Sunday 21st February 2010 This could be the last time!
We were flying to Phoenix via Chicago for what should be our last time with the Bam. We have had such wonderful travels in it over the last 8 years, but now we plan to sell it. With Simon no longer living in Calgary, and having ourselves visited all the states of USA, and all the provinces of Canada, it is time to move on.
We had visited Simon & family in Geneva a couple of weeks ago, and Emma and co had stayed with us overnight after their trip to Geneva last week, where the four cousins had had fun together.
A week ago we had driven down to see Paul & Nicky to celebrate an early birthday for Nicky & me. The next day, I had accompanied Nicky for her 20 week scan, while Adrian minded little Louisa.
Before leaving, we had spoken on the phone to Tom in Barcelona, who was enjoying himself skiing at the time!
We had left Phoenix in October, when the temperature was in the 100°F’s. It had been mild in England at first, but then we had experienced the coldest winter for a very long time, with lots of snow, which had often brought things to a standstill.
It was snowing as we went out to the taxi at 5.30 am, but by the time we arrived at Calcot it had turned to rain. It was still pretty cold as we waited ¾ hour for the bus to Heathrow! It had apparently been delayed because the motorway was closed, but it had already got us thinking ‘If you don’t like it, don’t travel’! It was dark and miserable, with no activity early on a Sunday morning to distract us.
We had allowed extra time at Heathrow, by booking the earlier bus, because of heightened security following the attempted bombing on Christmas Day. In fact, we had no more checks than usual, and the staff all seemed pleasant.
It was the longest walk of all to our departure lounge - good exercise before a day spent mostly sitting. The plane actually took off ½ hour late for its 10.05 departure, and we went straight into low cloud, but we did get glimpses of a snow covered landscape as we flew northwards over England.
After that, it was cloudy for most of the way to Chicago, which was a shame, as our route took us over Newfoundland, Labrador, Nova Scotia & Quebec,
We did get views of very cold country as we approached the Great Lakes.
Our matchbox-sized screens were so tiny, that we didn’t bother watching anything except the route map. We were glad to have our Ipod to listen to our music, and we started listening to some of our travels in SW USA seven years ago. What a lot we’ve seen since then!
The food on this United Airlines flight was actually good - no free booze though – and it was the usual scramble to eat the snack provided, and fill in immigration forms just before we landed at Chicago.
As we wandered through Chicago Airport we realised that this is where we had flown into when we collected the brand new Bam in January 2002, and where we will be flying out from at the end of this trip.
We had to wait a very long time to go through Immigration, but then the young chap asked us all about the Bam, he appeared really interested in our travels. We had to take a train to the domestic terminal, and then wait to go through Security once more. What a trial flying has become, but all the staff were pleasant enough, and at least when we reached Phoenix, we had no more formalities to go through.
Time had gone back 6 hours, with another hour when we reached Phoenix.
Our onward flight was full. There was an announcement telling us this, and that ‘It is likely that one passenger may be left behind’! We were also informed that each passenger was allowed one piece of personal luggage, plus one other. ‘That means two, so if you have more than two, say three, that is too much’!
It was a 3½ hour flight to Phoenix, and we slept or dosed for much of it.
We arrived at Phoenix 10 minutes early, just as the sun was setting, but by the time we left the airport it was already dark. We had to wait a while for our bags – no waiting for immigration etc to take up the time. We were glad to see both bags arrive on the carousel, after our previous track record of lost luggage. We had seen bags been loaded on to the aircraft at Chicago, but hadn’t seen ours amongst them.
We arrived at ‘Absolute Storage’ at Tempe at about 7.30pm local time – 3.30 am to us, and we’d got up at 4.30. The moon shone like a slice of lemon, and Orion was visible above. Our taxi driver must have wondered where he’d dropped us! Once Adrian had located the pass number for the gate, we made our way to the Bam. We were able to take in the new windscreen which Adrian had arranged to be fitted a couple of days ago (it had been cracked for some years – soon after having a new one fitted). Also, we had had the interior of the van cleaned, so had to be careful where we put our bags!
We were soon into bed, but not for too much sleep!
Monday 22nd February Off we go 33.5 miles
We lasted out until 5 00 a.m., then got up and began unpacking and getting sorted. It always takes a while to remember what goes where, even after all this time!
