Saturday, 28 January 2012

Meep! Meep! Finally saw a Roadrunner!

We are nestled at the edge of the camp parking area, beside the desert, in our own private oasis with wind block tree, saguaro cacti and mountains fit for the sun to drop behind each evening. Quartzsite is a crazy place well known by the RVers who winter here for $180.00 for the season. There are thousands of motor homes and trailers parked across the miles of desert land. Many areas look like crowded suburbs but we sought out a quiet, less populated area.

The actual town of Quartzsite is small with only a hand full of gas stations, small food markets and   restaurants, a library and a post office. During the winter season however, there are large tent shows that bring in vendors and antiques aka junk-floggers galore! Currently, there is a week long RV Show featured which switches to a Classic Car Show which is followed by a Hobby, Craft & Gem Show. These exhibitions draw in the crowds!

I have never seen such a huge collection of sunhats including all shapes and sizes of ball caps; paisley, animal-print, plaid, camouflage, floral, tie dye; speciality fabric extra wide sun bonnets;genuine and fake cowboy and Tilley hats; hippie and biker bandannas; military inspired headgear and funky artsy-crafty oddities. With the hats, come the dogs. The number of small dogs per square foot here is astronomical. Although a few of these mini canines actually walk on their own four feet, most of them are carried: balanced in the crook of an elbow, popping out of a handwoven basket, sprawling their paws through the openings of  infant snugly carriers or riding regally in baby strollers. Many of these dogs come in pairs or triplets and are often decked out in sport shirts, bandannas and collars matching the fashion style of their "parents".

We purchased three really cool things here, a "Waterboy" 60 gallon water container and pump to supplement our supply of H2O in dry camping situations; a flagpole and Canadian flag to show off our national pride and easily find CC in off-road campsites and a new easy-breezy braking-towing system for our toad.

On our daily desert hikes we did a lot of rock hunting, cactus spotting, especially enjoying the iconic "Saguaro" cowboy cactus and avoiding the sharp needles of "jumping" cholla alias teddy bear cacti.  Nature hunting; we've seen a coyote skull, a jack rabbit, a roadrunner, Gila woodpeckers, a dehydrated tortoise, some little lizards and many antelope ground squirrels. Daily temperatures range from 65-80 F.degrees. We even witnessed a desert rain and rainbow. For 24 hours afterwards, the air was filled with a pungent odour emitted from the many creosote bushes across the desert floor.

Ten weeks after breaking my metatarsals, I put my foot into the hiking shoe in which the fractures occurred. Foot and shoe carried on a long and nasty discussion wherein neither would accept any responsibility for the broken foot but they did agree to blame the brain. I hiked a good distance in the shoes and I'm happy to report that the foot feels good and no longer looks like a puffy roasted marshmallow at the end of the day.

Despite the madness of shopping vendors, ATV and dirt bike trail riders, hordes of RVers crowded together with their rigs circled around the fire like the covered wagons of old and the eerie nightly howling competitions of nearby coyotes,we had a delightful week relaxing. We watched a unique sunset each evening followed by a campfire under the star-dome, whose feature this week, was a lustrous new crescent moon.

Monday, 16 January 2012

More Desert and Oasis Country

Near Vegas, is the Hoover Dam, amazing for its scale, technology and art deco detail. We spent an enjoyable day exploring the dam and the vistas across from it up the canyon to the new super bridge and down over Lake Mead. Dixie sent a flock of pure white cranes soaring as she charged at Lake Mead for some stick chasing. A hearty number of Marathoners plodded across the desert seeking out the finish line.
A few experienced sailors braved the lake despite the high winds. Many families were swimming and picnicking along the desolate stony sand beach.

Next stop; Mohave Desert; 29 Palms RV Resort. Once again we were in a flat dry valley surrounded by distant mountains. We were treated to a most spectacular moon rise. The full moon showed its pale opal back behind a crisp profile of the mountain range. The silhouettes turned deeper blue and their crests glowed orange as the disc pushed higher up into the sky.

