Pinnacles Paradise, or Three Days with the Condors

May 8th. Left ACE Tule Campground and drove less than an hour north to a Boondockers site in Visalia. This was a driveway in a suburban subdivision surrounded by dozens of other subdivisions in various stages of development- clearly all have recently been converted from agricultural fields. There seems to be a building boom in this part of the Central Valley. At first glance it seemed that this driveway would be impossible to back into without kinking the trailer hitch, but our host Deborah very helpfully guided us in, and Scott got us perfectly situated with full power, water, septic, WiFi, and even a swimming pool in the backyard. Our hosts are Canadian, from Manitoba, and have not been able to visit family since the pandemic.
After lunch, we made a Costco run, breaking our vow never to go to Costco on a weekend. It was jammed and the parking lot was like a cross between NASCAR and a monster truck rally.
We had planned to drive 45 minutes up to the Foothills Visitor Center at Sequoia National Park but decided we were done with driving for the day, and just chilled in the trailer all afternoon.

May 9th. Visalia to Pinnacles National Park, 136 miles & 3.5 hours over impossibly beautiful, steep and winding roads. We have driven a lot of beautiful roads all over the US and Canada, but California State Road 198W between Coalinga and the junction with 25 may be the most beautiful yet!
The Pinnacles campground has electric hookups at most of the RV sites – a rarity in National Park campgrounds but a necessity here, so folks can run their AC in the warmer months, like now, when the temps have been in the 100s all afternoon.

After it cooled off a bit, we walked around the campground admiring the tent sites under canopies of huge old valley oaks. The campground recently changed the numbering of the campsites and informed everyone with reservations by email, but apparently not everyone got the message so several huge rigs were circling around trying to figure out where to park themselves… Mass confusion!

May 10th. It got down to the low 40s overnight- a 60 degree temperature fluctuation! We decided to get out early for a hike before it got too hot. We got to the trailhead at 7 a.m. and started a 1.7 mile uphill climb on the Condor Gulch Trail.

There are spectacular views of the High Peaks all the way up and in fact we did spot several California Condors circling above them, along with many vultures.

Sticky Monkey Flower
Mariposa Lily

Wildflowers are blooming in profusion and we saw many new to us: Sticky monkeyflower, Mariposa lily, Bush poppy and Elegant clarkia among many others. Then it was a 1.7 mile descent. We discovered that 3.4 miles straight up and down on rocks and gravel is not the same as 3.4 miles on our flat paved roads in Homeland!

Tuesday, May 11th. Got out early again – at the trailhead by 7:15. Today was the Moses Spring Trail to the Rim Trail and a Loop back to the Bear Gulch parking area. Total mileage: 2.2, but because we missed the turn to the parking area, we continued up the High Peaks Trail for quite a ways further uphill until we passed some hikers going the other way and realized we were headed for a very steep and narrow pass – not our intention. So we backtracked, found the right trail and from there it was an easy 1/2 mile to our truck. This was among the all-time greatest hikes EVER!! Words and pictures can’t do it justice, but will try – Details and many photos to follow!

The Moses Spring trail begins in deep shade
Starts climbing next to the creek bed where huge boulders have tumbled down
Awesome rock formations!
Rim Trail at the Reservoir

I think the reason we took a wrong turn and walked an extra steep mile is that the trail signage is askew, broken or missing altogether. This is perhaps symptomatic of the state of the park service at present. Bare bones, understaffed, just hanging on for survival, maintaining basic services but no more – certainly at the smaller parks like Pinnacles.

Highs, lows, and other extremes

Tuesday, May 4th.
We leave Victorville and head Northwest to Porterville where we have reservations at the ACE Tule campground at Lake Success. The plan was to stay here one night and then head up into Wishon Camp in Sequoia National Forest for 3 nights. I started having second thoughts about this plan because the National Forest Service website described the road to the campground as steep, narrow and winding. I could see on the map that there were indeed several sharp hairpin curves. Also, the length limit on the campsites is 24 feet, and our trailer is a bit over that. At the last minute I was able to call, cancel Wishon, and extend our stay at the ACE camp. This turned out to be a very good decision, as we shall see!
Our first afternoon here in 100 degree heat, we drove the 8 miles back into town for fuel and groceries (Aldi), and called it a day.

Solitary splendor in Tule campground

Wednesday, May 5th.
Drove up 190 into the National Forest. The road winds upwards, the hills turn from brown grass to green trees, the slopes get steeper, the air cools, and the rocks turn into massive outcrops and boulders. We pulled off at Lower Coffee Camp and walked a little ways down to the rocky bank of the Tule River where there’s whitewater rushing down over those massive boulders.