I found that we had some pancake mix in the cupboard, so we were able to enjoy a ‘yummy pancake breakfast’ before leaving the storage place at about 9.30. Adrian had said goodbye to Jennifer, who runs the place, which had served us well. He had been able to fill the water tank, so now we were set to go in search of provisions. These were mostly bought at Trader Joe’s – it is so nice to shop in a store which has such ‘un-american’ food – quality rather than quantity. As the pleasant young chap on the till said, ‘Americans are overfed and undernourished’.
We quickly adjusted to our new time zone, and had coffee while Adrian worked on putting the sale of the Bam onto another website. After a bit more shopping, it was time for lunch, and we enjoyed our tasty purchases.
This trip is different, in that we have no new area to explore, our main task being to try to sell the Bam. We want to stay in the Phoenix area for a few days, with the idea of a National Park to visit for my birthday on Friday. We decided to drive north eastwards, which meant many a mile of ‘urbanisation’, where the housing estates continue to spread.
We revelled in seeing the palm trees, the huge cacti and the orange trees full of fruit. The day had been one of sunshine and very heavy ‘April showers’. We avoided most of them, but did get caught as we finally reached Tonto National Forest (cacti not trees!), and hoped to stop for the night. We turned off to a camping area, but when we reached a sign saying ‘Do not pass this point if the road is flooded’, and water was just beginning to flow across the road, we returned to a gravel area near the road junction.
The desert scenery around was wonderful, with cacti of all shapes and sizes, so we hope for a dry morning, so that we can explore it a bit.
We were enjoying listening to a local radio station which had been playing Beatles music all day today, and were just about to eat supper when we looked out to the most glorious sight – the sun was going down on one side of us, amongst a wonderful array of colours, then, as we looked out in the other direction, the most amazing rainbow stood out against the dark sky. It was much steeper than rainbows that we are used to, almost making a circle. There was the beginning of a double rainbow. With all the evocative tall cacti it was astounding – we rushed out to try to capture it on camera, but couldn’t get the whole rainbow.
We came back in to eat our supper by candlelight, with the delightful views outside.
Tuesday 23rd February The delights of the desert, followed by a trying afternoon 166 miles
We slept longer than the previous night, although it was really cold. Adrian found a pleasant local classical radio station. To look out on the sun just rising above the desert onto a perfect day, with Smetana’s ‘Die Moldau’ playing is something to be remembered.
After breakfast we set off on a fantastic walk up to ‘the top of the hill’.
On top of ‘the hill’
There were saguaro cacti all around, with wonderful views against the blue sky. We took loads of photos!
We’d set off in all our outdoor clothing, but it was already warm by the time we returned to the Bam.
We now drove down to the Salt River. We discovered that there was a parking area here, and there were a lot of RVs. We walked down to the river, and just revelled in the peace and the solitude. There were lots of birds – herons, grackles and bald eagles. It was already warm as we returned to have our coffee, when we saw red cardinals and hummingbirds.
Now we set off on a 2½ mile walk, initially beside the river. It was glorious, with the cottonwoods just coming into leaf, and the mesquite bushes, and with bright green foliage underfoot. We walked back through the saguaro cacti and the mesquite.
Saguaro and mesquite
We had seen the rare phainopepla bird, a relation of the waxwing, and an iridescent green hummingbird, which we think was the magnificent hummingbird from Central America.
We had taken lots of photos, but now it was back for lunch! The tables were unfortunately for us under a deep concrete shade.
It was 2.15 when we left. We set off to join the route 87 northwards through beautiful wilderness mountain scenery.
For a short way, we repeated our route of November 2003 to Payson.
Here we spent a long time trying to get an internet connection to see how our Bam adverts were going. From here we set off eastwards, and that is when things became difficult!
We had enjoyed seeing the snow covered mountains in the distance, but now we went immediately into snow! There was nowhere that we could pull off. In some places, the snow was piled up 10 ft high, and the houses and RVs were half buried in snow.
We continued on and on – it looked very pretty, with the snow covered ground, and with snow thick on the trees, but it wasn’t what we wanted!
After many many miles of driving, we came to the town of Show Low. We had seen that there was a Walmart here, and thought that that would be our refuge, but we were out of luck!
We had a great deal of trouble in finding Walmart – Adrian had seen K-Mart, and we’d pulled in there, but realising our mistake, we carried on until we had reached the right road. In not finding Walmart, we resorted to the computer, and it was then that we discovered that it was a Walmart that you couldn’t stay at! It was dark by now, so we were feeling desperate!
We decided to return to the Kmart we had passed, knowing that people often stayed there, so at 6.45 we pulled in for the night.
