, crawfish, and oysters deep fried with a delicate beer batter came to our table. The oysters were really special with their sauteed onion and pepper and pepper jelly sauce. The batter was very light and delicate that allowed the full flavor of the underlying fish to prevail. We devoured the entire plate. The menu also boasted a creme brule, but our diet was busted with Robert's tasty sampler. 
(Chef Roy's:
Our host at Chef Roy's, Robert. 

My map reading skills failed me in choosing a campground near Lafayette. We wanted to be near the city to partake of the restaurants and the music clubs. The big map showed a state park near the city that looked like a good choice. Unfortunately, it was almost an hour drive. We arranged to stay for one night, with the option to extend the stay for another at Fausse Lake State Park. We arrived early enough to walk the six mile trail system around the island that comprised the park. We saw egrets, alligators and armadillos. 
As common as squirrels 
We secured a reservation at Acadiana park in Lafayette proper and arrived just after noon time. This gave us the perfect location to explore Lafayette and perform some mundane but necessary tasks. I needed to print the release for my accountant to file my taxes. The public library was the place for that. Nearby was the Art Museum and some craft galleries that we visited. 

After finishing our taxing tasks we went to the Blue Dog Cafe for a cocktail and appetizer knowing we would be heading for Randol's for dinner and dancing. 
Blue Dog Cafe

Sarah and I splurged at Randol's. We shared a dozen oysters and 5 lbs of boiled crawfish. We took one third of them home in a dogie bag (crawfish quiche or gumbo is on the menu).

The band at Randol's was very good. Sarah and I made our presence known on the dance floor. Truth be told, people weren't watching me dance.

We enjoyed our stay in Lafayette and look forward to our time in Mobile. Stay tuned. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Lubbock to Austin

The decision to push on to Lubbock from Canyon De Chelly was based on the weather report that predicted winds gusting to 50 mph Saturday. The idea of towing a 28' trailer in such conditions did not appeal to us. By pressing on we could spend two nights in Lubbock and enjoy the local scenery. 

As predicted, the wind did begin to blow Saturday afternoon. The trailer rocked back and forth. The sky turned a dark reddish brown and I could see the dust blowing across the pavement. When I went out of doors to take pictures I could feel the dust in my eyes and the grit in my teeth. From what I've read about the dust bowl days, this was a bright sunny day compared to the conditions of those dismal times. 

About noon time
About four in the afternoon. Bad dust
The temperature dropped to 24F on Sunday morning. I forgot to disconnect the water hose and the sanitation hose. Both were frozen solid when we wanted to get ready to go. Fortunately, I only leave the gray water valve open and not the black water when in a campground with sewage. That meant a less unpleasant situation thawing and emptying the drain pipe. All it took was a hot shower to get the gray water flowing again. However, the expansion created a small leak in the hose. Again, glad it was the gray water. Discard the hose, buy a new one when we can.

We had hoped to rendezvous once again with Javier Janik, who is walking across the U.S. for peace. We learned that he was taking a northern route that would have kept us in the very cold part of Texas. Sadly, we turned southeast and set our destination to be Austin.
Although the wind had subsided considerably, we still had a very favorable tail wind that gave us great fuel economy. Getting over 14 mpg towing our home is always a joy. 

 On our first pass through Texas Sarah and I regretted that we would not be here to see the Blue Bonnets. We even talked about leaving the Mary Joan in Arizona and driving back to Texas. Well as you know, we have returned to Texas, and just in time to see the Blue Bonnets. They are beautiful. No wonder songs have been written about them. Nanci  Griffith. 
Blue Bonnets
Blue Bonnet Spring

Here is a link to Nanci's song:

Sarah scouted out places to stay near Austin and found a great state park just minutes from downtown Austin. McKinney Falls State Park is just southeast of town. Without reservations, the ranger at the visitor center said we were lucky because a large group had just arrived and there were only a few sites left. She then looked out and saw that we were towing an Airstream. She told me that the large group was an Airstream caravan that was spending the week at the park. 

