Friday, November 4, 2011

The Snake Ranch

No, it's not really a snake ranch, but it looks like it could be snake territory. I think only one rattlesnake has been spotted in all of the years Mom has owned and hiked the property, but we all still call it the Snake Ranch. These ten acres are in the Yucca Valley portion of the Mojave Desert, near Twentynine Palms and the Joshua Tree National Forest.

The high desert landscape is appropriately dry, but rugged and beautiful in its own way. Hardy trees and plants thrive in the challenging climate, and nature has decorated the landscape with amazing rock formations, even inselbergs. Inselbergs? what? Okay, I'm showing off with that word, it's a geologist's word for rock pile, from the German word meaning "island mountain".
The erosional and weathering processes operating in the current arid conditions of the desert are only partially responsible for the spectacular sculpturing of the rocks. The present landscape is essentially a collection of relic features inherited from earlier times of higher rainfall and lower temperatures.*

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hotter than Hell

While the title might be a slight exaggeration, anything in three digits feels like it must be hotter than hell. Trust me on this one. I left cool, gray, damp Seattle and landed in the blue sky and sunshine of Southern California... so far, so good. Walking out of the Burbank terminal was a shock, like walking into a preheated oven. All that lovely sunshine came with 99 F, and the day was still warming.

I've spent months lamenting the cool weather in the Pacific NW, whining that summer never arrived. Spring was damp and overcast and moved right on into Autumn. I wished hard for a warm Indian Summer transition into a sunny Fall. I might have been a bit smug about enjoying our 2011 Alaskan cruise despite the cool, wet days, and wondered why folks in the east and midwest were carrying on about the heat.  

Fast forward to mid-October in the L.A. basin, 99 - 105 F yesterday and 101 - 110 F predicted for today.

Note to self: Be careful what you wish for!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Riding on the Verde Canyon Railroad

That first step onto a train is a step toward adventure, and who doesn’t love an adventure? The destination may be fixed, but adventure is all about anticipation, the thrill of what happens next?

As a Portland, Oregon teenager, RL had a memorable train trip along the Columbia River. Enroute to Pendleton the fast moving train stopped abruptly, a violent braking, unscheduled kind of stop and definitely not at a station. Curious about the cause, RL and a few companions leapt off and walked forward to discover one engine in the river and a second engine about to tumble in. A landslide had swept the rail bed into the water. That was quite an unexpected adventure on a very short trip!

On my first solo train trip I traveled from home in Chicago to visit my grandparents in Portage, Wisconsin. Entrusted to the care of a watchful conductor (or porter perhaps), I stored a few, brief memories. I can recall the nervous excitement of traveling alone, carrying a cardboard shoebox tied with string and filled with sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper and a few brownies to snack on. I think I passed the time reading and rereading some comic books and creating fanciful dialogues with my favorite paper dolls.

On another solo trip I traveled to Girl Scout camp near Iron Mountain, Michigan. With few camp memories to recall, and zero memories of the train ride itself, I wonder if there was any adventure involved.

Fast forward many decades. During a trip from Munich, Germany to Salzburg, Austria I stayed tethered to my window, captivated by the scenery rushing by. Small village appeared, one after the other, their church steeples poking skyward through the trees, each steeple a different design. It was restful, bucolic scenery. But my first step off that train, into a flurry of swirling snow, announced that the train ride had ended but the adventure was just beginning. Today, closing my eyes, I can relive the sights and scents of Christmas Markets, my first-time-ever view of the Alps, a heavenly evening of Mozart, my first funicular ascent... All that and more, plus the continuing anticipation of "What next?" 

But that's all history. For the 2011 Verde Canyon Railroad trip we looked forward to a pleasant ride through interesting scenery. It turned out to be much more than we expected! The refurbished first-class seating and large windows of our vintage train car were largely ignored. Once the train began moving we spent most of the time standing in an open-air observation car. Intriguing 360 degree views and the naturalist's on-going narration about Verde Valley geology/biology kept us outside with our cameras. We did retreat inside briefly to nibble on some appetizers and an ice cream bar to keep up our strength. Then back to the observation car for more photos and information.

Built around 1911 to connect the copper mines at Jerome with a smelter at Clarkdale, this shortline still hauls some freight and connects Clarkdale with the larger Burlington Northern/Santa Fe line at Drake. We only traveled a portion of its length on this four-hour trip. 

