Cochise/Chiricahua

Where: Winter break!  Current stop: Southeast Arizona

It was barely light enough to see, and the dawn was still another 45 minutes away.  Still, the mountains around me were starting to glow with the promise of the rising sun.  The night shift was ending, with a pair of owls answering each other’s calls up and down the valley, and the day shift was coming on, with lots of canyon wrens starting their octave-wide songs.  Gradually, the rocks started to show red, then pink, and suddenly, it was morning, with a bright blue sky.  It’s scenes like this that make me love the Southeast corner of Arizona.

We’re revisiting a favorite boondock from a couple years ago, the Cochise Stronghold in the Coronado National Forest.  There is a Forest Service campground at the end of the road, but it’s really only suitable for tents and van-sized motorhomes.  No problem for us, because we prefer the free, dispersed camping at the mouth of the canyon, where’s there’s more room to spread out, and more sun for our solar panels.  We love walking the dirt road that runs along the valley floor, and the rough jeep trails that branch off into the side canyons.  In addition to the formal hiking trails into the mountains, there’s also all kinds of use trails that lead to the popular climbing areas.  This is a place where we can happily stay for a week and not need to get into the car–all kinds of beauty are right here!

The canyon has a handful of private residences.  How would you like to live here?

However, we chose this spot in order to visit a place that’s been on my bucket list since forever: Chiricahua National Monument.  After a huge volcanic explosion 27 years ago, the rhyolite tuff slowly eroded into the most fantastical pinnacles and hoodoos.  There’s 17 miles of trails through the park, and we decided on the Big Loop, at 9.5 miles, in order to see as much as possible.  It was a great choice, even if we were completed bushed at the end of it.  (That’s what you get when you try to do a big hike after having been sick for the prior three weeks!)  We started so early that we didn’t see anyone else for the first three hours, and we felt like we had the park to ourselves.  This would be a wonderful multi-day stop, so as to hike every trail.

Big Balanced Rock seemed impossible:

The Grottoes of Echo Canyon:

Back in Cochise, we decided to tackle a trail to Rockfellow Dome, a prominent feature high up in the mountains, and a well-known climbing spot. The area closes seasonally to protect nesting raptors, and the last time we were here was during that time. I’d heard that the hike was really rough, but we decided to go as high as were dared, to see the views. Well, we got really really close, but about 1000 feet from the top, the trail turned into a wicked slab of rock on a steep angle, with a long drop below. We decided we were happy with our accomplishments, and enjoyed looking at the mountains 50 miles north.

The goal was the saddle–the dip in the middle:

This was the easy part of the trail:

Good enough views:

Til next time!

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Las Cienegas picture post

Where: week one of our winter vacation.  First stop: Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, Southeast Arizona

I feel bad keeping a secret from the world, so I feel compelled to share something with you: National Parks are great and all, but in general, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is where it’s at!  Before we started RVing full time, I thought that we would spend lots of time in National Parks, because they always look so amazing.  When you google images for one of the big parks out West, you always get a collection of awe inspiring vistas and wide open spaces.  But our experience has always been, well, rather negative.  The National Parks out here are generally really congested, and when you finally get to a popular stop, you’re sharing the space with a million other people.  The campground are expensive and booked far in advance, and the trails are crawling.  We haven’t particularly enjoyed the stops we’ve made in those iconic Parks.

However, we’ve discovered an option that we love, where we can get out in nature, find free camping, and enjoy quiet: BLM lands!  The BLM administers 247 million acres in the U.S., “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”  Huge areas of western states are BLM lands, and we’ve found these areas to be lightly visited, but scenic and lots of fun to explore.  Also, there’s usually free or very inexpensive camping available, which is the best part for us!  We’ve realized that we prefer pretty areas with very few people over the stunning mega-parks with too many other humans, and BLM areas fit the bill!

We finished our winter jobs in Tucson on Monday, and were desperately in need of some open space and relaxation after 3 months of living between an interstate, a military airbase, and and an airport.  We headed just 35 miles southeast, to Las Cienegas National Conservation Area, a biodiverse area of grasslands with riparian areas running through.  This BLM area is managed in partnership with the nonprofit Empire Ranch Foundation, and maintains the historic buildings of the immense ranch that used to be here.  It’s been an amazing first stop for our vacation.

Adventure cat rides again:

I can’t get enough of the yellow grass and blue skies:

Walking tour of the historic ranch:

Giant cottonwoods by the creek:

Blind for viewing the prairie dog re-introduction area.  Did not see prairie dogs, did almost tip over the flimsy blind:

I could walk these roads for days:

Entertainment for those who seek it–lots of hidden info boards to learn about the area:

This is also a working cattle ranch, so you leave the gates as you find them:

Wildlife water tank, complete with solar powered pump to fill it:

We’ve watched every sunrise and sunset, looked at stars, and walked almost 20 miles of the roads.  The views are sweeping and inspiring, and we feel more relaxed than we have in ages.  What a great first stop!

