Off the Beaten Path – A Trek in the Redwoods

Dear Diary,

I made the decision to continue on into the Redwood forest from Fern Canyon via the James Irvine Trail and the Miners Ridge Trail (not sure why it’s called Miners Cabin Trail on this map) for a complete loop back into our camp on Gold Bluffs Beach. My trek looked like this, luckily I can walk in between the lines better than I can draw but only if you click for a closer look.

PrairieCreektrailmapNow normal people would just do the loop and their 8 miles or so, but I had to turn it into about 11.5 because I decided to double back and do the loop after I had completed the Fern Canyon loop.

But it was some of the most beautiful 11.5 miles I have ever seen. I can only thank God that I found this place by accident on a prior trip, because it would be so easy to miss.

And yes, I have been to Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks and they are impressive, but they are also where everyone else goes to see the giants. This trail is well maintained and easy, and best of all I only met a couple of people (who were very nice) the entire day during the height of tourist season….just my cup of tea.

I felt sure I had all of the things I needed in my day pack so off I went on my solo adventure. I’m getting used to the solo thing…it’s hard to talk city folk into accompanying me on my recent outdoor madness.

Not to mention there is such a freedom in having every decision be your own, especially for someone like me who has lived their entire life in a supporting role to loved ones.

As I entered into the forest, the trail took on a Tolkien-ish quality. I expected to run into a hobbit or at the very least, a few of their homes in the Shire. tolkiensteps

The air is damp and fresh, the aroma is of old redwood and pine, mixed with damp green flora that line the path.

As I followed the trail, the feeling of getting smaller that I had experienced in Fern Canyon continued as the trees and plants got larger. I felt I had entered into a mysterious but magical place.

It strains a mere human to see the full length of a Redwood tree. It cannot be done while in motion, a Redwood demands that you stop any other activity to gaze on it’s entirety. Then it mesmerizes you.

I think that these must be God’s favorites, because he made them so close to him.

Here is a photo of the trees as they started to get larger, again I can only capture the trunk in a photo, it is impossible for anyone to capture a mature tree in a still photo.

Looks like a normal forest photo you say? Look again at the one below it with my trusty daypack as the only thing I had available to show it’s true size.giantnobackpack

Now with said daypack.giantwithbackpack

Now you see what I mean? My daypack is anything but mini I might add. I gotta have things. Like water. And food. And a phone. And a solar charger for the phone (for GPS purposes you understand). I would discover later that my cord to transfer said power to said phone was back at camp…luckily the trails were so well maintained, I didn’t really need the GPS.

Back to the trees. They were big, but not the old growth I was hoping for. Not yet anyway.

The forest was completely silent. I could not hear my footfalls on the trail covered in moist redwood chips. The trees filter any outside noise out before it could get to me.

The silence was deafening for someone who lives with city noises 24/7. Traffic, kids, dogs, cats, people, trash truck, mail delivery, parcel delivery, car doors slamming, house doors slamming, trains, planes, lawnmowers, and on and on and on. You know what I mean. I don’t even really hear them unless something stands out (like a car alarm).

Just silence in this forest. Nature’s reverence for one of planet Earth’s greatest.

Then I remembered the trail training I learned about bears (from where I have learned everything else about the great outdoors – the internet). You don’t want to startle them. You don’t want to sneak up on them. I guess they get grumpy and seek revenge easily.

So I sang. Let me apologize now to the big trees that had to hear my voice. I sang the only song I know by heart in it’s entirety because it’s easy and short. And as a prayer, it’s not that far off for my own life. Don’t judge.

Don’t Let Us Get Sick
Song by Warren Zevon

  • Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The sky was on fire
    When I walked to the mill
    To take up the slack in the line
    I thought of my friends
    And the troubles they’ve had
    To keep me from thinking of mine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight
    The moon has a face
    And it smiles on the lake
    And causes the ripples in Time
    I’m lucky to be here
    With someone I like
    Who maketh my spirit to shine
    Don’t let us get sick
    Don’t let us get old
    Don’t let us get stupid, all right?
    Just make us be brave
    And make us play nice
    And let us be together tonight

 

Luckily I was not in song mode when I met up with a few people this day. I am not that comfortable in my trail skin to not care if I look (or sound) crazy just yet.

As I continued to get smaller, I came upon a bridge that had a plaque inscribed by the most beautiful phrase that was far more meaningful than anything I could say about this place. It is the John Glascock Baldwin Bridge which spans a narrow chasm. I don’t know who you were John, except that you lived in Redwood City, attended Berkeley, and applied for a passport in 1923 at 21 years old, if it’s the same man (from a Google query, I’m not a stalker I swear).

Nobody could have said it better John, whoever you were. JohnGlascockBaldwinBridge

The stream below the bridge that offered the singing John referenced, indeed provided it for me as well. Stream

Have you ever been to a place where only a stream can be heard? No birds (I’m not sure why, maybe they are too high up?), no wind, no planes, no people, nothing but the singing of the stream and the majesty of the trees. Was this what it was like in early Northern California?  Will it still be here a hundred years from now?

Dear God above, please let it be so.

As I trekked deeper into the forest, all of the other cares of the world fell away. My soul soared.

I was shrinking at a fast rate now. Even the fern fronds and other unidentified flora (I am no Bear Grylls here) leaves were getting larger than my pack.

Then I was among the giants. The old growth. The trees that were born around the same time as Jesus Christ was.2giants

They defy description. I could only walk among them in awe.  anothergiantwbp

How does one reconcile walking alongside a living thing that has been here for 2000 years? What secrets do they hold? They have watched animal life evolve around them, yet are unchanging. They have seen 2,000 winters and summers. They have lived through how many fires? Been struck by how many bolts of lightening?

Until men came along, and wiped out whole forests of the old growth. According to the Save the Redwoods League, in less than a century 95% of ancient redwoods had been logged at least once. According to them, “The places that survived were either too difficult to get to, beloved by some family who made sure they were not logged, or purchased by groups like Save the Redwoods League.”

Thankfully the logging companies have gotten on board with more responsible habits, and the State and Federal Governments have worked together to set aside land for an aggressive regrowth program that will remain undisturbed…for now.

The ancient Ents in Prairie Creek state park are part of that 5% and are magnificent.big trees

Here is the size of a tree that the park service left alongside the trail, with the year it was born (by counting the rings). It was born in 1850, and my daypack looks normal against it. 1850treefixed

So how old was this behemoth when it fell?fallengiant

No pack in this one…I was starting to get a bit tired to keep running back to take the picture and strapping back in every time. Can you picture it by now though?

Remember the old riddle; If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? I’m pretty sure this one did. A mighty big sound.

But even the fallen soldiers provide life. This fallen tree has ferns and other plants growing from it, along with another tree. fernsfromdeadtrunk

While this younger fatality is hosting mushrooms. shroomsThis is a more recently fallen ancient, and I can honestly say it was taller than the second story on my house. treerootI had stopped singing long ago. I was imagining how easy it would be to picture dinosaurs here. I was thinking how lucky I was to be in this place, and thanking God for the ability to do so. I was thinking about my dead phone and wondering how far I still had to go. I was thinking how dark the forest is because so little light is able to get through where no trees have fallen.

I was not however, thinking about coming upon a big old pile of steamy bear poo. I mean it had just pinched this poo log. Even a city girl could see that.

Oh crap. Literally.

I thought about the bear pepper spray I had left back in camp. Dammit…how come I can only think of 8 or 9 of the ten essentials when I pack my pack? I thought about the canned air horn I was going to get to throw in my pack as another deterrent in case the spray failed, and never did.

Crap, crap, crap.

It’s amazing how “un-tired” one can get in a matter of just a millisecond. With adrenaline pumping through my veins I took off at a good pace (never run…according to the internet) but honestly, if it wanted me it could have gotten me. I’m sure I just oozed fear in the air for miles. Not fear, terror.

I’m not sure what terror smells like to a bear, but I’m sure I was as aromatic as a cheap whore on a Saturday night to them. Er…I mean cheap meal.

I started alternately praying and singing as I made my thinly veiled panic of an exit. Luckily my hiking partner is Jesus and he saw fit to have me finished this trek unscathed. In fact, I never saw hide nor hair of the poo perpetrator.

But I suspect he/she knew all about me.

After I got home, I was able to identify the poo (or scat as it’s called by wild men) as being from a mountain lion.

Oh, I feel much better now.

Guess who took their bear spray (also can be used on mountain lions) on the next day’s trek down a mostly inaccessible beach? Yes, that would be me. But I forgot something even more important. Dammit with the 10 essentials.

I guess I’ll have to get the list tattooed on me somewhere.

Until next time dearest.

