The weather is deteriorating and there is a chance of snow overnight. We had planned to go home tonight or tomorrow, so the weather made the choice an easy one for us.
When we set out we thought we would only spend a couple of nights in the Yakima Valley, but we ended up staying 4 nights. Our planning was a little off this trip as we ended up winging our days, and probably drove a couple of hundred random miles because of our poor planning. But we do enjoy seeing things in the back country so except for the extra cost of gas it did not particularly bother us.
The nice part about the trip is each day we ended up finding a place that we really enjoyed and was memorable for good food, drink, and fun people. None of these places were on the agenda at the beginning of the day when we set out. So while it may not have been an efficient week, spontaneity led to positive experiences. This seems to happen to us very often and rarely do we have the opposite experience where things go badly. I think these kind of finds are what we enjoy about traveling.
Driving down the Columbia River Gorge Ton proposed we make one more stop before home so we pulled into one of our favorite Gorge Wineries, Idiots Grace. They had just reopened with a tented and heated tasting area. We had a quick lunch from Scout pared with a tasting of wine. The weather was crisp at about 50 degrees but it was a good end to a very nice trip.
We decided to extend our stay in our current campground, so we took a little extra time this morning. After looking around for options to do today we decided to head over to Saddle Mountain Wildlife Refuge to start the day and once we were done there decide what was next. We know that this is a very vague plan. The other decision for the day was whether this was going to be a wine tasting day or a beer tasting day. The final decision was for beer, so now that we had an agenda for the day.
We set Greta to no freeways as we wanted to get where we were going by driving thru the verdant farm country in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys. We both really enjoy driving down country roads trying to identify crops, and looking at the different ways farmers manage crops. This area is known for three major crops now. Apples have been the major crop for generations, but about 40 years ago they began planting warm weather varietals of wine grapes and it now a major wine region. The third major crop now is Hops. Hops have been grown here for decades, but since we last visited about 10 years ago hop production has exploded in the area, and today we drove thru thousands of acres of hop farms.
We were enjoying our drive and looking forward to the Wildlife Refuge. As we left the Yakima River Valley we entered the high desert grassland this area is naturally without irrigation. For about 20 miles we were skirting the edge of the Hanford Nuclear Site. During WWII this area was very remote and sparsely populated, so a top secret facility was built out here with some of the earliest nuclear reactors. At the peak the Hanford Nuclear site had 9 reactors to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The nuclear matter for the Manhattan Project was produced here. The production sites are now deactivated though it is one of the largest storage areas for used nuclear material in the US. At one point we came to one of the guarded entrances to the site. It did not seem like a good idea to stop and take pictures so we have nothing to show.
After leaving Hanford we had crossed over into the Columbia River Valley and the apples, and grapes reappeared, but more corn than hops. We were following Greta Garmins directions as we drove along and she finally had us turn down a gravel road into a large apple orchard, Greta finally announced we had arrived at the wildlife refuge when we were surrounded by apples with a large expanse of desert in front of us. The desert was probably part of the wildlife refuge but it did not appeal to us, so we turned around.
As we were heading back to the main road we saw a small field of a plant we have never seen. We slowed down to take a look and I began to suspect it was marijuana. We stopped and I saw some signs in Spanish that I think confirmed that it was cannabis. Now that the stuff is legal it has to be grown somewhere, and a remote apple orchard in the Columbia River Valley is as good a place as any. The smell from the plant is very strong and distinctive.
We finalized the day by visiting two local breweries in town. The first one was Bombing Range Brewery. We really enjoyed their beer, and they have one of the coolest logos we have seen. We ended up buying a couple of the glasses to add to our collection. The second brewery was Horse Heaven Hills Brewery where we ended the day.
Tonight we are hunkered down watching the local Soccer Derby between Seattle and Portland. The good guys let three points get away by conceding a goal in stoppage time. Soccer is such a cruel sport.
Continuing our tour of Eastern Washington Wine Country today we headed to center of the region. Walla Walla beside having a great name, is the town that really put Washington wines on the map. We last visited this wine town 15 years ago and were curious how success had changed things. Ton favors small producers and she picked two of the places that had good friendly reviews for our visit.