The ranger gave us a site in the midst of the other Airstreams. I didn't tell Sarah about this. As we pulled through the campground, I exclaimed "look an Airstream, oh another and another".  As we drove by, two members of the caravan greeted us and invited us to happy hour the next evening. We were so happy to be among more than 30 other Airstreamers. Bill greeted us and was happy to see that there were some intelligent Yankees. 

Since we drove so long we decided to reward ourselves with dinner out. We decided that BBQ would be appropriate. Austin has more than an abundance of choices and the task of picking one was not easy. We got lucky when we walked into Green Mesquite. With no room in the parking lot and having to park a block away we had a good feeling. That feeling was reinforced as soon as we walked in the door. We were immediately from across the room by the bartender and offered a booth across the way. Instantly, our waiter arrived and took our drink order (beer and wine only). The place was packed for a Sunday night, when most other places are closed. It was clear that there were many 'regulars' as the waiter moved among them.

Sarah had the BBQ turkey breast, I had the 3 meat special, two pork ribs, a sausage and a generous portion of brisket. Sides of beans, and cajun rice or corn on the cob accompanied the meat. We both agreed that this was the best BBQ we had ever had. And the price was right, dinner with beer, wine and wonderful pecan pie plus tip was $40. 

As expected, the temperature is much warmer here in Austin. No frozen water lines. On Monday, after completing some errands, Sarah and I headed to the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum. It is an engaging, informative narration of the political life of President Johnson. As one who protested against his prosecution of the war in Viet Nam, I could not help but admire his genuine concern for the problems of poverty and civil rights. As expected, his complicity in the Gulf of Tonkin affair was not mentioned. I came away with a little more understanding of the compromises that a president has to make. 

Fourth through ninth floors are archives

November 1968; Johnson knows that Nixon is a traitor due to Nixon's unauthorized negotiations with North Viet Nam that resulted in six more years and 22,000 American soldiers dead. Not to mention the killing fields of Cambodia.

We rushed home to get our h'or derv ready for the happy hour. We met so many friendly Airstreamers, many of them inviting us to visit them at their home if we should come by again. 
The Texas Airstreamers

We wish we could spend the week with them, but we must push on towards Florida. Looks like Louisiana will be our next stop. Stay tuned

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Change Of Plans

Our Campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park

Sarah and I have suddenly changed our plans of migrating north as the weather improves. In fact, we are now going to Florida. Be sure to read on to see how this all came about.

Before leaving the Phoenix area, we decided to have the minor transmission leak fixed. This time we used Robert Horne Ford ( in Apache Junction. I left the truck at Horne Ford on Friday morning. They found the leak was at the rear shaft seal and they would have to order parts that would arrive on Monday. So, we were to enjoy Lost Dutchman State Park for a few more days. 

Sarah stayed at the park while I dropped the truck off for the repair. When I returned she was next to the trailer waving wildly at me to stop and not drive into our parking place. When I got out of the car she told me she had just encountered a rattle snake and it was now in the rocks that were at the edge of our campsite. She had been washing the windows when she heard the sound of the rattle come from the grass next to where she was standing. She jumped back, retreated to the trailer and watched in the grass. She then took her camera, went outside and just as she came to the side where the snake was, she saw it slither under the trailer and across the campsite to the rocks.
Mr. Rattle slithering from beneath the Mary Joan
Mr. Rattler is watching

We informed the park ranger of our find. Since the snake had gone from the rocks back out into the wash and away from the campground they were not concerned about it. In truth, the snake is more at peril than the campers are. It seems that, while there are many other venomous snakes in the area, the rattle snake alone is becoming threatened. While people have close encounters with other snakes, they are usually unaware of it. However, the rattle snake gives a warning because it doesn't want to have a conflict with a large adversary. It is this warning that gives them away and leads people to kill them. The rangers further informed us about the demographics of human rattle snake bite incidents; males between the age of 16 and 25.