Tule River at Lower Coffee Camp, Sequoia National Forest

We had been planning to visit Balch Park, reportedly the home of one of John Muir’s favorite redwood groves. But there was a big orange sign at the intersection of 190 and Balch Park Road indicating that the Park is closed until further notice, confirming what we had read online. Covid? Damage from the 2020 Castle Fire? We do not know.

A few more miles up the road is the turn-off to Wishon Camp. This is a rough, narrow, winding paved road. We had a few white-knuckle encounters with oncoming RVs and trucks but we could probably have dragged the trailer up here. It might have spelled the end for the remaining springs, but who can say? We think we may have erred on the side of caution. Then we reached Wishon Camp. Here the road is dirt, much narrower and much rockier. The campsites are also small, narrow, and rocky with trees closing in on all sides. Gorgeous spot for tent camping. But it would have been impossible to jockey our trailer into our site #30, Scott’s mad backing skills notwithstanding! Good thing we did not try to tow the trailer here!!!!! 

Site 30 Wishon Campground

We drove back down to 190, congratulating ourselves on our lucky break. We continued up into the foothills of the southern Sierra Nevada in Sequoia National Forest. We wanted to see if we could find any evidence of the 2020 Castle Fire (now, officially called the SQF Lightning Complex Fire). Very soon, the evidence was unmistakable, and all around us. 

The dyslexic mapmaker:

There’s Redwood Drive on the right!?

We saw this sign and decided to try to find the giant sequoia at the end of Redwood Drive. The map quite clearly shows Redwood Drive going off to the right but when we passed it, the road split off to the left so we continued, went quite a distance and finally asked a road crew who confirmed that the road was indeed on the other side, so we backtracked and followed Redwood Drive through the unfolding scenes of devastation.

We had read about this fire while it raged and ranged through these steep hills and valleys for over 4 months from August 19, 2020 to January 5, 2021. In fact, just yesterday we read about the discovery of a still-smoldering stump! Emotions are mixed and intense as we head ever higher and eastward, the road a constant series of sharp and undulating turns, often with no rails and steep drop-offs. Luckily, very little traffic. At first, the occasional browned tree or bush or grove, but morphing into blackened ridges and entire valleys of downed, skeletonized and blackened trees; those that had fallen across the roads cut into pieces, but thousands either standing and unlikely to live, or fallen as if a huge wind had knocked them down in the same direction. They say it blew 60mph at times, with gusts. An inferno; so much available fuel that the ground itself was scorched and lifeless, the road in patches where the asphalt had burned or melted. We slip in to 4 wheel drive for the steep climb towards Alder Creek, home to a famous stand of Sequoias.

A preservation foundation had purchased this area just the before the fire, and amid the trees are small cabins and homes on either side of the road. Visually, it is gripping and fascinating. We see truly enormous trees… thrilled when it is entirely unscathed, a mixture of relief and sadness at those that are partially burned, and our hearts sink when coming across a gigantic stump, the tree totally destroyed. Same with the homes… across the street, the entire yard untouched, and on the other side, nothing left but twisted metal, a chimney still standing, the frame of a burned out classic car that was once someone’s pride and joy. Cannot imagine how it must have been up here to see the fire approaching, and even more to imagine how the firefighters worked in such conditions. They deserve so much gratitude and recognition for their heroic efforts in saving so many trees and homes, while at the same time, the extent of the losses is devastating. This year, they are more prepared and ever watchful, as the Winter was dry, and it is going to be a long, hot Summer, with wind, low humidity… and lightning.

We wend our way until a sign tells us we cannot drive more, and we park and start to hike, towards the Stagg tree. This a 3000 year old behemoth with a circumference of just under a hundred feet. The skies are bright and sunny, there is a light breeze, the air is a cool 73 degrees. The cameras cannot take in the entire height or breadth of the Stagg. Other trees in the area are themselves enormous. We have seen many tree giants before, but nothing on this scale. These Sequoia have seen countless fires in the past, and they need fire to germinate; these modern fires burn so hot that not even the thick bark and a canopy high above the tree line can save them. As with everything environmental, adaptation to change and new approaches to forest management are required to save what is left. Meanwhile, humans continue to expand into the forests and the deserts, siphoning off water for groves of tasty fruits, for golf courses, for hundreds of new homes.

Scott peering up at the giant sequoia.

After the hike, we snake and brake our way back down, passing crews clearing, cutting, mulching. 

Back to the present with a stop at CVS, Walmart, and then home to Tule Campground.

Thursday, May 6th.
Errands: laundry, oil change, Grocery Outlet.

