Burgers and Bingo at the Country Club

I feel the need to start this post by assuring you that yes, this is a real thing. Once a month the San Luis Obispo Country Club hosts a fabulous evening of burgers and bingo. And it just so happens that the California Drazsnzaks live within walking distance of the San Luis Obispo Country Club.

After leaving Prescott on April 19th, we headed to Mojave National Preserve, not far from Kelso Dunes. It was pretty there, and quiet, although a little windy.

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Kelso Dunes

We didn’t camp at the dunes because there really wasn’t any shade and none of the shrubs were tall enough to act as a wind break.

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The rocks behind us actually made for a nice wind barrier. We had a quiet evening and then decided to move on to Keyesville Recreation Site near Lake Isabella, CA.

Keyesville has a lot of OHV trails and is a popular area on the weekends. Luckily we arrived on a Thursday and had our pick of sites. I found these huge pinecones all over the ground. After putting one up on a rock to take a picture, I realized I needed something for scale.

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That’s a not-so-old but fairly beat-up stainless steel pint glass from Planet Bluegrass. That pinecone is pretty damn big.

We stayed at Keyesville until Saturday and then packed up and made the drive to San Luis Obispo. We passed through so many things along the way, it was kinda crazy. After passing through the town of Wofford Heights we went west on Highway 155. The road climbed steeply for about 15 miles, winding through tall trees, before opening up to some grand views to the west.

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Those rolling hills of trees became rolling hills of green grass as we descended, which then became rolling hills of brown grass dotted with cows. As we continued to descend the landscape became flatter and the cows were replaced by oil derricks. Then the road was totally flat, with grapevines on the south side and citrus trees on the right. After a few miles of that, it was almond trees all the way.

And that was our tour of California’s central valley.

It was so wonderful to arrive in San Luis Obispo and see Jacques and Allison, and their daughters India (12) and Phoebe (9). India is already taller than I am.

April 23rd was the night. We walked over to the Country Club around 5:30. It’s a Country Club, so of course it’s pretty posh, but for some reason I was surprised that there is a dress code for men that involves collared shirts. Maybe part of the surprise is that there is no dress code for women? Well, Michael has a collared shirt so it wasn’t a big deal.

The evening started off with the requisite burgers, served up buffet style. Generally speaking I don’t do burgers much anymore – the bun is forbidden in paleo eating, and while I can get them wrapped in lettuce, it’s not really the same thing.

Anyway. I needn’t have worried, because the buffet had so many toppings that I lost track. There were the standards, of course, like mayo and ketchup and mustard, and lettuce and tomato and onion. But there was also BBQ sauce. And bacon. And guacamole. And pineapple. There was also salad, onion rings, french fries, potato wedges, and chicken fingers.

This was a Country Club sized buffet.

I was still finishing my guacamole-bacon-BBQ sauce-pineapple burger with no bun when bingo began.

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I’m not sure if this is just because it’s the Country Club sponsoring the bingo (I have not played bingo in a long, long time), but they give out the “dabbers” that you use to mark your cards.

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I guess they splurged on the good stuff. I felt pretty special using “the winner’s ink.”

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I was a little surprised to find that gone (apparently) are the days of straight 5-in-a-row bingo. Now there are patterns you have to make, like Diamond Outline, Kite, Layer Cake, and Block of Nine. (You can see what I’m talking about at NationwideBingo.com.)

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Now, I know most of this was due to the company, but I had so much fun at bingo. My abs were sore the next day from laughing so hard. India and Phoebe are both very into bingo, and at the age when it’s fun to be dramatic about things. They were hilarious.

 

And then India won!

 

 

Of course, as the evening went on, our “Pile of Disappointment” continued to grow, but we still had a blast.

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The last round of the evening was called Blackout Bingo. You have to fill up your entire card to win. And play continued until all the prizes were given away. Things were getting pretty tense around the table, with people calling out how close they were getting. Michael was being uncharacteristically quiet.

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When the announcer called G… 57 and Michael yelled BINGO!

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It’s the quiet ones you have to look out for, I tell you.

Sedona and Beyond (aka Prescott)

After spending the night at Schnebly Hill, we headed up to Flagstaff to resupply. Dog food, groceries, and a new Luci Light from REI later, we headed back to Sedona via Oak Creek Canyon.

It was a Friday afternoon – the Friday before Easter, so the drive down the Canyon, while beautiful, was pretty crowded. We made a deal with each other as we neared Sedona. The deal was that we’d drive through downtown Sedona. If we found an open spot, then we’d take it and check out the shops. But only if there was an open spot. I wasn’t about to waste time circle around looking for a parking spot. (I am so very certain that I sound just like my dad right now…)

Right at the end of the main drag it happened. Somebody was pulling out of their spot right as we came along. We left the dogs with some water and started our walking tour of Sedona. It was a typical tourist-trap kind of place: lots of t-shirt shops, jewelry stores, and fudge. There were a lot more signs for psychics and crystal vortexes, though.

