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South by Southwest

We're back from a great trip down into the Southwest, from Joshua Tree to Bandelier and many stops along the way. Here's a quick run down of our adventures over the past two weeks:

We began by camping for a night at Black Rock CG in Joshua Tree, after stopping at our favorite lunch spot, the 24th St. Café in Bakersfield. While the drive through through Victorville was grim, Black Rock was as lovely campground, with lots of space between sites. It doesn't link up with any other part of the park, which may explain how we got a reservation there. And the sunset was a treat:

March 28: We hiked the trails around Black Rock CG: First hiked the West Side Loop Trail, a lovely route through Joshua tree forests, with views if distant snowcapped peaks. Then High View Nature Trail, a quick hike to an overview of the campground and desert for miles to the north.

We grabbed a quick sandwich and gassed up in Yucca Valley, then picnicked at Quail Springs. Took our time to drive the spur roads etc. to Cottonwood time for a nap. That's when it started to sprinkle, and then rain seriously. We snoozed, read, and relaxed in the van.CG; Joshua Tree reminds us of a giant playground equipment for adults--everyone gets out and clambers around on the equipment!

That evening, our next door campers spent more than 90 minutes parking their trailer. 90 minutes!. It was hard to believe. Meanwhile, the coyotes serenaded us twice during the night.

March 29: 44 degrees following the storm this morning. We ate a hot breakfast and then started driving... at which point M suggested that a shower was in order. We stopped at Casa Grande National Monument to eat our lunch and enjoy the exhibits, which were much better than we had expected, including great horned owl chicks roosting in the rafters and a flock of pigeons that were roosting on site--presumably for the convenience of the great horned owls dining pleasure. We then took the back roads to Oro Valley and the 3 Palms hotel, including a nice dinner at Charro Vida. As we drove by Catalina State Park we enjoyed the view...and made a reservation for tomorrow night.

March 30: I had made a reservation to day-hike Aravaipa Canyon, since I couldn't get an overnight permit. It was a good 90 minute drive to the trailhead, including 9 miles of dirt road....and this after we discovered there was no real sign marking the road itself. But the hike was lively... following and often running straight up the creek, with towering cliffs over a verdant channel, a slice of paradise in the desert. Desert-loving saguaros were standing tall just a few feet above the cottonwoods in the creek. We hiked up 3-4 miles, ate lunch, and then hiked back down.

And because this is so regulated, we saw a total of 12 people all day. We also found a pair of binoculars on the trail--right where another hiker had mentioned that she was getting out her binoculars. We left them on her car...and hope they're hers. After the we drove to camp at Cataline State Park, which has stunning views of the Catalina mountains. The campground itself is really just a large parking lot with picnic tables and sites around the edges, but it had clean restrooms, hot showers, and great views.

March 31: This was going to be a day for history. We visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac, then Tubac, where we ate lunch and visited the State Park/Presidio, and finally Tumacacori National Monument. Camped at Patagonia Lake State Park near Nogales. That was a surprise. We expected a washtub rimmed reservoir, but it is a lovely wildlife refuge with a smorgasbord bird life. And as with all Arizona State Parks, hot showers and clean restrooms.

April 1: We decided to start the day with a hike near the campground, where we saw wonderful birds, including the Vermillion flycatcher, osprey, Inca doves, etc. (We passed up the opportunity to join a docent-led birder hike for five hours through the same area. From there we drove to Tombstone, which lived down to our expectations, and then to Bisbee, which had great architecture. After buying a sandwich and other treats at a local bakery, we continued on to Douglas, one mile from the Mexican border, before driving back north and east through the towns of Chiricahua (non-existent), Apache (3 houses and a Geronimo memorial), into New Mexico past dark sky sites for astronomers, and finally back up to I-10 and what seemed like a huge town: Deming. M had a short visit with a State Policeman there who very politely informed us that she had sped through town ..and then issued a nice warning. We camped at Rock Hound State Park--a gem (pun intended.) There was loads of space between sites, very friendly & helpful host, great showers. A class act all around. Dark skies followed a glorious sunset Welcome to New Mexico! That's the view from our campsite, below.

April 2: We started the day with another hike, this one a loop around Rock Hound Campground on the Thunder egg trail... followed by a short stroll through the desert botanical garden. This park is unusual, in that it encourages you to wander off trail, and pick up and take home any roacks that might appeal to you. We didn't do much of that, but found a previous occupant had left a few extra finds around our campsite, so we took a nice crystal and a lovely, transluscent agate as souvenirs. We filled up the van and re-supplied in Deming and drove through Silver City up to Gila Cliff Dwelling NM. Somehow I missed that there were campsites in the monument itself, so we stopped to get a campsite at the Hot Springs RV park, left two camp chairs with a note for the host, and then drive into the park.

When we saw there were campsites available in the park, we scored one at Upper Scorpion CG, ate lunch there, and then went back to collect our chairs. Still no sign of the host there. We spent the afternoon exploring the cliff dwellings and chatting with the docent. This is a wonderful place, and really gives you a sense of what it would have been like to live in one of these houses. After a rest, we walked to the Lower Scorpion campground and saw the smaller dwelling there, and some nice rock art. A dinner of snacks in the very peaceful campground--only 8 spaces, well separated and with quiet neighbors. This was one of our favorite spots on the whole trip.

