Thursday, March 31, 2011

Santa Fe

We made our way eastward, crossing back into New Mexico, until finally entering Albuquerque, at which point we turned north. We had identified an Army Corps campground closer to Santa Fe, but were so tired of driving that we stopped short, in a town called Bernalillo. Coronado city RV park wasn't anything special, but also was adequate and inexpensive, so we settled in. The Rio Grande borders the campground to the east, and we took the dogs down to walk and swim in its cool waters. Unfortunately, in his frisky antics, Toby managed to hurt himself, perhaps pulling a muscle or ligament. He wouldn't use his right rear leg, and it made for a long walk back to the Whale. Even now, four days later, there is not much improvement. If he's not using it by Monday we'll have to find a vet to look at it.

Anyway, as I usually do at each new place we visit, I perused the web looking at porn (April Fools!) looking for bike trails. I found quite a few between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and selected one near the former, at Elena Gallegos in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. Here I found a decent network of trails, mostly smooth, sandy single track, but on one side, where it was hillier, there were many rocks and boulders to make it much more fun. I also met up with a friendly threesome of riders, who guided me around for a bit, whooping it up on the corners, before I excused myself so that I could ride at my own pace (faster!). These trails are at about 6500 feet of elevation, and I felt it, especially during the first half of the ride, when I was doing a bit of climbing. (Riding, threesomes, whooping, heavy breathing...does kind of sound like porn!) Here is one of the fun, bouldery sections:

Adjacent to our campground is the Coronado State Monument, a ruin of an adobe pueblo (town). Adobe doesn't hold up well over time - it pretty much just washes away when it gets wet. The Kuaua Indians who built the village back in the 1300s were constantly making repairs. As such most of what the archaeologists uncovered has washed away, leaving eroded ruins behind:

The main objective of our visit here was to check out Santa Fe. We went downtown in the afternoon and spent a few hours walking around the old city streets, admiring the adobe (or feau-dobe) architecture that the city is known for. Here is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi:

All around the plaza are countless galleries and shops selling clothes, blankets, figurines, jewelry and pottery. After two of three they all start to look the same, but much of the merchandise is beautiful, particularly the Hopi pottery. But wow, very expensive! I picked up one small bowl, saw the tag on the bottom read $2900, and put that sucker right back down! I could buy another mountain bike for that!
Here is a typical street view.

Along a nice little "riverside" park there were several little totem-pole statues. If you click to expand this one you'll see a woodpecker going for the gills:

Afterwards, we wandered down to the Railyard district...

...and had a nice meal at La Choza, a cute little New Mexican restaurant, where the standout dish was their green chili stew, which was deliciously tasty, and very hot. Not ridiculously so - enough to get my scalp a'sweating, but not so much that my tongue and lips lost feeling. Exceptional!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Petrified Forest National Park

Our route took us through Flagstaff, where the temperature dropped 20 degrees and there were still patches of snow on the ground, and then back down onto the Colorado Plateau where we leveled off and drove through a monotony of endless plains. Our destination was the Petrified Forest National Park. A gift shop just south of the entrance offered free dry camping, or $10 for electric hookup. With high winds and a night-time low around freezing, we opted for electricity, and settled in for the night.

We spent most of the next day in the park, marvelling at the amazing assortment of petrifed logs that have emerged from the eroding soil here.

This patch of ground was once near Earth's equator, and under water. 225 million years ago a stand of trees toppled into the fresh water, and in time they became waterlogged and sank to the bottom. Over the next couple of million years minerals displaced the cellulose of the wood and they became stone. Eventually, as the continents drifted apart and the plateau was pushed up, subsequent erosion brought these ancient trees to the surface once more.

Although the dogs were not impressed, we found the colors beautiful and intriquing.

Surrounding these countless broken logs is the painted desert, an equally impressive series of low hills striped with various layers of tinted rock and sediment.

A hard, dry, beautiful environment.