We decided to go back to our original camping site west of Sedona. And as full of people as downtown Sedona was, the dispersed camping was wide open. The next morning we got up, ready to ride out at near Long Canyon. And once again, while the parking lot was full (ok, I’m pretty sure the lot was full. We didn’t bother to look, we just went straight to the jeep trail and parked off the road), the trail itself wasn’t that bad. There are just so many trails there.

It was my second attempt at this loop and so I expected to be a little faster. I wasn’t – we still finished in about three hours – but this ride was still incredible. The rocks of Sedona are like the sky at sunset, and I never got tired of looking at them. We got an earlier start this time, and so by 3:30 we were back at camp, relaxing.

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Even Bailey chilled out.

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Yeah, Sedona camp life is the good life.

I woke up the next morning to a special treat. Hot air balloons!

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Actually, I saw hot air balloons every morning we camped at this site, but this was the closest they came to us. While I stood there taking this picture, a small plane came by and flew in between the balloons.

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The plane actually circled around and did a figure-8, which was very cool to watch.

We packed up camp and headed to our next destination: Prescott. Our friend Wayne lives there with his girlfriend, Margaret, as well as their five cats, and he’d extended the invitation to come visit them.

Along the way we passed through a nifty little town called Jerome, which sits on Cleopatra Hill at more than 5,000 feet. Once the home to a copper mine, Jerome now hosts a thriving artisan community. It reminded me of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, except even more dramatic.

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Of course, Eureka Springs doesn’t have views like this:

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Jerome is a fun little place to visit. If you’re ever passing through, I recommend it highly. We didn’t stop for barbeque, but apparently Bobby D’s BBQ is outstanding.

We had a lovely three day stay in Prescott, and I’m so grateful to Wayne and Margaret for hosting us. They gave us the opportunity for a shower, laundry, and cleaning out the truck. Michael and Wayne went on a 4 hour epic mountain bike ride. Margaret and I went on a lovely 45-minute trail run.

We were able to take advantage of Prescott’s biggest dog park, the Willow Creek Beneful Dream Dog Park. I’d never been to a sponsored dog park before. This one was nice! Astroturf, troughs full of water, and about a gazillion tennis balls. Bailey was in heaven.

At Wayne and Margaret’s wonderful house, we separated the dogs and cats. Bailey and Elvis spent the days outside and came in at night, on a leash, going straight into the bedroom we slept in. I wasn’t too worried anything would happen – Elvis is too old to care about cats, and Bailey is so afraid of them that he hid behind my knees as we passed Miles the cat. But we didn’t want to disrupt things in the household, and keeping everyone separated just wasn’t a big deal. At this point Bailey and Elvis are pretty good at rolling with the punches. As long as they get fed, loved, and the chance to chase after tennis balls, they’re happy.

I also sat down with my laptop and searched out our next move. We were so close to Utah, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which was where we were when we got the call to head to Arkansas, to help out Michael’s parents. I wanted to resume our explorations of southern Utah.

But it just didn’t look good. See, everything immediately west of Arizona and Utah is desert. And things were already heating up in the desert. Joshua Tree National Park? 95 degrees. Death Valley? 100 degrees. We’d have to go pretty far north to avoid such hot weather.

Now, if it were just us, I would have said what the hell. But we have dogs, one of which is a senior citizen, and neither are able to tell us when they’re overheating. I just couldn’t do it to them.

Our best bet was looking like Mojave National Preserve, with temperatures in the low 80’s for the three or four days after our departure from Prescott. Plus, it was only about three or so hours away (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but 3-4 hours is our general limit when it comes to driving). From there we could be in San Luis Obispo, where Michael’s brother and wife and kids live, in a couple of days.

So, with a small sigh of disappointment for southern Utah, we made the decision to head west.

Sedona: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We arrived in Sedona on Monday, April 10th, and promptly met up with our friend Wayne. He’s an old friend of Michael’s – they used to work together at the Fort Collins REI. Wayne now lives in Prescott and came out to show us the best of Sedona’s mountain biking.

We headed over to Sedona’s west side and parked near the Long Canyon trailhead. I say near, because the parking lot was completely full. On a Monday. Who were all these people? Luckily for us, Taco Negro is a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle. And at the end of the paved road at Long Canyon trailhead… was a high-clearance, 4WD road. We found a place to park in about 30 seconds.

Sedona mountain biking is pretty heavenly. I don’t know how else to describe that sweet, flowy singletrack.

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There weren’t any steep grades on our entire 13-mile ride. I had a great time – although it was a tough ride for me. I haven’t been on my bike since February, and that was an hour-long ride in Florida. So the first hour of our Sedona ride was fun. The second was tough. And the third… was pretty brutal. I mean, I’m always happy to see Taco Negro, but today she was an especially wonderful sight.

Mostly for this view:

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And even though that paved parking lot was full, we really didn’t run in to that many people on the trail. Everyone was pretty friendly, too. And my new wheelset performed admirably.