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Off the Beaten Path – Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

Dear Diary,

I am deliciously exhausted from my latest adventure into the unknown. Living in Southern California allows me access to just about anything a heart could desire…desert, mountains, beach, forest, you name it, we got it.

This time however, my sights were set on a much more northerly area of my state.

I loaded up the Suburban with everything one would need for spending a week in a magical place where the redwood giants meet the ocean. A place so special I hesitate to mention it for fear that by reference alone I would somehow diminish it’s enchantments.

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park and Gold Bluffs Beach.

Doesn’t sound so special you say? Nay nay mon frere, it is as special as they come.

I promised myself I would be back here when I discovered it on my Pacific Coast Highway adventure a couple of years ago. I vowed to return when I had more time to explore.

Having spent this summer’s first adventure in the Grand Canyon during a heat wave last month in June, I was ready for cooler, wetter weather.

So I hit the road with my daughter and her boyfriend for a long 13 hour drive to the very Northern part of California by a tiny town called Orick.

I have been to the larger tourist stops across California…and there are many. But these days there is a hunger in me to get off of the cement jungle highway. To bid room service good-bye (ok, that one hurts a little bit), and turn onto the lesser traveled dirt road.

If only the dirt road didn’t make everything so dirty. I’m still adjusting to leaving my city girl roots behind. It’s not easy, but I’m getting there.

Ahem…back to my story.

In the interest of time we took the inland freeway which provided us miles and miles of agricultural scenery. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, and finally the vineyards. We could chart our journey by what was being grown around us.

We cut over to the coast just before San Francisco. Ah San Francisco, how I love you but we had no time to stop. Even for those just passing through, San Francisco still holds reign over roadside wonders.

The Golden Gate Bridge.

No matter how many times I come to San Francisco, the bridge never, ever gets old.

Don’t mind that dirty windshield, it had seen a lot of miles by then (see what I mean about feeling the need to apologize for dirt? Such a city girl thing to do).

golden gateNot my photo…and a bird’s eye view.

california-golden-gate-bridge

But onward we went.

Onward as the trees got larger and more dense, and even during this particularly bad drought, the world around us became green. Something I’m not used to, even during non-drought times in So. Cali.

Then finally we came to the unassuming spot I remembered from my coastal trip…Elk Meadow. We turned onto Davison road and instead of parking we continued onto the dirt road that would lead us to Gold Bluffs Beach.

On the East Coast, we would have been through 5 states by now.

We had arrived. We had just set up camp when the sun bid us farewell over the Pacific Ocean.

GBBsunset

I thought I would not be able to sleep for the excitement of what lay ahead in the next 3 days, but the sound of the ocean surf puts me out like nothing else.

How could I forget that?

The next morning we headed out for Fern Canyon. The prehistoric-like setting for movies such as Jurassic Park 2, and Walking With Dinosaurs was filmed here because of it’s surreal properties as a narrow 50 ft. high canyon completely covered in ferns.

It is so unique that it is both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve.

The floor of the canyon is a stream bed which provides for a contrast of water, rocks, and fallen lumber against the impossible green of the canyon walls.

FernCanyon

As we followed the stream further into the canyon…I got the sense that the surroundings were not getting larger, but that we were getting smaller. We had fallen through Alice’s Wonderland hole, but instead of an animated world we were in a tunnel devoid of time. We could easily imagine the presence of dinosaurs among us.

Without the terror of being lunch of course! Whew.

My daughter and her BF as tiny versions of themselves against the Fern Canyon backdrop.

SandTFernCanyon

The further into the canyon we went, the larger everything else became. Fallen trees became so large that they provided a kind of super sized jungle gym. Getting past these wooden fortresses was quite a challenge and again I felt the sensation of being not only small, but very young when everything is large and navigating over, under, and through  is so much fun.

I want to thank Mr. Red Vest for providing a size example.

Redwoodjunglegym

This is the spot where the less daring or less ambulatory were thinned from the rest of the herd. We kept going, and even when it seemed we were at an impasse, if we could make it over the hurdles, the canyon kept us in suspense by continuing on.

And of course, boys will be boys. Because it’s there, it must be climbed.

Troy

And on we went…over and under, beside and behind.

FC

Finally we reached a place in the canyon that would have required a little more climbing equipment than we had (which was none).

So we doubled back to a place with some ancient (seemingly) stairs covered with moss that would transport us up outside of the canyon and toward the second half of the Fern Canyon loop trail.

And even though we were in a new growth forest, still we seemed as smaller versions of ourselves.

newgrowth

And so we parted ways. The youngsters back to the beach, and I onto a solo trek through the magical forest known as the Redwoods. Home of the silent giants.

Another story altogether (and yes, there is a bear scare in there).

Until next post dearest…

 

Point Sublime – Off the Beaten Path in the Grand Canyon (Part 2)

Dear Diary,

I think John Wesley Powell said it best; ” The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail “.

In short, words or photos cannot come close to describing the beauty of this place.

We left Toroweap and moved on to a much higher elevation for the second part of our vacation week. Point Sublime was our next “off the grid” destination.

sub·lime
adjective:
  1. of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.
Of course the question was…would it live up to it’s name? Could it live up to it’s name? In a place that is already beyond description…what could merit such a lofty title?
We drove to the Grand Canyon North Rim national park entrance with our trusty Jeep and off road trailer. It was a great relief to be out of the 106 degree heat of Toroweap. This part of the North Rim is green and much cooler.
We didn’t go far until we encountered these monoliths from our American Great Plains past.
buffalo
A large herd of these guys grazing next to the road. According to the park service, there is no room for them here either. They are the ancestors of Charles “Buffalo” Jones ill fated attempt at transplanting the Bison in 1906 to breed with his cattle, but that failed.
The bison herd now numbers 300, and are eating the native animals out of precious food sources and fouling the ground water with their waste. The NPS is trying to relocate them, but may have to resort to lethal removal.
There is no room for this giant animal to roam freely in their native habitat, so where do they go now? Montana? Wyoming?
We move on to resume our adventure into the unknown.
We turn off onto a dirt road where we were prepared for the 14 mile trek into the back country. The road wasn’t bad at all, in fact we were thinking you wouldn’t even need a high clearance vehicle, but there were a few spots that would have been tough without it. Mostly deep mud from the rain a few days earlier. I wouldn’t have chanced it in the rain without a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
The Jeep pulled our little off road trailer like a boss.
Jeep and trailer 2
I was so grateful for the forest compared to the barren desert landscape of Toroweap Overlook. What a contrast, but then the Grand Canyon is all about contrasts.
We finally reached a narrow part of the road with drop offs on either side, and I knew we were close. When we finally pulled into Point Sublime, we could not have anticipated the grandeur of this place. Surely it is aptly named.
And we had it all to ourselves.
me on edge
I cannot capture the depth, breadth, and beauty of the Grand Canyon any more than I can capture the wind, or a sigh, or a dream. But click on the photo for a tiny representation.
11221373_10204387776914878_3996678945438741957_o
This is Point Sublime.
Away from the tourists. Away from the grid. Away from water. Wait…that last one might prove problematic (luckily we brought 12 gallons for our 3 day stay).
I could hardly believe we had left the crowds behind…but we only saw another couple for one day during our entire stay (and became fast friends before they left).
How quickly my hubby becomes redneck when we step outside of the rat race. By day two…this is how he took in our surroundings.
GC redneck
But the energizer bunny finally relaxed. Finally exhaled. Finally let the Canyon breathe it’s peace into his soul.
The Grand Canyon is carven deep by the master hand; it is the gulf of silence, widened in the desert; it is all time inscribing the naked rock; it is the book of Earth.   Donald Culross Peattie
The Grand Canyon is a place on Earth that surely God made for himself. It is too big, too beautiful, too wild, too unforgiving, too timeless to be made for us. Yet…it seems to beckon us to look over the edge. To breathe deep the rarity. Once we look upon the Grand Canyon…we are forever changed.
The Grand Canyon is an ultimate bucket list item, and Point Sublime is the perfect place to become intimate with it. I have but to think of it and remember, but pictures don’t hurt either.
Evidently I will do anything for the perfect sunrise photo…just look at that ensemble.
me in pjs
Bucket lists are made up of places we will go, but once we get there, are made of moments we will remember.
For a moment, it wasn’t about the bills or the kids, the future or the past. It was just about us. In this place that God made. For us. For now. Forever.
hiking boots
So I leave you now Dear Diary with a quote from Edward Abbey – “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds”.
sunset
Go find your moments dearest.
Until next time…

Toroweap Overlook – Off the Beaten Path in the Grand Canyon (Part 1)

Dear Diary,

I know I have neglected you dearest diary but I have been very far off of the grid (so hard to do nowadays) and living la vida loca. Well, maybe a G rated vida loca. But let me tell you where I’ve been…

The Grand Canyon.