The day started out sunny, but cooler than the last couple of days, but the weather report showed that things are going to go down hill. The drive over was uneventful so we decided to take a stroll thru town before heading over to our first winery. Walla Walla is a really cute, regional farm town, probably the most picturesque and upscale looking of all of the towns on the east side of the mountains. It has a very well respected liberal arts college that adds a youthful energy to the farmers, ranchers and winemakers. There are several nice restaurants and coffee shops. The biggest change since our last visit is that about every other store front is now a tasting room for a winery.
Many of the towns and cities in the Northwest as a response to Covid have begun to convert streets and other public spaces to outdoor dining. This development put in place as an emergency measure has been well received. The streets that have been closed do not seem to have had a big impact on traffic, and like we noticed in Europe it makes walking a much more enjoyable experience. The temperature today is only in the mid-50’s and as you can see from the picture above it was too cold for most people to sit outside. It will be interesting to see what happens in the bad weather, both with the disease and if restaurant owners and customers will be able and willing to adapt.
Our first stop was Reinenger Winery. It has been producing wines since 1997. The wine tasting experience is a little different in these times. Instead of bringing over a sample one at a time and poring the wine while explaining the characteristics, they brought over the entire tasting flight in small carafes with a written explanation. This allows for proper social distancing for us and the tasting room workers.
We were enjoying our tasting when one of the workers and asked if wanted to take a tour of the winery. We were surprised as it is harvest time and usually the wineries are closed to visitors as they bring in the grapes. We masked up and headed out to have a walk around with one other group, and the tasting room manager. It was a nice treat to watch the workers deal with the grapes, and to see the vats of newly picked grapes going thru their initial fermentation.
The view from the winery was different, usually you are looking at vineyards. In this case we were looking at wheat fields for miles. The vineyards for the winery are a few miles away. So we were enjoying the great wine with a view that reminded us of North Dakota.
We finished the day by visiting another tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. Kontos winery was interesting because the family had been farming and ranching in Walla Walla since the 1850’s, but had only recently taken up winemaking in the 1990’s. They have a strong connection to the town and are proud of this recent development in farming there.
Ton and I have always enjoyed the Yakima Valley. It is usually sunny and bright. Ton really likes the “light” in the valley. It is the biggest producer of hops, fruit, and wine grapes in the Pacific Northwest, so it is a source of some of our favorite beverages. We decided that today was going to be a beer day sandwiched between two wine days.
But before starting with the breweries we headed to the local Costco for a quick run thru. We also had a luxurious lunch of the $1.50 hotdog for me, and a chicken wrap for Ton from the snack bar there.
As we have passed thru Yakima in the past we noticed a very beautiful botanical garden just off of the freeway so we decided to visit today. The garden was very well tended and had an interesting section highlighting the trees of the Northwest. There were several families exploring the gardens as well as us. They also had a nice formal Japanese garden tucked in one corner that we spent some time in. Some of the trees were at peak fall colors, as were the plants along the bank of the river, so we achieved our fall colors goal for the day.
As we drove down the freeway, Ton hit me with the bad news that due to Covid-19 the two breweries on our list were on restricted hours and closed today. I was really disappointed as my beer day looked busted. A little further down the freeway Ton told me that there was another brewery open that looked promising, so after a little reprogramming of Greta we were on our way to Cowiche Creek Brewing and a fantastic afternoon.
The Brewery bills itself as a country brewery, and it is certainly out in the country. Ton looked around, and asked where did I think they drew their customers from. Even though it is hard to tell from the beautiful rural setting it is only a short drive into Yakima. The hilltop the pub is on has expansive views toward the Cascades in the west, and overlooks hop fields and apple orchards in all directions. Ton declared it the prettiest brewery in Washington, and ran off with her camera as soon as we arrived.
We were the first customers of the day and had the place to ourselves when we arrived. I corralled Ton long enough from photographer duties to get her to pick a beer so I could grab a spot on the patio and take in the view with a cold brew.
Ton would stop in periodically between photos to grab a sip of her beer, while I played with one of the best pub dogs I have ever met. She was part Labrador and wandered over to check us out when we arrived. After I scratched her ears she settled in, and decided we were good company. Eventually she conned me into throwing her ball for her for about 30 minutes. As I played with the dog quitting time for the people working arrived and the pub began to fill up, so they do have a good customer base despite the remote location.