Friday, May 7th.
Kayaking on Lake Success. The heat broke overnight, and we awakened to temps in the high 50s. Drove 2 minutes down the camp road to the Marina. Rented a kayak for a couple of hours and explored the lake, especially the areas where willows, nearly drowned when the Tule River was dammed to make this lake, are flourishing now and providing habitat for many birds. We saw lots of western grebe on the lake, and in the willows – wood ducks, black crowned night herons, some smaller herons with the coloring of little blues but the stocky body of little greens. Many vivid red winged blackbirds, and hundreds of (probably) cliff swallows. We paddled until the passage through the willows narrowed, the water got shallower, and just ahead we heard and then saw whitewater crashing over rocks where the Tule River flows into the Lake.

SoCal in the Rear View?

(Although it’s expanding so fast it may catch up to us! More photos to follow…)

Saturday, May 1st.
Dawn at Anza Borrego is crisp and refreshing with temps in the 60s. But as soon as the sun rises, it’s like the lid of a pressure cooker clamps down and the heat and glare rise with it. Couldn’t wait to leave! But check-in at the next campground isn’t until 2 p.m. and we’re only a couple of hours away, so we sit in the air conditioned trailer until it’s finally time to go. We take Montezuma Valley Road, a memorably scenic, steep and winding road up up up and over the San Ysidro Mountains and down the other side past the lovely verdant hills of Santa Ysabel and into the busy relatively un-lovely town of Ramona where we are staying at Dos Picos County Park Campground. When we arrived, a bit early, the Ranger let us check in and we rolled through the throngs of families with tents, dogs, and every sort of RV to our campsite. But at least it was cool, and there are lots of oaks and other trees. A welcome change from Anza Borrego! We unhitched and drove into town for fuel and groceries. We took a walk around the campground, dodging kids on bikes and scooters, but it was a pleasant evening. The campground was surprisingly quiet after dark. I guess all the kids and dogs were bushed from a day of racing around the campground. 

Sunday, May 2nd. 
We took off at 7:30 a.m. to drive into Solana Beach just north of San Diego to spend the day with our niece and nephew, L&N. It was another beautiful, scenic ride winding up and down through the rocky hills in the countryside east of San Diego. And such a balm for the eyes to see green trees everywhere. The mega-drought is not in evidence so far this spring in this place. Fond reunion with L&N whom we had not seen in 2? 3? years! They took us to Dog Beach where their dog Abby zoomed around and we walked in the cool drizzle – again for us a blessed change from the desert!


Then L took us to a Breath class based on the Wim Hof method – 40 minutes of guided deep breathing on an outdoor patio followed by a 3 minute plunge in a cold pool (40 degrees F!) and then a hot tub. Scott participated in these plunges; L & I did not! Then back home where N had prepared a delicious lunch. After lunch we had a video call with Matt in Stockholm; as ever a joy to see him so well and happy. By now it was warm and sunny so we did a little shopping and then came back and sat on their back patio until it was time to go so we could find our way back to Dos Picos before dark. When we got back to the  campground we were astounded to see that it was completely cleared out. We had the place to ourselves. What a great day!

Monday, May 3rd. 
Cool foggy morning. The fog lifted by 10 a.m. and it was sunny and 75F. Perfect! We walked around the empty campground and saw lots of wildlife, mostly squirrels and gerbil-type rodents, and many birds. Western bluebirds (Sibley calls these Mountain Bluebirds) and Acorn woodpeckers, Red shouldered hawks getting harassed by crows. Lovely place! But we had to be on our way. We packed up and left by 11:45 for the 3+ hour  drive north up I-15 east of Los Angeles through what used to be desert but which is now called “The Inland Empire.” It’s still the desert but now it’s filled with cheek-by-jowl subdivisions and millions of suburbanites. Our destination today: the suburban sprawl desert town of Victorville where we are staying at Mojave Narrows Regional Park. The road was very hilly but fine, the traffic was horrendous but better than anticipated. We arrived by 3:15 and set up, had some lunch and then drove back to the main drag (Bear Valley Road) for fuel and groceries at a Kroger’s outlet called Food 4 Less. Great prices, lots of Hispanic foods. Trains passing next to the campground all night. Tomorrow we have another 3+ hour drive north to the Army Corps of Engineers Tule campground on Lake Success east of Porterville and about 20 miles west of Sequoia National Forest. We are hopeful that we will be getting into cooler and less congested parts, with Southern California finally in the rear view mirror!

But it’s a dry heat…

Sunrise our last morning in Yuma.

Monday, April 26th.
Pretty easy drive: From Yuma north through Quartzite to I-10 and then west to exit 168 and the Cottonwood entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. Found our beautiful site A17 right on the road and parallel to it so when we got set up our slide stuck out into the road a little bit. Different arrangement but with beautiful views of the surrounding rocky hills. No hookups but our battery is full because of the intense sun powering our solar panels.
But when we first arrived it was overcast, cool and windy. Refreshing!

Our campsite at Cottonwood Campground, Joshua Tree National Park.