I quickly got supper ready, as we recovered from our long and trying afternoon.
Wednesday 24th February Out of the snow to a fantastic canyon 139 miles
Not a peaceful night! We had left the heater on, as we knew that the night would be cold, but the sound of it starting up every so often was drowned by the loud noise of the engine of a huge truck which had pulled in behind us.
At 5.45 am, we put on our music, to try to get some more sleep, but then thankfully the truck finally left.
The temperature outside was 32°F, 0°C, and everywhere looked bleak and grey, apart from the snow. This year in particular, we had enough of snow in England! We wanted to get down to lower land, but first we worked on the sale of the Bam on the web.
It was after 11.00 when we left, having called into adjacent Safeway to buy a fresh loaf, and a birthday cake for me for Friday.
As we drove south on route 60, we enjoyed the great canyon-like scenery, and were able to appreciate it more today, particularly as the snow was getting less. We hadn’t known what a crown was coming up though. We had seen Salt River Canyon marked on the map, and what a wonderful sight this was! We have seen the Grand Canyon, and Copper Canyon in Mexico, but to come across this so unexpectedly was fantastic. It really was most impressive, the only thing spoiling it was the amount of litter around the viewpoint.
Unexpectedly wonderful Salt River Canyon
We stopped to have our lunch overlooking the canyon, watching the vehicles ascending the long zig zag on the other side, before we attempted it ourselves. We stopped at another viewpoint here, where the concrete steps had seen better days, and where two large boulders contained Indian petroglyphs.
We did then drive through another snowy area, but then descended to the town of Globe, where we turned eastwards through the San Carlos Indian Reservation to Fort Thomas.
Just a bit more snow
The parking area we had read about by a historical marker which we passed didn’t appeal to us to overnight in, but just a bit further on, at the tiny habitation called Fort Thomas, we pulled in by a tall monument. This was to Melvin Jones, who had been born here, and who was the founder of Lions Club International. We stopped in the warm sunshine (65°F, 18°C) to have a look, and decided that it was a good place to stay. We even had time to enjoy a cup of tea sitting outside at a picnic table. After last night’s horror, this was wonderful.
We ate supper of steak and listened to some of our travels in this area in 2003.
Thursday 25th February To a lovely, remote National Park 107 miles
We both slept well – the first and only train going by at 6.30 am. We had wondered last night when a train kept shunting backwards and forwards before finally departing if we would be disturbed. No fire engines left from the fire station opposite, and there was no karaoke from the bar on the corner!
It was a very pastel morning, the beige coloured grass matching the clouds in the light blue sky, but these soon cleared away, and it was beautifully warm by the time we left just before 9.00 am, with the pointed snow covered peaks in the distance.
We drove for 20 miles along the wide, flat Gila valley with the snowy peaks to either side, to the pleasant town of Safford. Here we were able to get an internet connection, and could phone Nicky to wish her Happy Birthday for our birthday tomorrow. We had a chat with Paul too, and with little Louisa.
Now we drove south for 30 miles to Willcox, repeating our route of 2003, although we remembered nothing of it. In Willcox we found a place where we could dump and get water, but had to wait a long time to do so. We got some more fuel, then set off on the 35 miles to Chiricahua National Monument, which we hope to visit for my birthday tomorrow. It was a lonely road through arid scenery, with nowhere to pull off, so we stopped for lunch in a gateway.
The whole area here was covered in a sort of haze, we didn’t know why, but we suspected that it was pollution from the Tucson area.
We reached the park, and after a short stop at the Visitors Centre, located the small campground where we found a nice spot beside a little stream.
We perused the park leaflet while having a cup of tea outside. We set off on a short walk to the nearby meadows, enjoying the lovely scenery and the interesting trees, particularly the alligator juniper, aptly named for its bark.
Alligator juniper bark
We were disappointed not to see any birds, as this park is supposed to be good for birds being at the confluence of 4 ecosystems – the Rocky Mountains to the north, Sonoran Desert to the west, SierraMadrean to the south, and Chihuanuan Desert to the east. We hope to see more tomorrow, and to enjoy some more walking in the park.
We ate an early birthday meal of my favourite sushi, followed by crème brulee in a chocolate cup. Adrian had put up some balloons, and a birthday banner – it would already be 26th in England.
The night was very cool, but we looked out to see the stars and a large, clear moon.