If you are ever in Yakima, make sure you swing by Cowiche Creek Brewing. The beers are delicious, and the food is prepared using fresh ingredients from the garden on site.
We are doing another short trip this time to the east for wine country and a bit of fall colors in Eastern Washington. We woke up a bit early and packed Scout up for about a one week trip, though our plans are not finalized yet. On our way out of town we headed over to our friends house to drop off some packages she had shipped to our home in Oregon to avoid the sales tax in Washington.
After that chore was done a quick stop to top off the fuel tank and we were headed east through the Columbia River Gorge. The weather was a bit unsettled and we hit a few patches of rain, before entering the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains and the desert of Eastern Oregon and Washington. The drive was pretty simple and we arrived at the campground in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser a little earlier than we planned. We have stayed at this campground once before and picked it because it is a nice central location in the Washington wine country.
As Covid has taken hold a lot of people have taken to RV’ing to have a good way to travel and maintain social distancing. This trend is unfortunately being reflected in the cost of camping. The campground tonight is $45 per night, and for that price you do not even get free showers, but have to pay an additional 25 cents. Campground prices in the US have been rising steeply over the last few years, and are much more expensive than what we typically pay in Europe.
Once we settled in and I quit complaining to Ton about the cost, we headed over to a couple of wineries that are walking distance from the campground. I was really looking forward to the first one, and was profoundly disappointed. The wine was old, and not very good, and the server was pretty disinterested. I had been looking forward to the winery as I had read good things about it and had hyped it up as we walked over, so I apologized to Ton.
As we were walking into my disappointing winery Ton pointed out a winery next door that she had read about and wanted to try, so we quickly exited my winery and walked into a great experience.
Coyote Canyon Winery has a 1300 acre vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills Viticultural Area where they grow 29 varietals of grapes that they mostly sell. They take a small percentage of the grapes and produce their own wine. We were lucky when we arrived as the nice lady in the tasting room said the wine maker was giving a talk in the back if we wanted to join. Justin Michaud was showing a group of ladies the latest grapes they were fermenting and explaining the process when we joined up. His pride in his work was obvious and the pride showed thru in the final product. Ton told him that she really enjoyed Primitivo in Italy, and was excited because they were one of the few producers who made it in the Northwest US. So even though Primitivo was not included in the taster tray we purchased, a sample showed up. In fact several other samples showed up that were not in the sample tray that we really enjoyed. The surprise for us was a wine called Graciano made from a grape that originates in Northern Spain. Justin talked us thru this one and it really knocked our socks off. We want to thank Justin and the lady in the tasting room whose name we did not get. They were gracious hosts and we really enjoyed ourselves.
Ton really remembered that she liked the sunsets around here on our last visit and sure enough we were treated to another great sunset as we walked back to Scout. It was a good start to our trip.
Our first post pandemic trip ended today. We both have dental appointments tomorrow so we needed to head home despite the spectacular weather forecast for today and tomorrow that would have normally tempted me to keep going.
The drive home was uneventful as we took it in one long bound without stopping. Traffic seems to be back to normal on I-5 which was quite heavy all of the way home.
What did we learn about pandemic RV’ing. If anything campsites and parks seemed to be busier than normal despite it being shoulder season, and the kids are back in school. We had read that a lot of people had taken up RV’ing as a way to social distance while traveling, and our experience confirms what we have read. The tourist oriented places were as busy as ever, and while the stores and restaurants were doing a good job enforcing mask wear inside, mask wearing outside in crowded conditions were hit or miss at best. The restaurants and pubs were mostly making a good faith effort to keep people seated 6 feet apart. Many had converted parts of their parking lots to outdoor dining which was working well in good weather. We were much more comfortable with outdoor seating than indoor. It will be interesting to see what happens when the weather drives people back indoors.
I am hoping for one more trip before the cold weather really sets in. Stay tuned to see if we will be able to get back out.
Since we cannot spend the night in Brookings due to the state park being closed there we decided to get up early and do a round trip drive to Brookings. The weather is the best since we arrived on the coast with temperatures in the mid-60’s sunny skies and minimal wind. It is a perfect day for a drive.