Back at camp, while sorting out the evening meal, we noticed a man setting up camp, travelling alone on a Kawasaki motorcylcle. Finding no available water, he wandered over and I filled up his bottle from our copious supply. We got to chatting, and I invited him to dinner, as I had, unusually and fortuitously, prepared more that the two of us could eat. So, over curried chicken, gin & tonics and beer, we traded stories. Tom, from Vancouver, rode down into Mexico and, joined by his wife who has one of those,, they continued down to Guatemala. Sounds like a great travel adventure, and helped alleviate for us some of the media-inspired concerns about travelling south o' the border. He's on his way back north now, and we're glad that our paths crossed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Our next camp was at Dead Horse State Park in Cottonwood, Arizona. Only 30 or so miles from Prescott as the raven flies, it still took us an hour and a half to get there. The more direct route, 89A, is a tangle of switchbacks climbing a coupla thousand feet up and down over Mingus Mountain, and is unsuitable for trucks and trailers. We took a longer, but less demanding, circle route. The park is nice, with very large sites and great views of Mt. Mingus and the surrounding mesas.
Here is Gigantor and the Whale settled into our site at Dead Horse Ranch:

The park is popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. This cowboy rode down a trail that passed right by our rear window:

The trails are not only all bike-friendly, but are also bike-awesome, and I had a great time riding on the trails right from camp, way up into the hills. The seven mile long loop was full of great features to ride over and off of:

Great scenery, too:

But for scenery, down the road in Sedona is where it gets truly amazing. Words cannot describe the beauty, and pictures hardly do it justice either. I took the bike into town to sample a few of the outstanding trails that criss-cross the landscape all around the city. Here I am riding the Templeton trail at the foot of the Cathedral formation:

It was a slow ride, not because of the trail - because of the scenery. I was contantly stopping to admire the view and take pictures:

The next day we all went into Sedona, and Nancy, Toby and I hiked up the Cathedral Trail and along the slickrock. Nancy was equally impressed with the views...

...whereas Toby was more impressed with the smells!

Afterwards we had an excellent meal at Elote Cafe, a Mexican restaurant which received high praise in on-line reviews, and rightly so. It reminded us of our favorite local back home, River Tavern, in its creative and delicious dishes prepared with care, and emphasis on local ingredients. From the signature Elote dip of roasted corn, cream & chili, the smoked chicken enchiladas and pork carnitas, to the mexican chocolate pie, every bite made us pause and savor.

Also near camp are the ruins of a native american pueblo, preserved as Tuzigoot National Monument. The stone remains of this hilltop village is fascinating. Each stone enclosure, once covered with a wood/adobe structure, was accessible from above by ladders. The rooftop entry also served as a chimney to allow smoke from cookfires to escape. Many of the rooms still contain the grinding stones used to pulverize corn into meal.

And, clinging to the steep slopes of Mingus Mountain, is the town of Jerome, a copper mining town that was once nearly abandoned, but is now a thriving artists community. The narrow streets that are cut into the mountainside are lined with buildings both abandoned and refurbished, containing great little shops, restaurants, bars and lodging. A really cool little community.

So, we really liked the Sedona area. This is a part of the country that warrants further exploration, and is one of very few places we've visited that made us want to pick up a newspaper to take a look a the local real estate section.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Prescott, Arizona

It was a little bit hard to leave the summery weather and cool water of the Colorado River, but wanted to give our air conditioner a break :) so we packed up and headed further east. The drive to Prescott, Arizona, was a real workout for Gigantor, especially the last of the four hours. We started at under 500' above sea level, and over the course of the drive climbed up to over 6200 feet before coming down into Prescott which sits at just under a mile high. A bad fuel economy day for sure. (I am often asked about our fuel economy. We average 11.5mpg under tow, and 16 otherwise) On the way up the steep switchbacks I had my eye on the transmission temperature. On the way down the exhaust brake once again proved its worth, keeping gravity at bay.

Point of Rocks campground, in Prescott, is in an area called Granite Dells, which has beautiful rock formations in pink granite. Its great to be able to walk out of the campground onto trails through such amazing landscapes.