We took a driving tour 40 miles one way to Keys View overlook in the Mojave Desert side of the park. A significant characteristic of the park is  that it’s an ecotone where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet, and it hosts plants and wildlife typical of both. It was 64F at Cottonwood where we started, and 48F at Keys View.

The eponymous Joshua Tree. Not a tree, but a yucca!
The view from Keys View
Cholla Cactus Garden

We stopped at every roadside exhibit along the way, reading the informational displays and taking pictures at: Ocotillo Patch (Black-headed Grosbeaks feeding in the Ocotillo), White Tank and Belle campgrounds (gorgeous sites tucked under massive boulders and rock outcrops), Cap Rock Nature Trail, and Cholla Cactus Garden.

Tuesday, April 27th.
We walked from the campground to Cottonwood Springs, one of several California Fan Palm oases in the Park. From there we picked up the Mastodon Peak Loop trail.

Mastodon Loop trail

Awesome, expansive views. Strenuous, 3.5 miles. Brief thunderstorms… only a few tiny drops of rain spattered down but the storm clouds and winds were impressive!
Drove down to the Ranger station after lunch and bought a map and a book on the human and natural history of Joshua Tree & environs. This gave us ideas for tomorrow’s itinerary.

Wednesday, April 28th.
Left Cottonwood campground before 8 a.m. Drove to the North Entrance Station at Twentynine Palms. Walked the 1/2 mile Oasis of Mara loop. Got fuel in Twentynine Palms on our way to the trailhead for the 49 Palms Oasis hike. Strenuous 1.5 mile uphill over a ridge and then downhill to the oasis; the same in reverse on the return.

Climbing up and away from 49 Palms Oasis.

Drove to the Indian Cove campground and past it to the picnic area in the shelter of enormous rock piles and boulders where we had our picnic lunch.

Indian Cove picnic area!

Then drove to the town of Joshua Tree and back into the park at the West Entrance Station where there was a long lineup of cars waiting to get in. May have had something to do with the 3 weddings scheduled in the park today. Hiked the 1.5 mile Barker Dam Loop but missed the turnoff for the parking lot and had to bushwhack our way back to the parking area through the desert washes. Easy to see how people can get totally turned around and lost in the desert vastness.
Back at campground by 5 p.m.!

Thursday, April 29th.
Unpacked and repacked all of Scott’s tools. One never knows when a chain saw and branch lopper might come in handy! Also, Scott had to jury-rig a substitute for the L-pin that dematerialized somewhere along the way, probably on the rough roadways of I-10. Despite our very spotty internet access, we ordered a replacement to be delivered to L&N’s in San Diego. Also, a replacement for the stove burner assembly that gave up the ghost early last week. This was also to be delivered to L&N in SD but apparently the package went astray and had to be re-sent.
We drove south back out of JTNP along Box Canyon Road, a spectacular drive through a geologist’s dreamscape of amazing uplifted rocks and masses of blue stone cliff faces. Drove through agricultural fields (grapes, citrus, onions, peppers) around the Salton Sea and then into scarily desolate wastelands as we entered Anza Borrego Desert State Park. We were incredibly lucky with the weather in JTNP but that luck ran out in Anza Borrego where the temp hovered around 100 degrees F.
We arrived too early to check in so we drove up to the visitor center and watched a short video on A Year in the Desert – focused on 4 seasons of wildlife at Anza Borrego. By then we could check in and set up at our site with well designed full hookups – essential for survival in this heat! Grateful for AC!
At sunset we ventured out to the trailhead for the Palm Canyon Trail at the end of the campground but did not venture out of the air conditioned truck. Instead, we drove into town, bought a pint of vanilla ice cream at Center Market, came back to the trailer and enjoyed a cool treat! What hardcore survivalists!

Friday, April 30th.
Drove up the road and used the coin op laundry at Palm Canyon Hotel and RV Resort. It didn’t say reserved for guests, so why not? Made some phone calls as we waited for the wash and dry to be done, and then drove out through the Desert Sands Vintage RV Park right next door. Interesting funky collection of 1950’s era restored RVs.
Drove out of town to Galleta Meadows to see the famous Sky Art Desert Metal Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. Monumental sized fabulous creatures scattered around the desert. Amazing.

Sky Art Desert Metal Sculpture.

Back into town past seemingly burnt out old vineyards surrounded by tamarisk windbreaks. Stopped at the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association bookstore and botanical garden. Asked about the tamarisk and vineyards. It seems that in the 1970s when Cesar Chavez was trying to unionize grape workers, the owner here was not open to the idea and rather than make concessions, turned off the water and the fields returned to desert. I also asked about the famous spring Wildflowers at Anza Borrego and was told that there were no Wildflowers this year because there was insufficient rain. Apparently this was the driest winter in San Diego in 150 Years, and “if there’s no rain in San Diego, there’s less than no rain here!”
When we got back to the trailer, the temperature was 115 degrees F in the shade under our awning!