Abandoned sites along the route recall Clarkdale's mining history.  

The slag heap still looms large as a Clarkdale landmark, a reminder of an active mining era.

Steel trestles carry the train across wide arroyos. (note the open-air observation car)

The rail bed follows the slow-flowing Verde River for much of the trip.

There are few ranches or residences along the route, and much of the land has been declared a wilderness area.

Towering red-rock formations line the deep canyon. A 680-foot curving tunnel made for a long moments of total darkness! I was too much "in the moment" to capture it on camera.

Several Sinaguan Indian cave dwellings pepper the cliffs along the route.

The train station at the Perkinsville ghost ranch was abandoned long ago, but the ranch still operates. 

The posh interior of our train's caboose hints at the sumptuous comfort of long-ago travel in private cars.

Every train story must end with the caboose, right? The End.

More adventure came the next day when explored a few miles along the far side of the river.

Links you might find interesting:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Picture Perfect Prescott

The mile-high city of Prescott, Arizona ranks high on my list of road trip destinations. The winter sunshine and clear blue sky helped to feature the city and the scenery at their best. The high desert, towering pine trees, fresh mountain air and scattering of snow on the ground were a welcome contrast to the valley's desert dust - not that we don't love the lower desert too! 

We based at a B&B, the Prescott Pines Inn, and enjoyed its hospitality and comfortable accommodations. It was a welcome treat to curl up under a thick comforter, grab a book and read in bed with a view of the fireplace. We lingered over the multi-course breakfasts, visiting with other guests and planning our day.   We decided to focus on the countryside, since we had already explored the city on a previous trip. One quick walk around Courthouse Square, a warming Irish coffee at the Palace Saloon, and off we went.

The swinging door entrance to the Palace Saloon on Prescott's Whiskey Row. Opened in 1877, the Palace claims to be the oldest frontier bar operating in Arizona.

The Palace burned down during the 1900 Whiskey Row fire, but the Brunswick Bar was saved. This beautiful bar, carved in the 1880's, was carried out by customers and hauled across the street to the courthouse lawn. By 1901 the Palace was back in business and the bar was back in place. 

Granite Lake, Granite Dells, granite rocks - we toured and hiked and took tons of photos.  I could spend weeks in the area, exploring and marveling at the scenery.

I wonder how long that huge boulder, larger than an RV, has been defying gravity?

Interesting formations were seen everywhere we looked!

This was it, the lot I wanted to purchase for a new home. You think I'm kidding? Just check out the real estate website for The Canyons at Granite Park and you might be tempted too. At least for a moment or two. Think Sedona landscape without the crowds. But I was too late, this lot was no longer available.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Road to Stanton, Arizona

Close your eyes and picture "Arizona". Does that flash a slide show of brightly colored images? Visions of spicy SouthWest food platters, or the intense colors of flowering cactus, perhaps the primary hues of chile ristras hanging in an open-air market, and even some colorful people. Arizona colors are bold, except when they're dusty, or old or sun-bleached. I love it all. Well, not so much the old, dusty, rutted dirt roads. Those I will take in very small doses.

Along the 60-mile drive from Wickenburg to Prescott (historic US Route 89) the map showed County Road 109, a side road leading to the ghost town of Stanton. That sounded interesting so we set off to explore. Oh my, what a long, lumpy bumpy detour those few miles turned out to be. We traveled very slowly, 15 to 20 miles per hour, to avoid being bounced off the Explorer's headliner. Each mile of scenery looked the same as every other mile. I called "Stop!" for a picture of any interesting sight, just to get out of the car and walk around. 

Interesting sight 1: a bullet-riddled sign for a dairy farm not far from the city. There was no green pasture here - do you suppose the cows care?

Interesting sight 2: a handful of range horses, curious to see if we had any treats I suppose. What do they graze on, in the midst of acres and acres of dry ground and cactus? 

Interesting sight 3: some pieces of mining equipment scattered around the hills,  but not a person in sight (not aboveground anyway). 

I had expected Stanton to be a quiet, deserted site with a few old buildings. So why was there so much traffic kicking up dust on this stretch of gravel road? Weeks later I googled Stanton and discovered the old ghost town is now owned by the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association and has been transformed into an RV campground. That explained the traffic, but not why RVers would find this location so attractive. These must be serious hobbyists who come to prospect for gold in the Rich Hill area. There were scores of white sticks in the ground everywhere that could have been claim stakes. LDMA owns 125 acres; ample room for a lot of prospecting.