Our campground was dusty and hot. A golf course ran along behind it with grass dry enough to burst into flame any minute. The "greens" were spray painted on! We filled our canteens and headed into Joshua Tree National Park. There were many similarities to Death Valley but with more abundance of grasses and trees. As Chris noted in Death Valley, many miles of rocky fields and boulder-mountains looked like they'd been constructed by a couple of giants in competition using over sized steam shovels and bulldozers. Similar expanses could be seen in Joshua Park. The rocks in many places are much larger and rounded. They are blond coloured and textured like rough grade sandpaper. Many sit atop one another reminiscent of "cartoon" Coyote waiting, ready to push the boulder onto the unsuspecting roadrunner below. Remarkably, cactus, juniper and mesquite are able to sprout and grow in the cracks of these monstrous rocks against all odds. Quail, about the size of our blue jays are a common sight rolling along the sand or flying with their odd headdress-feathers bobbing.

The park is named after the Joshua Trees common to the area. Looking like a cross between a cactus and a palm tree, they are actually part of the lily family. When studied closely, each is very unique; some with single and tall stalks; some with many branches and some twisted with a combination of live and dead "arms" on the same tree. They really add a specific character to the desert. We also saw a number of huge Yucca cactus with curling white threads along their sharp green fronds and metre high ivory blooms blowing in the breeze. Standing on Keys Mountain at 5185' we could look out over the valley across to the Salton Sea and Mexico. It was most exciting to view the St.Andreas Fault meandering along the valley floor. On a trek into the Barker Dam, we saw some  cave pictographs.  Remains of a stone wall tumbled into the dried river gully. In the cattle days of old, livestock depended on the water that collected there.
Travelled south along more desert valley dotted with groves of palm and stands of green trees edging the highway. Irrigation channels refreshed the area and agriculture of vegetables is huge. It was a nice change to see fields of green and purple lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and carrots and a few fields of sheep.  Providing power for the farms and surrounding cities are miles of wind mills. They were a staggering site in numbers alone, some standing still, others turning at random and others glinting in the sunlight keeping well choreographed time with each other.

Drove south for a 3 night stay at Oasis Palms RV was refreshing and relaxing. Dixie had green grass to lie on and we enjoyed drinks by the fountain and pond. Formerly an orchard, the motor homes were all parked beside lemon, orange or grapefruit trees. We had our daily fill of citrus and stocked up for the week. Palm Springs may have its share of glitterati but it remains a lovely oasis of  homes, golf courses(with real grass), great restaurants, shops and museums and gardens packed with luscious petals. A film festival was on during our visit and although we encountered no famous folks, we did see many "sidewalk stars" with Hollywood heroes like Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, Bob Hope and Dinah Shore! The Palm Springs Art Museum has a great permanent collection and current shows included Contemporary Glass and wonderful retrospective of Andrew Wyeth drawings, watercolours and egg tempera masterpieces.

We are now near Yuma camping in the desert at a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) sight. The only service is a garbage bin and security from the many nearby Border Patrol. It's a chance for peace and quiet and survival based on our solar panels and conservation of water. We toured the famous Yuma jail yesterday and were treated to some fun old time gun play and theatre by folks costumed in traditional garb of Ye Olde West. Walked about the very tired Historic Yuma; one old art deco hotel was memorable. An old steam engine, broken wall and bridge beside the Colorado River, told the story of earlier days. Ended our day eating dinner round our campfire under the stars, cowboy style.

Our next travel will take us into Quartzite in Arizona for a week or more of desert camping. Look on-line to see the craziness that awaits us there. It is one of the more popular places for RVers to spend the winter.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas

So I suppose I do not need to write about Vegas!  Alas....Vegas is so surreal it must be blogged. We were escorted through the gates of the Las Vegas RV Resort down the palm lined paved roads to our RV site. We knew this was above our usual standard for a campground but had no idea that such luxury existed for RVers. Each site had a paved driveway, grass on three sides and palm trees separating each property.
Most coaches were a minimum 40 feet long and larger. High end cars or SUV's and designer golf carts were parked behind the coaches. Many had outdoor barbecues, washers & dryers and bars. Sculptures and carved stone name plates and enormous planters added individual touches. Most people own or rent their sites there and why not, 3 pools and spas on site, a diner and a ten minute drive to golfing and The Vegas Strip.