At the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association bookstore.

The first 10 days

The days just before this expedition are filled with RV and home repairs, and generally working things out so both survive the next few months. We are on a very tight schedule heading West. Our dear friends Charles and Ini, who we had hoped to visit but did not in 2020, are experiencing health issues and we want to get to their cabin on the Olympic Peninsula as soon as possible. This adds some anxiety to the trip and we promise ourselves to take one step at a time, and to meet the inevitable challenges with the equanimity that our advanced years demand.

What other threads make up the tapestry of the Trip? Certainly, we look forward to seeing how areas of the USA have changed or are responding to this stage of the Pandemic. Always, where to stop, and the many and varied types of rest stops are of interest. Prospecting for best locations for fuel fill ups can be a real adventure… getting in and out of some stations is a real challenge, and we have to be on the lookout for below grade biodiesel (got bad stuff twice in the past), and for gas station credit card theft (also twice before!). We will ask and engage about local conditions… Native Plants, Birds. We anticipate disruptions and changes due to western wild fires. Will we be able to maintain our meditation and yoga schedule? Scott is trying out the Wim Hof breathing and cold shower program… will be interesting to see how that fares on the trip. Pre-pandemic, we would stop at every Planet Fitness we could fit in, visit local museums, try out new yoga centers…we will instead be staying closer to our road home and focusing on whatever outdoor hikes we can do. We rarely eat out, so we will not miss that. Main goal: Stay Frosty… pay attention,  stay hydrated, be kind to one another! 

The trip begins…on Wednesday April 14th, with a farewell visit from Aunt Elaine, along with her grandson Waheguru, granddaughter in law Sara, and great grandsons Isha and Ameya. We traipsed with Isha around the pond searching for deer and the recently seen baby gator in great excitement but with no luck. We got on the road about 3:30 p.m. and reached Jonathan Dickinson State Park without incident. Weather great… we are optimistic!

Thursday, April 15th. Our friend CJ stopped by in the morning – good to remember: if you are visiting someone in the campground, the park admission fee is waived! The drive up I-95 was uneventful, and we navigated with a minimum of invective the spaghetti of service roads at Jacksonville exit 348 to Mary Street, and finally to dear friends KB and Joyce’s house on the St. John’s River, where Scott backed into the driveway and under the eaves of the garage with aplomb. Trying out social skills, Helen scores well and Scott is given a general pass, given his known history.

Friday, April 16th. Walking tours of San Marco Square… KB and Joyce have been a major force in keeping most shops in business through the shutdowns, and things look good. We spend a couple of hours visiting a Mr. Juan Carlos Villatoro at Alquimista; a whirlwind talk about E-waste, destructive gold mining in Columbia, and eco friendly ways to extract rare earths, especially Osmium from Platinum ores. We visit the local Whole Foods to pick up the fixings for Friday night pizza, got a much needed 15 to 30 amp conversion plug for the RV, and settle in for our last night here.

Saturday, April 17th. This trip is new and different in many ways post (?) Pandemic, especially our intention to stay at private homes and sites as part of Boondockers Welcome. We are curious and excited about this way to travel! West on I-10 to our first site, north of DeFuniak Springs hosted by Jeff C. at “New Harmony.” Rainy on and off all day and through the nite but we had water & electricity (although the rain kept tripping the GCFI). Large open field near major power line, but good. They are building up quite a site here, and Jeff has done an astonishing amount of construction by himself. He is just about to install a huge RV lift in the new and very large garage and workshop. Our host wears an NRA baseball cap. Couldn’t be nicer!

Sunday, April 18th. Short trip today, clearing skies. Arrived at our second Boondockers site north of Biloxi, MS before 2 pm, where the host and his family were pressure washing their huge Fleetwood camper bus after a weekend of camping. We hung out with them in their driveway until that was done, and then backed into our spot behind their RV shelter. In setting up, we noticed that 2 of our original tires were starting to disintegrate such that metal wires were poking through the sidewalls. Not good! We decided that all 4 tires should be replaced (these are nicknamed “China bombs” in the RV Facebook groups). We have an appointment at Biloxi Goodyear for Tuesday morning but will try to get in sooner.
We manage to get to a local Walmart. In this little corner of Mississippi, we see a lot of masks… not anticipating Texas to look the same!

Monday,  April 19th.
The good news is that we called Southern Tire Mart (just 1.5 mile down the road from our Boondockers site) this morning at 7 a.m., found that they do have the right sized tires in stock, packed up in a whirlwind and drove there, pulled the trailer into a bay by 8 a.m. and sat in their waiting room using their WiFi.