We just meandered down PCH until we got to Harris Beach. Ton yelled stop at me so I swung into a pull out, and we spent the next hour walking up and down the beach. It is one of many spectacular stretches of nearly empty coast line. Ton took a bunch of pictures, and except for a haze that we think is from the wildfires in Napa California it was perfect.
As we worked our way down the coast towards Brookings, Ton yelled stop a couple of more times to take some more pictures, so there were a couple of shorter beach walks as we made our way south. We finally arrived in Brookings around 12:30 and started out towards the brewery that was our excuse for driving 80 miles.
Before we got there though Ton remembered a small hole in the wall seafood place she had read about. She said it was supposed to be good, fresh and simple seafood, so a quick reprogram of Greta Garmin and we were off. The food was as advertised, we split a seafood combo of 2 pieces of cod, 2 oysters, 4 pieces of calamari, 4 clams, and 4 shrimp, all fried. We substituted hush puppies for fries. The fish was all fresh and we enjoyed it.
The final stop in Brookings was at Chetco Brewing Company, which is our first Vegan Brewery. We are not sure what constitutes Vegan Brewing but we tried a taster of different styles of beer, and they were all pretty good. So I think I can say that this is the first Vegan food I have liked.
The return trip to Bandon was quick and the views were as spectacular going north as they were going south so we both enjoyed ourselves. We made one stop at Battle Rock park which marked the site where 9 white settlers were besieged on top of a rock by the natives who were not happy with the invasion of their land. It is now a pretty park in the town of Port Orford and we enjoyed our last walk for the day.
We had a leisurely start to the day. Once we got going we started south on PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). Our target today was my favorite town on the Oregon Coast. At one time I was an avid golfer and Bandon was my personal favorite golf course. Now that I am not golfing we visit a lot less.
Enroute to Bandon thru the miracle of satellite technology we listened to two English soccer games as we were driving. Both games were shocking with Tottenham beating Manchester United 6-1 followed by Liverpool losing 7-2 to Aston Villa.
As we entered Coos Bay Ton remembered that there was a brewery there she really liked and asked if we could stop. I of course said ok and so we found ourselves sitting at 7 Devils brewery for a light lunch and a nice taster flight of their beers.
Today we are staying at an Oregon State Park. Oregon has a very large and well maintained park system. Oregonians tend to be outdoors people and they support the parks. When the pandemic hit, the parks were initially shut down completely. Over time they re-opened the parks, but now all campsites are only available thru reservation. We usually like to select our sites on the spur of the moment, but now we are having to plan a little more. I was startled when I went to make the reservation last night as there were only 6 spots available in a park with over 90 spots. We had read a lot of articles about people taking up camping as a way to have social distancing and recreation and I guess we are seeing the impact of that.
After checking in we headed over to Bandon which is a cute tourist oriented town. We walked around town again watching people crab and fish. They have three little fish restaurants on the waterfront, but they were all mobbed and the mask wearing and social distancing was poor so we moved on.
As we drove into town we saw a new cidery and decided to check it out. We had low expectations as neither one of us are big fans of cider. This place however, knocked our socks off. We tried a sample tray of 4 ciders and liked every one of them, so we decided to get a second sample tray of the remaining ciders and were equally impressed. If you are in town I really recommend Bandon Rain Cidery. Ton and I agreed on a favorite which is apple cider with gorse flowers.
While we were at the cidery we decided to book our state park for tomorrow night. Our original plan was to follow the PCH from Astoria which is the northernmost town on the coast to Brookings which is the southernmost town. When I went to book a site the reservation system showed no availability in a park with 79 RV sites. I called to confirm and they said that the system was true. So we are going to drive down to Brookings tomorrow and return to Bandon for the night. When I went to book the state park here there were only 4 sites remaining for tomorrow out of 90!
We finished by walking along the Coquille River to the ocean. It is a nice walk on the other side of the river is a Wildlife Refuge, though we did not see anything particularly interesting. We did not linger at the ocean as the wind was blowing pretty hard and kicking up the sand.