Sick and ick

Where: working one final week in Tucson, AZ

JJ and I are pretty healthy people most of the time, especially with our habits of lots of sleep, sunshine, exercise and vegetables.  But, we’re both feeling pretty punk from what can only be described as the cold from hell that we’ve been fighting for almost 2 weeks.

Neither of us can remember having a cold that lasted so long, or one that had the strange onset of symptoms of this one.  We both started with a mild cold that seemed to improve in severity, but left us really tired.  Then we developed terrible coughs, and next, really gnarly head colds that finally manifested deep in our chests.  I’m starting to feel like I’m out of the woods, but JJ still has a bad cough.  It seems like everyone around us is a little bit sick right now, and lots of other folks are experiencing this super cold, too.  Did the standard issue cold virus mutate into something otherworldly this winter?!

I know it’s not the best health decision, but we’ve both tried to keep up with our jobs as much as possible, since we only have one more week to go before we’re off for a few months. And besides working, coughing and sleeping, we haven’t felt up to much excitement lately, so I have very little to report.

Last weekend, I needed to get out of the house, but I didn’t feel up for much exertion, so I headed to the Sam Lena Recreation Area for a loop around the wetlands of the urban wastewater reclamation project. I knew I was really sick when I wanted to die about halfway around the 2 mile, paved and flat loop.  Still, it was nice to get some views and see the waterfowl happily paddling around in the ponds.

When I told my mom that I didn’t have much in the way of pictures for the week, she suggested I feature Soupy, which is a fine idea.  In closing, here’s a pin-up shot of the only non-sick member of the family.

Lucky Thirteen

Where: In Tucson, working winter jobs for a few more weeks

JJ and I were just married a few years ago, and technically, July 14 is our official anniversary. But, we were together for so long before, that we consider the day we started dating to be our “real” anniversary.  So, on January 14, we celebrated our lucky 13th year together, of course, with ice cream.  (So much better than the traditional gift of lace, or the modern version of furs or textiles!)

JJ and I continue to have separate days off, so my weekend forays aren’t taking me too far afield.  Last week, I remembered that there was a wetlands nearby his work, and I enjoyed a few laps around the ponds.  I ran into a couple guys who looked really out of place in khakis and polo shirts.  They stopped me to ask what the tall things were in the water.  “You mean cattails?” They were amazed that I knew what they were.  They were in town as visiting contractors from Compton, CA, had lived their whole lives in the city and had never seen anything like that before.  As a total country girl, I just can’t imagine a life where you’ve never seen a pond!

I giggled at this line up of birders with fancy cameras, stalking their waterfowl prey.  These people were serious about their bird pictures!

JJ and I both came down with colds this weekend, after successfully avoiding them for a couple years.  Neither of us has been sleeping well because we’re too busy coughing to rest much.  So, here’s to a healthier next week!

AZ Trail, round 2

Where: In Tucson, working winter jobs

We had such a good time hiking on the Arizona Trail last week that I looked up some other trailheads that we could access from the Tucson area.  Last week, we drove up Mount Lemmon, and parked at the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation area.  The area is the site of a super low security federal prison and was named for a courageous Japanese-American who was sentenced there after he refused to relocate to an internment camp in the 1940s.  It’s now a campground and jumping off point for many trails through the lower Catalina Mountains.

 

The high desert was a golden grassland with lots of yucca trees.

At the top of the first saddle, the views opened up over the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, and all we could hear was the sound of the wind through the valley.

We hiked down from the saddle, to see the reservoir that used to feed the prison camp.

There weren’t many people out, and when we got back to the saddle on the way back, it was quiet enough that we could lay out in the sun and take a little snooze.

It was awesome to be in so much beauty and quiet, but in such a short drive from the city!

In the past week, things have changed a bit for us, because JJ’s temporary job at Target seems to have dried up.  Thankfully, he got it through a temp agency who was able to find another short term gig for him til the end of January.  The downside is that we’re off different days of the week now, so we won’t be able to get out on hiking adventures.  But, we’re planning on exploring New Mexico starting in February, and we’ll have plenty of time to get out in nature soon. Til next week!

 

Merry Hike-mas photo essay

Where: In Tucson, working winter jobs

Well, it wasn’t quite like the holiday break of my childhood, with no school for 2 weeks, but JJ and I did have 3 days off together over Christmas. And amidst a sea of choices in the big city, what did we do with our precious days? We got out for a hike 2 days in a row, which is just about the best Christmas present I could ask for.

On Christmas Day, we met up with Ann and Nathan to check out an urban gem, Honey Bee Canyon, which winds through the middle of a northern suburb. From down in the canyon, you only catch occasional glimpses of the houses above, and besides the other hikers, it was silent. All of us former midwesterners reveled in the fact that we were hiking in tshirts in December.