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The bearded duo

Wayne ended up taking us out to dinner and then camping with us, out on a Forest Service road south of town. He’s an overlander, like us, and has a nice setup in the back of his truck. The next morning we fueled up on coffee and oatmeal, and then Wayne said, “let’s ride east Sedona today!”

Michael was all for it, but I didn’t think my sit bones (or my lady parts) could handle another three hours in the saddle. I begged off. Michael and Wayne headed out in Wayne’s truck, and I went over to the Sedona public library. I worked on the blog and researched places to to laundry, as well as places to take a shower. Sedona seemed to have neither. No laundromat? Where do all the poor people go? I expanded my search and found Cottonwood, about 15 miles away.

My skipping the ride turned out to be a good thing. The boys started out at the Bell Rock trailhead. I can’t remember the names of all the trails they rode but they started out on a trail called Slim Shady. Michael said that the ride was pretty technical. He and Wayne had a blast, but both agreed that I might not have enjoyed it as much.

We bid Wayne a fond farewell and agreed to come see him in Prescott next, and then camped back out on that Forest Service road. For all the tourists and riders we saw in Sedona, the dispersed camping was practically empty. Guess Sedona isn’t a big dirtbag destination.

The next day we headed over to Cottonwood – and found everything we needed. Like a laundromat, a Walmart, and a rec center. This is where the real people live, because Sedona is completely full of tourists.

Of course, we consider ourselves travelers, not tourists, and we weren’t done with Sedona yet. The next day we went back to the Bell Rock trailhead… for a trail run. Michael said Slim Shady trail was technical – so it sounded perfect for a run. We ran Slim Shady and part of Hiline as an out-and-back, about 5 miles altogether. We had another wildlife sighting! Again, no pictures, and I’m sorry about that. But this one happened pretty fast. It was pretty early on in the run and I was ahead of Michael. I heard something crashing through the bushes off to my right. Since I was new to this trail, I didn’t know what direction it went off in, so at first I thought it was a mountain biker who wiped out or something. But the sound kept getting closer, and it was pretty low to the ground. Then, as it got closer to the trail behind me, I realized it looked like a small feral pig. It was a javelina! According to the Arizona Game & Fish Department, javelina are not pigs, but are “actually members of the peccary family, a group of hoofed mammals originating from South America.”

We were first warned about javelina back in New Mexico, where a helpful National Parks employee told us about them. Apparently they generally try to avoid humans. However, they have really bad eyesight so their escape path may take them directly into the path of a human.

So when I saw the javelina headed toward the trail right as Michael came around a turn, I hollered at him to stop. But I was just a second too late. That little not-pig shot across the trail inches in front of Michael, scaring the crap out of him. Luckily the javelina kept going. And when we heard a second javelina coming up the hillside, we both got the hell out of the way in plenty of time.

Whew! We didn’t see any more wildlife on the run, but the views were spectacular.

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It was amazing.

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Hell, trails like this are why I run.

After we got back to the truck we had ourselves a tailgate lunch and I took some pictures with my good camera.

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That’s Bell Rock in the background.

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So yeah, even though Sedona is full of tourists… man, it is just gorgeous here.

After our trail run we decided to camp on the east side of Sedona. We’d heard about a Jeep trail called Schnebly Hill Road, which leads to the section of Coconino National Forest that lies between Sedona and I-17.

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Too bad this picture doesn’t really show how rough this road is. The drive took over an hour and I basically had my little baggie of candied ginger in my hand the whole time. This was the roughest road I’ve ever been on. The odd thing is that Michael never even put the truck into 4WD. This is partly because the grade wasn’t that steep, and partly because we have such awesome tires on the rig.

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Once we got to the top we were greeted with Schnebly Hill Vista. It was the wrong time of day for a photograph like this, but I did the best I could.

 

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You can camp for free anywhere between the vista point and I-17. It didn’t take us too long to find a campsite that was out of the wind and completely deserted. We didn’t see a soul until we drove out the next day. Life around Sedona was pretty damn good.

 

The Holding Pattern

Tucson turned out to be a pretty cool place. The people there were friendly and it was pretty diverse, thanks to the University of Arizona. Tucson is a good-sized city, so we had multiple oil-change places to pick from, as well as several Discount Tire shops. So we took a day to take care of Taco Negro, as well as treating ourselves to breakfast at the Baja Cafe. If you’re ever in Tucson, this place is amazing. They have about 12 different eggs benedict options, including one with duck confit.

As time went on, we found ourselves still in Tucson and the GABA Bike Swap getting ever closer. We decided that it was worth staying a few more days to see if we could find a replacement wheel for my bike. Now, as I mentioned in my last post, the sites off Reddington Road offered some spectacular views of Tucson, but they also had a lot of trash and broken glass, and they were right on the road, so we had to tie the dogs up. (There was quite a bit off traffic on this road – mostly jeeps and ATVs.)

