Saturday, March 17, 2018

Mojave National Preserve CA

From Kingman AZ it's a short drive to crossing the Colorado River back into California. Fortunately, California has finally gotten around to improving the roadway, but apparently the state is slower to maintain the Rest Areas (sigh). California's not a great state to be driving long distances for people with a tiny bladder.
Bridge over the Colorado coming up

Why am I not surprised?

The more we travel, the more we search the maps for places we've never been.  The Mojave National Preserve fits the bill. Just after Fenner CA at exit #100 we turn northward onto a gravel road into the Preserve.  After a few miles, our Google Maps navigation has completely lost sight of where we are. Ahhh - no cell bars traveling; free at last from the Net!
Hey here's a big spot on the map we haven't been

We are now officially off the gird 

Up to the Visitors' Center and Hole in the Wall Campground, the gravel road is well graded and easy to drive. Of course we stop at the Visitors' Center.  At first, there doesn't appear to be anyone around and there's no indication whether it's open or closed, so I knock on the door and it's opened by a lady Ranger.  She is taking a lunch break with her husband and two grade school daughters.  We back off saying we don't want to take up her time during her break.  She says no, no please come in as not many visitors stop in she's glad to see us.

Her office area is chock full of interesting objects from the surrounding desert, including fossils and some very large horns from the local Bighorn rams. I would love to have one of those.  She says they find the discarded horns out on hiking trails through the hills and canyons.  She is free with sharing her wealth of information about the area and points out interesting hiking trails and things to see.  She laughs that with Death Valley so close it draws all the crowds with only a small fraction find their way to the Preserve.
Mojave National Preserve Hole in the Wall Visitors' Center

After leaving the Visitors' Center the road becomes dirt with sand and sketchier, but both Peter and the camper handle it well. We pass the Gold Valley Ranch which must be one of the few sections of private land grandfathered in when the Preserve was created. With the arid terrain and sparse vegetation, these ranchers must need lots of land to just feed a few cattle. Still you got to admire these hardly souls for sticking to a way of life that can't be easy.
Interesting rock formations

Gold Valley Ranch

Cattle at the watering hole

Further down the road, we come to the Mid Hills Campground which is by far the nicer of the two on the Preserve. After only seeing a few vehicles of any kind for some time on the road, we are surprised to find a handful of campers already here. They mostly smile and greet us with a wave. Friendly folks out here in the middle of no where. We choose a nice site and pull in for lunch.
Trusty camper at lunch site

Nice place to stop

I love the stark beauty of the desert

The road now becomes a dry stream bed.  With all the flowers in bloom it looks like they got good monsoonal rains. However, we are both glad the stream beds are dry. They are probably pretty nasty in flood rendering the road impassable at best and deadly at worst.
Flowers along stream bed/road

Quick - grab this rock for our garden

Wise advise

As we climb in altitude, we start seeing Joshua Trees, then lots of Joshua Trees. In fact, they are very healthy looking Joshua Trees; much healthier than the ones we've seen in Joshua Tree National Park or just about anywhere else.

Sooner than we'd like, we find ourselves at a gas station at an unknown exit on I-15 just east of Baker. Sigh - we're back in civilization and headed for Tecopa Hot Springs for the night.
Gas station on I-15

Giant thermometer at Baker

Desert just south of Tecopa

When we get to Tecopa Hot Springs, we discover it is now under a new owner since the last time we were here. He's making a good attempt at bringing the place it up to at least minimum building code. Don't worry, it's still very much a funky place with an interesting supply of desert rats camped out.
Home for the night

View from edge of campground

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Revisiting Hopi Mesas, AZ

The rangers at Navajo National Monument recommend seeing the big Navajo Festival being held this weekend in Tuba City.  Tuba City forms the crossroads between Navajo and Hopi cultures - on one side of a street you are in the Navajo Nation, and on the other it's the Hopi Reservation. This situation can be confusing as these two different tribes use different time zones. Consequently, you can add an hour (or shorten) your day by simply crossing the road.