There is a reason it is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world. There is no photo that can do it justice. Not one.

Everyone without exception does the same thing when they first look over the rim and that is an involuntary gasp. It literally takes your breath away. Nothing in the world can make me feel simultaneously insignificant and esoteric quite like the Grandest of Canyons.

Go ahead and click on this and then click on it again, and still it falls far short.

Panoramic Grand Canyon 2

It leaves me breathless every time I lay eyes on this magnificent marvel, whether it has been years or a moment.

I have been to the crowded South Rim on a few occasions now. The hotels and handrails are there for convenience, but I wanted more.

I wanted to see it without having to share it with busloads of tourists, all trying to get the perfect shot of one of God’s most amazing creations (I’m pretty sure he must have created it for his pleasure, since there is nothing else quite like it).

So with the appropriate amount of research (months literally) and a well timed request for a Backcountry Permit from the NPS, we packed up our Jeep and newly renovated (circa 1940’s) military trailer for parts previously unknown.

Jeep and trailer 2

We were not disappointed.

The first half of the week we had slated to camp in the Grand Canyon National Park at a remote campground in the north rim area known as Tuweep/Toroweap Overlook area (I’m still confused as to why it is referred to as either name).

This trip is not for the impatient. After leaving the paved road (in Utah), we traveled down a very well maintained dirt road (it would be hair raising if it were during wet conditions) for 61 miles. Note the sunning lizard on the mileage sign.

Lizard Sign 2

We were warned about there not being any services, food, or water available. Duly noted. We were prepared.

Warning sign

I’m not gonna lie, that last couple miles are rough. When they say high clearance vehicle, they are not kidding.

We made ourselves at home (at an empty campground, which to a Southern Californian is mind boggling) and set off to see the real attraction…the Grand Canyon via Toroweap Overlook.

Our home sweet home is pictured below. You KNOW me diary, I am a big city girl…so this is a bit of a redneck culture shock for me. That’s probably why I sustained a teeny tiny head injury while attempting to be useful at setting up. I think I’ll just stick to carrying my purse from the car to the tent next time (my usual MO).

But I am embracing it. If you knew me, you wouldn’t know me right now.

homesweethome2It was what I like to say…H – O – Double TT.

Hot!

We knew it would be hot with little protection from the sun, but the. Grand Canyon is formidable when it comes to teaching one humility with aridity. And it just happened to be during record heat in Arizona this week.

Out of the 12 deaths per year at the canyon, only 1 or 2 are falls (sadly they are already at this number for 2015), many more are due to environmental issues (drowning and heat). Still, with 4.3 million visitors annually, the Grand Canyon is a very safe place to be.

I have a theory as to why.

This place is so overwhelmingly immense in every way, the mind is immediately and automatically on high alert to self preservation.

With my teeny tiny head injury (the scalp bleeds so much for such a little cut doesn’t it?), a hat was out.  No matter, with water packs on our backs, off we went to see what Toroweap Overlook had to offer.

I shall let the photo do the talking, even if it does a poor job of capturing the grandeur.

Toroweap Overlook 2

It’s just too dang high up (over 3,000 feet) to stand on the edge. The mighty Colorado River looks like a small stream from this height.

Never mind that unlady like pose…I felt I needed to be planted pretty steadily.

See those white caps on the river that look like a babbling stream? Those are what is known as Lava Falls Rapids, a level 10 (the highest) for difficulty. The only clue we had to their existence was the roar of the water…even this far away. Oh, and the internet research we’d done beforehand.

Here is an example of what it looks like on the water…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38fzPEq2W1U. I will add that the 4 rafts we watched go through the rapids (they looked like tiny toys) successfully navigated it, but they all stayed to one side unlike the raft in this video.

My photos are unenhanced, sadly I don’t have a reliable program on this laptop to edit them, yet it is testimony to how beautiful the canyon is. Even an unenhanced photo is magnificent.

What a different experience than being among the masses on the South Rim. Other than the occasional gust of wind and very distant roar of the water, this place was silent. No railings, no cars, no voices, no phones, no signs, no anything but the majesty of the canyon.

But it’s true we had to earn it. If it was easy, everybody would be here.

There is a growing necessity to unplug. It is the only time the soul can push forward of the mind and get the food it needs. Beauty, solitude, and the rehabilitating energy of natural and spiritual life.

I know I sound alarmingly like a tree hugger, but don’t judge ’til you try it.

It was 106 degrees, but it didn’t matter. The canyon kept calling me like a beautiful song I know I may never hear again. So I kept answering.

Torweap Overlook hiker 2The vista changes with every movement of light. The sun and shadow play on every crook, cranny, and crevice like an ever changing canvass, never being the same painting twice.

The next day we explored our surroundings early since we knew the heat would be upon us. We discovered another beautiful overlook off of the Saddle Horse Loop. Beautifully alluringly treacherous like a femme fatale, we made our way as close to the edge as we dared. My hubby gave me a choice on which side of the rock I would like to stand in order to not block the river view. He’s hilarious like that.

Saddle Loop Hike Overlook 2

Here’s a much better photo (not mine) of roughly the same spot…this madman must have had an extension pole.

not mine

My manic spouse actually unplugged enough to read a book. I know right?

That night I was awoken by my hubby’s nasal symphonies (remember, no electricity means no white noise), so I crawled out of our tent and sat in silence. As I raised my eyes to the sky, I was captivated with a visual feast that I have never seen anything like before in my life.

The purest night sky. No light pollution, no moon. Alas, my photo did not come out, so I am using one that most accurately portrays what I saw.

Night Sky North RimShooting stars were everywhere. NOW I know why it is called the milky way, something I can’t see at all in So Cali. It was so incredibly beautiful I almost cried with joy.

And gratitude.

We cut our stay short by one day only because we found ourselves huddling in the shadow of rocks for respite. The heat was oppressive and relentless, but the beauty of this place will stay with me forever.

Until next time dearest.

 

Shoal Bay East – A Dream Within a Dream

Dear Diary,

I’ve saved the best for last. Shoal Bay East. On an island full of beautiful beaches, this one rises above the rest. With it’s impossibly white powdery sand, warm aquamarine water that gently kisses the shore, an absence of footsteps but our own, and a shallow area of reef for snorkeling, this beach has it all.

Shoal Bay East

As I went through the images that we took there, I realize anew that photographs are the windows to which we can view our memories. A moment forever frozen in time. A tiny time machine that can transport us back to that place and be relived as often as we desire.

This is one of my happy places. This moment in time with my family on the most beautiful beach in the world. This window to a memory where I am always on vacation, my daughter is forever a child, and my husband wears a perpetual smile.

FAMILYMAN

Along the 2 mile beach, there was a place we stopped to eat. A local man was there resting his freshly broken arm. He was very friendly and I found myself in conversation with him immediately. He asked me about LA and seemed to relish in my description of life in Southern California.

I asked him how he broke his arm. He told me another local had broken it the night before. I was more than a little taken aback. I couldn’t help but ask him why someone would do that. He simply replied, “because he doesn’t like me”.

He went on to write down his name and address on a little index card he pulled out of his pocket. When he handed it to me he said, “Please think of me now and then when you are in your Southern California paradise”.

I realized then that this man was desperate to get off of this island. This place that I had saved so long to come to, this place that I was trying acutely to drink in every minute, to remember every sound and sight of.

One man’s paradise is another man’s hell. How many of these cards had he handed out?

It had gotten awkward.

We politely moved on, but the man still haunts me from time to time.

We spent the rest of the day walking, laughing, swimming, snorkeling. I couldn’t bear to leave it. But we had to, so I thought of something I could do to help me remember this place.

It was just a simple thing. I just wanted to take a little of this powdery sand with me to have a tangible reminder of paradise. If anyone ever doubted how perfect this sand was, I could whip out my little sample and let them ooh and ahhh as they ran the tiny specks of heaven through their own hand.

So I took out the only thing I had on me to gather sand in, an empty Pringles container. I filled it half full and took my prize with me back to our room.

I reluctantly packed our bags to leave. It seemed like just a memory already. The post vacation depression was already setting in and I hadn’t even left yet.  RendezvousBayview

Early the next morning we left our perfect beach that I had come to know as my own. I was a little mad that it didn’t care that I was leaving. It would go on being indescribably beautiful to someone else. Or to nobody else. It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t be here ever again, which struck me sullen.

At least I was bringing a tiny piece of it back with me in the Pringles can that was carefully packed in my luggage along with a couple of shells. Such a small token of what loomed large in my memory…and still does.

We retraced our travel back the way we came. We didn’t have to fly with chickens or an overweight plane this time though. Thank goodness.

We arrived in Puerto Rico where we had to claim our luggage and go through customs, which was on the far side of the airport. The airport in Puerto Rico makes me feel a little like a zoo animal. It is floor to ceiling glass on a single level, with everyone outside pressing their faces to the glass to get a look inside.