So we headed south of Tuscon, to Madera Canyon, for the rest of the week. The canyon itself is a fee area. Signs along the road told us that it was a $5 usage fee, even to just use the bathroom. Luckily we turned off just before the canyon to find our free campsite.

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There was even a trail at the end of this road. Michael rode it. I ran it, mostly because my bike was out of commission. But I don’t think it would have been a fun ride. For me, anyway. Michael didn’t complain. Anyway, we got those workouts done early in the morning… because it was kinda hot. As in, upper 80’s. The way we had the rig set up, we could find shade at some point throughout the day, but still.

We had a wildlife sighting at that campsite, too. I was sitting in the shade reading when I heard this funny sound, almost like a snuffling. Then Elvis started barking. Michael and I both ran towards the sound, in a little dry wash just past our campsite. Bailey joined in the fun, of course. Between the two dogs, they managed to tree something that looked a bit like a raccoon, but with a long snout, no mask, and a very long tail. It was making that snuffling sound, as well as hissing and snapping its teeth at the dogs.

It was a coatimundi. Never heard of it? Well, me neither. I had to Google it. They are members of the raccoon family, omnivorous, and fairly common in the desert southwest. Here’s a link with a really good picture. Eventually we called the dogs off (that took some effort, believe me – both of them seemed quite proud of themselves) and kept them tied up for a while. We didn’t see another coatimundi.

After a couple of days we went for a supply run in Sahuarita. We found a dog park (Anamax Bark Park), right next to a bigger park with shady trees and baseball diamonds. We set up our big tarp under a tree. It was a Saturday and baseball/softball games were going on all around. We sat with the dogs and read, waiting out the heat of the day.

When we got back to the truck, ready to head back to camp, we met Wally. He saw our bikes and asked where we were riding next. He gave us some great information about Phoenix, Sedona, as well as the bike swap. He’s a blogger too – check out Wally’s Alaska Blog.

Then – finally! – it was Sunday. We were advised to get there early and that there was no free parking. Believe it or not, we were on the road by 7:05am, with coffee in hand and everything. We found a free place to park – with shade. So I guess the whole “get there early” thing was good advice. We headed in to the fray. The GABA Bike Swap is the biggest in the southwest, although I’ve heard the one in the fall is larger (actually, I also heard that the spring one is the biggest, so who knows?). It didn’t look too good at first. Only a few places were selling wheels, and they were all 29ers or 27.5, which is the latest craze in mountain bikes. (My bike has 26″ wheels.) There was a ton of stuff there, though – saddles, bike parts, clothes, tires… even complete bikes, most of which were pretty lusty.

On the last street we turned down – almost our last option – we saw it. Easton EA70XCs, a complete set. Now, I only wanted the front, but the guy obviously didn’t want to split up his set. The Eastons were a much nicer set than the stock rims that came on my bike, and the price was right.

We went for it.

New wheels in hand, we set out for Phoenix, which was only a couple of hours away. We went straight to the Phoenix REI, where their bike shop swapped out my wheels for just $20.

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Plus, they look super cool.

I suppose we could have waited for a bike shop in Sedona (our next destination), but I wanted to be able to ride pretty much as soon as we got to a trail.

Next post: Sedona, Arizona. (AKA The good, the bad, and the ugly.)

Greetings From Tucson

We moved on to the city of Tucson on April 1st. It wasn’t that far away from our last campsite in Coronado National Forest, so we had time to stop in the Tucson REI and spend some of our dividend. After that we looked up local bike shops, with Google telling us that the number one bike shop in Tucson is the Ordinary Bike Shop. It’s right by the University of Arizona and apparently right in the middle of the hipster district. We dropped off my bike to fix that front wheel (damaged in Key West – you can read about it here) and walked around the corner to the Cafe Passe coffee shop and bar.

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Maybe a half hour later, the bike shop called with bad news: the rim on my front wheel was too badly damaged, and so not fixable.

Well, shit. To make matters worse, nobody stocks this wheel. And I mean, nobody – the guy at Ordinary Bikes called every bike shop in Tucson. However, he did tell us about the upcoming GABA Bike Swap.

Well, we weren’t sure if we were going to still be in the area by April 9th or not, so we thanked the shop for the info and carried on. We camped that night at a free area along Reddington Road and watched a pretty spectacular sunset.

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Well, I watched a spectacular sunset. Michael got a sandbag workout in.

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Priorities, I guess.

Reddington Road is a beautiful area – all full of saguaro and ocotillo cactus.

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The sites themselves left a bit to be desired, as they were all right next to the road and had lots of trash and broken glass. But it was free, so we kept the dogs tied up and enjoyed the view.

See, the whole reason we came to Tucson is that I had a bucket list item to check off.

The Boneyard.

Officially, this site is called the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, or AMARG, and is an aircraft storage and preservation facility that’s part of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. When I passed through Tucson back in the 90’s, you had to get written permission from the Air Force to get into the Boneyard, and that could take up to three months. Needless to say I missed my chance back then.

