top of page
  • Writer's picturebalzaccom

January through March of 2018

A few more notes on our trip. Post date: Mar 18, 2018 2:47:10 PM As noted, we really liked the facilities at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, especially the showers. And one afternoon we drove up the road to check out the local town of Jerome--an old mining town that is still, barely, hanging on while slowly transforming itself into a tourist town. There is a museum in the old house of the mine's owner, and it had this lovely sign: You gotta wonder what the machine did... Jerome also has some amazing views that reached all the way to the distant red rocks of Sedona. And there were some hiking trails in Cottonwood that we didn't explore, but looked like they could lead to some interesting adventures--including one trail that went all the way to Sedona. And lagoons for bird watching as well. We liked Cottonwood, and would go back there to explore more.Oh--and the full album of photos from the whole trip is now up and available here:

Lots of them.

We've been busy this spring Post date: Mar 18, 2018 4:37:53 AM After our trip to Death Valley and then our visit to Vancouver, we were off to see Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon---after only about 20 hours at home. It seemed crazy at the time, and it still does. We got into Napa from Vancouver at about dinner time, and despite out best efforts, were only able to get out the door well after lunch the next day. That put us a bit behind schedule, and meant that we probably wouldn't make it to Red Rock State park to camp for the night. Nuts.

Time to improvise a Plan B. While M drove down I-5, P busied himself on his phone, searching for a campground. And he found one in Tehachapi, at the Tehachapi Mountain Park. Close enough. We stopped for dinner at the Indian Oven truck stop café east of Bakersfield (pretty good, and very inexpensive) and the drove into the mountains above Tehachapi, not quite sure where we were going or what we would find.

But at 5500 feet we found snow on the ground and a few campsites. We pulled into the first one we saw, threw ourselves into our sleeping bags, and nodded off for the night. When we got up the next morning, there was not another car to be seen in the campground. $16. Perfect.

Day two: We treated ourselves to breakfast at a little café in Tehachapi, and then down the road to Joshua Tree, listening all the while to Professor Patrick Allitt lecture us on the American West, courtesy of the Great Courses program. We like these as traveling entertainment, and this one was ideally targeted towards our tour of the Southwest.

We arrived at Joshua Tree before lunch, and stopped to ask our questions at the Visitors Center. With those resolved, we found our campsite in Indian Cove--one of five reservation only campgrounds in the park. Four more campgrounds are first come, first served, but they fill up very early every morning. P had reserved Indian Cove about four months ago. Since we had never visited this park before, we decided to spend the rest of the day driving the main loop road around the northern part of the park and hiking Split Rock and Barker Dam trails.

But first we had to visit the Cholla Garden. It was a great day of amazing scenery, lots of interesting plants, and even a few petroglyphs on the rocks. We got back to camp in time for a delicious ramen dinner and a quiet evening enjoying the stars. There is no water in the campground at Indian Cove, by the way, but there is water at the ranger station just down the road. So each morning as we drove out, we stopped and filled our water bottles. Day three: We were up early to check with the ranger about possible campsites for the following night. She was quite pessimistic, and told us that we would have to get up early to get one. We took that into consideration, then filled up with water and took the Boy Scout Trail up into the hills,. This trail left from very near our campground, and is a good way to see what Joshua Tree is all about: lots of rocks, lots of desert and lots of weird plants.

We hiked about four miles up into the rocks to where we had some nice views over the desert, and then turned around and came back down. The ranger told us that if all else failed, we could always just backpack in one mile from the road, and then hike 500 feet away from the trail, and camp there for the night. So on our way out, we stopped for lunch near a pile of interesting rocks, and found a good place to camp if we have to backpack for the final night. After lunch, we went back to the car and ran a few errands in Joshua Tree and 29 Palms. First to 29 Palms to find a can of beans to accompany our chili dinner, and a salami for lunches for the rest of the week. And we also needed a canister of stove gas. You might be surprised at how look it can take to find a dry salami in 29 Palms. And NOBODY had gas for our stove.

So then we drove to Adventure Nomad in the town of Joshua Tree for camping gas. Not how we planned to spend the day, but that's how it works sometimes. We still had time to take the hike to the 49 Palms Oasis--a short trail that we really enjoyed, despite the dire warnings at the trailhead. Admittedly, we were hiking it in March, not July. We did not die. On the way back to Indian Cove, we decided to stop in at the little convenience store right at the turn from the highway into the campground. We discovered that they had lots of gas for our stove, along with cold beer, a great deal on dried mangos, good cookies, and decent prices. We felt like idiots.

And we felt even more like idiots when we got back to camp and discovered that we had no can opener for the beans. ahem. So after some very pleasant showers in the privacy of the back doors of Le Vin Blanc, we sat down to a dinner of miso soup, chili, and cous-cous. Which was delicious, thank you very much.