We had one more important errand. Our friend Paul collects and restores antique ambulances. A friend and co-collector of his, Robert, lives in Scottsdale and had some rare and very expensive lights and lenses for Paul's ambulance. We agreed to pick them up in order to safely bring them home for Paul. Robert proudly showed us his impeccably restored ambulance.  
Robert and Sarah
The 1970's Honda 350 is not too bad either

One of the surprising things we discovered about our cell phone service is that data is more reliable than voice in weak signal areas. Making telephone calls was difficult, but we could access the internet fairly reliably. While the speed was not as fast as usual, we could access the internet. I like to read the news, check my e-mail and browse through Facebook while having my coffee in the morning. Sarah does the same, but on Saturday evening Sarah decided to see what Airstreams might be for sale on e-bay. While we both really like the Mary Joan II, Sarah has always admired the Airstream Classic model. On this night, she found a deal we could not pass up, a 2013 Airstream Classic 31'. It was selling for a substantial discount from what it would sell for new. The detail listing said it had only been used once. The person selling it appeared to be a dealer whose history showed a perfect satisfaction rating on all the other Airstreams he had sold on e-bay. There were no bids above the minimum bid, so waited until the last moment and submitted our bid. We won the auction. 

Needless to say, I didn't sleep much that night. I could not help wondering if I had just done a very irresponsible thing. Who would buy an Airstream on e-bay without ever seeing it? The next morning, I received an e-mail from the seller with his phone number and a request to call him. I needed to go to the Post Office and wash the truck so I waited until I was in Apache Junction with reliable voice signal to call him. The seller, Rudy, explained many details about the hows and whys this trailer was for sale. He also told me that he acts as a broker for the seller. One of the details I learned was that the trailer is in Traveler's Rest RV Park in Dade City, Florida. That bit of information was invaluable because a member of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International Cape Cod Chapter (WBCCI is the international Airstream club) , to which we belong stays at that very same park. I sent an e-mail to our fellow member, Rich, and asked him to drive by and take a look at the trailer for me. 

Rich called me the next morning. He did much more than I could have expected. It happens that Rich is acquainted with the seller of our new Airstream. He took advantage of that association and asked if he could look it over. The seller gladly agreed. Later on Rich called to report that the trailer was indeed in like new condition and had only been used once. 

As did the seller of our new trailer, we engaged Rudy to sell the Mary Joan II so we could afford the Mary Joan III. He told me he would have no trouble getting a fair price for our current Airstream. True to his word, a week later, he had secured a buyer. 

That is the reason we are now on our way to Florida. There are some minor obstacles to overcome that result from buying and selling a vehicle so far from the place where we live. Some of them being transferring registration and titles. But, we think we have solutions to all of them. These will take some time, therefore we can take our time traveling to Florida. We can still stop and see places of interest along the way. 

The first day back on the road took us to Petrified Forest National Park. Along the way we stopped to see Fort Apache and visit the nearby Kinishba ruins. The fort is nothing like is depicted in old western movies. It did not have a wall surrounding it as is often done in the movies. We enjoyed the architecture of the buildings and the short video describing Apache tribal beliefs about their creation.
Commander's residence at Fort Apache
Officer's quarters at Fort Apache
Kinishba ruins, built by the Pueblo on land now occupied by the White Mountain Apache 

We arrived at Petrified Forest National Park late in the afternoon and camped just outside the southern entry to the park at the Crystal Forest museum/gift shop and RV park that offered free camping. Since it was too late to tour the park, we went to the visitors center to get a brochure and map of the park to plan our activities for the next day. We learned that the park archaeologist would be giving a guided hike the next morning. That was just what Sarah and I were looking for.  
Free Camping at the Crystal Forest RV Park

We left early enough to give us time to visit the Painted Desert Inn and other sights in the park before joining Bill, our guide, and the 27 other people in our tour that began at Lacey Point and took us a mile into the Painted Desert to an archaeologically significant area.
Park Ranger and archaeologist, Bill. He knows his stuff.