Neither one of us was in a big hurry to get going in the morning. We slept in a bit, then settled down to watch the Premier League game of the week with Paul and Khun Jim. Khun Jim cooked a big American breakfast to go with the game and we all enjoyed ourselves. Finally it was time to take off for our destination for the day.
The entire trip so far has been fogged in as you can tell from our photos. For the first time we did get a couple of sun breaks as we were driving over Cape Perpetua which is one of the more spectacular parts of the Pacific Coast Highway. Ton did not take any pictures though as while we were in the sun, the ocean was still pretty fogged in as the marine layer was just off shore.
We planned on staying at a Forest Service Campground near Florence, but as we were driving we began to get nervous because all of the State Parks and Forest Service campgrounds we saw had full signs posted at the entrances. We are still surprised how busy the coast is this week.
When we arrived at Sutton Campground we were relieved to find they had a few spots, so we grabbed one before heading into Florence to do some exploring. We have fond memories of Florence as it is the first place we ever took our kids on a vacation in Oregon. It is a cute fishing town that now is more tourist oriented than fishing oriented. The downtown is pretty compact consisting of only about 3 blocks of restaurants and stores. We picked a riverfront restaurant and shared some chowder and a salad that was pretty good. The highlight of the meal was watching a family on the dock below us crabbing. They were pulling in a number of crabs, but most were undersized and had to be tossed back much to the frustration of the 6 year old boy in the family.
I woke up early to take a walk along the ocean front, Ton had stayed up late catching up with one of her friends in Thailand on line. The surf was still pretty rough and the rock in front of the condo was taking a beating. The rock is usually covered with different sea birds, but this time there were only two birds on it. When I looked closely I realized that they were a pair of Bald Eagles which explained where all of the sea birds had gone.
It was a pretty quiet day for us as we spent most of it catching up with our friends and watching the ocean crash on the rocks. We were hoping for a whale siting as the whales are migrating and this area is famous for whale watching. Despite a couple of whale watching boats going by we did not get to see any whales.
In the afternoon Ton and I drove back to Lincoln City to check out a brewery there. The beer was just ok and the setting was nice overlooking a golf course and a creek. The problem was it was a little chilly so we did not enjoy the setting as much as we would have liked.
After our beer taster we headed back to the condo for a nice dinner Khun Jim prepared, and an evening of watching old comedies on the TV.
We had a very good nights sleep at a very quiet and serene Camp Rilea. I got up for my morning stroll and met one of my neighbors who told me that a herd of elk usually came to feed on the grass on the rifle range behind the campsite. After spending a few minutes looking for the elk it looks like they decided to go somewhere else for breakfast this morning.
We got under way around 9am heading towards Depoe Bay. Good friends of ours Paul and Khun Jim are staying at a time share condo overlooking the ocean and we are going to spend the next couple of days with them.
We thought that October on the coast would be pretty quiet. Yesterday in Astoria seemed to confirm that idea, but today as we were driving south on the Pacific Coast Highway the traffic was extremely heavy with a lot of RV’s. One of the reasons became evident when we went thru the town of Garibaldi as the river was covered in fishing boats. One of the biggest salmon runs of the year is happening now so all of the fishermen are out trying to get their fish for the year. We stopped and watched the slow parade of fishing boats go by using their trolling motors.
The traffic continued to build as we headed south and we were really startled when one of the larger state parks had a full sign for the campground. It looks like our hope for a quiet off season week on the coast is not going to happen.
We arrived at Depoe Bay around noon and shifted into the luxury of the condo. Paul and I entertained ourselves talking and watching the surf crash on the rocks on the beach, while Ton and Khun Jim chatted at the kitchen table and planned the Thai meal for the evening.
When Paul turned in for a nap I headed to Depoe Bay for a cup of coffee and received final confirmation that the coast was not quiet but actually very busy. While I was gone Ton decided we needed to visit one of her favorite breweries which is near by so we were off to Wolf Tree Brewery in Lincoln City. The beer was as good as Ton remembered and after trying a sampler tray we decided to purchase a couple of cans of each beer on the tray.