Nowadays the Boneyard tours are offered three times a day through the Pima Air & Space Museum. I wanted to make sure we made a tour (sometimes they sell out) so we arrived early. The temperatures were in the mid-70’s and I was pleasantly surprised to find covered parking.

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Covered solar parking. I saw these types of parking structures all over Tucson. Pretty cool! Even though dogs are allowed in the museum, they’re not allowed on the Boneyard tour, so we left Bailey and Elvis in the truck.

I was so excited about to see the Boneyard that I could barely contain myself. So it pains me to say that I was just a teeny bit disappointed. See, the tour is a bus tour. And while it’s a very nice bus, with big, clean windows, at no point is anyone allowed off the bus. So all my pictures were taken through a tinted window. I did my best but as an amateur photographer, I just think these leave a lot to be desired.

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There are over 4,000 aircraft stored at the Boneyard, which opened just after the end of World War II. Some of them have reached their maxiumum flying hours, some need updated electronics but there’s no budget for it. At the Boneyard each aircraft is stripped down, sealed up against the dust, and left in the desert.

Davis-Monthan was chosen as the depository for these aircraft for three reasons: first, the humidity there averages around 10%. Second, the area averages 12 inches of rain per year. Third, the dirt there, despite being so sandy, is actually quite firm – the hardpack is strong enough to withstand the weight of a C-130 Hercules. (This saved the Air Force tons of money, as they didn’t have to pour concrete or anything like that.)

All the aircraft are kept in tidy little rows.

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Engines are stored separately…

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Some of the aircraft can be made flight-worthy again. Some of them are kept because other nations still use these aircraft (like UH-1 helicopters or F-16 jets), so the Boneyard is the place to get spare parts.

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There is also a section of the Boneyard for planes that will never fly again. Slowly these aircraft are being stripped down for parts.

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Aircraft held up with plywood, aircraft missing their tail or nose sections. It looked like a junkyard. I love things that fly, so this part was actually a little sad for me.

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After the tour, we checked in on the dogs and ate a little lunch before heading in to the Pima Air & Space Museum. When I was here before, this place was a lot smaller, and you had to walk underneath a Sikosrky Skycrane just to get in.

The entrance is much more modern now, and Pima is one of the largest aircraft museums in America, taking up 80 acres and showcasing 300 aircraft.

They still have the Skycrane, by the way:

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We spent all afternoon touring this fabulous museum and looking at all the planes. They have this really cool selection of “nose art.”

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An example of nose art on a B-24 Liberator

This collection was actually a wall of nose sections, taken off planes that could not be salvaged. Here’s my favorite:

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There were all sorts of cool aircraft outside, too – trainers, jets, presidential planes. We even saw NASA’s “Vomit Comet.”

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And Michael got to have a little fun, too.

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You know, he thinks planes are cool and all, but this is the second major aircraft museum I’ve dragged him to in two months (Pensacola was the other). So if this is what it takes to keep him sane, well….

A Moveable Feast

When we meet people in our travels, and they ask what we do, Michael usually tells people he’s a “chef by trade.” And a lot of them then turn to me and say, “oooh, you must eat so well!”

Sure I do. Now.

When Michael was a working chef, he usually worked a minimum of 50 hours a week. Towards the end, right before we left, his hours were even longer. So I didn’t get to see him all that often, and nights that we did get to spend together, well, he sure as hell didn’t want to cook.

I’m happy to say that living the travel life has helped Michael get back in touch with his passion for food. And I’m the lucky recipient. Case in point: Strange Weather Beef Stew.

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Let me back up a step. After leaving the Gilas of New Mexico, we headed for the Arizona border, where we expected it to be warmer and drier. Coronado National Forest sits just across the border and south of I-10. Tucked in to Coronado National Forest is an amazing place called Chiricahua National Monument.

I love discovering “new” places, only to discover that they’re actually quite old. Chiricahua (it’s pronounced cheery-COW-ah) National Monument has been around since 1924. While I think their slogan (A Wonderland Of Rocks) could use a little work, I have to admit that it’s absolutely true. Chiricahua is awesome.

We went for a run on the Echo Canyon loop. We chose to do the loop counter-clockwise, which was pretty lucky – we got to see all those fabulous rock formations early on, and the climb out was almost gentle. It was a warm day but we managed to find a shady spot to park.

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Believe it or not, dogs are allowed on some trails here. But not the Echo Canyon loop. So Bailey and Elvis hung out under the topper while we went out on the run. Those rock formations, well, they are pretty cool.

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This was taken in an area called The Grotto, and the trail goes right next to some huge pillars.

Trails like this are why I trail run. It was such a blast!

 

 

 

After spending a day at Chiricahua, we camped along a forest road in Coronado National Forest, and decided to stay put for a couple of days, already. This moving-every-day thing gets tiresome after about 4 days. We found a pretty sweet spot, right on a little creek and surrounded by trees.