Stanton appears much tamer now than it was during its Gold Rush past. (click here for a summary) Following an 1863 gold discovery at nearby Rich Hill, the stage stop called Antelope Junction grew rapidly into a boom town.  Charles P. Stanton (a colorful, perhaps unsavory character) renamed the town after himself in 1871. Stanton was shot and killed in his store in 1886, but the town continued to prosper until gold mining ended and it finally became a ghost town.

Interesting Stanton factoid: (found here)
The Saturday Evening Post, which bought the town in the late 1950s, gave the 10-acre site away in a jingle contest. The New York winner of the contest had no idea what to do with a beat-up ghost town and sold it.
Notice the dusty, curving gravel road heading up the the hill in the photo below. County Road 109 remained as bumpy as ever on drive out of Stanton. However the scenery became greener as we wandered up and over one hill, down and around another hill, and up another hill... Finally we reconnected with Hwy 89 at Yarnell and continued on the way to Prescott. 

We departed Wickenburg, elevation 2056 feet, in the warm morning sunshine. By late afternoon the pine tree city of Prescott, elevation 5400 feet, offered cooler sunshine. Cool? oh yes, there was snow on the ground along the shady side of the road. It felt like we had toured two different Arizonas in one day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I-5 in Northern California

We love the winding drive along the coast, Hwy 101 and Hwy 1, but we had a schedule to meet - a special birthday party in the Los Angeles area. So we left the Pacific at Reedsport, turned inland toward Roseburg, and drove through Northern California along I-5. Wow! Mt. Shasta looked as impressive as always, though the snow cover appeared a bit thin for winter. 

Lake Shasta itself was a pleasant surprise. The water level was a mere 42' below its banks, while recently it has been down as much as 70'. We stopped for a cup of coffee at a marina/resort restaurant and marveled at the hundreds of houseboats moored on the lake. We could enjoy a weeklong houseboat rental for a warm-weather cruise on this lake, sometime when we're not cruising in Alaska on Rhapsody. Random thought: it's been a very long time since I first learned to waterski, right here on Lake Shasta.

Road Trip sunshine turned into thick I-5 fog north of Bakersfield, predictable but it made for cautious yet boring driving. Eventually we turned off the freeway to explore the area around Buttonwillow. Why Buttonwillow? No special reason, I just liked the name, and the map indicated a State Tule Elk Reserve nearby. I did find a brief explanatory note online:
Buttonwillow started from a Buttonwillow tree as a landmark on an old trans-valley trail, and was used by ancient Yokut Indian as a meeting place, later becoming the site of settlers' store.
Buttonwillow  was very quiet and seemingly empty.  If winter is the quiet season, I wonder if there is a lively time of year. We never did find the Elk Reserve, but marveled instead at the huge expanses of empty cotton fields and leafless almond orchards, occasional oil fields, and countless flocks of unshorn, wooly sheep and their frisky lambs. The sheep were not feeling sociable: some chose to move off but most just ignored us.

Photo:There are some sandhill cranes, upper left in the background,, but they are hard to spot in this photo. Double-click and you can see  them more clearly. Are we on the great migration flyway or are they residents?
The many oil rigs, resembling flocks of mechanical preying mantis, ignored us too. 

We headed back onto 1-5.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hwy 101 - the Oregon Coast

Sunshine along the Oregon coast that makes my heart sing, brings a smile, lifts my spirit... I can't explain the response, but it happens every time. Any day at the coast is a welcome treat, but a sunny day is worth celebrating. On this trip we drove slowly, made frequent stops and savored the two days it took to travel the miles.

Haystack Rock, a well-known Cannon Beach landmark, appears through the afternoon haze. 

Sunset as seen from our hotel balcony in Pacific Beach.

Low tide at the narrow harbor entrance to Depoe Bay. 

Two of the 47-foot Coast Guard rescue boats from Depoe Bay practiced surf maneuvers along the coast south of the harbor. We shot still photos and videos, 
marveling at their maneuvers. It was exciting to watch the boats charge up the face of the incoming waves, surf in toward shore, and then pitch and roll as they turned to run the troughs parallel to shore in between wave sets. Whew! fun to watch but I woudn't want to try it.

We hiked up the dunes trail at Florence...

... to reach the beach.

There are shorter and faster ways to get to the top.

Hmmmmmmm, maybe next time.