Road Trip VIII, Days 39-42, Colorado Springs, Durango, Page, AZ: Big Rocks Rock. Don’t Ask Me Why.

WHY are giant rocks so irresistible???? I’ve been pondering this for three days now.

From these breathtaking, knife-edged monoliths casually lounging practically in our friends’ Colorado Springs backyard…

The Garden of the Gods is just a city park!

…to the gloriously tempting caprock ledges of Mesa Verde…

The Mate skirts the edge…

But I gotta go right to it!

…to the hopelessly delicious sandstone of Navajo Country…

Must…climb!

…I am in awe. There are these Rockies…

Pikes’s Peak at sunrise, from our friends’ window

Looking back toward Durango from atop Mesa Verde National Park

and then there are these, and what they do to me I’m still trying to understand.

Is it their smoothness? Their age? Their color? Their…? I give up.

Road Trip VIII, Days 10-13, LA to Arizona’s Chiricahuas: Hidden Treasures and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados

Is anything more satisfying than seeing or experiencing or eating something hardly anyone else gets to? I think that’s why we humans love secret hideouts, bragging about buying stuff on sale, and scarce foods like truffles (not the chocolate kind, which are much less rare and infinitely more delicious).

I’m writing this from a special place which has been, in fact, a historical hideout—for the Apache leader Cochise, and also for Gerónimo—and which is so little known as to count as a hidden treasure. The “town” is named Portal, but it’s the portal to the Chiricahuas, a region of such grandeur it belongs more in the class of the Grand Canyon than in the obscurity of this southeasternmost corner of Arizona. One side of the mountains is actually a national monument; we’ve camped there before but I never blogged about it and don’t have those pictures accessible. But no worries: the non-monument side, where we’re staying in a cabin (since it was starting to snow, no camping)…THIS side manages to be just as spectacular.

How to describe the Chiricahuas? Soaring rock towers in gold and orange…

caves and hoodoos carved by wind…

…presiding over a deep valley of scrub oak and sycamore.

I also was startled by several javelinas, aggressive little wild piggies that burst out of the brush and give you a heart attack. Alas, I wasn’t able to grab my camera in time, so I had to settle for this picture of their diggings next to this barrel cactus:

Desert riparian: that’s the term for the rare phenomenon of streamside vegetation in the midst of drought. And along with the sunrise-colored rock, that habitat is what makes this place so special.

The only people we’ve met who have heard of this place are birders, and for good reason: as a little island of Sierra in the midst of the Sonoran desert, the Chiricahua offers a familiar haven to birds usually found only in the mountains of Mexico. Birders from all over the world congregate here every spring to “bag” rare species of hummingbird, and that most prized of sightings, the Elegant Trogon.

We aren’t birders. Also, it’s February. So we make do with what we can spot: turkeys!

But what about those avocados?

Getting back to the joy of rare things: our cousins in LA have a 100 year-old avocado tree, a huge beauty that bears fruit like green butter. When we left them, they gifted us with half a dozen, which we have been ripening serially as we travel. So, Avocado #1 went into a quesadilla in a motel outside of Joshua Tree National Park, where, sadly, a freezing windstorm was filling the air with dust and blasting our hopes of camping.

#2 met a similar fate in Tucson, where, still stymied by wind and dust, we holed up with map and weather reports and figures out where we could find some clear air to recreate in.

So Avocado #3 had the honor today of gracing an arugula salad…and the front porch of our cabin. Thanks, cousins!

Where will the next Traveling Avocados end up? Stay tuned.

Road Trip VII, Days 1-4: Los Angeles to Palo Duro Canyon, Texas

Wait–Day 1 is Los Angeles? Gretchen, did you move?

No, I cheated. Starting from my home in Washington State, I flew down to San Diego for a first-ever reunion with my sisters, while the Mate followed, at the wheel of our faithful Red Rover. We met in LA and started Road Trip VII from there.

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

beautiful anemone in tidepool at Point Loma in San Diego

The theme of the trip so far? It’s the raison d’etre of our road trips: the joy of moving through beauty.

Our favorite way is to feel the air on our skin. So Day 1, we hiked in the steep canyons of Hollywood, startlingly green from all that recent rain, ignoring the Oscars-related bustle going on just below.

Ah, air. Even LA air. If it’s sunny in February, my skin’s not picky about pollution.

Day 2, we rode our bikes through the cactus gardens of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, marveling at the variety of the plant forms.

Make your own caption for this one

Make your own caption for this one

Can we not find a better word than “desert” to describe such arid Edens? 

dsc02176img_2210But sometimes the air-on-skin model is too rough for our tender epidermes. Day 3, approaching Albuquerque from the south, we were looking forward to biking through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, glorying in the thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese and other migratory fowl who vacation there. But the wind had other ideas–or rather, the wind-blown dust did.