Petroglyphs!

The next day, JJ and I headed far to the northeast, around the tip of the Catalina Mountains, to a little used trailhead for the Arizona Trail. The Trail starts at Mexico and winds through most of the high points of the state before it terminates at the Utah border. At 800 miles, it’s a bit more than we can tackle, but we can section hike a couple portions that have trailheads just outside the Tucson metro area. It’s technically part of the Great Western Loop, which includes the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail, and a couple lesser known trails to make up a 6875 mile tour of the West. Only one person has completed the whole shebang!

I chose our hike because it was a bit higher in elevation (to get out of the heat!), and for the sweeping views of the mountains. We only saw one other hiker the whole time we were out, and the countryside was magnificent. I love the high plains against the blue sky, the sound of the wind in the dry grass, and being able to see 30 miles in every direction. As always, I dawdled behind JJ, taking pictures and soaking up nature.

The sotol seed pods stood like sentinels, 15 feet high:

The view from the top of the ridgeline:

The Galiuro Wilderness, 20 miles to the east behind me:

Peace:

And the January update: We’ll be working in Tucson at least til the end of January, saving up money to be off for a few months before we start our summer gig. I’m planning more outings from Tucson, trying to find the wild places that we can visit without a Jeep, and also doing long range travel planning for March and April. JJ is happily immersed in learning German, and spends his evenings working on sounds that are sounding more and more like a language, and less like grunting. Til next week!

Working, working and an encounter with celebrity

Where: working holiday/winter jobs in Tucson, AZ

When we decided to go on the road, a major reason that I wanted to change my life was to live more deliberately, and less as an automatron. I loved the idea of having more choices, and less routine that was the same all the time. For many parts of our year, we have the chance to exercise that free will and travel where we like. But, in order to fund those parts, we have chosen to occasionally work jobs that really restrict our lives for a short time, in exchange for a decent chunk of change. While I love the influx of cash, I have to admit that I question whether we’re making the right decision when we’re enmeshed in a couple months that feel really hard. Of course, when we’re in the middle of a time-sucking job, my answer would be that it’s not worth it, but when we’re enjoying 3 months off to travel, I feel different. Still, the fact that I am continuing to experience frustration in my life means that I might want to consider alternative scenarios for the future, and that perhaps we haven’t found the right balance yet.

With that preamble, let me introduce you to the work world we’re in right now. JJ has been working at the Target Distribution Center, which is a lot like working at an Amazon warehouse, but on a smaller, slower scale. (Everyone else he works with complains about the pace and the workload, and he just laughs at the kids complaining about addition and subtraction when he’s experienced geometry and sometimes quantum physics!) His schedule was a bit whack-a-doo for the first couple weeks, but seems to have settled down into 3 days–Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. He was working 12 hour shifts, until this weekend, when he started working a half hour earlier. See, last weekend, more than half his co-workers just neglected to show up for their shift, including the lead for his area. He was asked to be the lead for the day, and next, would he like to be the lead for the rest of the season? He accepted the position, even though it starts at 5:30am, in exchange for a higher pay rate. The one nice thing about this schedule is that he’s off 4 days a week, but good lord, those 4am wakeups!!

I’m working full time in the office of the RV park where we live. This park is one of the better deals in Tucson, easily half the price of most of the other RV accommodations for monthly spots. As such, it attracts quite a range of guests, from budget-conscious overnighters, just looking to rest an a long road trip to somewhere else, to long term residents who find RV living and low rent the most economical way to go. I work inside, on a computer and on the phone, for the majority of my day, but I always look for opportunities to get outside and walk a bit.  My days are a bit like Groundhog Day, pretty much the same, with just a few little details of difference.  Since JJ has the car, my recreation is limited to a spin on the bike trail and then back to the park.  (The other neighborhoods around us are not the kind for exploring on foot.)

The most exciting part of the last couple weeks was the fact that our friend, Becky, was in town.  She’s the author of the comprehensive full-time RV blog, Interstellar Orchard, and a major inspiration for our decision to start RVing.  She stayed a couple nights at our park, and then moved over to a BLM area on the west side of Tucson.  This weekend, we met up for hike in Tucson Mountain Park, just outside of Saguaro National Park.  Brown Mountain Trail is a favorite of mine, with one little climb, and then just meditative little dips as it follows a ridgeline.  There’s great mountain views all around, and hardly ever anyone else hiking. Plus, for your viewing pleasure, Becky took pictures which include me! And, because my mom asked recently, a point of clarification: yes, I own plenty of shirts, but I’m always wearing a green long sleeve because that’s my sun protection shirt that I wear for hiking. Don’t worry–it’s not the only shirt I own! 🙂

 

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