At this place in the badlands of the Painted Desert we came to a place where there are thousands of artifacts scattered at the foot of a small rocky mesa. In addition to the artifacts are several well preserved petroglyphs. The artifacts consisted mostly of shards of pottery and some utensils to grind corn. Bill discussed the history of the area and  how the pottery and the techniques and skills used to make it evolved. He also explained that there was evidence that the inhabitants of this place gradually transformed from hunter gatherers to an agrarian society that established trade with other groups far distant.
Pottery shard. This is a museum where you can touch the exhibit.
The ground is littered with shards. Bill tells us that less than 1/4 of the park has been archaeologically explored 
Some of the finest petroglyphs I've ever seen
Petrified log being exposed by forces of erosion 

After thanking Bill for a wonderful morning, Sarah and I visited other beautiful areas of the park and returned to the trailer with enough time left in the day to move on to our next destination, Canyon De Chelly National Monument not too far to the northeast.

As in so much of Arizona, the scenery on the drive to Canyon De Chelly (pronounced de shay) was magnificent. The ever changing colors, textures, terrain, fauna and flora kept us entertained along the entire route. At times, we wondered how any one place in this vast beautiful desert could be singled out as being special. That was until we glimpsed Canyon De Chelly. 

We arrived after the visitor center had closed and we bypassed the first campground near the entrance to the monument. I had used Google Maps to view the monument and look at the satellite images seeking a place to boondock (camp outside of an established campground). I understood the rules to be that unless otherwise posted, boondocking is allowed in National Forests, National Monuments, on Bureau of Land Management and Army Corps of Engineer property so long as one is off the road and not blocking traffic. We found such a spot high up just 40 yards from the rim of the canyon. It was late when we arrived and the overcast sky obscured what would have been a beautiful sunset, but we awoke to a glorious sunrise.

View from our breakfast table

Canyon De Chelly

Leaving the canyon, we headed northeast to Four Corners, the only place in the United States where the boundaries of four states meet, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  We did the obligatory activity here and stood on the exact spot where these states meet in order to stand in all four states at the same time. This was a quick stop because we wanted to get to our next exciting destination, Mesa Verde National Park just over the border in Colorado, a place to see some remarkable ancient cave structures. 
Four places at the same time
When we were in Phoenix, we visited the Phoenix Art Museum. One of the current exhibits featured exquisite photographs of Ship Rock, New Mexico and Mt. St. Michel, France by photographer, William Clift . Ship Rock, a majestic solitary cone of rock was nearby and we could not resist making the detour. It was well worth it. Here is the link to the exhibit:

Like a cathedral, Ship Rock

Before leaving Lost Dutcham State Park in Arizona, we read about Mesa Verde and learned that the park is open all year and that reservations at the campground are not needed. While we were traveling and had internet on the smart-phone, Sarah did some more reading and noted that the high point in the park is over 8,000 feet above sea level. I could see the mountains of Colorado and they had a lot of snow on them. Seeing this I called the park rangers at Mesa Verde and asked what the road conditions were like. Sadly, we found out that most of the ruins were not accessible and that the campground was closed. Mesa Verde will have to wait until next year. With that we changed course and started on our way to Florida with no firm agenda, only knowing we want to arrive at the end of March.

With no major attractions or state parks on our path and desiring not to stay in a commercial campground, we found ourselves just east of the San Juan National Forest. In the town of Cuba we there is a small road that took us 8 miles up a steep winding road into the forest. We found small pull out near the trail head of NFS trail number 98 that made a perfect site to boondock for the night. I noted that there was quite a bit of snow still on the ground on both sides of the road.

In planning the trip south, I checked the historical climate data for each place where we intended to spend the night. I know that Airstream's plumbing system is better protected from freezing temperatures than other travel trailers, but I didn't want to challenge that too much. Therefore, we tried to stay in places where overnight temperatures were not likely to drop much below freezing. However, high up in the San Juan National Forest, we heard the furnace coming on frequently during the night and awoke to 24 F. I quickly checked all the plumbing fixtures. Everything was just fine. Thank you very much, Airstream. 

Needing to average 200 - 250 miles a day to reach Florida on time is not very demanding, and that's what we want. So we set Clovis, New Mexico as our next destination. But, the weather report is for high winds with gusts to 50 mph the next day. Knowing we didn't want to tow a 30' trailer in such conditions, we pressed on to Lubbock, Texas where we could spend a couple days with more to see and do than in Clovis, yet still keep cover the needed ground. 