Scenery? What scenery?

Scenery? What scenery?

With poor little Red Rover getting sandblasted along I-25, we decided we wouldn’t fare too well. Boo. Sadness.

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

When tumbleweed meets bike. Seriously, the size of some of those things!

So we pushed on to Albuquerque, where, thanks to our buddy Beth, I was able to take two long power-walks through the wonderful neighborhoods of Northwest (backyard chickens, horses, goats–even an emu!) as the wind gradually relaxed to less-than-lethal levels.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Plus Beth took us to this REALLY COOL restaurant! This is the ceiling.

Mmm…and chiles rellenos with fresh, deeply-green New Mexican chiles….whoops, sorry. Not today’s theme.

On Day 4, we finally got to experience air-on-skin, moving-through-beauty in the blessed slo-mo that is camping. In Palo Duro Canyon State Park, this red, rocky wonderland astonishing close to Amarillo–really!–we rode our bikes around in the last of the afternoon sun.

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Only safe way to take a bike-selfie

Then in the morning we went for a hike.

Dawn's early light from our campsite

Dawn’s early light from our campsite

This was very welcome as a warmer-upper, as the blessedly still air pushed the temp down to 20 overnight. And we weren’t allowed to use our stove because of extreme fire danger. Brrr.

C'mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

C’mon, Texas sun, do your thing!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Did I mention this place is right outside of Amarillo?!

Lest you think The Mate and I are too precipitous in our appreciation of nature’s gifts, just let me add: I could easily have written a post about the joys of being outdoors while holding still. But with a whole continent to cross, basketball games to watch and a bakery waiting for me to come back and work at…my skin and I choose to celebrate our happy reality: moving air.

Almost...warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality...)

Almost…warm! (Sometimes air on skin is more of a concept than a reality…)

Road Trip V, Days 32-34, Flagstaff to Yucca Valley, CA: Grand Canyon, Leprosy and Redemption

It’s hard to imagine something called “bright angel” being evil, but that’s how I felt about the Bright Angel Trail. It’s the one that takes you from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River. 9 1/2 miles, 4,380 vertical feet. In the desert.

image

The Bright Angel Trail and I have a history.

27 years ago, before The Mate was my mate, we joined a small group of friends for the Trip Of a Lifetime, down the Colorado River by raft. Or half the Colorado; our trip was only 6 days, which meant that we stopped mid-canyon to say goodbye to the river and hike up…you guessed it.

The night before our take-out, one of our friends was stung on the foot by a scorpion. (The guides warned us about going barefoot, but it was night, he had to pee, and…yeah.) “George” spent the rest of the night soaking his foot in the river, but when morning came there was nothing for it: he had to hike up the Bright Angel Trail.

Another friend, an elite marathoner, volunteered to run the five miles ahead to Indian Springs to find a ranger. Surely they’d take care of George, maybe let him ride a mule back up.

Nope. You know all that “hike at your own risk” language you see on signs? That’s what it means. Our running friend came back down the trail with a pair of crutches and a pair of Benadryl. The rest was up to George, and us.

We took turns carrying George’s pack. We stopped to rest as often as we could so he could elevate his swollen foot. But meanwhile the temperature was climbing. Did I mention it was summer? In the desert? The slower we went, the hotter we got, and that heat started to take its toll.

First George’s girlfriend started showing signs of heat exhaustion. We took her pack. Then another friend got clammy and lightheaded, so we took hers too. By now all of us healthy ones were carrying packs on front and back–not a good strategy for maximizing air circulation. We continued to stop often, pouring water over our heads. Poor George on his crutches never complained, but he couldn’t keep from moaning softly. I remember he was wearing white–or he was until the red dust and the water changed his look a little.

In fact, we all must have looked terrible. I know this because, when we neared the rim and the crowd of down-hikers thickened, they all stared at us. And, I’m not making this up, one little boy said, “Look, Mom–lepers!”

Not the most enjoyable hike I’ve been on. I remember almost nothing about what the trail looked like, other than the end, which looked like heaven.

Almost...there...

Almost…there…

Fast-forward to 2004. Our youngest had just turned 12, the minimum age for a paddle trip. Once again we put together a group of friends; once again we booked our trip for the top half of the canyon. (The lower half is longer, more dangerous, and more expensive.) Once again, we faced the Bright Angel Trail on the last day. And once again, she kicked out butts.

No scorpion this time, but a couple of members of our party, though in good shape, were not able to deal with the heat. That whole thing about carrying two packs, stopping often, pouring water on our heads? Yeah–we did all that. Again. At least no one called us lepers this time.

So there’s a reason I have barely any photos of the Bright Angel Trail. Both times up, I was too busy helping miserable friends, and feeling miserable myself, to pay attention to scenery.

