2. Spring road trip….April/May/June.2019

Day 8 4.29 
The morning was beautiful & I was up at sunrise making coffee.  Then I packed up & headed through the desert on a pretty drive to Carlsbad Caverns.  I’m not a ‘cave-lover’ but both Jill & Mary Ellen had suggested to tour the caves.  I have a park pass, so the only thing I had to lose was time.  I’d been on their website & saw they had two self guided tours…with that news I was in.  I could go at my own pace & not be tied to a group.  On my way to the caves I did learn something new:  You know those free standing ice machines you see in random parking lots?  Some of them also sell purified water…yay!  I could refill my bottles & get ice in one stop.  This was a great new thing to know!

I did the two self guided tours at a pretty fast pace.  The great room, which is huge was pretty cool.  But this is the 2nd National Park with Caves that I’ve done & I just can’t get used to the ‘lunch room with snacks’ that are built in the bottom of these caves.  Really people?  Can’t you go a couple of hours without food?  This is part of why I don’t like the whole cave thing.

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Hello Texas! (but only for a few miles)

Hello New Mexico! (again)
My next stop was Las Cruces…about a 3 hour drive.  There is a ton of oil drilling down here, so that’s mostly the kind of areas I drove by.  When I was close, I saw the ‘historic district’ sign & quickly pulled off the highway.  I had landed in Mesilla.  A little town with an historic square, surrounded by a few tiny shops & a couple of places to eat.  I got out & stretched my legs & walked in & out of a few places & asked a local about a place to eat.

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I ate at the recommended place called Peppers…it had yummy food & a wonderful courtyard.  I’d never eaten Chili Relleno before (why? why? why?) & it was super delicious!

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I’d never been to White Sands National Monument & was excited to see this place.  I’ve hiked in dunes in Oregon & Colorado, but never white dunes.  These are made from gypsum…so the sand doesn’t seem to blow as easily & doesn’t retain heat like the ones in Colorado.  I went to the Visitors Center & buy my Claire-postcard & ask about trails.  I knew there was dispersed camping about 30 miles north in the National Forest so I asked about that too.  After I got my trail map, & asked about camping the woman at the desk suggested I camp there…in the park in between the dunes.  Wow…it was only $3 & would definitely be a new experience.  I thought about it for about 5 minutes, then said yes.  I quickly went over a short list of what I’d need to get out of the 4Runner & drove into the park.

I knew I wanted to have my tent set up before the sunset, so I got up in the Thule & retrieved the tent & sleep mat, grabbed water, & stuffed my small daypack with my sleeping bag.  Then I took off in what I thought was the right direction to my camp spot.  40 minutes later I arrived at the exact opposite campsite as mine, leaving me to backtrack all the way to the trailhead & head off in the other direction.  However, I did get to visit with a fellow camper as I walked back.  A young guy from Israel was walking back to his car he’d rented in Florida a month ago & was making his was across the US exploring & seeing so much of the beauty our country has.  He was super interesting to talk to & really nice.  

Once back at the trailhead, I found my campsite, but not exactly the most direct way.  I do have a funny habit of getting all turned around when I hike in Dunes.  My camp site was 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead, but I had hiked way more than that.  I finally found my site, & against a blowing wind, set up my tent within 5’ of the pole (those were the rules).  They call this  the “inner dunes” which was so cool because you didn’t have near as much wind as you would have on top of the dunes & you couldn’t see any of the other tents or campers…each one of us had our own site surrounded by our own dunes.

Before the sunset, I had made one more trip back to the car (only missing the ‘trail’ by a little bit) to get the stuff I’d forgotten the first time, then, successfully made a straight line hike back to the tent in 20 minutes.  I hiked up to the top of the dune farthest from the tent, sat down & watched the sunset.  I was pretty spectacular.

When I’d been in the parking lot the second time, two cars had driven up & a couple got out each packing up bags, water & it looked like a whole lot of stuff.  As they trudged through the sand on the way to their campsite, I noticed the guy had a musical instrument slung across his back.  Later, when I climbed up to the tall dune to sit for about 45 minutes to watch the sunset, I could hear a tinkling noise off in the distance.  It was kind of surreal…most of the dunes are…but the couple was decked out in some sort of robes…he was strumming on something & she was dancing around.  They were the only two people I could see & they were fairly far away…more silhouettes than anything & it was really lovely to watch & hear.  Oh, I was so very, very grateful to be here.

I enjoyed the sky as it drew dark & the stars came out little by little, the lit up the sky.  The strangest thing was the wind.  It would blow so big at times, I thought the tent stakes would come out…then it would get super calm & very quiet.  It did this for a couple of hours, before it calmed down or I fell asleep.  Most people dread getting up to go out to pee in the middle of the night…and I do too if it’s freezing cold or raining out.  But on nights like this, where the air temp is perfect & the sky is filled with sparkles, you become grateful for that ‘wake up’ call & the opportunity to see this spectacular sight.  The Milky Way was in the sky among the stars & it was just a perfect night!