Friday 26th February Lovely walks and our first campfire for my birthday 12 miles
A beautiful day for my birthday, but very cold at first. The sun just about reached our table for breakfast, so we braved sitting outside to eat the scrambled egg which Adrian had made. I had opened my cards and a few presents.
Happy Birthday Rosie
Mexican jays had come to greet us. These beautiful blue birds are only found in this area of USA, and are slightly different from scrub jays, but have the same noisy, cheeky habits. In the afternoon, eight of them crowded in and around us.
We set off at about 10 o’clock to drive further up Bonita Canyon, with the dramatic rhyolite columns towering high above us.
The ‘Organ Pipes’
At the Echo Canyon parking area we stopped to have coffee before setting off on a two hour walk. We had been enjoying one of my new CDs – Pete Seeger, and had already listened to vibrant Paolo Nutini.
Although only 3.3 miles long, our walk descended a long way down into the canyon, amongst the strangely shaped columns, and then later ascended by a different route.
The sky was a deep blue, and the sun warm, but the air very chill. We often walked over snow. By the time we were climbing up again, we got quite warm. We had only passed one lady ranger, and the two people on horseback who we had seen yesterday. Sadly we saw no birds or other wildlife.
We drove on to the parking area for Sugarloaf Mountain ( we weren’t going to climb it), but the only picnic table was in the shade, next to the toilet, so we drove back, and on to Massai Point, the end of the road.
Here we had tasty bacon sandwiches for lunch, sitting on a large rock, with the wilderness view spread out before us. Afterwards we walked the trail around the point – again we didn’t pass any people, but had wonderful views.
Now 2.30, we drove back down the canyon to the campsite, where it was really quiet and peaceful, and warm in the sun.
A bit later, we opened the bubbly, and enjoyed some of the little cake we had bought. A neighbouring camper, a lady from Vancouver Island with a large dog called Max, who they had got in Mexico, came across to take our photo. She said that they had pulled into our spot earlier, not noticing our permit, and had got settled in and had lunch before they realised that the spot was taken. Their bonus was that they’d seen a coatimundi wandering along the stream.
Happy Birthday – and our first campfire
Now we lit our first campfire – we had some wood left from our last trip, when it was far too hot to have a fire. We lit the fire early, as we knew that it would soon get very cold, when the sun went down. The fireplace was set on a post, so not good for sitting round. We cooked corn on the cob on the fire, and came inside later to eat that for supper, followed by prawn stir fry, and with a fruity desert to follow, and then listened to some of my favourite music.
We had seen the large full moon surrounded by a huge ring.
It had been a lovely birthday.
Saturday 27th February Birds in unexpected places 101 miles
It was cloudier than yesterday, which made us realise how lucky we had been.
We ate pancakes with banana for breakfast. Before we left, the Canadian lady came over with her dog to look at the Bam. They both came right inside, while we flinched at the thought of the dog on our clean carpet!
We’d wondered what the fuss had been about last night, as we had seen rangers talking to them. It turned out that she and her husband had lost each other while out walking – we never met the husband, but it would seem that he was older, and not so nimble - she had asked another couple if they had seen him, and they had passed the message on to a ranger, and a full scale alert had been set up!
Beautiful but cheeky Mexican jay
We left at 9.30, as the jays moved in to our site! We drove back to the Visitors Centre, and from here walked a pleasant trail through wooded Rhyolite Canyon, which continued right up to the area we had walked in yesterday. It was peaceful, but all we saw were jays again.
Nearby was Faraway Ranch, which the Erickson family had settled in the 1800s. Their eldest daughter had married a man called Ed Riggs, who was mostly responsible for establishing the park. Their children had used the ranch as a guest house for early visitors to the park.
We wandered around the outside of the properties, on the way passing a bright young couple with their two small children, and later a grandfather with his bubbly little blond grandson. We saw a few birds as we sat at a picnic table to have coffee afterwards.
We made one more short walk by Bonita Creek, but the trail had been badly maintained, and we saw no more birds.
At 11.30 we headed for the entrance, seeing three deer as we stopped by the Erickson family cemetery.
We had enjoyed our visit to this National Park, and now I drove the few miles to the road junction. At this point, our phone logged in, and we received a lot of messages on it.
Further along the road, we saw great crowds of birds in the sky. We stopped to look and listen, and decided that they were sandhill cranes. We had seen them arriving nearby in New Mexico in the autumn of 2003 and now presumably they were leaving in the spring.