We dutifully picked up said luggage, made the long walk to customs and took our place in the queue to be inspected. I looked behind me (as everyone Mom does to make sure we hadn’t dropped anything) and to my absolute horror noticed on the dark floor a powdery white line all the way across the airport to my suitcase.

Oh. My. Gosh.

I pulled my suitcase forward to try and distance myself from it, but since it was coming from my suitcase, it just continued to follow me.

My face went red hot. I broke out into an immediate sweat as if I had just run a marathon.

I felt like a very bad drug mule that was clumsily trying to smuggle cocaine into the US.

I don’t do well in these kind of situations, I immediately go to worse case scenario.

Locked Up Abroad.

I knew I looked guilty. I couldn’t help it. I don’t normally smuggle white powdery sand into the US, so how was I to know how unreliable my Pringles vessel would be at transporting my stash?

Damn that Shoal Bay sand for being so impossibly fine and white!

I tried to get my husband’s attention without drawing any to myself, but he was focused on placing his luggage on the conveyor. It was too late. All I could do at this point was hope he would get a good lawyer so I could come home again.

It was my daughters turn to put her little SpongeBob rolling case on the conveyor and they waved her through.

Good they were through…hopefully they could behave as though they didn’t know me when the customs person nodded to the policia and they took me down.

I set my suitcase on the conveyor and braced myself. No matter how I set it, the sand just kept coming. All the saliva had left my mouth. My face was tomato red and I could feel my heart beating out of my chest as I handed over my passport.

I stared at my husband and daughter waiting for me, memorizing their faces.

The attendant hands me my passport and tells me to pick up my suitcase.

Just like that I am through customs.

Thank you God! Thank you, thank you God!

When we finally got home and I opened that suitcase, let me just say I have never seen such a mess in my life. It’s like I threw a few cups of flour in with my clothes, not quite sure if I was baking or traveling.

It took me a week, but I managed to salvage some of that sand with a paint brush. It now resides safely in a bottle in a shadow box along with other little baubles I picked up, and a photo of my daughter and I walking along the beach in Anguilla.

ShadowboxA window to a beautiful memory.

As for my smuggling career? Well over my friend, well over.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mead’s Bay and a Chocolat Day

Dear Diary,

I had chosen Anguilla for it’s idyllic beaches first and foremost, but not far behind was it’s rich and unique culture. How many Caribbean island nations can say they launched a revolution to be independent as recently as 1967? And won! They are still distantly associated with the U.K. as a territory, but enjoy much more autonomy than “Pre-Revolution”.

You gotta love that spunk in an island of only 6,000 people (in that time, the population has swelled to 13,000 modern day).

I had only spent a couple of days on Anguilla and I already felt a panic that time was going too quickly. When you work 51 weeks to have 1 week away…how can you not feel as though Father Time is a cruel taskmaster by it not being the other way around?

I had done my homework and booked a day tour on a Catamaran called “Chocolat”. We were picked up in a dinghy with about 6 other folks to sail and snorkel for a day. I had lived on a Catamaran for a week on Bimini when I went to swim with the dolphins (I never did get to actually swim with them, but we chased them around in the Catamaran and they chased us which was good enough), but this was a first for my hubby and daughter.

What a first it was.

Chocolat

Captain Rollins is very seasoned which was a delight as we sailed around to nearby Prickly Pear Cays where we snorkeled and enjoyed lunch. We then sailed to Sandy Island where we again took to the water.

My daughter and I with Captain Rollins (seated) preparing to snorkel. The gentleman in the blue shirt is another tourist (my hubby is behind the camera). Isn’t the clear turquoise water alluring?

Captain Rollins

Very interesting coral as shown below, but  I shall not bore you with the countless photos of fish I took.

Sandy Island Coral

Except for this guy might prove interesting.  A Barracuda, but we were not afraid of each other and he moved on (thankfully because they have a nasty bite). They are masters of camouflage, can you spot him?

Barracuda

We had to cut the day short because of a fast moving storm coming in and we didn’t want to end up like this guy. Just kidding, this ferry was picked up and dropped here by hurricane Luis that devastated an otherwise temperate island in 1995.

Beached ferry

We headed to another nearby beach on my list to see (Mead’s Bay) but the storm moved in and the surf picked up so we walked along the shore until we came to Dolphin Discovery.

The day decidedly went downhill from there.

My husband is aware of my adoration of dolphins and whales, and knew I was lost to him for an undetermined amount of time at that point.

I love pretty much any ocean mammal, but especially dolphins and whales. Dolphins are second only to humans for brain power (recent studies indicate Dolphins may actually use more of their brain than we do).

I grew up watching the wild dolphins in the ocean in Hawaii. We were fascinated with each other, from a distance. Which is how it should be.

I am always torn when I feel a rant swelling up and wanting to come out on my blog. I’m torn because I think I should let it, then I squelch it because negativity isn’t good for anybody.

But what if it were good for dolphins?

So here I am wandering around the rusted tank where the dolphins are held captive (because I can here in Anguilla) just staring at them in adoration, admiration, and raw pain. It kills me to see them treated like circus animals. In the wild, dolphins live up to 40 or 50 years old while in captivity their mortality rates are staggeringly low at 8.2 years. I can get really, really mad about it if I let myself.

One of the dolphins swims up and rolls over so it can see me. We stand like this for at least 30 minutes. I wish I could know what it was thinking. Does it know what I am feeling for it?

Dolphin

I decide to walk around to a different spot, and here it comes, following me and rolling so it can see me eye to eye again. At this point I am spilling tears. I can’t help it.

Dolpin2

People who enjoy swimming with dolphins, or dolphin-assisted therapy, often say that the dolphins themselves seem so happy. Sadly, but understandably, they are misunderstanding the situation. The apparent smile on the faces of dolphins is actually just a physicality, not an emotive response. It remains there as part of dolphin anatomy, no matter how sad, upset or ill they may be.

Does it just think I am a source of food? Apparently not, because when one of the trainers walked by, it still focused on me.

I felt so bad that it’s dorsal fin was torn from giving people rides in the water (this is a big tourist draw from the cruise ships at St. Maarten). There are 3 dolphins that give roughly 30,000 tourists entertainment a year at this facility. That is a lot of shows, and a lot of dragging large people through the water with a little dorsal fin.

After an hour I tore myself away. I would give anything to be in the water with them, but will not propagate dolphin captivity by giving them my money to do so. So I leave.

As an update to the Dolphin Discovery environment, it has been moved to open ocean water, but is kept by the ferry station and is very shallow. They are subject to 24/7 ferries and associated gas, oil, noise, and trash that accompany the busy pier.

I think it poignantly ironic the Republic of Anguilla that so deeply values their freedom, has a national flag with three dolphins that are meant to symbolize Friendship, Wisdom and Strength.

2000px-Flag_of_Anguilla_(1967-1969)_svg

I think it is only when we are standing at the throne of God will we truly grasp at what deplorable stewards we were with the wondrous resources he entrusted to us here on planet Earth.

Maybe then I can swim with the dolphins.

Until next time dearest.

 

 

 

 

The Best Little Ghost Town in Arizona – Chloride

Dear Diary,

There are two kinds of ghost towns, those whose occupants have long ago left the confines of their flesh behind, and those whose occupants are still warm and visible.

One thing that all ghost towns with living occupants have in common, an invisible sign that flashes “Approach with Caution”.

What makes someone give up all of the creature comforts that support a thriving community for one that is remote, desolate, and usually in a harsh and unforgiving environment, is also what makes them volatile and downright cranky, but also delightfully quirky and interesting.

And so the love/hate relationship is born between the ghost town inhabitant and the tourist he/she depends on to eke out a living. Whether it be donning a cowboy persona to fake a gunfight or sourcing the souvenirs made in China, the Ghosties (yep that’s what I call ‘em) depend on the dollar you and I bring to be entertained by that town’s history.

For some unknown reason…I am drawn to both kinds of ghost towns like a moth to the flame. I am not one that sees dead people (thank you for that God), but I can give those intrepid forefathers (and mothers) new life by learning of their rise and fall, and caring that they were there at all (I kind of rapped that last bit, did you notice?). As for the Ghosties…we tolerate each other.

With one exception.

Dave and Dory of Digger Dave’s in Chloride Arizona are the most welcoming and accommodating Ghosties there ever were or will be (and I have been around enough to be discriminating here). They and the town they represent are some of the most colorful and interesting you will find in an already colorful and interesting genre.

Dave and Dory are what make this ghost town stand out above all others.

DaveandDory

 

Digger Dave’s bar and diner are alone worth the drive. Just like any other saloon sitting in a 150 year old ghost town, its décor is wonderfully unique and kitsch.