The Prescott area has an amazing collection of trail systems. Most are multi-use (hike/bike/horse), and all are extremely well documented. The town wants to become a mountain biking destination, and definitely has the quantity and diversity of trails to draw crowds. I rode an excellent system of trails in the Granite Basin Recreational Area. The trails I rode were betwen 5500 and 5900', so I was definitely feeling the elevation, but the trails were so much fun, and scenery outstanding.

Just downhill from the campground is Watson Lake, where the rock formations surround, and are surrounded by water. Great trails wind around the rocks and shoreline.

I donned by pads and took the bike into the dells for some slickrock and boulder riding that was crazy fun:

And then Nancy and I rode an easier trail down around nearby Willow Lake:

So, lots of hiking and biking, and we just scratched the surface of what this town has to offer. We're moving tomorrow, but not far: just up the road towards Sedona, which also boasts a host of outdoor recreational opportunities. This is a great part of the country, and we're loving it!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Parker, Arizona

Our next stop was chosen for its being the right number of hours drive in the right direction (east). When searching for a campground in an area unknown to us, one clue that an area might be of interest is the density of available campgrounds. Another is the presence of a state park. I found both of these to be true of a stretch of the Colorado River near Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

The drive over was on endless stretches of dead-straight roads through uninhabited desert scrub, surrounded with bare young mountains looking as if they'd sprung up overnight. We knew that the state park that we had in mind had a "first come first served" policy, so I called when we got close and found them full. Thankfully, another, smaller state park, had a site open. We headed for it. As we approached the river we became aware that the roads were crawling with RVs. Competition! My anxiety mounted as I fell into line, driving up the valley north from Parker. I needn't have worried: the river is lined with RV parks! One after another presented itself as we drove on, some crowded and dingy, some fancy with marinas and championship golf courses. One by one my competition turned off the road, and we pulled into to River Island State Park to find a space waiting for us.

The Colorado River runs fast and deep after it is released from the Parker Dam which forms Lake Havasu to our north. Its color and clarity were stunning, reminding me of the coastal waters of Maine and Nova Scotia. Even though it was 90 degrees out, the water was too cold for me to swim in, but Toby and Kinsey took to it repeatedly:

The campground itself is new, with big spaces diagonally arranged, all sandwiched between canyon walls. A trail to the top offers great views of the river, the mountains, and the campground:

We took our kayaks up just above Parker Dam. This dam boasts of being the deepest dam in the world - 320 feet. 285 of those feet are below the riverbed, so we'll have to take them at their word. Here are the 65 feet that are visible:

And here we are paddling in Lake Havasu, enjoying the wonderfully warm air and cool, calm waters:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One Year Later

It's hard to believe that one year ago today Nancy and I, along with Kinsey and Toby, pulled out of our driveway and began this amazing North American tour. We've covered a lot of ground, from Cape Breton to Florida, Chicago to New Orleans, and are now exploring the southwest states. There's so much more to see! The trip feels as fresh and exciting as it did 365 days ago! The packing and driving is all very routine now, so picking up and moving every few days is no longer stressful, and we can focus now more than ever on the journey and the fabulous diversity of destinations.

Why isn't everyone doing this??? We're sure glad that we are!

On the Colorado River, Parker, Arizona.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Joshua Tree

It was only a two hour drive from Anaheim to the campground at Joshua Tree National Park, but the two places could hardly be more different. We started out driving in eight-lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic, but climbed up and out into the country, passing along the way a wind farm that filled a valley and all of its ridges. There must have been thousands of wind turbines.

We arrived at the Black Rock campground at 4000 feet and nestled in a grove of Joshua Trees. The campground is in rough shape - mainly in the sense that its roads are in extremely poor repair, and virtually none of the sites are anywhere near level. But, we squeezed our bulk around and into our site, and had enough leveling blocks to accommodate the slope. Although not far from the town of Yucca Valley, we felt removed from town and surrounded by nature.