It's an easy stop along our way so we decide to check it out. Turns out it is a huge festival with hundreds of booths set up selling a wide array of goods and lots of people milling about. The big problem is parking, which seems to be in short supply.  We try Peter's remarkable parking CARma at Basha's the local supermarket. The parking situation is total chaos. Vehicles are swirling around looking for parking spaces while an uniformed Navajo policeman is busy keeping an eye out for people that are trying to use the parking lot to get to the Faire.  Although it never ceases to amaze me, Peter finds a great parking space and heads into the market to pick up a few supplies, giving me some time to quickly look through some of the stalls.

With time at stake, I limit myself to only the closest stalls.  As I'm about ready to give up, I spot a lovely coral necklace of many small beads carefully knotted together. It must have taken many hours to make it. The mother and son running the stall don't have many pieces for sale. Like the necklace I saw in Jacob Lake, her necklace also comes with a silver and turquoise pendant. Again, I ask if it's possible to buy the necklace without the pendant. She quickly agrees and quotes me a price of $120 for the necklace alone. Not being sure of how much cash I have with me, I counter with $100. She says she is already giving me a good price, which I realize and tell her that if I have the cash on me, it's a deal. Turns out I just barely have enough to cover her price and we are all happy to close the deal.

I little later, we stop for fuel and a bathroom break. As I am going into the Women's, a lovely Navajo woman also wearing a beautiful coral necklace passes me coming out. We spontaneously share a laugh when we both realize we are admiring each other's necklaces.  Looks like I made a good purchase all around.
Road to Tuba City

Let's see where we might go next

Although we've been to the Hopi Reservation before, we decide it would be fun to see it again.
Through First Mesa

and onto Second Mesa

We stop at the Hopi Cultural Center on Second Mesa. The center is much improved since we visited in Spring of 2013. Our first order of business is to get some lunch at the cafe. While we are waiting for our orders, three older Hopi couples come in and sit at a larger table nearby. They are dressed in their Sunday best. It looks like they have just come in from church.  The women start talking about  an inspiring sermon they just heard from their preacher. After a few minutes of church talk, the men change the subject to football and the progress of their favorite teams. People are a lot alike, no matter what culture they come from.
Fresh new paint and sidewalks

Nice landscaping

View from our lunchroom table

The last time we stopped in 2013, the museum was closed for renovations. This time it's open.
Map of the three Hopi mesas

Bride in traditional dress

Display of Hopi baskets

Beautiful bowl

This one is like ours

Another gorgeous bowl

Looking back at Second Mesa as we leave

We drive south on Hwy 87 towards the Coconino National Forest, which is an area worth exploring more. At Hwy 3, we turn northward toward Happy Jack and Flagstaff. Then we turn westward on I-40.
Driving north towards Happy Jack

Getting close to Flagstaff

Stopping for a break in Williams

That evening we pick Hualapai Mountain Park just south of Kingman as a possible place to camp. It's a bit off the beaten track and being off season in the middle of the week, we hope to easily find a site we like. Sure enough, we end up in a nice campsite with a view and *very* friendly deer.
South toward Hualapai Peak

Hualapai Peak

View from campsite

We have visitors

Will you feed me?

FEED me!

Even though I gritch at Peter not to feed the wildlife, he gives them a hand full of raw unsalted nuts, which they happily munch and then leave us in peace.  Oh well, at least it's probably healthier food than they get from most campers.
Camped at Hualapai Mountain Park

The next morning dawns clear and bright. After snapping some shots of the peak, we're back on the road generally heading towards home.
Close up of Hualapai Peak

Back down the mountain towards Kingman AZ

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Navajo National Monument AZ

Coming off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we stop at Jacob Lake Inn for a coffee break at the Jacob Lake Inn. I spot a really nice coral necklace of heishe beads in the gift shop. I ask how much the necklace costs. Immediately the saleslady launches into a long explanation of how the necklace is made by a very famous local artist. As she's speaking, I'm thinking cha-ching! The price is going up the longer she talks and must be already well out of my price range.  Sure enough, she finally gets around to telling me the price is around $6000 (ouch!).

Trying a different tactic, I ask how much would the necklace cost without the large silver and turquoise pendant it comes with.  She rolls her eyes and is aghast that I would want to destroy the artist's original design and insists the two cannot be separated. The turquoise in the pendant does not look natural to my eye and I point it out to her. This time she is doubly taken back that I would question such a famous artist's integrity.  So I leave shaking my head. Turquoise is my birthstone, I do know a bit about it.  Although I'm not absolutely certain if those stones were altered, I do know they didn't look natural. Buying "turquoise" in shops catering to tourists can be risky.
Nearing Marble Canyon

Incline on Hwy 89 towards Page AZ

View back toward Marble Canyon.