Day four. We didn't take the ranger's advice seriously enough. But the time we got to the first-come first served campgrounds at Belle and White Tank, we found them completely full by 9am. So that wouldn't work. Instead, we decided to drive to Cottonwood Springs to hike Lost Palms Oasis Trail--one of the highlights of the park. On the drive down, we noted that Porcupine Wash looked interesting--and was a a good site for a possible backpacking campsite that night. Good to know.

We loved the hike to Lost Palms Oasis. The oasis itself was a wonderful island of serenity and greenery in the desert. And the hike in was full of great views, interesting plants, and the usual weird and wonderful JTNP rocks. Back at the trailhead, one of the rangers suggested that we could dispersed camp just outside the park, on BLM land. So we drove out to check it out. We were not prepared for the number of people who were doing the same thing. Wild.

And while we looked for a campsite, P got on his phone and made a discovery: he could get a free room at a resort in Phoenix thanks to his Expedia points. And that was our next destination. Cool! M has some distant relatives in Mesa AZ that she wanted to visit, and the resort promised hot showers, soft beds, and clean sheets. And so we found our way to the Wekopa Casino, Spa, Resort and Golf Club. Not a place we would normally choose to stay, but it worked out great.

Day five: After a nice breakfast at the Wekopa resort, we idled away the morning, sitting in soft chairs, checking our wi-fi, and generally taking life easy and wasting time until our lunch with M's first cousin once removed. This was something else. Barbara had spent years of research and investigation into her genealogy, and loaded M up with five binders full of information, documents, photocopies and ancient family photos. M was blown away, and now has a project for years to come.

After lunch we drove north into a rainstorm. P had found that the BLM allowed dispersed camping at Pueblo de la Plata, an archeological site north of Phoenix, and that's where we planned to spend the night. But that site is at the end of a long dirt road, and in the rain, we were not sure we could get through---or get out the next morning. Nuts.

Time for plan B, which turned out to be a series of RV parks in the Verde Valley. But before we could get there, the windshield wiper on the driver's side of Le Vin Blanc broke. Now we were in sorry shape. We pulled off at the next exit, where we bought gas, and P jury-rigged the wiper blade with a zip tie. With that problem more or less solved, we headed to the Quail Ridge RV park, which was a dreary parking lot full of huge RVs. Not our style.

But on the map there seemed to be a campground up in the mountains to the West of us. Plan C quickly came into being. By the time we arrived at Powell Springs campground, it was raining steadily, and cold enough that we were thinking it might snow. There were only about twelve campsites, but only six of them were occupied. We picked the best one available, set up our van, and cooked dinner in the cab, listening to the rain patter down. All things considered, this was a nice place to be! And by the way, it was free--no charge at all to camp there! Day six. It rained pretty much all night at Powell Springs, and when we got up the next morning, we discovered that the rear overhead tail light on LVB leaks. Sigh.

That's something we'll have to fix. Breakfast was again in the cab in the rain, and then we tried to drive to Cherry, and old ghost town a few miles away. But again, the dirt road was muddy in the rain, and we bailed out of that to go to Montezuma Castle, a nearby national monument. It was stunning. Not only were the ruins amazing, but the whole place was well-organized and a pleasure to visit. Plus, we liked the sign warning about snakes!

From here, we drove to Montezuma Well, a remarkable pool of deep water in the desert, with its own set of ruins and a unique ecosystem as well. It makes a great supplemental visit to the castle. And there we learned about Tuzigoot, which is the third part of this monument, a hill-top ruin by the town of Cottonwood, a few miles away. We couldn't resist, and visited it, too. Not as impressive as Montezuma Castle, it was still worth a visit.

But where to spend the night? We were hoping to stay at Manzanita Campground, only to find that it wouldn't open for another two weeks. Oops. We needed a Plan B again, and we were driving by the Dead Horse Ranch State Park and campground. As we drove up, the sign said that the campground was full...but when we asked, there were able to set us up with a campsite in the overflow campground. And while the campground itself wasn't beautiful--not a lot of greenery in this one--the warm and clean restrooms, with free hot showers, were a real treat! We took full advantage. And the views of the sunset from the campground were among the most memorable of our whole trip. The scene was so amazing that everyone in the campground was yelling to each other to come and look, take a photo, and be amazed. Day seven: We wanted to do some hiking around Sedona and its famous Red Rock hikes. But we were also concerned that they might be very crowded. One hike that promised fewer people was the Bear Mountain hike, so we called on Google maps to lead us to the trailhead. And that's when the adventure started. Because Google didn't take us to the Bear Mountain Trailhead.

It took us to an unrelated (an unidentified) trailhead a couple of miles away. That turned out to be a great thing. Yes, we were, by some definitions, lost. We were not where we thought we were, and as we hiked, we were continually confused by the fact that the trail didn't seem to be doing what we expected. But it did take us to some wonderful places, and we had a really great time exploring them. And they were beautiful. And we were the only people in the area. Which is absolutely our cup of tea.