As an added plus, entertainment is provided by locals (this one a snow bird) on weekends.

Digger Daves

My favorite is the women’s restroom though (notice the Donny Osmond album cover on the back of the door). Thank you Dory.

diggerdavesbathroom

Before I began my love affair with Chloride though, we were run out of town years earlier by a crusty old storekeeper when our daughter was still a little thing.

Let me elaborate (you knew I would).

What put this little town on our bucket list was not just its typical “Gold/Silver Rush of the American West” that a connoisseur of ghost towns comes to expect, but a more recent (relatively) oddity known as the “ Roy E. Purcell Chloride Murals”.

Since this was before the availability of the information highway known as the internet, we learned of the murals (more on the murals in a minute) on the thinly printed back of a hotel “things to do” brochure while staying at the Grand Canyon.

As if the Grand Canyon couldn’t keep you busy for basically the rest of your natural life.

So we kept this very close to the top of our bucket list and soon ventured out to discover what Chloride had to offer with very little expectation in 1998.

How wrong we were to expect little from Chloride.

We stopped in the general store (mostly souvenirs} to get our 5 year old niece and daughter post cards to mail from the oldest still operating post office in Arizona (Chloride in case you forgot where we were ‘cause I almost did).

The post office now resides in the old billiards hall building after the town fire at around the turn of the century.

postoffice

We have very timid and polite children so weren’t we surprised when we were run out of the store for apparently no reason? I swore I’d never go back to the town because of his bad mojo.

But I did about 17 years later, and boy am I glad I did because Dave and Dory more than make up for the crusty old man who by the way, is still there in the same general store.

Dave and Dory filled us in on why….he just doesn’t like kids no matter how well behaved they are. Now you see what I mean about some Ghosties? Volatile as heck and find no need to apologize for less than genteel behavior. You stand warned.

Built in 1860, Chloride is the oldest continually inhabited mining town in the state of Arizona. That’s a whole lot of Ghosties that have come and gone. Well maybe not gone.

At its height of silver chloride prosperity (hence the name) and many other precious minerals extracted from 75 mines between 1900 and 1920, this little town boasted a population of 5,000 (according to Wikipedia), and was the county seat. In 1921 the population dropped to 2,000 where it stayed until 1944 when most of the mines that were left closed. Today the population is roughly 150, with numbers swelling to 250 with the onset of “Snow Birds” in winter.

What’s unexpected in a ghost town that never dies is that some things are exactly as they were when abandoned. The Santa Fe train station was shut down in 1935, but its main building along with outbuildings are still intact with its doors appearing closed for just the night.

railstation1

railticketwindow

A rail car storage outbuilding. The rail ties are still visible where I am standing.

railcarstorage

Some rails are still intact after nearly 150 years.

railtracks

The desert may be harsh, but it preserves its history better than any other environment.

The jail is also intact with beds in the two cells, and in between them a sheriffs desk and chair with a wood burning stove. It is accessible to anyone, but enter at your own risk. The last time I was there this year, I noticed a used hypodermic syringe and needle littering the floor. Is the jail still being inhabited by those in chains of their own making? It would appear so.

jail

sheriffsoffice

jailcell

Now to the murals.

In 1966, Roy E. Purcell took a break from pursuing a Master’s degree in Fine Arts at Utah State University to labor as a miner in the Cerbat Mountains near Chloride, Arizona. While he was there, and with the support of local residents (hippies), he painted “The Journey,” a 2000-square-foot set of murals on some boulders about a mile and a half outside of town. His work, executed in the abstract Modernism tradition, led to early world-wide recognition for Purcell and helped launch him on a professional career that continues today.

These murals were very recently restored by Roy Purcell and volunteers to their original brilliant color. They are truly one of a kind and should not be missed, but be prepared to travel a primitive dirt road to get there (the way to the murals are well marked). I took these just this week under cloudy skies.

Dirt road to murals.

dirt road

Murals directions

muralstotal

murals1a

murals4

murals1 murals2

murals3 murals5

There are ancient Native American petroglyphs all around the murals, rather the murals were painted amidst them. I have to assume the hallucinogens of Timothy Leary’s time made one indiscriminant of historical sites. You post baby boomers will have to Google him.

Petroglyphs and murals

These petroglyphs are across from the murals.

Petroglyphs alone

The murals offer an excellent view of the town of Chloride below.

muralsandchloride

The town still plays host to artistic Ghosties that a short walk around the small town makes one feel as though they have been treated to an outdoor art festival, but without Sedona’s superciliousness.

There is a fine line between kitsch and art, but I love them both for they are Americana. This is just a tiny example of what Chloride offers with regard to individual expression of junk art. Most of it found in the desert in and around town.

kitsch1

kitsch2

For sale by owner…

houseforsale

The Chloride Historical Society has built a “mock” old western town tourist area with many of the original local furnishings. And the best part…not crowded like Oatman! We had the place to ourselves this day.

touristtown

A land/money/mine register in one of the buildings (housing a museum) is original and priceless to someone like me. It is by far the best and most accessible of any re-creation of settler life I have ever seen.

historicalmuseum

 

And by accessible, I mean you can play the antique piano in the Dead Ass Saloon and belly up to the bar. The whiskey bottles are empty though I’m afraid.

Here’s a couple of dead asses now. Just kidding, that’s my hubby and a friend.

deadasssaloon

piano

There are many original homes that are unique to rustic America. How many people can boast a vintage gas station AND railroad tracks running under her porch and in her front yard? I’ve seen the resident sitting and reading in this chair. I reckon it doesn’t get any better than that.

Filling Station House

One of the oldest buildings in the town was built by an ex Naval officer who left the sea because of recurring nightmares of drowning. The windows are still visible resembling port holes. His name has been lost to time, but not his sad end. He drowned in either his mine after slipping and falling or in a flash flood. The actual cause of drowning is also lost to time, but the irony is not.

His house was then used as a brothel known as the “House of Soiled Doves”. Residents say there is still an eeriness about it that keeps most away. Maybe it was the grey skies, but I felt uneasy when I took these photos.

rockhouse

rockhouse2

Once again I am stricken by how especially harsh life must have been for women back then. Long skirts in the summer heat of the desert? No running water or fans for hot homes (especially while cooking on wood burning stoves)? While having to worry about Indian invasions? I shall never complain again. Or at least for the rest of the day.

Pioneer women must have been deeply in love or indebted to follow their men to this place.

But who am I to talk? I keep coming back.

As if all of this is not enough…there are the abandoned mines that still have their chutes full of rock, as if the miners are only away for lunch. Maybe they are.

Chloride Mine

There is also a 40 acre cemetery with some very old graves. One is of an Indian Chief who recently got a large head stone carved in his likeness.

But you already know I don’t take photos of graveyards so you will have to go see that for yourself.

If you go, stop by and say hi to Dave and Dory at Digger Dave’s. Tell ‘em Chris sent you.

Until next time Dear Diary.

What Makes Something Real?

IMG_1028[1]

Dear Dairy,

You know I don’t normally start my posts with a photo. I feel like photos are there to help illustrate a story.

But not today.

The photo IS the story. It’s the pile of crap I have begun to amass for The Next Big Thing. As the pile gets bigger, so does the feeling that I am a fraud.

So I keep asking myself, is The Next Big Thing real? The answer is always yes.

Unfortunately, I find I am surrounded by skeptics. Oh they don’t say much, except when I bought a ridiculously large knife with all kinds of survival gear tucked into the handle, and my Eagle Scout of a husband scoffed and said I had fallen for a gimmick.

I defended my choice while unloading the fishing hook, matches, compass, and showing him how I would defend myself against a bear. What I got was an impatient and curt reply, “If a bear gets that close to you, you would already be dead”.

I was afraid of that.

And this will be why the dreaded bear canister will be the last thing I buy to complete my backpacking ensemble. Because that means if it is really real, I will have to face my worst fear…bears.

And that’s also why I now know that this 57 year old (just by a couple of weeks mind you) city girl whose only real survival skill is finding parking in LA, will be backpacking the Lost Coast of California alone. The look on the Eagle Scout’s face said it all, he is beyond humoring me on this trip.

This is not new.  But guess what is new…nobody’s skepticism makes this bucket list item less real for me, in fact it hardens my resolve.

But let me tell you why.

This is the first time I have dared ever make a decision for just me. When I wasn’t running away or to something, when I wasn’t traumatized into or out of my comfort zone.

I am doing it because I want to…but somewhere else is the unrelenting desire to do it because I have to. Because I can’t back down. Not to the skeptics, but most of all…not to myself.

Not break the promise that I made to myself every time I was in the Grand Canyon, or Lake Powell, or Kings Canyon or Sequoia National Park or Zion or Bryce, or any other place in nature…that I would be back when I didn’t have to rush home to the cement jungle to be at work Monday morning.