Our next stop is in Page for lunch then we drive eastward on Hwy 98 towards Navajo National Monument.  We find a really nice campsite at a great price (no charge). This is much better than trying to camp in nearby Monument Valley.
Texas BBQ in Page

Eastward on Hwy 98

Campsite at Navajo NM

 As we first turn off of Hwy 160 towards the campground on the access road, we see lots of cars and trucks parked alongside the road with an occasional sign saying "Buying Pinons $10/lb." When we reach the Visitor's Center we ask what's going on. The rangers tell us the local Navajo people are harvesting pinon nuts as the pines are carrying an especially good load this year (probably due to last year's ample rains).  Since the trees only produce nuts about once every 7 years, this year's large harvest is a big deal.  Looks like lots of the pinon harvesters are also staying in the campground. Some are minimal campers with just their cars and a sleeping bag tossed on the ground or thrown into the back of a pickup truck. For others, the harvest marks a generations old tradition with the Navajos. I get a kick out of one group of friendly women who are obviously enjoying the harvest and each other's company. They have a large well stocked camp with big pots of delicious smelling soups.

With our camp settled, we explore the local area. The Visitors' Center has some interesting exhibits both inside and out. One exhibit has several rocks with the imprint of dinosaur tracks. According to the sign:
"Footprints of a small dinosaur that walked on his its hind legs. About 180 million years ago, it left a lasting signature by walking through the mud. The print then filled with sediment, and both print and cast eventually turned to stone. Tracks of these three-toed Jurassic dinosaurs are very common in the limestone formations of the Navajo Country."
Old buckboard wagon

Sweat lodge

Three toed dinosaur footprint

A Navajo ranger in the Visitors' Center tells us about a guided hike to the Betatakin Cliff Dwelling that leaves in the morning. Again the price is right, so we sign up. There are several hiking trails leading out from the Visitors' Center that we check out in the late afternoon light.  One takes us to an overlook where we can see the Betatakin Cliff Dwelling in the valley below. Betatakin is one of three ancient Pueblo dwellings in the Monument and the only one open to the public.  Keet Seel can only be seen by special arrangement and Inscription House is closed to the public completely.
Valley where Betatakin Cliff Dwelling is found

We settle down that night looking forward to our hike in the morning. After a good night's rest, we meet our guide Navajo Ranger Vicki along with about 20 people. Ranger Vicki gives us an initial orientation about the importance of staying on the trail and not disturbing any of the ruins or artifacts.
Sunset through the pinon pines

Vicki leads us onto a closed trail

with many stairs into the canyon below

So far so good

Through a locked gateway

Water break in cave at bottom of canyon

Hiking through forest on the canyon floor

Fall foliage

Ranger Vicki describing Betatakin

Betatakin was only inhabited around 200 years starting 1000 AD to around 1250 AD which marked the general collapse of the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) civilization.  More recent scientific investigations have been able to pin point the explosion of a super volcano in Java ~ 1200 AD which is believed to be the cause of the deadly drought that brought Southwestern civilizations to their knees and also massive crop failures throughout Europe resulting in the deaths of at least a third of the population.

While Ranger Vicki describes how the dwellings were found and how the people lived.  I fantasize what it would be like to live here during its height.  Just then I wonder out loud to Ranger Vicki what they did for sanitation. She just laughed and shook her head, saying they didn't really have any sanitation to speak of. In fact, archeologists have found human coprolites (fossilized poop) just about everywhere throughout the ruins, in the rooms, out in the fields, and on the canyon floor.  Apparently, the ancient residents weren't too picky about where they did their business. Poof - so much for that fantasy.
Betatakin Cliff Dwelling

Peter is able to get a closer look at the dwellings

and cave paintings

and petroglyphs

Woman giving birth?

It's such a beautiful canyon - I can see why ancient peoples settled here

All too soon, the guided part of our hike is over and we wish everyone good-bye.
Back up the trail

up the stairs

and more stairs

Whew - almost to the top

Made it!

Time for a nap

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Retired and enjoying life.