April 3: A cold morning--32 degrees. We took our time getting ready, and stopped into the visitors center, where we met a ranger from Bandelier. That was nice timing, and he gave us some suggestions for our visit there. We then drove the slow, twisting, curving road to Truth or Consequences in time for a great lunch at Casa Taco--the jerked chicken taco was especially good. This was supposed to be a lazy day. We did laundry at a nearby RV park, checked into Elephant Butte CG, cleaned up, took a nap, drive back into T& take a look around. It was a a dreary town. Bought groceries there--granola was a rare item-- and then went back to the CG to eat dinner and watch the sunset Lots of cottontails hopped by, as did two road runners. We were surprised that all of our neighboring campers stayed in their RVs all day long. We saw almost no people, although the campground was booked solid. Bizarre.

As we discussed our plans that evening, we decided we had time to go see Three Rivers Petroglyphs, a BLM site well out of our way....

April 4: Three Rivers was amazing. There were lots of potsherds on the ground near the ancient village, black on white, red, red on terra cotta. And then we took a full two hours to hike the one-mile loop through the petroglyphs. They were stunning in number, variety, style and quality.

Truly amazing.

The only problem was that we took so much time there that we arrived at Gran Quivira ruins just after they closed...and didn't get to see them. So we drove on to Tajique Campground...and almost didn't find it. Google had it 1/4 away on the other side of the road, and this is in the middle of nowhere. There are only two campsites, each with a with picnic table and a fire ring. And a two-hole outhouse for two campsites. Go figure. No fees to camp here, and boy, was it quiet. We saw a total of six cars over the twelve hours we camped here.

April 5: Despite being up in the mountains, it was only 47 this morning, but with a good breeze. We ate in the van, doves endlessly serenading us. Since we didn't have so far to drive today, we went backwards to see the ruins at Quarai Pueblo, part of the Salinas Pueblos National Monument. This was impressive, entirely built by Tiwa women under the direction of a Spanish priest.

Even better, as I was taking a photo of the ruins, I heard a ruckus behind me and turned to see a bobcat catch a ground squirrel thirty feet away and happily take it back into the bushes. Of course I didn't even think to take a photo until he was gone.

We stopped at The Shed in Sante Fe for a delicious lunch, and toured the Cathedral. Drove to Bandelier National Monument where campsites were plentiful and cheap, and then visited the visitor center...lots to see here. took a nap, then took the afternoon off, resting and reading. After a light dinner we walked the loop out of the campground for a couple of miles, seeing lots of elk sign and a peaceful sunset under a crescent moon. We were the only ones in our campground loop. Nice place.

April 6: Today we focused in hiking the trails in Bandelier-- the Pueblo Loop, Long House, and Alcove House...and then the Falls Trail, all before lunch. For lunch, we shared an excellent elk burger at the park café with Tostones. Yummy--a real contrast to most concessionaires in National Parks and Monuments (this one was locally owned.) .

In the afternoon we visited the Tsankawi village, saw tons of potsherds and petroglyphs, as well as more cavate dwellings in and around the mesa. We stopped in the town of White Rock on the way home to resupply gas, food, etc., and then had a quiet night in camp.

April 7: It was cold this morning. 28 degrees. Thanks to some local knowledge, we drove to Chimayo to visit the sanctuary and even see the source of the holy dirt. True story. Then we were off to La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs...which were also absolutely amazing.. We ate lunch at Pascual's in Sante Fe, and then it was time for M to do some shopping while I relaxed in the sunshine in the plaza.

While I sat there, I thought it might make sense to checked the weather for our next big destination, the Grand Canyon. I quickly noticed that in two days it was going to be snowing with an overnight low of 16 degrees . That would make hiking down from the rim a real death wish. And so a change in plans. That evening we hiked to the Tyuonyi Overlook in the evening, with an eagle soaring overhead as we walked.

April 8: We had arranged to stay with friends near Albuquerque, so today we drove through the amazing Valles Caldera and then the beautiful and picturesque Jemez Valley. We want to come back when things are open. We continued on to Petroglyph NM, where we explored petroglyphs at Piedras Marcadas and Boca Negra Trails. There was some nice art here, but it was often surrounded by houses, and the whole experience was less satisfying that Three Rivers or La Cieneguiila.

We stayed with a good friend that night, enjoying the company of his family and the comfort of a real house--and a lovely one at that. Add in a delicious dinner and a great bottle of Riesling, and it was heaven.

April 9: It was time to head for home...because we had left our cabin unprepared for such a late spring storm. But we still wanted to see a few things. We drove to El Morro NM on the way, . We took the time to hike over the top of the mesa where we met a group of school kids from Zuni--they were full of fun and enthusiasm. After checking out the Inscription Trail, we then picnicked near the same Zuni kids. That's an old Spanish message near a series of petroglyphs, below.

After lunch, we gained an hour by driving into Arizona (through Zuni itself--another place we want to revisit) and took the time to explore a bit of Painted Desert/ Petrified Forest National Park. We wanted to see the Puerco Pueblo ruins (OK---but some nice rock art) and see the famous Newspaper Rock petroglyphs (which we need binoculars to really see)

And then it was pedal to the metal, stopping to buy a sandwich and then eat it at a rest stop west of Flagstaff, and finally come to a halt in Kingman, after three or four hours of driving in brutal winds.

April 10. We were up early today (still on New Mexico time) and back in the saddle. We drove hard, arriving in Tehachapi in time for lunch at the Red house BBQ--which was every bit as good as we remembered. From there it was only one stop for gas, and we arrived at our cabin at a little after 5 p.m. Got things settled there, and enjoyed being home, more or less.

April 11: We woke up to icy rain and snow, with the temperature at 35 degrees and dropping. We prepped the cabin, drained the water pipes, and were back in Napa by noon.

The full photo log of the trip, including more petroglyphs than you can possibly imagine, is here:

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