Rush home because I couldn’t ever take off more than a week. It was too grueling trying to get caught back up on emails, meetings, payroll, budgets, deadlines, etc.

But I don’t have those constraints now. For the first time in my life, my time is my own.

So are my decisions.

My decisions for the last 57 years were made with the best interest of my parents, kid(s), husband(s), sister, nieces, and whoever else was most dominant in my life at the time. Unfortunately, the last person on my list of important people to consider was me.

Until now.

So the pile in the room we loosely call the office (loosely because nothing really productive happens there remember) keeps growing.

I have to start my training from ground zero again. The hip injury from my overzealous conquering of the Ice House Trail healed rather quickly, compared to my injury being an excuse to throw myself into the holidays and making it perfect for family and friends.

There I said it. I know what my true weaknesses are

But the holidays are past, and my overdeveloped sense of responsibility to be all things to all people is temporarily sated.

So bring it skeptics…this $&*! is real because I said so.

Until next time dear diary.

Route 66 – Kingman to Seligman, Arizona

Dear Diary,

I’m not sure what the big attraction is for me concerning Route 66. I think what attracts me is the history, but what keeps me coming back are the surprises it holds.

My story starts in Kingman Arizona, but I will have to do a rewind on this city as it is so full of both the history and the mystery it is a post unto itself.

Our adventure today takes us right outside of Kingman on old Route 66 heading east toward Seligman, and we don’t have to wait long for the surprise. What’s that you say? A giant green head that looks like it belongs on Easter Island, except it’s in the desert? Well of course it is, and even has a name…Giganticus Headicus.

Giganticus Headicus

But why? Because this is Route 66. Where terms like “quirky and kitsch” describe the normal here. Where the new meets the old and becomes a delicious melting pot of unique. That’s why.

Specifically with regard to Giganticus Headicus and why…the artist was asked just that and his reply was “because the place looked like it needed something like this”. The Frankenstein’s real name is Gregg Arnold, and after buying the old Kozy Court Trailer Park and relocating from New Jersey, he created his 14′ high masterpiece in 2004 out of wood, metal and stucco. He has been remodeling the building that used to house a restaurant and store into a gift shop.

Since there hasn’t been much that has changed in the last 10 years all I have to say is…Gregg knows how to pace himself!

Our next stop is Valentine Arizona, population 36 on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Truxton Canyon was renamed Valentine after Robert G. Valentine, Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1908 to 1910. There is little more than a ghost town here now, and the large decaying building along Route 66 is what’s left of Truxton Canyon Indian School which was built to assimilate the native children into Caucasian culture (with heavy emphasis on religion). It served as a day school for the Hualapai and a boarding school for the Apache, Havasupai, Hopi, Mohave, Navajo and Papago. It closed in 1938. It’s this kind of history I am not sorry is rotting into oblivion.

Valentine SchoolValentine School 2Valentine is full of empty buildings. The stone, cement, and wooden cadavers are the only remains after Route 66 was abandoned when the interstate opened in 1978. It was a quick death along this 90 mile stretch between Seligman and Kingman.

A building you will not find here is the famous Valentine Post Office. After the town died, the post office was kept alive by the thousands of Valentine’s Day cards that would arrive here for the famous heart shape Valentine stamp every year around February 14th.

That tradition came to a violent and bloody end on August 15, 1990 when Jacqueline Ann Grigg was working alone and Bryan Allen Buckingham of Murfreesboro, Tenn (19 yrs. old) walked in and shot her to death for a little bit of cash and 20 blank money orders. He drove away in her car. Mr. Buckingham turned himself in to authorities in Laguna Beach 2 days later.

Jacqueline Grigg’s husband who owned the building that had housed the post office she operated for a dozen years was grief strickened.  He bulldozed the building and left town never to return. The post office used to stand next to this abandoned building.

Valentine Post Office Site

The famous valentine postmark was retired to the Kingman post office where workers will still use the cancellation for those who know to ask for it. Since there is no date on the heart shaped stamp, the Kingman stamp will also be on it.

Valentine POST mARKThe postmistress of the Kingman post office will happily place the Valentine stamp on your letter if you mail the letter with a stamp, of course, to her in an envelope:

United States Post Office
Attention: Postmaster Valentine Stamp
1901 Johnson Avenue
Kingman, AZ 86401

The town of Valentine is a broken heart of the Mohave these days.

We head 8 miles down the road to Peach Spriongs, Arizona which is the tribal headquarters for the Hualapai Reservation.

In the early 1880s, the railroad established a water station on these lands and called it Peach Springs, for the many peach trees found around the spring that fed their steam engines. Soon the small settlement reportedly had ten saloons but no churches or schools. Later it would also boast a roundhouse, several shops, a stagecoach line, and a Fred Harvey Restaurant. Nothing is left of note to this history is evident on Route 66 now.

Before we arrive at the Hualapai Lodge however, there is the crumbling historic Osterman Shell Station which was most recently put on the National Register of Historic Places. For a closer look, give these a click.

Shell StationShell Station 2Built in 1932 by Oscar or John Ostermann (depending on who you talk to) to accommodate the increasing number of Oklahomans traveling this road to California because of the “dust bowl” conditions in the plains during the depression (migration peaked in 1937 – 1938).  I can’t help but feel the terrible desperation folks must have had to pack up their meager belongings on 4 wheels and head to parts unknown because they had lost their farms or were dependent on the farms for their living.  Those less fortunate lost their lives. I lost an infant aunt and uncle to these dust storms in Oklahoma, my Grandparents chose to stick it out.  I ended up in California for different and more modern reasons (my parents divorce).

Dust Bowl

Woody Guthrie was the voice of that time through music and wrote such songs as “Highway 66 Blues”, “Talkin’ Dust Bowl Blues”, and “Oklahoma Hills”, with such lyrics as;

                    Rain quit and the wind got high,
                    And the black ol’ dust storm filled the sky.
                    And I swapped my farm for a Ford machine,
                    And I poured it full of this gasoline – 
                    And I started, rockin’ an’ a-rollin’,
                    Over the mountains, out towards the old Peach Bowl.

How many desperate Okies and Arkies stopped by this station in hopes of replacing a flat tire or broken spring with the little bit of money they had left?

dust_truck

The Grapes of Wrath immortalized the plight of these people who were met in California with prejudice, poverty, and hopelessness. They had no money to go home and made due in migrant tent cities created to accommodate the arriving hoards who increased California’s population by 20% in that era.

dorothea-lang-migrant-mother-tent

Here is a photo of the Osterman Shell Station during the 1950’s and much happier times;

Shell Station 3
The Hualapai Tribe (the current owners) was given a grant to restore it in recent years. I have to call out that they also know how to pace themselves. It hasn’t been touched. Things don’t happen in a hurry in these parts that’s for sure.

The Hualapai Lodge is lovely and modern. It is the primary starting point for travelers looking to explore the raw Grand Canyon West landscape via white water rafting, off-road touring, hiking, fishing, hunting and more. The Hualapai Lodge is the gateway to the breathtaking drive on the only road leading to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Please note that a permit from the Hualapai is needed to drive on the road into the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Hualapai Lodge

I shall return since seeing Havasu Falls (located in Grand Canyon West on the Reservation) is on my bucket list. Can you blame me?

Havasu Falls

On down the road just a few miles is a little place we found long ago when returning from the Grand Canyon. It’s called the Grand Canyon Caverns and has changed a bit since we were there last. Well sort of.

These caverns are not in the Grand Canyon but air comes into the caverns from the Grand Canyon through 60 miles of limestone caves, thus the name Grand Canyon Caverns. The temperature is a constant 56 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is only 2%. Because of this, there is no living thing, either animal or vegetable in the caverns. Not even insects. Germs are virtually non existent. Bacteria brought in by humans does not survive because there is no food chain.

This is a fascinating place and a must see, I am so glad we did. The Grand Canyon Cavern system is the largest dry cavern system in the United States and possibly in the world.

Funny story from our tour about 10 years ago. We arrived and were the only car in the parking lot, and after entering the gift shop and check-in desk for the Caverns tour we decided we wanted to see it. We paid for the next tour which was set  in about 30 minutes and set about browsing the shop. Nobody else ever came in.

When the time came for our tour we moved back over by the check-in desk so we would be ready to embark. The attendant (about 3 ft away from us) that had taken our money and given us our tickets got on the PA system and announced to the empty store that the tour was about to begin and would all ticket holders please assemble and form a line.

We still laugh about that. Gotta love somebody who takes their job serious eh?

During the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Government deployed enough water and food rations to the Caverns to support up to 2,000 people for up to 2 weeks. These supplies remain today and can be seen by all visitors who tour the caverns. Because of the constant cool temperature and lack of humidity, these supplies are still as good as the day they were put here 50 years ago.