With laundry to do and wanting to be near the center of Lubbock, Sarah got us a reservation at the Camelot Village RV Park. This park has surprisingly well spaced campsites. It is very clean and the concrete pad we were assigned is perfectly level making camp setup a breeze. We went to dinner at the Lone Star Oyster Bar on 58th Street. The band was loud and not very good, but fortunately they took a long break just as we arrived. Most of the tables were full, but we saw two men sitting at the end of a large table that could seat six. We asked if we could join them and they gladly invited us to sit down. Unlike most states, Texas does not have a law prohibiting smoking in restaurants and bars. The smoke was so bad, Sarah took her coat back out to the truck to save it from being permeated with the stench  Our waitress was prompt and friendly. Actually, a little to prompt as our appetizer and main courses came at the same time. Sarah and I shared the fried oysters, very tasty, and we each had the blackened catfish which was also done perfectly. I enjoyed the red beans and dirty rice that came with my catfish while Sarah thought the spices in rice were not well balanced. 

After dinner, we wanted to go dancing. Lubbock is home to The Texas Cafe and Bar, known locally as "The Spoon". It is a venerable institution with a reputation for premiering some good music. Sadly, the acoustic duo that was on stage when we arrived were uninspiring and while the band that followed played some very good rock and the roll, the lead singer struggled with equaling the talent of his backup. We had a drink and left.

With the laundry done and the smoke washed from our hair, Sarah took off to explore the museum at Texas Tech and do some grocery shopping while I stayed 'home' to catch up on the blog. As I write this, the wind is rocking the trailer as predicted. Glad we decided to stay off the road. I have no idea where we will be tomorrow, so stay tuned.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rogers Canyon

As forecast, we awoke to clear skies on Sunday morning.  Nearby Rogers Canyon was the main reason we wanted to stay in Superior. I learned about Rogers Canyon from a woman I met while waiting for our bags at Logan International Airport when I flew home with my mom. She told me about old cave dwelling ruins that could be found on that trail and said they were well worth visiting. 

We were warned that the road to the trail head would be rough. That turned out to be an understatement. Just a few miles west of Superior we turned onto CR357 to CR172. At the junction of 357 and 172 we were presented with a stream crossing. Due to the recent heavy rains, the stream was about 30 feet wide and running swiftly. Just as we reached the stream crossing, a group of people driving ATVs approached from the opposite bank. Fortunately, I yielded to them for they clearly knew where the shoal was in order to safely ford this stream. The safe place was not directly along the path of the road, rather it was just downstream from where I would have crossed had they not arrived first to show me the way. This was frighteningly obvious when we returned several hours later and the stream had ceased to flow, for the place I would have tried to cross looked like a small swimming pool with one or two feet of water in it. Had I tried to cross in that spot, the water would have come into the cab of the truck.

These county roads are dirt roads, meaning just that. They are just the local soil that has been graded without any gravel to firm up the soil when it becomes wet. With the recent rain, these dirt roads were muddy and extremely slick. Even with four wheel drive, one has to go slowly to avoid sliding off the road. I was a little concerned about what I would find further on because our map indicated that the road was designated as suitable only for four wheel drive several miles further along. Given the slippery conditions I was experiencing early on, I couldn't help but imagine what it would be like later. Just then, I saw another truck approaching from the opposite direction. It turned out to be a Sheriff's Deputy. We both stopped and said hello, he asked if we "were going to the top". I said that I thought so, and asked how the road was. He told us we would have no problem and asked if we had enough water. We assured him that we did. He bid us a good day and we both drove on.

As the road gained elevation, it became narrower and rougher. The roughest sections also happened to be the steepest. In these areas, erosion had exposed large boulders and created deep gullies that had to be carefully negotiated at less than walking speed. I didn't want to bounce the underside of the truck down upon one of those boulders. The road presented us with many switch backs, some of which occurred at the crest of a hill that left us looking at the sky with no sight of the road where we were supposed to turn. At one switch back, the turn radius of the truck exceeded that of the road and we were forced to back up and move forward a couple times to get the truck around the turn.

After nearly an hour to travel 10- 15 miles, we reached the trail head. It was 59 degrees but we didn't need jackets, despite the 3 inches of snow because of the strong, bright sun.