After a wonderful morning hike, we returned to the car and started to drive to Sedona. And within a couple of miles, we ran into the trailheads for most of the hikes in the area, including Bear Mountain. They were completely packed with people, and cars were parked along the road for quite a ways in both directions. It was a real crowd scene...and not our scene. We found a place to park and eat lunch, and then decided to be brave, and drive into Sedona itself. Ay ay ay!

It was quite a drive through the crowds, traffic, and glitz of Sedona. in fact, it reminded us a lot of Lake Tahoe--a beautiful area, but so crowded with cars and traffic to lose most of its appeal to us. We drove through town, took a few photos of nearby red rock formations, bought new windshield wipers are the auto store, noted the Whole Foods and other high end markets in town, and went back to little old Cottonwood, where our state park seemed quiet, calm, and serene. We took a nap, M did some laundry, and to celebrate our escape we went out to dinner at Merkin Cellars, where we really enjoyed both the food and the local wine. A treat. And tomorrow, the Grand Canyon!

Day eight: We got up early today so that we could have to afternoon in the Grand Canyon. Thanks to our campsite reservation, we were set up before noon, and then hiked on the Arizona Trail from the Mather campground to the Rim Trail @ South Kaibab Trailhead--a nice walk through the woods, where we saw a ton of animal tracks, including elk and bobcat. We ate lunch at the South Kaibab Trailhead, and then hiked from there back to the visitors center and then the campground. Each step that took us closer to the visitor center also took us into larger groups of people. By the time we were done, we were done. All told, we hiked about seven miles along the South Rim today, but the combination of tons of people and an overcast day. left us feeling a little disappointed. And to make matters worse, M had hurt her ribs a few days before, reaching over the seat of the van. so she was in a bit of pain. And today her foot started bothering her. Not a good omen. hmmm. Ah well. We ate dinner at our campsite with a fresh salad (greens from the market in the park) and went to sleep in the van with P's curtains in place, side and back. That worked perfectly. We were also watching the weather, because a storm was headed into the park, and it was supposed to bring snow, hail, sleet, and icy temperatures. hmmm again.

Day Nine. We woke up to a gloomy weather report. The forecast is for snow and sleet tomorrow. That's not good news if we want to take one of the steep trails down into the canyon. And with M not feeling on top of the world, we decided to take it easy on her sore foot, and hike the West part of the rim Trail. But before we can leave camp, we are invaded by elk. A herd of about 30 of them walk right through our campsite, including a mother and calf who ate the leaves off the trees as P ate his oatmeal twenty feet away. It's a great way to start the day---and made even more amusing by the lovely Frenchman nearby who screamed in terror as he nearly walked right into an elk because he wasn't wearing his glasses on the way to the restroom.

The western end of the Rim Trail is much, much better. First of all. we're off early, so there are not many people about. And in this direction, there are fewer people anyway. The sun is breaking out between the clouds, so the lighting in the canyon is better. And the views, to our eyes, are better anyway. We loved this hike, even though the wind was blowing up to 40 mph. and it wasn't at all warm. We were happy. At Hermits Rest we bought a sandwich for lunch, and ate it sheltered from most of the wind above the canyon. Then we took the shuttlebus back to the campground.

Once there we hopped in LVB to visit Tusayan and Desert View, in the eastern section of the South Rim. Both were quite cool. Tusayan is a nice archeological site, and Desert View has...a great view of the canyon and the desert. On our way back, we stopped at a bunch of the viewpoints along the South Rim: Lipan, Moran, Grandview, etc. Stunning.

This was a wonderful, if easy, day. P particularly wanted to check out the Grandview Trail for our next visit. It is described as very steep, rough, and challenging, but it seemed a lot like many of the steep trails in the Sierra Nevada, and we can hardly wait to get back to hike it some day. With the wind really howling back in the campground, we watched hammocks turn into spinnakers, tents shudder and wobble, and chairs get blown over. We decided to cook and eat in the van again, this time a menu of cheese and broccoli soup and another bowl of chili.

Day ten. Today we woke up to still strong winds, temperature just about freezing, and snow flurries. This would not be a good day to hike down a steep trail down into the canyon--even if M's foot had permitted it. And so with some regrets, we decided to start heading home.