Got our first taste of Vegas on a drive up and down "The Strip". Many world famous sites are represented in their Casino form; rather of a sacrilege to those who have already visited the genuine article. Hoards of tourists thronged along the sidewalks and moved as one mob across the boulevard. The luxury hotels and casinos gave way to the rows of dusty wedding chapels, olden-day strip motels and many bond and pawn shops. Sadly, the original icons of the Golden Days of Vegas look weary and the hot spots for the likes of the Rat Pack are huddled in the run down end of the strip. On our way back, the sun was setting and we experienced the flashing neon, huge electronic billboards, pounding music blasting into the street and the romantic reflections of the sun on the numerous mirrored towers. Embracing the "all things in small amounts" theory; we returned to the quiet of CC; overwhelmed by our first taste of "Sin City".

Next day, Dixie bade us good luck as we left her at daycare for an overnight stay. Parking at the top of the Vegas Strip, we headed out on foot to allow all our senses to be whipped up into a frenzy. Many street corners hold newspaper boxes jammed with newspapers offering each and every kind of sex possible. Groups of poorly paid hopefuls wear t-shirts boldly printed with the message: Girls Girls Girls as they aggressively hand out cards to strip shows. Others yell the praises of their irresistible deals on discount tickets for classic Vegas shows. Add the sounds of bumper to bumper traffic plus all types of music belting out of each venue and you will have an idea of the strip's sound scape.

The sense of taste can be teased with snacks or full course meals from any nation. In our experience we found most food overpriced and mediocre. Beverages were abundant everywhere and could be freely carried outside.  Many visitors had been seduced into purchasing mammoth drinks in yard long coloured plastic vessels or reproductions of blenders with handles or over-sized martinis whose bottoms sparkled or flashed!

Touch was inevitable as crowded sidewalks, plazas and lineups jostled folks together everywhere. Many  couples and newly weds embraced and unabashedly shared their affections for each other. Gorgeous girls in their Vegas high heels and mini dresses retouched their hair and makeup. Many folks touched with hope, the green tables and stacks of cards at the poker table or pressed good luck kisses onto chips before feeding them into the hungry mouths of slot machines. Then there are the clubs and shows where juggling and magic, the sound of a talented voice or dance step and many "naughty" performances will touch the soul or flesh of the audience.

Olfactory Vegas can be good and bad; the whiff of charbroiled shrimp or steaks versus the over-perfumed men and women hoping to catch the scent of a lover. Condensed clouds of cigarette and cigar smoke float heavily in all the casinos. The mixture of the likes of burned onions and overcooked caramel blend in nasty combinations seeping out in the most unlikely places.

The sights are mind blowing and as much as I tried to release my inner party girl, I felt overwhelmed and overstimulated everywhere on the Vegas Strip. Most people have seen the big casinos of Las Vegas in feature films or TV shows. Colour and texture are the dominant elements of design with the golden shimmer of metallic glass of the Mandalay contrasting with the black glass pyramid and pseudo-stone sphinx and hieroglyphic-carved pillars of the Luxor. The playful castles of Excalibur butt up against the wealthy New York skyscraper street scene, Statue of Liberty, Chrysler Tower and Harbour fire boat. Across the street is a wall of green glass and shining golden lion of the MGM hotel. Within these hotel/casinos there are restaurants and bars, aisles of high end shops and galleries and displays corresponding to their themes such as MGM lions in their natural environment; roller coaster, delicatessens, fried food venues and designer candy available in Manhattan or Coney Island. 

Paris has its mini Eiffel Tower and Follies Bergers entertainment; Bellagio has an enormous fountain display set to music and inside; a conservatory filled with botanicals, tiles, and sculpture of exquisite Italian design. The Venetian, features the Palazzo Vecchio and gondolas. The iconic Caesar's Palace is filled with heroic sculpture and marble columns. 

Fully exhausted after walking about all day, dinner and a variety show, senses peaked; we were joyous to be "Leaving Las Vegas".

Friday, 6 January 2012

Happy New Year from "The Valley"

December 31 found us driving towards the grassy plains of Panamint Springs and Wildrose. Eroded rose coloured hills looked as if a sculptor had been busy carving and hollowing out sporadic designs. Some rock stood like isolated pillars left from a giant fantasy temple. Vast acres of desert reached across to mountains that looked like they were covered in soft brown suede. Up close, we could see the rows of bristlecone. The vegetation here often looks like it has been planted by a landscape architect. Actually, many species have a poison in their roots to ensure their survival and therefore grow with space around them.