Bright sun, 59 degrees.

The hike to the ruins descends into the canyon along a stream for 4.1 miles. Because of the recent rain and melting snow, the stream was running pretty well. We were forced to cross the stream numerous times as the trail switched from one side to the other to avoid the steep canyon walls. In many places, these crossings were quite challenging and we were forced to throw large stones into the stream to make a safe place to ford. At others, we had to bushwhack to an easier crossing. Sarah took a beating with thorny bushes at one such cross country adventure. 
Painful thorns from bushwhacking

A beautiful stream, but crossing it more than a dozen times became tedious.

The flora here was different than we had seen elsewhere in the Sonoran desert. Here there are more broad-leaf deciduous trees with bright white bark and large leaves that resemble those of a maple tree. In addition, there were pines and juniper. 
These trees, with bright white bark appeared to be some type of maple.
Before we could see the ruins, we saw the large caves where we knew they would be. There is not much left of the ruins, mostly two small walls. While not a magnificent example of pre-historic ruins, we were still impressed with the skill and determination those ancient people had to survive in this environment. 
Cave dwelling

All we know about this place

We had a small snack, drank plenty of water then began the all uphill walk back to the trail-head. We reached the truck at about 5:30 PM and returned to the Mary Joan shortly before 7 PM. Too tired to cook, we had a nice dinner Los Hermanos, a popular Mexican restaurant just up the street from the Superior RV Park. Sarah had the Chile Rellenos and I had the Beef Machaca. Both were very good. The staff was friendly and the $4.00 margarita was very a bargain.

It's going to get warm soon, so time to start thinking about migrating north. Stay tuned 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Superior, Arizona

The weather forecast was spot on. The rain began Friday night and was announced by some serious claps of thunder. The drone of rain drops striking the aluminum skin of the Mary Joan is a pleasant sound. However, the rocking of the trailer by the high winds was not so pleasant. We rarely put the stabilizers down, the little motion from our walking around doesn't bother us. In fact, it reminds us that we are in an RV rather than a house.

We waited until 10:00 AM for the rain to lessen before hitching up for our short trek to Superior, Arizona. We chose Superior because we want to hike the Roger's Canyon Trail. The road to the trail-head is two thirds of the distance to Superior and that is the way we need to go anyway. Our plan is to go north along the eastern boarder of Tonto National Forest. The road through Superior is our only choice since Rt 88, which is the most direct route cannot accommodate our combined tow vehicle and trailer length. 

We wanted to stay at Oak Flats State Park campground, but the website said that trailer length was limited to 16 feet. So, we reserved three nights at the Superior RV Park which is close to the center of town. 

The rain continued all day Friday and well into Saturday morning. Our arrival coincided with the 25th annual Apache Tears Mining Festival. Superior is a mining town, with copper being the principal ore recovered, but gold, silver and molybdenum are also taken. The festival began Friday, but the big events were mostly on Saturday. The Chihuahua race started at 10 AM and the Mining Competition started at 1 PM. Despite the cold raw day, the turnout was impressive, the people seemed very happy and they were very welcoming to us strangers.
Main Street was closed for the weekend and turned into a midway.

Superior is a town on the edge. It nearly became a ghost town a few years ago when the largest mine cut operations. The population is about one half of its historical high. Many buildings along main street are shuttered and some appear to have been abandoned. No new houses have been built here for over three years and home prices have steadily been falling. Many houses on the side streets appear to be abandoned.

Recently, the mines have become active. The Resolute Mining Company has the deepest mine in the U.S. at over 7,000 feet. Sarah and I spoke with an engineer that works for the mines and we learned how mining practices have changed over the last 30 years. In this area, the mines are safer and more ecologically sound than they have ever been. The copper, silver and gold are extracted more efficiently and with minimal environmental impact.

Despite the run down appearance of the town, the people we met were joyful and eager to greet us. The people living in such a small town, less than 4,000 people, recognize when a stranger arrives. The people of Superior, "Supies" as they called themselves, made us feel welcome and very much at home. 