We were back on the road by 9:00 a.m. heading west on I-10 so didn’t have to change any of our Boondockers plans. So far, so good. Fingers crossed. We ended up in Baytown, TX at a Boondockers site in an empty field next to a cemetery. Only a small parking area is reinforced so we tried to park between the White stakes, but it was a sharp turn off the road and a steep drop from the road to the driveway. The host, Tom I. came along as we were setting up to make sure we were in the right spot… he said we were parked further in than other Boondockers. He explained that the soil there is alluvial so if we parked off the reinforced pad, our vehicles would sink into the ground. That also apparently explains the washboard road on I-10 from Louisiana west past Houston. Rainy on and off through Tuesday morning.
Not clear why one would have RV parking in a site that sinks so easily… gravel and clear directions and markers would help! Some sites, you wish you had arranged to stay longer, while others are a big help in developing driving and social skills.

Baytown, TX Boondockers

Tuesday, April 20th. We knew it would be rough driving past Houston and San Antonio, and it was. Some of this road seems designed to test our sanity and the manufacturing quality of the rig; no shoulders, getting passed by speeding trucks, wind blowing. But,  after we passed Houston there were a couple of leafy green and pleasant rest areas. 

At Texas Welcome Rest Area: Boardwalk into Blue Elbow Swamp, first stop on the Big Thicket Loop of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.

Past San Antonio the land rises and we are in the beautiful Texas Hill Country! Enjoying expansive views of green hills and valleys all the way to Kerrville. Kerrville was an unexpectedly nice little town (pop. 22000+). Our host, January S. and his friendly dog Scooter met us in the driveway and directed us to his spacious backyard, with plenty of room for us to make a 360 to park in the most level spot facing out for easy departure. Very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the area, where his property backs up to the 6 mile paved River Trail by the Guadalupe River. We walked the trail at sunset to a local park where giant cypress trees (largest in the State!) line the river. Unexpected treat! Also unexpected: the temp went down into the low 40s overnight! With current RV systems, boondocking is much easier in dealing with cold, while heat can be a real challenge.

Wednesday, April 21st. A nice overcast day for driving on mostly smooth highway with good shoulders. Even so, as we drove west out of Hill Country and the landscape turned to desert, and the glare increased, we were glad to pull into a commercial campground in barren Van Horn, Texas and to give our eyes a rest! We did a laundry here, used their WiFi, full hookups. Met a teacher from Austin who had just quit because they were forcing her to go back to the classroom after months of virtual teaching. Pandemic has changed many many things, especially in social interactions. They’re traveling in an Airstream, just returning from the Grand Canyon. Maybe we’ll see the Lyrids meteor shower tonight! (Update: We didn’t, but the night sky was spectacular!)

Thursday, April 22nd. Another grueling day of driving I-10 from Van Horn through the teeming, twisting Highway around El Paso (from the road, an endless nightmare of every Franchise known to Man), through southern New Mexico and into the barren wastes of east Arizona where the road signs warn of possible dust storms and issue instructions for what to do (pull over, stay buckled up…). Dust was blowing across the road and obscuring the mountains to the horizon. Arrived Willcox, AZ before 3. Would have been an hour later but we discovered that although AZ is on Mountain Time, they do not observe Daylight Savings Time so they are actually on Pacific Time half the year. Our Boondockers hosts the Nolans have 5 acres that they have turned into a wildlife habitat. We visited with them after dinner. He had just returned home following surgery. We all wear masks. There is a security camera in the living room. He writes SciFI books and both are an endless supply of information about AZ. The birding here is famous and they vie with San Diego for the crown of which has the most species (500+).

Friday, April 23rd. Took off early. Got diesel, stopped at Family Dollar for a box of envelopes so we could send a check to Dr. Jaffe, mailed it and cards to the Kimballs and to DJ for her birthday. Drove 35 miles south to Chiricahua National Monument. Walked to the campground – beautiful! And back to Visitor Center. Drove the 8 mile Scenic Loop and took the 1.8mile roundtrip Sugarloaf Trail to a CCC constructed fire lookout at 7300 feet elevation.

Then drove to Maasai Point, Nature Trail, exhibit. Took a tumble, not bad. Stopped at Safeway on the way home and bought $105 in supplies. That should last us a while.

Saturday, April 24th. Headed west on I-10 until just past Tucson and then spun off onto I-8 in order to bypass Phoenix altogether. I-8 is a smooth, less traveled road, but desolate and hilly. Our truck started to get too hot in the 94 degree heat about 50 miles east of Yuma, our Boondockers site for the night. We slowed down until we reached the Foothills exit and then followed our host’s good directions to our destination. She is a Michigan transplant who started as a snowbird and now lives here full time with her mother who at 88 refuses anymore to get in the RV. They have a large gravelled yard where they have planted many citrus trees and a large vegetable garden in raised beds.