We ended the day with a Thai fish meal prepared by a local restaurant with fish provided by Khun Jim. She convinced them to cook a couple of dishes not on the menu while we were gone sampling beer. Ton and Khun Jim were gone to the restaurant longer than Paul and I expected because as they explained when they returned the place was mobbed with customers and it took a while to get the special dishes done
It has been a long time since we have been on the road. Packing Scout seemed to be a little more difficult as we kept remembering things we forgot to pack and were running back in constantly. Eventually we got almost everything loaded, (except for wine glasses) and got on the road for the coast pretty early.
The trip over to the coast was uneventful, and we started by stopping into Camp Rilea to get a spot for the night. Camp Rilea is a small Oregon National Guard Post that allows retired military to camp in an area that is much like an aire in France. The only difference is it is next to the rifle range where soldiers do their annual qualification. Luckily for us no one is shooting today so it is nice and quiet.
Once we got checked in, we decided to head over to Reach Break Brewery which is one of our favorite breweries in Astoria. We got there just as they were opening, and like many places in Oregon they have closed off their inside dining room and are serving everyone in outdoor seating. We prefer outside seating, but today was one of the first cold days of the year. The marine layer had set in and refused to go away so it was pretty chilly and damp.
We tried a taster tray of 5 of their beers. They were doing a fresh hop sampler where they took three different hop varieties and applied each of them to the same beer. We could taste the fresh hops in the beer, but could not really taste any difference between the three different hops. We also shared a fish and chips.
Our next planned stop was Ft. George Brewery where we planned on having a pint. When we got there they had a sign saying that they were only seating people by reservation. The next reservation was in 30 minutes and since we only wanted a beer we decided to move on.
We went back to Reach Break and asked one of the brewers what place he would recommend that would be open. He recommended a brewery on the other side of the Columbia River in Washington called North Jetty Brewery. We had been there once before several years ago, so we were off.
Astoria is located near the mouth of the Columbia River, and the bridge across is an impressive structure. The river here is over three miles wide, and ocean going ships have to pass under the bridge so it is quite tall near Astoria. We always enjoy crossing it. The views from the top are spectacular when it is not fogged in.
When we arrived at North Jetty, they had indoor dining available that looked effectively distanced so we had another taster tray indoors. They were serious about mask wearing as Ton and I both stepped away from the table a couple of feet without our mask on and were admonished by the bartender.
We were hoping for a break in the marine layer, but we did not get it. So after our taster tray we decided to head back to Camp Rilea to settle in for the evening. We took a walk down to the ocean but the fog and the damp drove us back to Scout for the night.
The drive home was easy. It was clear and relatively warm until I got to the pass over the Cascades where I was met with clouds and rain to remind me I was home. My trip thru the Great Basin, Sonoran, and a little bit of the Mojave Deserts was great. The total trip was 3300 miles, but it is generally low stress driving as the roads are good, and the traffic is remarkably light. The highlight was Organ Pipe National Monument. It merits another trip in the future.
Today I made like a commercial truck driver and focused on miles and not fun. I covered a little over 600 miles in 10 hours. It was made easier by driving a route I really enjoy. I love the quiet roads and expansive views of the Great Basin. For me it really is low stress driving.
I was still on the road for sunset and the Great Basin rewarded me with a great desert sunset.
I decided to begin pointing towards home last night. I am beginning to miss Ton. But I wanted to try one more Nevada Park before leaving. A couple of years ago Ton and I swung thru Cathedral Gorge State Park without stopping. I wanted to check it out so that was the target for today.
The day began with a bit of a mishap. I woke up just after dawn so I decided to take a walk to enjoy sunset as it was only a three hour drive. It was a nice walk and the red rocks of Valley of Fire were spectacular. When I arrived at the campground I met a nice couple from Washington out walking their dog. We chatted for a while about different places before I went in to finish up preparing to leave. I needed to brush my teeth and I reached into the bag I keep the toiletries in and instead of grabbing my toothbrush I grabbed my razor and managed to cut the end of my index finger pretty deeply. I threw a band-aid on it and started to finish up packing. While I was putting up the electric cord I noticed my finger was bleeding considerably, so I grabbed the first aid kit and tried to stop the bleeding. I finally got the bleeding somewhat under control and was heading out when I saw the couple from Washington waving at me vigorously, I thought how nice, but then they shouted at me to stop. I had forgotten to close the door, and left the steps down on Scout. How embarrassing, fortunately my finger was starting to drip blood to show the reason for my incompetence as a RV’er.