We visited the amazing Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, ten 25' high beehive-shaped structures made of stone.
Built in 1876, they were used to make charcoal which was used to fuel the local mines. We lunched in the warm sun where we could enjoy a view of the impressive kilns. The rocky hillside,with patches of snow was fragrant with pinion pines and juniper. Explored an abandoned gold mine. There are many in the valley. This one called Eureka had many shafts and tunnels now boarded up and occupied by bats who winter there. Toasted to the New Year under another remarkable desert sunset.

On New Year's Day we moved to Furnace Creek Campground. There were a few more trees there but under foot was all sand. Out of CC's windshield we had a great view of some rounded sedimentary hills that looked like giant vanilla cakes streaked with chocolate. A scenic drive took us from below sea level to 5475' above at Dante's View. From there, one could look out over the entire valley,down on the salt flats and across to the Amoragosa Mountain Range. You may have noticed the common thread used to name things in the valley such as: Devil's Golf Course, Furnace Creek, Badwater,and Coffin Peak!

Joined the groovy 20-somethings, a few extreme-sports enthusiasts and designer families in the Furnace Creek Saloon for some bevvies, dinner, football and general merriment celebrating day one of 2012.

Spent our last two days in the Valley enjoying the Basin's Salt Flats, vast miles of rock salt eroded by the wind; Natural Bridge, a massive rock spanning a desert canyon; Artist's Drive, a scenic loop through sedimentary hills of pink, buff and green; Harmony Borax Works & Museum; Rhyolite Ghost Town with cool bottle house and the roughly carved Mustard Hills.           to sin city next......

Boundless Splendour in Death Valley

One associates parched, sun baked and desolate landscapes with the legendary Death Valley. Those of you who have been here will note that the misnomer was given to the area by a group of miners in 1849 who had lost a colleague there. Upon leaving the area, they remarked "goodbye death valley" and the name stuck. The climate is indeed harsh with temperatures as high as 120 Fahrenheit in the valley that sits at 282 feet below sea level! At night, temperatures plummet to below freezing in the mountain areas. The annual rainfall is less than two inches! The territory has an amazing history, ecosystem and geology.

  Driving in to Death Valley, we were treated to exquisite views that changed as we turned each corner.
They included crumbling rocky passes; moonscape-like hills; dusty flats with black lava-like rocks jutting across their surface; miles of blazing white salt flats where former lakes have dried up; gravel studded plains  with Joshua cactus or mesquite bushes sprawling across them and golden coloured mountains streaked with red and ochre stratum. Our campsite was a huge gravel "parking lot" surrounded by valley plains then mountains. A number of campers had their tents snuggled down between the mesquite bushes and every type of camper van and RV were scattered across the parking lot. We hiked the Mosaic Canyon where amazing polished marble met coral-like brecchia. All the campers at Stovepipe Wells enjoyed the 360 degree sunset, a splendid magenta and cobalt display of vibrant coloured clouds rolling over the mountain silhouettes.

Over the next two days we explored many miles of DV. The early dawn sun cast haunting shadows across the rolling hills of the Mesquite Sand Dunes. Lots of tiny bird and kangaroo mice tracks told tales of the previous night. Drove miles past changing geological formations: some softly carved, smooth sandstone hills; some flat rocky fields strewn with stones of all shapes and colours; some granite and limestone mountains pressed and folded by the Precambrian and Ice Ages. Walked about Scotty's Castle, another dichotomy
of DV, a Spanish-style mansion built as a holiday escape but legended to be funded with gold from a nonexistent mine. Climbed to the top of the 600' hole in the ground, the 300 year old Ubehebe Crater, formed 300 years ago by a volcanic explosion. Later, a boardwalk took us around a salty stream where the setting sun lit up the surrounding pink and oatmeal coloured badlands. Amazingly this Salt Creek was host to pickle weed grasses and pup fish which both have adapted for survival in the saline environment. We were serenaded in the night by spine-chilling coyote howls.