Our first event at the festival was the Chihuahua Race. The race is for dogs approximating the size of a Chihuahua. The course is simple, a 16 foot run between a small fence toward a loved family member. Sarah and I mingled with the contestants prior to the race and made speculations on which dog might be the winner. We also met Peanut, who was three time champion but who was not going to race this year.
Peanut didn't look like she was happy about being retired. She was ready to run.

The participants were very serious about the race because there was prize money to be earned. The winner would receive $100, the second and third place each receiving $50 and $25 respectively.
The race is on

The other competition of the day was the Mining Competition. This consisted of four events; spike driving, timber sawing, "mucking" (shoveling gravel into a tipple) and rock drilling. This competition is the highlight of the festival. The purse was over $2,000. 

Spike driving requires the contestant to drive four spikes into a wooden beam. Two are to be driven downward into a beam supported at about waist high, while the other two spikes are to be driven vertically  into a beam about two feet overhead. Each contestant used the same size spikes and the same axes to drive the spikes. The difficulty of the overhead spike driving was clearly evident as less than half of the participants completed the task.
Yes, that's a small ax he's using to drive the nails. He is making some pretty big swings with the sharp end of the ax coming very close to some important anatomical areas.

All of the contestants completed the timber sawing, but some were amazingly faster than others. The time to cut through a 4X4 ranged from 7 seconds to 15 seconds. 
If you blink, you miss it. These guys cut through the 4x4 faster than I can with a Skill saw.

The mucking competition was very dramatic. Teams of two had to shovel pea stone into a tipple as quickly as possible then push the tipple along a track then bring it back and empty the tipple. The winning team was the one that could complete the task in the least amount of time.
The gravel just flew into the tipple

The final event was the rock drilling challenge. Each contestant had three minutes to drill a hole into a rock to a predetermined depth. The miner who completed the drilling in the shortest amount of time was the winner. This contest is the most arduous of them all. The water cooled pneumatic drill weighs nearly 100 lbs and must be moved into position by the miner. The miner must then carefully establish the path of the drill into the rock at the spot designated by the judges. 
Getting the drill into position

Drilling to the marked spot on the drill in the shortest amount of time.

The roar of the compressor and the banging of the steel hammer would have been deafening had the Chamber of Commerce not supplied the audience with ear plugs. 

The contest is open to anyone wishing to participate. But it was clear that the ones who were actually miners had the advantage. 

After the competition, Sarah and I wanted to try a small Mexican cafe on Main Street. But, it was closed due to the festival. So, we returned to the Jade Grill. We ordered take out from the Jade Cafe on the recommendation of our host at Superior RV Park the evening we arrived. We were both very impressed with our meals. Lucy prepares everything she serves in her small kitchen. All of her sauces are made from scratch, the flavor and consistency confirms her claim. Thank you, Lucy.
Lucy and Sarah at Jade Grill, Superior, Arizona
Here is Lucy's website:

The forecast for tomorrow is clear and warmer. We plan to hike the Rogers Canyon Trail to see the cave dwellings. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hiking In Tonto National Wilderness

A daily hike in the desert is one of the activities we really look forward to each day. Just east of Phoenix is the Tonto National Forest, one of the largest National Forests in the United States. The forest comprises vast stretches of mountains and canyons that provide ever changing vistas of incomparable beauty. 

Due to recent near record rainfalls, the desert is exceptionally green and wildflowers are beginning to adorn this rugged landscape. Each cactus and bush has its own shade of green, from the pale needles of the Chain Fruit Cholla that seem to glisten in the sun to the deep dark green of the Creosote bush. Together, all these lush verdant landscapes belie the harsh and scorching season that soon will follow. For now, though, we are enjoying the clear skies, mild temperatures and stunning scenery.
Many shades of green and delicate yellow flowers

Sarah and I studied the forest map we purchased when we arrived at Lost Dutchman State Park. We selected a hike for each of the next three days we would be here.
Beautiful Stream on the Black Mesa Trail

The first trail we took was the Black Mesa Loop trail. Getting to the trail-head required just a short ride east of the park. We were surprised at the number of cars parked in the parking area. There were at least 20 cars in the lot, we got one of the last parking spots. A volunteer park ranger greeted us and gave us advice on the trail we had chosen, the Black Mesa Loop. He suggested going in a clockwise direction because it would put the hardest and steepest sections first giving us an easier walk at the end. We took his advice and were happy for it when, nearly four hours and 10 miles later, we were getting more than just a little tired. 