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It was a great spot to just hang out for a couple of days. We had a big fire ring and there was firewood galore. We’d picked up all the ingredients for beef stew on our last grocery run, so this was perfect.

I started the fire in the morning – right after breakfast – so by lunchtime the coals were ready.

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Michael started with roasting potatoes. He made a little packet for our baby Yukon golds…

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Then covered them with coals and let them sit for about a half hour.

 

They turned out great.

 

 

The thing that’s not showing in any of these pictures so far is the “Strange Weather” part of our Strange Weather Beef Stew. See, the reason I started a fire so early in the morning is because I was cold. The day started off a little overcast, a little breezy, and kinda chilly. I thought it was oddly hilarious to be wearing my wool base layer, a hat, and my down coat in the middle of southern Arizona. I just wanted to warm up until the sun came out. Then the strangest thing happened. I think it was the remnants of a dust storm (we were about five miles into the woods, but the area to our west was about 35 miles of desert), because the sky turned this funny shade of gray. It wasn’t super windy but we couldn’t see the mountains to our west or north anymore. Plus, the air just felt… gritty.

After about two hours the air started to clear. Then it did get a little windy. The sky turned partly sunny, partly cloudy, and – I swear I am not making this up – occasional rain. So every time a dark cloud came up, I’d put stuff away, or at least hide it under the awning of the tent, and put my coat on. Five minutes later the sun would come back out and I’d get too hot and take off my coat. Then the cycle would repeat.

It was one of the strangest weather days I’ve ever sat through. Good thing I had that fire to occupy me. I had to keep the coals coming.

 

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I’ve mentioned our Camp-Maid setup before, but it’s been a while. Michael loves this thing and would probably cook on it more often if he could. It works with our cast iron dutch oven. The bottom portion holds coals and the top portion is actually a lid lifter (although it has other uses). See, with the lid lifter, you can take the lid off the pot without burning yourself or tipping coals/ashes into your food. You can even set the whole thing aside without setting the lid down in the dirt.

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Pretty cool! I’d call the Camp-Maid a very worthy investment. And the stew, well…

Yeah, I’m a lucky woman. I’ll probably never eat this well again. I’d better show that picture one more time:

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Ahhhhhh….Gila Hot Springs

After heading out of Aguirre Springs campground on Sunday, March 26th. We were only about a half hour from Las Cruces, so we stopped in, found a cool coffee shop (Milagro’s Coffee y Espresso), and stocked up on groceries at Albertson’s.

A side note: what the hell happened to Lara Bars? I used to be able to buy those suckers for $1 each. I found them at Albertson’s… for $1.69 a pop. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a single one.

Our next destination was the Gila National Forest. Michael and I have been through here before, about four years ago. We spent a couple of nights at the Gila Hot Springs Campground and really loved it. So it was worth the 90-minute drive from Silver City. Except… they were full for that night. So we made our reservation for the next day, and headed a few miles back down the road to a free campsite.

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Not bad! But no hot springs. The next day we headed towards the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, although we found a different (read: longer) trail to go for a run. It’s so pretty in the Gilas and the views on this run were fabulous. Afterwards we were pretty excited to go for a dip. The Gila Hot Springs Campground is just $6 per night per person, and that includes unlimited use of the three pools.

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Michael took the opportunity to hang up the hammock and follow the sign’s instructions.

 

 

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Yeah, so relaxed that he fell asleep…

We had some fun conversations with the owners to the campground, Allen and Carla. Both should be retired, by all rights, but both talked about how much they like to work and hate to sit around.

Good for them! Actually, Allen talked a bit about part-time government employees, and how in their off-season they generally file for unemployment instead of looking for another job. I honestly have no idea how we got on that subject. I’m paraphrasing here, but Allen pretty much said he felt that people who didn’t work – who accepted a handout instead – became lazy.

I kept my mouth shut. What would Allen say if he knew I hadn’t had a job in over a year? Would he think I’m lazy?

Wait, am I actually lazy?

Every time I think of going back to the 9-to-5 grind, I change the subject. I spent years doing customer service work because I was good at it. Not because I actually liked it. Our current lifestyle is FREEDOM for me, even though I know it’s not permanent, and I couldn’t be happier. Happiest would be if I never get another customer service job. Ever.

I guess saying that there are jobs I’d refuse does make me sound kinda lazy…

Geez. Time to change the subject. (Or, like my friend Sheri suggested, take a Valium and quit worrying for about six hours.)

We did meet another traveling couple at the campground, Graham and Janet. They are on a yearlong tour, like us, although they rented out their house instead of selling. So as long as they have a tenant they can stay on the road. They were a really fun couple. We talked shop for a bit, and they gave us a good bit of info: California has banned plastic bags. So stock up before you get there.

See, we take all those plastic bags from the grocery store. (For the record, when we had a house I had a huge collection of reuseable bags and never ever used plastic.) Here’s the thing. On the road those bags are the perfect size for disposing our trash at gas stations and other small trash cans.