Military Supplies

Another testament to it’s ability to freeze it’s contents in time is the discovery of the remains of a giant ground sloth. This giant and extinct ground sloth lived during the Age of Mammals when the woolly mammoth and saber tooth cat lived more than 11,000 years ago. The study of the remains indicate it stood over 15 feet (4.6 m) tall and weighed near 2,000 pounds.

The claw marks it made trying to get back out of the hole it fell into are still perfectly preserved 11,000 years later.

Giant sloth marks

The tour is well worth the fee and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but this time I was more amazed by the transformation the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn had taken since our last trip out here a decade earlier.

Clearly they were trying to capitalize in the Disney movie “Cars” and their similarity (historically anyway) to the demise of the Route 66 of old. I had to get a closer look.

The dinosaur was there before. Route 66 kitsch remember?

dinosaur

A life sized representation of the characters from the “Cars” movie is new though…

Radiator Springs

Tater

We had never been inside so how could I not check it out after this very blatant leech on Route 66 fame? Gosh how I love it.

Switchboard

The Grand Canyon Caverns Inn is lost in time. An old switchboard sits at the check-in desk.

 

Cafe

 

 

 

 

The café was closed (evidently February is not considered tourist season, though I would beg to differ since the summer is too HOT for us boomers). But like as with most places along Route 66 we were free to roam the sites as we wished.

The back patio was not updated to attract customers off of the road and I would have to guess 50’s or 60’s here. My hubby is a serious backyard BBQ guy so he had to inspect the grill accomodations while I sat and drank a soda from the gift shop. It was flat. Probably a couple of years old. I drank it anyway.

PatioWe bid our farewell to Grand Canyon Caverns and climbed onto the bike for the ride into Seligman. I had never been there so was looking forward to the visit. The road was empty as we made our way. I’m good with it.

bike

We pulled into Seligman and into the first gas station to fill our tank before finding a place for lunch. We sat behind a Shelby Mustang and a new Camaro SS rented by two young friends to travel Route 66 and then on to Vegas. One was from Ireland and the other from Scotland. I pointed them to my favorite Ghost Town along the way (the topic of a future post). They were satisfying their own bucket lists by living the Route 66 dream. I discovered later that they had indeed visited my friends in Chloride.

Seligman is a wild little town of 456 people! Seligman founded in 1895 and the birthplace of Historic Route 66, is a small, unincorporated town named after a banker of the Santa Fe Railroad. 1987, the State of Arizona dedicated old U.S. Route 66 from Seligman to Kingman as Historic Route 66, due to the efforts of the Seligman Chamber of Commerce. The dedication will assure the preservation of the longest remaining stretch of old Route 66 left in the United States.

We stopped to walk around this iconic town as there was so much to see it almost had me on a sensory overload. The old Territorial Jail from 1860 is on display with a sign that reads;

1860 Arizona Territorial JailAt one time held such notorious outlaws as Seligman Slim, Three Finger Jack, Jim Younger, and many, many more.

In 1866, four Navajo Indians made a successful escape by tunneling from this small cell to the basement of the O.K. Saloon. Four days later they were recaptured after a blazing gun “battle” with Marshall Carl “Curly” Bane.

This is my very own Wyatt Earp admiring the accommodations from afar.

Jail

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We parked our pretty blue steed alongside others (who ended up being from Canada, they store their bikes in Vegas and fly down here whenever they can to ride Route 66 and enjoy the weather, they were on their way to the Grand Canyon this day and then on into the Texas panhandle) at the Roadkill Café 66 and went inside to enjoy the fare and wet our whistle for the ride back.

Roadkill cafe

I certainly hoped these guys weren’t on the menu. Creepy.

Roadkill cafe2

Across the street at the Rusty Bolt and Thunderbird Indian Store is a big surprise and possibly my all time favorite Route 66 display. Honestly…does it get any better than this?

rustybolt2 Rustybolt And with that I leave you dear diary, I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it. Until next time.

 

 

 

Route 66 – Topock to Kingman, Arizona

Dear Diary,

Route 66.

History, adventure, kitsch, mystery, are but a few of the words that come to mind when I think of Route 66, and I have discovered much of all of these along the Mother Road.

Topock to Kingman Arizona is a stretch of old Route 66 I have been over often, so I have learned many of it’s secrets (but many more are out there waiting) and have many an adventure to share with you. We first traveled this road when our children were small with our Chevy family van, then with our Jeep, and now with our Harley, but the only thing you really need to travel here is patience.

And water, lots of water.

Topock is where Route 66 begins in Arizona, and this stretch of the Mother Road is not for everyone. It is one of the most inhospitable of landscapes along the historic highway…with no water (ok, there is SOME water but it’s all in bottles in very few stores), very little gas, and a whole lot of very hot desert.

But don’t let that fool you. There is much to see here if you know where to look.

There is a new place of interest in Topock, known as Topock 66 where we often stop to wet our whistle, enjoy the views of the Marina and bridge to California, and of course the mighty Colorado River.

This is my husband enjoying the unique seating. He can be a butt sometimes, I’m not gonna lie.

Butt The men’s restroom is also a place of interest and no…I didn’t go in. I suppose you could call this lip service or urinals with benefits? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I warned you, Route 66 has it’s share of kitsch.

Lip Service

But enough of the new…let’s move on.

There are a few small fishing lakes in the marshes up the road from Topock 66. We have taken the nearby side road to these a couple of times, but that is not a Route 66 story now is it?

Route 66 is desolate after going through Topock (population 1,790) for quite a few miles and I must warn you to take water if you plan on traveling this route, despite it’s aridity it is uniquely beautiful.

Let’s just say there is no traffic. In fact we can say that we were alone, completely alone when I took this photo from the Harley. I’m good with it. After California traffic…I’m real good with it!

I’m used to the hot and harsh landscape, but a friend from Novia Scotia came down to visit once and described it as looking like the surface of the moon. I suppose he is right, but I would be frightened in Nova Scotia I think, what with all those trees and large hidden animals…and the COLD (remember that is my kryptonite). I think I’ll stick with the surface of the moon.

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We are traveling northeast here, toward Oatman, Arizona which is in fact our next stop.

Much is written about this ghost town, so a simple google search will fill you in on it’s resident burros left over from the miner’s days. They are wild, but come into town to beg for food during the day when hoards of tourists are present. They can get pretty cranky if you pet them but don’t feed them, and most recently I had one sneak up behind me and steal the bag of feed out of my hand.

They are not dumb asses.

I’m not going to say it, I’m not going to say it, I’m not going to say it….here is a couple of asses….dang I said it. I said it, but you know I don’t mean it, right honey bunch (this in case he ever finds this blog)?

Burro

Did you ever hear the legend on how burros got the crosses on their backs? No? Jesus rode on the back of a burro into the city of Jerusalem (to fulfill scripture) knowing he would be crucified, and as a remembrance…the burro has forever after carried the cross on their backs. Cool eh?

The town is named after the Oatman family who as a splinter off of the Mormon church were heading west (known as Brewsterites) in to find their own heaven on Earth, but in 1851 were massacred by Yavapai Indians about 25 miles north west of what is Gila Bend in South Arizona. Of the 7 children, only Olive (14) and Mary Ann (7) survived (an older brother was beaten and left for dead, but survived also) and taken captive by the Indians.

What happens to Olive during that time is debated, but what is not in dispute is that she was eventually bought by the Mohave Indians a year later, where the two girls were treated well and blue tattooed like other tribespeople who were coming of age. She was completely acclimated to the Mohave life 5 years later when her release was demanded by Fort Yuma (who had learned of her existence). Her sister Mary Ann had died of starvation along with many of the Mohave tribe due to a harsh drought during their time in captivity.

Olive Oatman

The Mohave (and Olive it is said) initially resisted but after being offered gifts and threatened with retaliation, Olive was released and repatriated. There is no record of Olive living in or near this current day town, but her autobiography published in 1857 sensationalized her story and made her nationally known. This is most likely the reason the town was named after the Oatmans.

Olive was reunited with her grieving brother, married a white man, and went on to lead a long and prosperous middle class life with her husband in Texas until her death in 1909, which coincidentally was when the town was renamed from it’s original Vivian.

This is us in front of what used to be the pharmacy and professional offices in Oatman’s heyday (where 25 million dollars in precious metals were extracted). And yes…those ridiculous smiles are on our faces pretty much the whole time we are riding the motorcycle. Notice the handmade Route 66 sign behind us, kitsch I tell ya, you gotta love it.

Oatman PharmacyWe continue northeast toward an old ghost town just outside of Oatman that is much less known (and even less of it left) than the aforementioned.