Nope--don't remember that.

Nope–don’t remember that.

But this week? Redemption. I got a whole glorious five hours alone to hike down the trail and back up. I hiked as fast as I could down for two hours–not long enough to get down to the river, of course, but long enough to get to Panorama Point.

That little line disappearing into the distance? Panorama Point Trail.

That little line disappearing into the distance? Panorama Point Trail.

River in View! O the Joy!

Ah, the Inner Gorge! Can't see this from the top. Can you say Vishnu Schist?

Ah, the Inner Gorge! Can’t see this from the top. Can you say Vishnu Schist?

And as I hiked back up, at my own blessed pace, on a beautiful spring day in the mid-60s, I celebrated by taking all the pictures I couldn’t take before…and feeling powerful gratitude. Gratitude at being allowed to return in the SPRING, when–who knew??–desert hiking is a breeze!

Hey cactus flowers, where were you when I needed you, those summers before?

Hey cactus flowers, where were you when I needed you, those summers before?

Indian Gardens in March is alive with redbud and fresh new cottonwood leaves.

Indian Gardens in March is alive with redbud and fresh new cottonwood leaves.

So, me and Bright Angel? It’s all good now between us. She totally redeemed herself.

All is forgiven.

All is forgiven.

Road Trip V, Days 6-8, Bishop to Albuquerque: A Desert Buffet

Foodies, sorry–that’s “desert” with one “s.” You’ll have to try someone else’s blog for the caloric kind. I’m writing about dirt today.

We just spent a day and a night in Death Valley, where the dirt looks like this:

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

and this:

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

(Courtesy Wikipedia)

We were hoping for wildflowers, but a heat wave a couple of weeks ago seems to have sped them through their cycle too fast. We enjoyed a few glimpses of yellow and purple, but most of the color came from…dirt.

The cool thing about America’s deserts, though, is that they come in infinite variety. You may be familiar with the red-rock areas like Arches and Grand Canyon; we are, which is one reason we didn’t route ourselves that way this year.

Sorry, Zion, not this year!

Sorry, Zion, not this year!

 

Instead we found ourselves discovering little patches of Amazing, like the tiny tip of Nevada where we saw Joshua Trees and wild burros,

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

or the western edge of New Mexico, where the earth seems to have neglected to clean up the results of a brief spell of vomit:

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

Of course, this being the weirdest US weather year in recent history, everything we saw while pulling into Albuquerque was covered in snow, and I was too chilled to stop and take pictures. But I think I’ve made my point for now, which is that we Americans are SO lucky!! We don’t have our just deserts–we have a whole glorious smorgasbord of sand and dirt and rock to choose from.

So the next time you feel deserted? Think about it–is that really such a bad thing to be?

Till Mileage Do Us Part: Hunting Down, I Mean Keeping Up With, Former Neighbors

Road Trip IV, Days 10-13, LA to Scottsdale, AZ

Warning to all my current neighbors: don’t move away from the Wings. Or if you do, make sure you have a big fight with us first. Otherwise we’re more than likely to come stay with you on one of our road trips…and in the process, become closer friends than we ever were when we lived, well, closer.

Right now we’re inflicting ourselves staying with our former neighbors from Tacoma. Looking for a sunnier climate (than Tacoma? Come on!), they moved to the Phoenix area, 1,500 miles away. Not far enough. During our first year of retirement/graduation (The Mate is retired, but I am NOT!), on Road Trip I, we stopped and spent the night with them.

Not long enough, they said. Next time, stay two nights! We’ll go hiking.

Suckers! Oh, okay, we said innocently.

Did I mention that these folks had only lived in Tacoma for a couple of years, and during that whole time we had only had dinner with them twice? But they are super-nice and super-hospitable. And so we did stay two nights again the next year. And the year after. By now, on our fourth visit, we’ve shared all those life stories. Since our hosts grew up in Czechoslovakia and Ecuador, respectively, their stories are more exotic than ours, but then there are all those commonalities: how we met our spouse. Becoming parents. Worst Jobs Ever. I have a feeling we’ll be moving into Most Embarrassing Moments on one of these trips.

They’ve visited us back on Lopez, even though we keep threatening to steal kidnap adopt their ADORABLE daughter. So they must like us OK. But with our road trip habit, they are MILES ahead in hospitality points.

Our favorite thing to do with our friends is hike in the desert, where I have become dangerously addicted to taking photos of cactus. To wit:

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OK, OK, I’ll stop.

Our next trip leg takes us to Dallas, where we’ll be staying with…you guessed it. Current neighbors, you have been warned. There is one bright spot, however: I always make our hosts a pie.

What about y’all? Do you have any ongoing former-neighbor friendship stories to tell? Or are you hiding from those former neighbors in a witness protection program?

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