Day 9 4.30 
I slept pretty good & was surprised how warm it stayed in the night.  One of the things I’d hiked back to the car for was my puffy jacket, thinking it would get pretty cold in the night.  But, instead, I used the puffy as my pillow was never cold.  It gets light about 5:30 here & I was awake.  So, I took advantage of the mild winds to pack up the tent, then hiked out watching the sun come up.  Every footprint that had been there the day before was gone & I could see no one.  It was magnificent!

The gates into the park had been locked overnight & wouldn’t open until 7:30.  So, I put the stuff back in the Thule, straightened up the 4Runner, made coffee, then did the scenic drive on the inside of the park.  

I really think this whole adventure, was some trip magic.  It all happened so randomly; then I said “yes” without overthinking it & the weather had been perfect…I hope I always remember how special my trip was to White Sands.

Hello Arizona!
I had a 5 hour drive to Tucson, so I turned on the podcast series I’m listening to & drove west.  I stopped at REI to look for this special stainless steel water jug I wanted, only to change my mind when I saw it, questioning if I really needed it.  This drives my travel buddy Jill, crazy when she’s with me.  She makes decisions like this easily but not me.  So, I left my wanted bottle there but got a suggestion on a local brewery to eat dinner at.  I was in Tucson a couple of years ago, for three days & two nights, to get my Global Entry & found a brewery & some boondocking.  But now I’d try some place new…the Barrio brewery.  The beer was ok & the burger was good & the place had great atmosphere.  

Then I was headed up the 30 mile drive on the Sky Island Scenic Byway up to the top of Mt. Lemmon.  My camp space before was on some really plain BLM land, but tonights would be way, way better.  The coolest thing about this drive is that you start at the bottom-about 3,000’ elevation, on the outskirts of the city, surrounded by hundreds of Saguaro cactus.  

Then as you continue to climb, you drive past huge boulders & hoodoos, then at about 7,000’ you are in the pine forest with huge wonderful smelling trees & cool air.  The road ends at just over 9,000’, but I stopped at about 8,000 to take Biggalow road into the forest to find camping.  I only passed one other car & later figured out it belonged to a trail runner.  I found a spot & pulled in.  The temps were dropping fast & I changed from shorts & sandals, to long pants, my camp boots & my puffy.  Before dark, a van with another single woman pulled up across the road & camped for the night.

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Before dark, I took a long walk up the road to see what was up there…some kind of tower or utility or something, but no other campers.  Then I tucked in for the night, happy to have cell service to end this day talking to Danny, then read until my eyes were too droopy to stay open.

Day 10 5.1 
Last night had dropped into the low 30s & it had been super quiet in the forest.  No sun was getting through the forest canopy, so I decided to drive out & down 1,000 or so feet to a different pullout with a picnic table to make coffee & wash up.  Before leaving Tucson, I bought ice & gas.

I love both New Mexico & Arizonaboth have parts I could explore for months (although I can skip Phoenix, Scottsdale & Albuequerque), so it’s kind of hard busting through both states in a hurry.  But, this trip wasn’t to explore those states…& as the movie saying goes, “I’ll be back!”

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But, I’d wanted to get to California then onto Oregon & Washington.  Back to listening to the podcast, I put in 5.5 hours behind the wheel & ended up in Borrego Springs & Anza Borrego State Park.  

Hello California!
This place is a huge desert, but I’d never been here before. There are several areas that have this great big metal statues just out in the middle of nowhere & you can drive up to them…pretty cool!

 Some friends of mine on the road full times, spend some of every winter in this desert.  But it was blazing hot in the sun today.  I hiked a super short trail called Palm Oasis in hopes I would see some of the Bighorn Sheep that had been spotted earlier in the day.  But, I was in the heat of the day, which isn’t when most animals are out & the heat was doing a number on me too.  In hindsight, I don’t think I’d eaten enough before my hike.  But the trail follows a shallow stream back towards a canyon that has a spot of palm trees.  It was a nice hike, other than the heat & no sheep, but I did see a family of quail…babies so teeny tiny!

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I ate something when I got back to the car & immediately felt better.  I do still struggle with my eating habits when I’m on the road…it seems I either over or under eat…finding it difficult to always make it balanced.  

My next stop was the Salton Sea.  One of the rangers told me it was filled with pesticides & all sorts of yucky stuff.  It’s pretty blue in color (you can’t tell by this picture), but it’s a tale tell sign when you see no one in or near the water.  The community I drove through looked pretty poor & desolate.  I thought it was interesting that all the street names were like: Yacht Way, Beach Harbor, etc…yet the lake is desolate.  I’m sure there’s an interesting history here…or a very sad polluted one.

Then I started passing Palm Tree Farms…lots of them!

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My stop for tonight would be just outside of Joshua Tree National Park.  I’d read about boondocking south of the park.  I set up my camp & cooked some dinner of soup made with my dehydrated veggies & chicken.  It was edible, but not great.  I also ate some dried fruit & olives & some jalapeño cucumber lemonade.  

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Then I watched the sunset.

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