Just north and west of Oatman is a dirt road that we travel often to get to our second house in Arizona. It is full of old abandoned mines, and it is recommended that you pay close attention when you go off road out there since most of them are vertical holes in the ground. After awhile, they are easy to spot when you know what tailings look like. Tailings are what is left of processed rock after the miners have extracted their gold or silver.

Here is an example of tailings from a random photo that we took while exploring with friends in our OHV’s last New Year. The obvious mine tailings are circled in red, already you can see 3 just in this photo. Like I said, lots and lots of old mines out there, and we have explored many of them but that is a story for another time…

Mines

One other tidbit about burros in this desert before we move on to the Gold Road Mine Ghost town ruins…sometimes those furry hooved cuties find you.

My hubby and I were out shooting (He was shooting, I was reading, looking for mines, looking for rocks, taking photos, or any other amusement I indulge when he shoots) and out of nowhere here come two adolescent male burros into our “encampment” which by the way is about 70 miles northwest from Oatman in the middle of nowhere desert.

They decide they would help themselves to our ice chest and began merrily slurping up the melted water, and then the ice. Can you blame them? It’s hot and dry. I poured out all of our bottled Aquafina for them to drink, which they promptly tried to edge each other out for. The shooting didn’t bother them at all.

Aquafina? There’ll be no living with them now.

Burros and Aquafina

They have a tough life out here, especially like these that have been kicked out of their herd by an adult male (because they are competition now). I took a photo of how scarred up the back of their legs are from the coyotes trying to bring them down, but I can’t find it now.

I hate it when I do that.

Ahem, back to Route 66 and the Gold Road Ghost Town Ruins that 99.99% of people drive right on by. I took these photos in 2007 (which is just yesterday to me) before the brute squad threw me off of the mountain…but let me explain.

Like an honest citizen, I respectfully pulled into the Gold Road Mine Headquarters (back then they were offering tours of the mine for tourists because it was more expensive to mine than the gold was worth, and which we had taken a couple of years before) and asked for permission to take photos of the old GR ghost town which is hardly visible, and the gentleman behind the counter gave me permission.

Easy peasy.

My hubby drove me up the road about a mile and a half and dropped me off so I could hike down (not far for the first of the ruins, about 100 feet down the steep hill to more of them) and he and our daughter went back into Oatman for some ice-cream. They would pick me up in about 30 minutes.

These are ruins right by the road where I have taken the liberty of circling the remains of buildings and the Route 66 sign on the Mother Road.

Gold Road Ruins

 I hiked down, taking photos as I went and in my usual awe of the history of such a rugged place. I always feel extra sorry for the women, can you imagine having to wear long skirts or give birth in 110 degrees Fahrenheit with no water, much less air conditioning? I can’t hardly stand it with shorts and a tank.

Here I am surrounded by ruins, can you spot the large pile of tailings on a hill behind what is left of a building?

GR2

 As I stood there in the footsteps of our intrepid forefathers having these thoughts, I see a group of about 7 men climbing up the mountain with intent. 7 huge men. A brute squad. All 14 eyes have a bead on me, and I have no doubt that I am their destination.

This photo shows the headquarters buildings down the mountain, a car on Route 66 to the left, ruins in the foreground, and incredible vista that one enjoys all along this stretch of highway. The brute squad had not yet come into my view when I took this…

GRValley

Really? I got permission.

I consider my options. Oops, I have none. My ride is in Oatman.

So I calmly stand there as if I am waiting for a prescheduled meeting, all calm and unafraid like. That was on the outside anyway. I was really, really scared. They could throw me down any number of mine shafts and nobody would see or hear from me again. For example the huge mine that is circled in this photo in red. I have also very clumsily shown in blue where the road runs here behind what remains of what used to be a very nice place.

GR3

Here is a close up of the building…

closeup

As I see the brute squad coming closer to me I start taking photos like I am a professional from National Geographic (I need very specific direction if I am going to act), and they are invisible to me.

I was very careful not to point the camera at them, I suspected that might cause me to lose my beloved Canon, if not my beloved life.

Here those photos are…notice the tailings in this one also…

GR4

GR5

GR6

…and then the brute squad is upon me. So much bigger up close than I even thought they would be. Geeeez…all this for lil ole me? This day suddenly turned VALUE ADDED quickly didn’t it?

I explain that I got permission to photograph the ruins from the man at the headquarters building. They asked me his name.

Really? I’m supposed to know his name? Dang it, I didn’t ask.

So I described what he was wearing. That seemed to appease them somewhat and they proceeded to escort me back to the road. Like bouncers. 7 of them. I explain to them I don’t have a ride until my husband and daughter come to get me, all the while I am looking at that mine shaft just across the street.

I was very respectful as I took a picture of it. Just in case my camera was entered into crime scene evidence, they would know where to look for my body.

GRmine

They actually made me stand ON THE VERY NARROW ROAD while they stood back and watched. Like I was in time out and playing chicken all rolled up into one terrifying game. And they were cheaters.

I have never been so happy in my life to see the Jeep roll up with my little family in it. My husband looked at them a bit quizzically, but I jumped in like a stuntman and told him to hit the gas, which he obligingly did.

He laughed when I told him what had happened. I still don’t know if it was with me or at me.

Back to the Gold Road Ghost Town Ruins…

Gold mining began in earnest here in 1900 and by 1902 when the post office was established, there was a town with 400 residents. By 1931 the gold had run out, but the town held on until 1942 when the post office was closed and the town was razed to save taxes. That explains why there is almost nothing left but memories. This is a photo of Route 66 running through Gold Road in 1940.

GoldRoadMine-66-1940

The gold must have not entirely dried up because a firm bought it and has been mining it since 2007 (probably why they were so persnickety when I took these photos as if I was a gold spy).

I can tell you the entire landscape has changed since they started there big time mining. I’m not sure if the ruins are still there. I’ll have to check the next time we go by, but the rumor is the security is so tight now that people don’t dare stop or an ATV will be on top of you.

Surely not me, the brute squad and I are friends now.

As we near the Summit, it’s hard to not want to stop and take photos every other minute. You can see California, Arizona, and Nevada from the Black Mountains.

Sitgreaves Vista

We move on to Sitgreaves Pass, which is the peak of this mountain and we will begin our long descent into the Sacramento Valley that will take us to Kingman. I took this from the back of the bike so I shot a little more of the road than I should have.

Sitgreaves Pass

There is an old graveyard here at the Pass, but I am not going to reveal it’s location. What with my new found respect for ghosts and all from my last road trip, I would rather just leave them in peace.

Just after the summit, there is a curiosity that is easily missed.

Strange stone steps up seemingly to nowhere near mile marker 30. Climb up the steps and you will find a natural seep in a concrete bowl with goldfish in it. That’s right…goldfish. They very intelligently dive when there is any kind of shadow pass over them so patience is key. It’s called Shaffer’s Fish Bowl, who stocked it is anybody’s guess. Shaffer perhaps?

Shaffers Fish Bowl

Here one is now…just patience that’s all it takes…

Shaffers Fish Bowl2

But the vista here is the real story. Just us, the Jeep, and a million dollar view. Does it get any better than this? On our motorcycle the turns are quite exciting. In the early days of Route 66, drivers would pay locals to get their cars over the pass. Can you see what looks like a dirt road to the far left by the beige sandstone? That was the original trail pioneers took through the pass. Hard to believe it is still there, but parched as this place is, things are preserved for an eternity (as long as flash flooding doesn’t disrupt the landscape too much).

Route 66 Vista

Just one more little curiosity before we hit the sandy flats that will take us to Kingman.

Cool Springs was an important stop along this road when it was built in 1926. It provided much needed gas and refreshments along this most beautiful but inhospitable place.

shdw5x3cs1926

As Route 66 prospered, so did Cool Springs. It served as a spot to rest overheated cars and their equally overheated passengers. The Cool Springs Gas Station added cabins and a chicken dinner café for travelers. This is what it looked like in 1942.

Cool Springs2

In the 1950’s Route 66 bypassed this treacherous pass and moved to a straighter path through Yucca, Arizona and Cool Springs died a slow death. Cool Springs was destroyed by fire in the mid-sixties and nothing remained but the old stone pillars.

Cool Springs -2001

Cool Springs

In 2001 it was bought and restoration begun by Ned Leuchtner and completed in 2004, so for the first time in 40 years it is operational again. Ned was careful to replicate the Cool Springs of yore. We always stop and have an ice-cream or soda and peruse the 1950’s and 1960’s trinkets inside. Cool Springs is very cool.

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Down to Kingman we go. The Sacramento Valley is low and is not the place to be during heavy rains, but since it rarely rains here it’s a safe bet any time of year to get your adventure on!

Next time Kingman to Seligman…a very kitschy fun trip down memory lane.

Until then Dear Diary…