Hiking in the desert is especially enjoyable. Here, exceptional vistas are continually in sight due to the lack of trees that obstruct the views. Every step along the trail rewards one's efforts with a feast for the eyes. Great rock formations in varying colors can be viewed from across deep canyons. We are so fascinated at the different types of rock and their positioning that we have purchased a textbook and are taking an online geology course.

Next on our hiking list was the Hieroglyph Trail. The name of the trail suggested that petroglyphs  would be seen here. Petroglyphs are a must see for Sarah. Finding the trail-head proved to be a little bit tricky for this one. The Tonto National Forest Map and Google Maps differed on where the roads actually were. Our first route brought us to a dead end in a new housing development, our second one ended up at a trail-head that seemed very popular, but was not the correct one. Fortunately, we met someone there who gave us directions to the Hieroglyph Trail-head. Even with good directions, we had doubts about finding it. 

The Hieroglyph Trail is short, only 1.5 miles. But, it is all uphill, with an altitude gain of just over 400 feet. This trail starts in the foothills of Gold Canyon and at this lower elevation and on the south side of the Superstition Mountains, the wildflowers were especially abundant. The trail follows a ridge that drops away steeply on both sides revealing the beautiful natural landscaping in the canyons below and on the opposite walls. 
These dusty pink flowers became increasingly fragrant as the temperature increased.

At the top of the trail we found a small waterfall and pools of clear water above which, on the stones were hundreds of petroglyphs. Sarah and I had lunch while enjoying these old stone etchings. We couldn't find any information about the age of this art, but comparing the discoloration of the original petroglyphs with nearby graffiti, I guessed them to be about 300 - 400 years old. 
Clear cool water in the desert
Look closely to see the petroglyphs
Close up of the petroglyphs

Our campsite at Lost Dutchman has a brand new grill that we decided would be perfect for roasting a small chicken we had. We could have used our generator to run the convection oven, but with the new grill and abundant mesquite dead wood just beyond our campsite, the decision to roast it over the open coals was easy. Coated with a little olive oil, fresh rosemary from our portable garden, salt pepper and a lemon inside we prepared our bird. Together with roasted asparagus we had a fine feast for dinner.
After a sound sleep, we awoke to sun streaming into our bedroom window and the promise of another day of fine hiking. We had to drive north and east on Rt 88 for about 20 minutes to reach the trail-head of the Boulder Canyon Trail. While we usually prefer to do loop trails, that can be difficult in these mountains. Many of these trails are designed for backpacking on foot or horseback rather than day hiking. However, we find that returning on the same path we often see things we missed on the way in. This trail and the one the previous day were no different. 
A beautiful field of Mexican Gold Poppies among Teddy Bear Cholla

The Boulder Canyon Trail is a spur that leads to the Second Water Trail. It continually gains altitude for nearly 1,000 feet as it leaves the trail-head at Canyon Lake. Except for the protected south facing dips in the trail, the wildflowers at this elevation and predominantly north facing slope were not yet as numerous as they were on our previous hikes. This did not detract from the beauty. We found the variety of rock here very interesting. As usual, the we enjoyed the continually changing magnificence of the landscape presented to us. 

Sarah found a small geode and a small vain of fire agate near the summit of our climb. Fire agate is a gemstone found in only a few locations in the world. Sarah was nearly giddy with her find. 
Delicate flowers


We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon at our campsite and once again made a mesquite fire. This night we had freshly made sausages to put on the grill. With the addition of some simply spiced pinto beans, we enjoyed our last evening meal at Lost Dutchman State Park. The weather forecast for the next two days was rain. Since we couldn't hike, we decided to use the rainy day to travel so as not to waste the good weather driving. We made reservations at the RV Park in the town of Superior, just about an hour to the south east. Stay tuned