We spent the one night at the hot springs and then moved on. Once back in civilization we checked the weather report and it looked a little sketchy for the next few days, with a rain/snow mix possible for the Gilas. We decided to hightail it to Arizona.

Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands

It’s been a while since I posted, and our adventures continue. So strap yourselves in – it might be a bumpy ride.

In our desire to get the hell out of Texas, we drove from Kerrville to Carlsbad, New Mexico, in one day. Normally we don’t attempt this kind of distance – we try to keep our driving spells to around three hours. But we didn’t want to sleep at another rest stop.

Google Maps said the drive could be done in 5 hours 47 minutes. We did it in about 7. (We have to stop frequently for the dogs, as well as food and pee breaks for us.)

The drive itself wasn’t too bad. Things got a little weird north of Pecos, Texas, though. From Pecos to the Texas state line, apparently oil & gas companies are the only employers. It was nothing but dust, big rigs, and fracking wells. Very little green. The only wildlife I saw was roadkill. Hell, I didn’t even see vultures. It was like driving through a nightmare.

Luckily things improved once we crossed into New Mexico. Less fracking wells, at least. We decided to camp for the night at Brantley Lake State Park. Now, the irony of our campsite was not lost on me. We got out of Texas because there was no free camping. And we drove straight to New Mexico… and promptly paid for camping.

In our defense, Brantley Lake had showers, water, and electricity. So we were able to get clean, fill our water containers, and charge up all the electronics, as well as camp for the night, for $14.

It was pretty amazing, to sit outside our tent that night, and the only insects flying around were moths. It was so quiet that I could hear all the moisture getting sucked out of my hair and skin. I checked the weather, and the humidity was 11%.

Based on weather reports (continued temps in the 90s), we decided to hang out for a few days in nearby Lincoln National Forest. It was supposed to cool off by Friday (March 24th), so we figured that would be the day we went to Carlsbad Caverns.

We found a pretty cool site up in the hills, just down the road from a place called Sitting Bull Falls.

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We didn’t actually use the fire ring – it was too small and grass was growing too close around it. The winds were picking up, and neither one of us wanted to be the ones to burn down Lincoln National Forest. So we strung up the Revel Gear lights.

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In the morning I had a quick bite to eat and then went for a trail run with Bailey before it got too hot. Our campsite was really close to a few hiking trails – lucky us! After that, I put my chair in the shade and read. Those Harry Potter books are good! A quick read, though. I got through the first one in five days.

We planned to stay at this site for three days. You’d think I’d learn. Elvis, who had been doing so well sleeping in the back of the truck with Bailey, kinda lost it over the next two nights. The worst moment was after Michael had brought him up to the tent – and even that didn’t calm him down. He was panting, pacing. There was a point where things quieted down and for some reason I grabbed my headlamp to see if everything was okay. My light illuminated Elvis’s butt. He was trying to get out of the tent, and had managed to get his head and shoulders clear of the door (which was not zipped all the way closed).

So Thursday morning, we packed up. We didn’t get cell reception until we were pretty close to town but once we did I called both of the vets clinics in Carlsbad. Neither could help us. The town of Artesia sits 30 miles north of Carlsbad and I gave them a try. I also laid it on a little thick, as suggested by Michael, that we were traveling and our dog was very sick, was there any way they could work us in?

The Artesia vet clinic could take us as a walk-in after 2pm. Whew.

We left the vet clinic around 4-ish, with prescriptions for Elvis’s eye infection, for his possible stress colitis, and – I’m not even ashamed to admit it – doggie Valium.

It was actually kind of scary to see Elvis in such a panic. He’s old and I think he deserves a break. And, since his panic attacks were keeping us up at night, you know, I think we deserve a break as well. The vet gave us a very mild prescription. Just enough to take the edge off, he said, and not enough to turn him into a zombie.

Those 28 pills cost us just $8. Which is also kind of scary.

As we drove back into Carlsbad the wind picked up. A lot. I checked our weather app and it said there was a steady wind out of the west at 37mph, with gusts at over 50mph. And this wind would continue until the next afternoon.

Well, shit. This would turn out to be the first time we were afraid to even deploy the tent, much less fire up the stove to make dinner. Hell, the budget was a little blown from Elvis’s vet visit, so I don’t know why we didn’t just go all the way with dinner.

Oh wait – we were in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which, while a very nice town, was not exactly a culinary wonderland. We ended up at Denny’s.

I wish I knew who I was stealing this joke from, but the way it goes is that nobody goes to Denny’s, you end up at Denny’s. Such as it was with us, although I couldn’t really complain about the food. It was pretty okay, pretty filling, and it wasn’t too expensive.

After dinner we made the decision to camp at the Wal-Mart parking lot. We hoped there’s be a big wall we could park next to, you know, one that would block out that wind. No such luck. It was dark by this time anyway so we walked the dogs in a drainage field next door (trying not to get blown away), walked around the Carlsbad Wal-Mart for a bit, read in the cab for a bit, and then gave up and went to bed.