Sunday, April 25th. Drove around the outskirts of Yuma on errands: Engine coolant. DEF. Propane. Scott crawled under the trailer to check the springs, among other things. Stayed inside the trailer with the AC going. Outside it’s 92F. Tomorrow: Joshua Tree NP.

Saving the Best for Last!

Lake Kissimmee State Park, Sunday, November 17th. 

We ignored google maps which wanted us to take 441 to 75 to I-4 to 27 to 60… too many twists and turns! So we went straight south on 441 for 11 miles to I-75 at Alachua, 140 miles to the suburbs of Tampa and then turned east for 50 miles on FL-60. About 20 miles longer but much more direct. Congested at first on 60 in Brandon and Valrico, then thinning out through the phosphate mine country with some slowdowns going through the towns of Mulberry, Bartow and Lake Wales.

Still cool and overcast (high 50s) but getting warmer!

Set up in Site 51 marveling at this wonderful place. Hard to imagine a more beautiful campground. Large, shell rock sites under old live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Lots of privacy and space between sites.

Took a walk from the campground along the road to the day use area (parking lots, picnic tables, concession, boat ramp, Cow Camp, Youth Camp, trailheads, observation tower) and found a short cut back.

Monday, November 18th.

Sunny at last! Highs in the 70s! Perfect! Lots of wildlife. Wild turkeys and deer, obviously quite tame and expecting a handout, visited our campsite.

Took a three mile loop, the Gobbler Ridge trail, to the shore of Lake Kissimmee and back. Saw bald eagles circling far above keeping company with some vultures, 2 flocks of migrating sandhill cranes, a vibrant pleated woodpecker, snail kite… many others. Clustered bushmint, many grasses, sedges, known and unknown. A small black snake crossed the trail, picture to follow… Great hike, amazing sky, clouds, weather!


Helpful sign!

Now using the WiFi at the Camp Store, waiting for the Leonids meteor shower. Yesterday was the peak, and this year isn’t supposed to be that spectacular anyway, but we may be surprised! Hope springs eternal!!

Panhandle to High Springs

Thursday, November 14th. Last full day at Three Rivers State Park. Tried to find Chattahoochee Nature Trail, created by A. Gholson, a member of FNPS. Much storm damage, v. rough trail. Went instead to town Riverside Park, w/ Indian Mounds and info signs and a boardwalk trail along bluffs and ravines on banks of Apalachicola River. But boardwalk was damaged by storm and impassable. Drove up to Jim Woodruff Dam which created Lake Seminole at confluence of Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers. Cold, damp!3B251EB5-E95F-49B3-9CF1-00080FFAD200F777846C-81F7-4197-BCFC-03EE705237D3F32F8841-8B95-4095-B4D9-7078CE62ED06F5ABA78B-9BC6-4418-97E2-1440CEB52144229F9B21-53DC-447C-83ED-FF0A8727513A

Friday, November 15th. Drove 180 miles on I-10 and I-75 to O’Leno State Park, 6 miles north of High Springs. With the last of the daylight, took the River Trail along the banks of the Santa Fe River to the place where it disappears into an underground cave system, the “River Sink,” reappearing 3 miles away in River Rise Preserve State Park. The trailhead is at a beautiful suspension bridge constructed by the CCC!

Saturday, November 16th. Nature Center… CCC buildings & history (log pavilion, museum, statue).

Drove to see River Rise Preserve State Park, but the entrance was chained and locked. There was a public boat ramp just south of there, so we stopped to read the info sign and walk around the small park.D59A3576-0AF1-4233-9878-38E319B0FAD4224014FF-E1AB-4CF0-BAF3-0F64E403EC33

Admired a giant oak tree bending over the River, where someone had attached a rope swing. We could imagine local youngsters using it to launch themselves into the River on those beastly hot summer days. Went into High Springs for groceries at Winn Dixie, and diesel at the slowest fuel pump in creation. Back at camp, H returned to the Nature Center to give them some of Matt’s old books on birds, plants, ocean, reptiles, the Everglades. The ranger and the quite elderly volunteer said that young visitors would enjoy them. They asked where we are from and turns out the volunteer used to live on a houseboat in the Boynton Inlet Marina, then in Jupiter when it was still a small fishing village, and finally on 9th Street on the lake block in WPB. He said he’s glad they’re no longer down there… too congested!