The drive to Cathedral Gorge was uneventful. When I arrived at the park around 12:30 I debated whether to stop, it is going to be cold tonight and since I am heading home why not get in another 3 or 4 hours towards home? I drove in and after checking the excellent campground complete with electricity I decided to stay.
Cathedral Gorge is another beautiful site. It is a box canyon with interesting sides eroded to look like cathedrals if you have imagination.
In the 1930’s during the depression the Civilian Conservation Corps built some interesting structures including a water tank and a picnic area that have survived until today.
They also have a nice trail system that is well signposted and easy to follow. Someone did a nice job with interpretive signs describing the flora and fauna of the area. It was a nice easy walk to make the day. As I am typing this I am watching a beautiful sunset to confirm my decision to stay was the right one.
Valley of Fire State Park has been on my list for this trip since the beginning. Ton and I stopped here last year and it is really spectacular. The name is apt as the hills in the park are a bright red.
The drive over was even windier then yesterday and the temperature has fallen nearly 30 degrees. The sky is blue but the wind chill is at or a little below freezing. Scout was getting blown around pretty good on the highway as I made my way thru the desert from Laughlin to Las Vegas. I decided to by-pass Las Vegas by cutting thru the Lake Mead Recreation Area. I do not have to pay the entrance fee with my senior pass and there is no traffic on the scenic highway thru the recreation area, making for a much more relaxing drive.
When I got to the Valley of Fire I had to pay my entrance fee (no free entry for State Parks, only National Parks.) When I went by the visitors center to check things out and pay the fee, the ranger told me that as it was so cold there may be a couple of spots available in the full hook up area with electricity, but if I was interested I needed to head right over there. Since it is going to below freezing tonight having electricity to run the heater seemed like a good idea so I hustled over there and claimed the last electric spot.
A few hundred yards from the campground is a Petroglyph site. It is pretty high up a canyon wall so they have built a nice ladder and platform so you can observe the Petroglyphs. As i climbed down I saw a group clustered around a rock a couple of hundred yards away so I wandered over there to see what they were looking at. It turns out it was another large set of Petroglyphs at ground level that the park does not advertise. It was fascinating to try to interpret the symbols. Some are pretty obvious and some are not obvious at all to me.
After warming up for an hour or so I took another short hike to a display I saw off in the distance. It was late afternoon and the wind was getting even stronger and the display was disappointing so I called it a day and returned to Scout, turned on the heater, cooked supper, and put on The Sand Pebbles with Steve McQueen.
It is going to be a short one today as there is nothing much to talk about. I needed to begin moving towards home and after a couple of days of looking for something around Phoenix I could not come up with anything that caught my interest. So I decided to spend the day driving and have stopped in the economy Las Vegas, Laughlin Nevada. In fact it is so economical that I am staying in a casino hotel for less than most campgrounds.
The other reason for my decision to wimp out was the wind was blowing a gale, with steady wind around 40 mph and gusts to 60 (if you can believe the warning signs posted by the Arizona Department of Transport).
I do not gamble so there is not much for me to do in a casino. I walked around the lobby a little, noting that KISS was going to be playing there at the end of the month. The crowd looked to be a mixture of seniors, Chinese tourists, and people coming over from California on tour busses for cheap gambling. After a while people watching I went back to the room and watched some TV before turning in early.
I planned to have an easy day in Tucson before watching the superbowl. But the game was pretty late so I looked for something to do early in the day.
Since I was on an airbase it seemed appropriate.to visit the the Pima Air Museum which has the second largest collection of airplanes in the world. On the way I drove by the boneyard. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where I am staying is where the US stores aircraft that are not currently being used but not ready to be scrapped. Some are being held in reserve in case they are needed in the future. Some are being stored for possible sale to other countries Air Forces, and some are being harvested for spare parts for similar aircraft. There are thousands of aircraft stored here in the desert and it is quite a site. The storage area is referred to as the boneyard.