We stopped in the very low key town of Elfrida to have lunch of spelt-flour tortillas, with birthday hearts of palm salad. We had an internet connection here, and were able to read my birthday messages, plus one from distant cousin Peter Neild in San Diego, and one enquiry about the Bam. We also saw on the news of a huge earthquake in Chile, and of storms in Spain.
We now made our way to Tombstone, which we had visited in 2003. We stopped for a short walk around this wild west tourist town, stopping to enjoy an enormous ice cream - the smallest size. Even Americans were amazed at the size of the ice creams!
We looked into one or two tourist shops – in one, a shop selling expensive model railway engines, the man was chatting to a customer, saying that his father used to play music with Pete Seeger. We read once again markers about Wyatt Earp’s family, and the gun battles (we had watched a re-enactment last time) and the OK Corral.
The Butterfield Express at Tombstone
Now it was on to Benson, to an SKP (Escapee) site. We had decided to try this in order to have electricity, and to do some organising on the computer. The sign said that the site was full, but on enquiring, Adrian was offered the last powered site, for 2 nights.
We followed the ‘site placement buggy’, laughing to ourselves, as we thought that we might just be following anybody’s buggy around this vast complex. We were led to our spot, having prepared ourselves for the unattractive row upon row of RVs. It was as we’d expected, but the strange thing was, we saw more birds here in the first five minutes than in the whole of our time in the park. And this was despite a rule saying that bird feeders were prohibited, as they would cause weeds to grow!
Apart from lots of smaller birds, like white crowned sparrows, we saw a gray cardinal, with brilliant splashes of red (also called a pyrrhuloxia !), and a group of noisy Gambell’s quails, with their weird protrusion from their forehead.
We ate a tasty bacon omelette for supper, before going over to the ‘Clubhouse’, where we had seen that there was live music and dancing. The ‘live music’ was provided by a man called Bruce Bryant – an ageing Willie Nelson look-alike, but wearing a dark suit and bow tie, with white shirt. His grinning wife controlled the ‘karaoke’ style accompanying music. It was a large hall, packed with elderly couples, most of who got up to cavort around the room to the music. Why was it so abhorrent to us? We stuck it out for a while, then walked back, with the full moon and many stars above from a now clear sky.
Sunday 28th February A useful day 7 miles
We had seen that the weather wasn’t going to be good today, and sure enough, we had heavy rain in the night, and more during the morning and afternoon. As today was going to be a ‘useful day’, it wasn’t too much of a problem.
We did do ‘useful things’ – like doing the washing and sorting more about selling the Bam. We even threw out our printer, which we have no more use for. We were able to talk on the phone to all four of our ‘kids’. We spoke briefly to Louisa and to Millie, and Manolo sang a delightful ‘Happy Birthday’ to me.
After lunch, we drove into Benson, and shopped in Safeway. We had amusement here – the lady behind the deli counter was flummoxed when Adrian asked for 6oz of ham, and a chap got chatting to him about our Prime Minister Tony Brown, and Queen Margaret!
When we arrived back, a ‘jam session’ was taking place in the clubhouse. We went in to see what it was about – and spent the next 2 hours there! Eight musicians were on the stage – all talented. A younger woman played honky tonk piano brilliantly, and the seven others played guitar and sang. Each took it in turn to sing a favourite song. The audience was very small, but we just loved it. We returned to our spot much refreshed!
Monday 1st March Cacti and caves 60 miles
It was a much nicer day today. While Adrian went into the clubhouse to work on more websites to advertise the sale of the Bam, I listened to my new CDs in the Bam.
In Benson we stopped to get propane. The lady said that the recent rains would mean a lovely display of spring flowers in about a month – we hope that we will be around somewhere to see them.
We took the I10 towards Tucson, turning off south to drive several miles to Kartchner Caverns State Park. When we got there, we discovered that it cost $6 to enter the park, plus over $20 each for a tour of the caves. Camping cost $22. We thought that this was all a bit too steep, particularly as, with my claustrophobia I might not even enjoy it.
We drove back to the I10, noticing the fresh snow on the hilltops.
Just before Tucson, we turned off to Colossal Cave. After the last place, we weren’t sure what to expect. This was called a Regional Park. Entrance to the park was $5, and tours cost $11 each. This was more like it! Also, you could camp for another $5 – no facilities, but lovely surroundings.
We made our way to a picnic/camping area, and enjoyed lunch sitting at a picnic table in the peaceful, remote setting. After surviving 2 nights in an unattractive (to us) RV park, this was heaven, and we decided to stay here tonight. We saw a few birds, several of the crested phainopepia, like we had seen at Salt River, and later a red and a gray cardinal.