This, like most national park campgrounds, has no electrical or water hookups, so we had to economize. With two batteries, topped off with the generator each day, we had no problem living "off the grid". The weather was perfect - warm enough so not need to run the furnace; cool enough so that the air conditioner wasn't necessary.

We drove into the park proper for an afternoon of hiking and sightseeing. I expected to see lots of joshua trees, and was not disappointed, but did not expect such an amazing landscape of rock and boulders. The park is a big destination for rock climbers, and everywhere we went we saw them scaling the fastastic formations. It was at times like being on another planet, and it was indeed a beautiful place.

These guys are scurrying around everywhere, but this one was particularly tame. Would you believe he tried to sell me car insurance?

Great trails right from the campground, too, with lots of bird species, jack rabbits and coyotes. Here is Nancy at the top of a nearby peak:

Gorgeous landscapes, perfect temperatures, and nothing caps off a good log entry like a spectacular sunset!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Orange County

Two hours north of San Diego, our next camp was in Anaheim, California. We don't normally like to make camp in the thick of things like this, but to be within a reasonable drive of the people and places that we came to see, this was a good location. Canyon RV Park is actually pretty nice, stretched out along the Santa Ana River, just across from a wilderness area. Unfortunately, the park's other boundary is the insanely congested freeway 91, so road noise was ever present no matter what time of day.

25 years ago a 16-year-old exchange student came from Brazil to spend a half-year in Freeport, Maine, and stayed in our house with my parents and sister. I was away, a freshman at Clarkson, but my school year ended earlier than that of the local high school, so when I came home for the summer, I too got to know Michele. We all loved her and remember her visit fondly. Only my mother has been diligent in maintaining communication, and thanks to her we re-united after all these years, here in southern California.

Michele's husband, Carlos, shares my love for mountain biking, and our visit began when he picked me up first thing in the morning to go to ride some of his favorite local trails. We had a great ride at Santiago Oaks park, climbing and descending sweet, fast single track trails in the hills overlooking all of Orange County.

One moment our legs and lungs would be burning from a steep climb up switchbacks...

...and the next our minds and hearts racing as fast as our bikes as we rocketed down hard packed turns or sat on our rear wheels on steep, loose gravity infested descents. It was awesome!

After the ride, Nancy and I went over to Michele and Carlos' home, where they served an amazing meal. It was so nice to see Michele after all these years. We ate outdoors in the perfect SoCal weather, and leisurely enjoyed the cedar-plank grilled salmon, all of the lovely salads, and washed it down with fine white wine. So nice!

Afterwards we walked off a few calories taking the dogs out on the paths assessible right from their door.

After the walk it Michele and Carlos' two beautiful daughters, Naomi and Mia, came home from school and charmed us with their sweet personalities. Naomi (6), quiet and serious, and Mia (3) outgoing, gregarious and impish!

We enjoyed another meal all together, then said our goodbyes.

And what visit to La-la-land would be complete without a dose of Mickey Mouse?

We spent most of the next day at Disneyland and California Adventure parks, strolling around the fantastic creations of Toontown, Frontierland and Fantasyland, and along the midway at Paradise Pier. We went on a lot of rides, particularly enjoying Indiana Jones Adventure and Soarin' California.

Our third and final day we got to see Michele again, when she joined us for lunch here at Casa-de-Whale. I baked a loaf of bread, just like Mom use to make, and of which Michele had fond memories. Michele brought boxes full of decadent deserts almost too beautiful to eat (almost!).

Then we braved Friday afternoon traffic and went down to Huntington Beach, where Carlos had seen a dog-friendly beach. We found it, and Toby enjoyed a romp in the Pacific ocean...

...and many romps with a host of other dogs. He left the beach happy, wet, sandy, and tired. (How tired? DOG tired!)

We capped off our stay with dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant: Kitiyama. This might just be the best Japanese restaurant, not just in Newport Beach, not just in Orange County, not just in California, not even just in the U.S.A, but I dare say in all of the entire world!!! Master sushi chef, Mr. Yamasaki, served up the freshest, tastiest, most creative sushi creations that I have ever had the joy to eat. Amazing.