The Pima Museum was very impressive, I spent about three hours wandering thru the exhibitions looking at both military and commercial aircraft. There were some interesting experimental planes, and some classics. The WWII exhibits were especially impressive. If you like planes or just like mechanical things I highly recommend the Pima Museum.
My last adventure for the day was to try to find an ATM from my bank. It took two tries and about 10 miles of driving to find one. Scout would not fit into the drive thru so I parked and was walking up to use it when a car sped around me and cut in to beat me to the machine. Then they spent about five minutes getting ready to deposit checks while I cooled my heals in the sun standing behind them. The guy did not even have the guts to make eye contact with me while I waited for them to complete there complicated transaction from the comfort of their car.
Today is my day for jerks, as my neighbor at the campground is apparently using his truck engine as his generator to power his RV, so every hour he runs his truck for 15 minutes right outside the door of my RV even when I am sitting outside watching the Super Bowl. On top of that the team I was rooting for in the Super Bowl lost. Tucson so far has been my least favorite stop on the trip.
With great reluctance I left Organ Pipe. I decided to head towards Tucson to do some much needed shopping, and to be somewhere that I could get TV to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday.
As I was leaving I debated whether to stop in the town of Ajo as it was about 20 miles out of the way. In the early 1980’s my sister lived in Ajo as she had married a guy from there. I remember visiting her and thinking it was the most remote place on earth, a dusty company town that was dominated by a gigantic copper mine. At the time the copper mine there was supposed to be the largest in the world. The mine closed in the 1990’s and given how remote it was I wondered what state the town would be in.
I am glad I decided to visit as the town had much more character than I remembered and actually seemed to be thriving. It is one of the oldest settlements in Arizona having been founded in 1854, one year after the land was purchased from Mexico. The town is centered on a typical Spanish style town square, common in Mexico and New Mexico. It is small but very well preserved and charming.
Since the mine closed it looks like the town has become a small artists colony. Since it was Saturday there was a small farmers market with local artists, and some baked goods, but not a lot of farm produce. There is also a antique and art store around the corner from the square that was interesting.
Next to the antique store was a sign saying do not miss the artists ally, so I turned down to check it out. There were some interesting wall murals down the ally, and I ended up spending about 20 minutes walking the ally even though it was only 30 yards long.
Finally it was time to head out to Tucson. As I was crossing the Tohono O’Odham Reservation which is the second largest Reservation in the US there was a surprising amount of traffic. It turns out this weekend is the annual tribal rodeo and festival. I passed the rodeo grounds and was tempted to stop for the day but pressed on instead.
I spent the rest of the day in one of the busiest Costcos I have ever seen, and the military grocery at the Air Force Base in Tucson. Tonight I am parked on the Air Force Base dry camping.
I slept in a little this morning before heading out to explore some more of the Monument. As I was walking around I saw a European camper with Netherlands plates. I asked them how they liked traveling in the US and they said they were enjoying it tremendously and were looking for ways to come every year. I told them about our van in France and it started a long conversation about how we arranged things in Europe, and they asked questions about purchasing here in the US, as they are thinking about buying an American RV. It was an interesting conversation, and I learned about some places they really enjoyed in Europe to add to our future travels.
I spent the day doing a couple of drives along the other two scenic roads. These roads were interesting as they showed different environments in the Sonora. One was dominated by Saguaro cactuses. The other was a road that paralleled the Mexican border for 14 miles to a small natural pond fed by springs. The road was heavily traveled by construction equipment as they are building a section of the wall here.
I returned to the campsite which is one of the best I have seen in the Park Service and is very well managed by the rangers. There are a couple of trails that leave from the campground so I walked the desert view trail and enjoyed the expansive views, and the quiet that you get when you are far away from civilization. The Park Service had put out very interesting plaques describing how the native American and early European settlers used different plants for medicine and to produce household goods. This place is special, the views are incredible, often the only sound you here is the wind, and both the day and night skies are pristine.
When I returned to Scout for the evening I ran into Harry and Erna and we spent some more time over a couple of beers talking about traveling in North America and Europe. I also said good bye to John and Yvette my neighbors with the Tiger and thanked them for their advice on the blog.
Once again I finished up my day by attending another ranger talk. Tomorrow I am reluctantly off to civilization as the food cupboard is bare.