I figured Michael would have a hard time sleeping in the back with the dogs and all the stuff, considering how tall he is, so I offered to sleep back there. I’m not sure it was such a generous offer – I was nestled in with a down blanket (remember, all our bedding lives in the tent, so we had to improvise) and had two dogs to snuggle with. Well, one. Bailey thought my presence in the topper was the best thing ever but we gave Elvis that Valium right before bed. He was asleep before I could even get myself situated.

Michael, on the other hand, couldn’t recline the passenger seat all the way, in spite of me moving as much stuff as I could from behind said passenger seat. He ended up using a paper towel roll for a pillow and a Buff for an eye mask. He said he slept okay.

In the morning I got up and walked over to the Wal-Mart to use the bathroom and got us some lousy Subway coffee. I had a Lara bar and Michael got himself a Subway breakfast sandwich, I cursed my Paleo lifestyle making my life more difficult sometimes (like now) and off we set for Carlsbad Caverns.

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In order to break up such a huge block of text, I added this adorable shot of Bailey. Michael is running into the frame to try and get the bucket toilet out of the way.

I’ve been to Carlsbad Caverns before, and I was super excited for Michael to see it. I saw signs in the half-empty parking lot that I’ve never seen at a National Park before. They said leaving your pet in your car was prohibited, and to use the kennel.

Wait. There’s a kennel? If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have waited for the weather to turn and be stuck in all this wind. I would have come on that 92 degree day and we would have moved on.

Ah well. Turns out the kennel costs $10 per pet and it a little sad looking, but I dropped the dogs off. Elvis was voicing his displeasure at the situation before I could even reach the door. The kennel attendant reminded me that they close at 4:30.

There was no line of people waiting to get inside. Even better – the Park Ranger asked us if we wanted to go on the 2pm King’s Palace Tour.

Of course we did!

We walked in through the natural entrance, a series of steep switchbacks that descend into the mouth of the cave. I found myself joking that it was too bad we’d be taking the elevator out later, as the hike back up sounded like a pretty good workout.

I apologize for the lack of pictures here. I didn’t bring my camera partly because I didn’t want to carry around the extra weight all day, and partly because I wanted to look around and enjoy everything, instead of trying to photograph everything. Luckily, the NPS has its own photo gallery.

We had a great time walking through the Big Room and looking at all the formations. It’s almost indescribable. There are millions of formations there. While I got a little chilly waiting for the 2pm tour to start, I put on my hat and dealt with it. The cave has a constant temperature of 56 degrees, with 90% humidity so I knew that I’d warm up as soon as I started moving again.

The King’s Palace Tour was amazing and I recommend it highly. You get to see four chambers that are off-limits to the normal crowd, in addition to learning the history of Carlsbad Caverns.

The Ranger who gave the tour said something I found really profound. These caves, with their intricate formations of stalagmites, stalactites, curtains, columns, and other fantastic sights: they were never meant to be seen. By anyone. Normal conditions for a place like Carlsbad Caverns is total darkness. We were 800 feet underground, so there is no natural light. These millions of formations, well, they formed in the dark.

Kinda crazy.

My own anxiety began after the King’s Palace Tour ended at 3:30. Remember how the kennel said they closed at 4:30? Sure, an hour sounded like a lot of time… right up until the moment where we saw the huge line of people waiting to go to the surface in the elevator.

We were going to have to walk out. But when we got back to the start of that trail (it’s paved, but they still call it a trail), we found two orange traffic cones and two Park Rangers blocking the way. Access to that trail closed at 3:30. We explained our situation and the Rangers said something like, oh, that sounds like plenty of time. We were unconvinced. One of the Rangers said well, if you think you can make it to the surface in less than 45 minutes then go for it.

Michael said, I’ll run.

The Park Ranger said no running.

Michael nodded, walked briskly up the path until the first turn. And then broke into a run. I love that rule-breaking man.

I am not as fit as he is, so I did what I call the Power Walk, something I often do while trail running up hills. About halfway to the surface I realized I wasn’t cold anymore (in fact, I was sweating bullets), and that my joking wish had come true. Today’s workout was the Carlsbad Caverns hike out.

I made it to the Visitor’s Center in 30 minutes, and of course by that time Michael already had the dogs back at the truck. Damn but he’s speedy.

We were going to try and camp that night at Brantley Lake State Park again, but it was full so we found our own site on BLM land just up the road.

The next morning we headed west, passing through White Sands National Monument along the way. Talk about a place I’d love to explore more! The sunsets here must be magical.

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Talk about the perfect place to make a panorama.

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We walked along a few of the dunes, I took some pictures, and then we had to keep moving, in order to make our goal: Aguirre Springs Recreation Area, where we camped for the night.

 

 

 

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Pretty beautiful goal…