Now we made our way to the cave area, and were just in time for the tour which was about to start. Our guide, a tall, slim woman called Lauren, was energetic, with a ready sense of humour. We have seen prettier caves, but this one was interesting for the amount of ‘holes’ to either side, with views in different directions, including some really deep down.
Rosie in Colossal Cave
The caves were dry, and the temperature was 70°F, which surprised us. It had been used by the local Indians, and later by outlaws as a hideout, and more recently by explorers. In particular, a man named Frank Schmidt had been paramount in opening up the cave system. Much of the work on the paths through the caves had been done by the CCC. Later we saw a small museum about their work here. A chap on our tour told us that this was the first cave he had ever been in! Despite my claustrophobia, we have visited dozens!
We drove down to the ranch area of the park, where you could go horse riding if you wanted to. Instead, we had a pleasant stroll through the desert country, with occasional boards telling of the Indians who used to live here. We are very close to Saguaro National Park, which we have visited before, and the hills here are covered in these attractive tall cacti too.
We drove back to the camping area, hoping to walk further down the track, but as we had been told, the Posta Quemala Wash was flowing, and it was too deep to walk through.
Saguaro in the evening light
Tuesday 2nd March Lots more cacti 199 miles
It was a fine morning, but windy. We left at 9 o’clock. Nobody had come to collect our camping fee, and as we left by a different route, it was a free night.
We drove on a ‘rural route’ to Tucson, passing Saguaro National Park, which we had visited before. Then it was a long trawl through sprawling Tucson until we took Route 86 westwards across the desert.
After some miles, we came to an informal picnic area, with views up to Kitt Peak observatory – apparently the largest in the world. You could walk off into the desert here, amongst the variety of cacti. A few California poppies were flowering brilliantly. We saw and heard quiet a lot of birds – woodpeckers and phainopepia – I saw one feeding its young.
It was now warm – time to get into cooler clothes – shorts and sandals even, so we decided to have early lunch here at the picnic table.
Then it was off across more desert to the town of Why. From here, the road went south to Organ Pipe National Monument, which is just north of the Mexican border. We were tempted to cross into Mexico – it was only 60 miles from there to the coast – but Adrian thought that the formalities and insurance would be too difficult. It was while driving around this remote park in November 2003 that we bumped into our Canadian friends Joe & Irene. We thought that we’d visit the park again, but hadn’t remembered that it was about 20 miles to the start of the trails – and then they were unsurfaced.
An organ pipe cactus
The scenery as we drove south was lovely, with lots of cacti, but very few organ pipe cacti. We weren’t keen to drive the 21 mile dirt road which we had driven before, but there was another road which led for five miles through the desert. We took this – it was surfaced where a wash could flow across the road, but otherwise it was very bumpy. We stopped several times to view the cacti, and the wonderful ocotillos, which were just beginning to bloom, with their brilliant red flowers at the end of their spindly branches. There were plenty of magnificent saguaro cacti too, and many cholla cacti and we enjoyed the splendid mountain views.
There was a campsite in the park, but the diagram didn’t show it as being attractive, so we decided to return to a spot we had stayed at with Joe and Irene before near Why. At that time, there was nobody else about, but now, there were a lot of RVs scattered around the desert BLM land. It was free to camp for up to 14 days, but you had to register. It was 5 o’clock when we arrived, and it felt really warm, with a clear blue sky.
Overnighting by a cactus
This was the night for our first barbecue. We sat with a sundowner as the sun went down so magnificently with the silhouette of a huge saguaro cactus.
It stayed warm enough for us to sit outside to eat, and we relished the darkening sky, with the stars gradually appearing. We could see Orion, Cassiopeia and the Plough, and then myriads of other stars. We came in at about 8 o’clock. It had been a lovely evening.
Wednesday 3rd March From Arizona desert to California desert 195 miles
It was a fine sunny morning, with a clear blue sky. As we left at 9 o’clock, we watched a woodpecker pecking in a hole high up in a huge saguaro cactus.
We drove through the small desert town which is called Why to the former mining town of Ajo. The colours of the rocks from the remnants of the mining operations were like a wonderful Alum Bay. There was a pretty church in the centre of the town, which sprawled out for a long way.