We ate breakfast at the Yavapai lodge, took in the first showing of the movie at the Visitor Center, and then drove off to the West. We were not sure how far we would go, and in Williams the weather was still miserable. It was crazy driving, with big gusts of wind blowing us around, and sometimes the windshield wipers icing up with snow, but as got closer to Kingman things were getting better, and we decided to make for our old friend Red Rock State Park to camp for the night. After a scenic tour of California City, we arrived at dinner time, set up camp, and fell asleep. Day eleven:. Time to head home. We began by eating our last breakfast of oatmeal and cocoa, and then took a nice hike up on the cliffs above the campground. After stopping in the park visitor center to pick up a couple of books on the area, we set course for home: Tehachapi, Bakersfield, Livermore, and Napa... in all, we drove about 2000 miles on this trip. We hiked about 45 miles worth of day hikes. We loved them all. And we have a long list of hikes we want to take the next time we're in this area.

Firefall Permits Post date: Feb 5, 2018 3:05:34 PM You have probably seen photos of the famous Firefall in Yosemite. No, it's not the one we remember from when we were kids, when the rangers would build a massive bonfire on Glacier Point and then rake the coals over the edge and down into the valley each night for a spectacular show. (For those of you who are younger, yes they really did this!) No, this is Horsetail Falls near El Capitan which turn a deep orange right at sunset if conditions are perfect for a few days in February. It's become such a major tourist attraction that last year the valley was inundated by cars and tourists hoping to get that "once in a lifetime shot" of something that happens every year, more or less,.So now there is a reservation system for parking anywhere near the best spots to take this photo, with a limit of 250 people per day. It's just another example of how Yosemite is in a constant struggle to save itself from being loved to death.

And we wish it well in doing so...

New Name in the Sierra Post date: Jan 29, 2018 5:25:47 PM California names a mountain after Marine from El Dorado who died in combat January 24, 2018:

Sky Point, a roughly 11,240-foot Sierra Nevada peak in the John Muir Wilderness, honors [Sky] Mote, who died while serving as an explosive ordinance disposal technician with the 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion.

A presently unnamed peak in the center of Humphrey Basin holds special meaning to the friends and family of Sky Mote, as their annual hunting trips set up camp beneath this point; under the stars, the memories made beneath this rounded peak will be cherished forever.The mountain in the John Muir Wilderness of the Sierra National Forest in California, located at 37°15′16.10091″N 118°43′39.54102″W, shall be known and designated as "Sky Point."

Some Good News Post date: Jan 27, 2018 2:41:24 PM Yosemite National Park’s Michael Pieper wins Prestigious Award

January 26, 2018 10:05PM Civil Engineer wins NPS Pacific West Regional Director’s Award for Natural Resource Stewardship through Maintenance

Yosemite National Park announces Michael Pieper as the 2016 Recipient of the NPS Pacific West Regional Director’s Award for Natural Resource Stewardship through Maintenance. Michael is a Civil Engineer in Yosemite National Park and he has been recognized as an exemplary employee for his commitment to natural resource protection while working on a wide variety of maintenance projects in Yosemite National Park, including the restoration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

While Michael is responsible for overseeing many important maintenance projects in Yosemite, he has been recognized for his work as the NPS Construction Supervisor for the restoration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Over the past three years, Michael has been the NPS Construction Supervisor overseeing the restoration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Michael has been coordinating and overseeing multiple phases of restoration work, including the removal of a 115-car parking lot, a gift shop, and a fueling station that were all constructed on top of giant sequoia roots. Michael is working with park partners, contractors, and NPS trail and vegetation crews to oversee the construction of a new parking area.

“Michael Pieper is an integral part of a talented team that has made the restoration of the Mariposa Grove possible,” stated Acting Superintendent Chip Jenkins. “We are proud to celebrate and honor Michael for his leadership and the contributions he has made to the restoration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.”These prestigious awards are bestowed annually to outstanding NPS employees working on natural resource projects at parks throughout the Pacific West Region. Additionally, Michael has been nominated for the 2016 Director’s Award for Natural Resource Management through Maintenance.

This can't be good news Post date: Jan 17, 2018 4:25:44 AM In general, we avoid politics on this blog and on this website. But we do believe in protecting our national parks and managing them for the best possible use for all Americans. When nine of twelve members of the advisory panel resign because they feel that their input is being ignored, well, that's a disaster

Epic is overrated Post date: Jan 13, 2018 3:01:05 AM Seems like a lot of people who are backpacking these days want to do a trip that is truly epic. We're not sure what that means, but it seems to have something to do with being a trip that you can brag about later. hmmm.

We've found that hiking into areas you love because you love them is a lot more rewarding than hiking to see if you can. And it vastly increases the odds of you ever doing it again. We'd vote for lovely, instead of epic.

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


The New York Times ran an interesting article about the impact of foraging hikers on our national lands. We took a hike a few years ago in a fire-affected part of the Eldorade NF and were amazed by t

Tioga Pass is OPEN!

The last highway pass over the crest of the Sierra Nevada opens for vehicle traffic tomorrow, June 10. Highway 120, aka Tioga Pass, was open for bicycles only for today. Get your gear. It's time to h


bottom of page