After lunch… Limestone Trail to quarry, and then back out to River Rise East where the Santa Fe River reappears. Sketchy directions, walked a while on pretty woodsy road but never found it. Figured it out later after poring over the confusing map. Now we know where it is and how to get there but that will be for another time…4E2F8A9B-DA5F-4435-A3B1-51F06FF8633DAFDDF10E-B3F3-4F65-AB85-8A4448954708

Florida Caverns, Post Hurricane Michael

Wednesday, November 13th. Last year we had reservations for the campground at Florida Caverns State Park but the park closed because of Hurricane Michael. This year, the campground is still closed, but the Cave Tours are open, so we drove 40 minutes west and north of the town of Marianna to the park in time for the 11:30 a.m. tour. The Park, The Visitor Center and Museum and access to the cave itself were all constructed by the CCC in circa 1933. The familiar CCC statue is here too.

We had an excellent one hour tour of the cave, or “Cavern,” as Volunteer guide Kevin was careful to make the distinction between the two. A cavern has the formations: stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, draperies, rimstone, etc. etc. A cave does not. This cavern is relatively small and intimate. You can get very close to the formations here, unlike in the larger more famous caves like Carlsbad or Mammoth Cave; more similar to Timpanogos. Inside the cave it was surprisingly warm, much warmer than the outside temperature which was in the 50s, and much more humid as well. First off, Kevin spotted a small bat, which he ID’ed as an Eastern Pipistrelle.973BF044-89B5-4CFA-980A-EF15C0BAB98B

Snapshots from Florida Caverns:

Kevin started as a volunteer and gave cave tours for 3 years, then was hired by the state of Florida and works part time giving cave tours 3 days a week. He estimates he’s given over 2000 tours in the past 6 years. Thanks, Kevin! 2A2ABD7C-3242-4B27-A800-5141ECF03650

We exchanged a propane canister at Walmart, got some fuel and groceries, and drove back to camp. After lunch we took a short walk along what used to be the nature trail here, but which was devastated by Hurricane Michael, like the rest of Three Rivers State Park, where trees were snapped off and splintered like broken pencils. There are still huge piles of tree trunks and limbs waiting to be chipped.7A235BFE-7307-4562-9769-1322F9AC7F1B

On the other hand, this is the view from our door:5451C033-81CE-498C-9236-F00B61E1000E

And this is the full moon from our campsite looking out over Lake Seminole.DCF7B6FB-B428-44DB-BF85-D1D6823D9D46

Tracking the Front

Tuesday, November 12th. Yesterday was a relaxing day spent doing laundry, using the WiFi and cell signal at the ranger station, and taking some short hikes to visit some of the less prominent mounds near the Temple Mound Trail, as well as the spillway near Lake Yohola and bits of the Spruce Pine Trail. 54D4021E-60C8-4DB0-9C95-B1B6463E3B1B415D9686-0F57-4A13-8301-36FC33E50B18All along we were tracking a weather system coming down from the northwest bringing rain and cold to south Georgia and north Florida. While it was still pleasantly cool and comfortable to sit outside, we watched the sunset from our campsiteAFC89627-DC1B-4271-961D-179881410FBB

and then made a fire and roasted sweet potatoes for dinner.9B1CD0A4-18BB-435E-AD20-F24390E2B8C2

We woke this morning to the sound of rain, and temps in the 40s. The Campground had already emptied out and we were in nobody’s way so we took our time, made lunch, and got ready to leave. The rain stopped and we drove south under gray skies on dry roads. We only had 62 miles to go. After an hour or so we crossed the Apalachicola River and we were back in Florida! Soon after that we missed a turn and ended up having to zigzag a few miles along muddy red dirt back roads until we rejoined the paved 2-lane River Road which brought us to Three Rivers State Park. When we checked in the ranger warned us that the park is still in recovery from the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael a year ago, and that we should expect strong winds coming across the open water of the lake. You can see how that might be the case from this map of our location. Note the temp at 6:40 p.m. Supposed to go down to 31F tonight!1D20D48F-1492-42CC-A005-DACD1D73C0B3

The campground is open for business but still a bit the worse for wear, stripped of whatever trees were here before, and the roads in the park are still damaged with potholes and cracks from the heavy equipment brought in to clear the fallen trees. Our campsite is bare gravel, small and awkward to back into, but Scott did fine. We are right on the lakeshore with gorgeous views across the water.9AB48628-C956-4065-8297-770C162EFB17910ECA1C-23CD-4259-9972-84DDD563E180A862FC9F-E6F1-4661-BA67-411AF59CF4FE

According to the park brochure, “The Flint River and Chattahoochee River combine to form Lake Seminole above the Jim Woodruff Dam. Below the dam, the waters become the mighty Apalachicola River, which flows untamed until it pours into Apalachicola Bay, and eventually, the Gulf of Mexico. The name of the park is a tribute to these three rivers.”

After we had set up camp, the skies cleared, the temperature dropped, and we could clearly see the trailing edge of the front as it passed by.44688826-C6FA-4B81-8F0C-C6503F14DA71