We continued to the town of Gila Bend, where we were joining the I8 westwards. As we entered Gila Bend, the sign said ‘Home to 1700 friendly people and 5 old crabs’!
We had been stopped at one of many border control points – at this one a very sunny faced young black chap questioned us amiably. We had remarked yesterday that there are more border control vehicles in this area than anything else.
We stopped in Gila Bend while Adrian put the Bam on yet another website – this one purported to sell the vehicle for you, by putting it onto more websites.
We travelled west on the I8, stopping for lunch at Sentinel Rest Area, where the sign at the junction said ‘Middle of Nowhere’. It was hot as we sat at a covered picnic table, while lots of little sparrows flew about.
Now we drove on to Yuma, taking the old road for about 20 miles. We’d wanted to do a bit more, but an inconspicuous sign told us that a bridge “was out”!
At Yuma, we got ourselves quite lost in the vast and sprawling town, which was much busier than we remember it from 7 years ago. It is around here that thousands of ‘snowbirds’ spend the winter, many of them set up in bleak and unattractive RV parks. As we tried to find our way, our cell phone kept ringing with dozens of messages from the various websites which had received our ‘booking’.
We stopped to look up where we had stayed before, and realized that it was across the Colorado River into California. We did the same this time, but when we reached the turnoff, we found it to be a route through fine sand – it is the edge of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. This was a no-go for us, as we didn’t really know where we were going. We crossed the motorway, and pulled into a sandy area just by the road.
We enjoyed our desert situation, and once more sat out with a drink as the sun went down.
Alone in the desert
Thursday 4th March A quick trip into Mexico 99 miles
The warm night became cool towards dawn, and very windy, as it had been occasionally during the night.
Now in California, we should have changed time by one hour, but the difference didn’t suit us – it was light early in the morning, and dark much too early at night. We had thought that summer time started here on Sunday, but it isn’t for another week. We had the same problem when in California in 2003. We decided to keep to our own time for the moment, as we had done then.
So, we left at 10 o’clock, or 9 o’clock, and drove back on the motorway to the turn off to Mexico. We realized that where we had stayed in 2003 was off the previous junction, but we’d been happy with our isolated spot this time.
Just before the border, dozens of cars and RVs were parked by the road, but we opted to go into a car park, as we had done before ($7 this time, $5 before).
From here we were able to walk straight into Algodones, the small Mexican town, which as we remembered from our previous visit, consists of loads of dentists, opticians and pharmacies, with street stalls and a few eating places. Many ‘snowbirds’ cross the border to get their teeth and eyes seen to, and to stock up on medication. We were coming just for a little look around. Adrian bought a wallet, and we stopped for coffee and pancakes. Adrian had a nice lemonade – freshly made. While we were enjoying this, one of the many lads came by with his board of named wristbands. We got him to make names for Felix, Ruby and Manolo. This he did while we had our coffee.
Wristbands for the grandchildren while we wait for coffee
Having seen as much as we wanted to, we made for the border. It was then that we saw the queue – and we stood in it for the next half hour, edging slowly forward to U.S. customs. At least the sky was blue, and we walked past oleanders and bougainvillea, looking great against the sky.
Reunited with the Bam, we drove a short distance, and stopped to have lunch beside the Colorado River, where Arizona, California and Mexico all meet.
We now drove west on the I8, passing last night’s spot, and then into the area of sand dunes.
We turned off to drive to the pleasant but low-key town of Holtville, but couldn’t find the dump station we had note of. There had been a sudden change to irrigated fertile, cultivated land, contrasting with the dry desert. We continued to El Centro, where we took a long time finding a supermarket, but eventually located Vons, which is part of Safeway. We had received a message on the phone from distant cousin Peter Neild, who lives near San Diego, but we were unable to get an internet connection to read all of the message, so we hope that we will be able to meet up with him.
We continued on this small road, running parallel to the I8, but passing through only one tiny habitation, and then a place called Plaster Works, which was just that! A walker with all is gear walked past us – and we thought that we were daft driving this way!
At the little town of Ocotillo, we joined a road which runs through the Anza-Borrego Desert. Amongst the dry sand, the wonderfully shaped ocotillo plants began to appear. We saw as we passed the ‘Community Park’, that the Ocotillo Festival is on Saturday.
Ocotillo just blooming
Soon after this, just before 6 o’clock our time, we pulled off for the night. There were low desert plants, plus the ocotillos, with rugged mountains to either side, and we could see vehicles driving along the I8 in the distance. It was really windy as we had a little walk around, before coming in to the sanctuary of the Bam, with nothing but desert all around us.
Desert all around us
The stars were good later, and we could see a line of lights, which we thought could only be the border with Mexico.
Friday 5th March Desert delights 70 miles
It was a lovely desert morning – cool at first, and hot later.
Soon after we set off, we went through a border crossing checkpoint, which amused us, as we thought that we were miles from anywhere. We now entered the Anza- Borrego Desert Park proper. We stopped at the first of many lovely stops to enjoy the desert. This one was at an overlook to the badlands. It was glorious – a lovely temperature - not too hot and not too cold – in summer it would be unbearable, and we wouldn’t be able to walk out at all. In fact we passed a campsite which was closed from 1st June until 1st September!
After a little while of adjusting to the subtleties of the desert, we saw lots of flowers –mauve lupins, very tiny pink flowers, and others in blue, yellow and white. There were lots of birds too – we could only recognize the phainopepla, but heard others.
We stopped many more times, enjoying all the various types of cacti and the wonderful ocotillo. We also saw the desert agave, with its spikes with large yellow flowers.
Flowering barrel cactus
This road followed old stage routes, particularly the Butterfield route. We pulled into Vallecito Stage station, and had lunch at another of the Butterfield stage stations. The Mormons had also passed through this way.
We then took a very winding route east then north to Borrego Springs. This town was very spread out in the valley, but unlike Palm Springs a bit further north, it didn’t seemed to have ‘happened’. Whilst here, we were able to receive email messages from my distant cousin Peter Neild, hoping to meet up tomorrow.
Now we made our way to Palm Canyon State Campsite so that we could dump. There was a fee for this, as we knew. The lady at the kiosk was very nice, wondering why we wanted to sell our van. She suggested that we walk the trail in the park, so we made our way there. It was a 1½ mile walk each way, up to Palm Canyon.
On the Palm Canyon walk
On the way we saw lots of wild desert flowers in blue, red, yellow and white. It was a very popular walk, so we passed many other walkers. When we reached the palms – California Fan Palms, of which there are not many left in the wild, we could hear frogs croaking in the water which was flowing here.
Adrian by the Fan Palms
We decided to take an ‘alternate’ route back – what it didn’t say was that this went half way up the canyon on the other side of the valley, through boulders, so that it wasn’t the easy path down the valley that we had come up! By the time we got back to the Bam, it was nearly 6 o’clock our time. We didn’t know how much more day light was left, so Adrian enquired if there was room at the campsite. There were 2 places left, so reluctantly we took one. We think that State Parks in California are expensive, but we had already paid to dump, so this made it seem less.
We soon settled in, and lit a fire – the first campfire that we cooked on. The site was really quiet. A little hummingbird came to visit briefly, and then we enjoyed a lovely evening sitting outside. It had become cloudy – there is talk of a big storm tomorrow – but we could still make out Orion in the sky. Also, it felt warm.
Saturday 6th March From desert to habitation – and a distant relative 66 miles
It was pleasant enough to eat breakfast outside at the picnic table. Afterwards we went for a short walk out across the desert, enjoying the flowers once more.
We came back before going into the Visitors Centre, where we found the name of some of the flowers we had seen. By now it was gone midday. We finally left the park, ascending on a zig-zag route up and over a pass, and soon we were out of the desert, and in a landscape of trees and green grass and cows.
We had lunch in the Bam under some trees before making our way via Santa Ysabel to Poway, north of San Diego. Here we arrived at the home of distant cousin Peter Neild and his wife Wendy. We had been in email contact with Peter in recent years, so it was good to be able to meet in person.
With ‘cousin’ Peter and his wife Wendy
We also met their elder son Jesse, their younger son Nick was travelling in Europe – actually in Barcelona. Their daughter Timber has a three month old baby daughter Charlie, and lives not far away.
After a lot of chat, we had supper with them, before watching an excellent and moving film about the life of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who graduated, and went on to do a lot of work with improving conditions for cattle.
We didn’t come out to the Bam until midnight our time. The evening had been cool and wet, but we didn’t have the storm that was expected.
We received an email with the sad news that Fred Lane had died.
Phoenix, Arizona to Poway, California
[A sad note written 13 years later - It was during this uphill walk that Rosie got a bit 'puffed' and sat down for some minutes to recover. She got up saying "OK I'll be fine now". When we got home, after months of investigations, she was diagnosed with a Brain Stem Tumour, which she died of 10 years later]