Wiggonwheels – a momentous journey into this land we call America

Welcome to my blog, or perhaps more accurately… my ramblings as I ramble.  At best you’ll find some fun stories, interesting facts, cool places to eat, sleep, hike and drink. At worst I’ll offer you things you’ll soon want to forget. But that’s life. Thanks for joining me as I cruise America’s back roads in my 43′ Fifth-Wheel I call “Big Mo” and if you are so brave – join me on the road during one of my many segments to help uncover what this country truly is. Be it magic or tragic, we are in for a wild ride!

Dave Wiggins – written somewhere along the Salmon River, RT 93 in Idaho.

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Fall in Pennsyltucky – Part One

September 7 to October 1, 2017

In my youth, which seems a lifetime ago, Pennsylvania played a major part.  It’s where I developed my love of the outdoors with endless forests, rivers, fields and streams to run and play in. My dad was born there and trips to visit nanny and pupup in Indiana, PA remain a warm and happy place in my memory. I can still envision those fall days filled with wood and coal smoke, apple cider, birch beer and trees painted in red, orange, yellow and evergreen. I hadn’t seen a fall in the East since I left to seek fame and fortune in the West way back in 1974.  So it became my mission to again witness Autumn and all the associated smells and colors as I continued my journey back into Appalachia.

My first basecamp was a level spot next to a barn in a field at Steve and Janet Goodyear’s nursery/farm west of Marysville, PA (outside of Harrisburg, PA). And my first bucket list item was to see a Penn State football game again at Beaver Stadium and visit my old Alma Mater. Boy, the brain cells I both broadened and burned in this happy valley back in the 70’s. Brother Jim and I hooked Big Mo up and drove to Centre Hall County Fairgrounds and the official Penn State RV campground they established.  Pure Nittany heaven it was!  Blue and white, beer, wine and loudness everywhere and the pre-game party lasted all night long. Jim, who graduated two years before me had been back many times so I asked him to give me a guided tour of campus (the place looked like nothing I remembered back then). First stop was a beer at the Rathskeller followed by a long walk through campus. Had to stop for a Peachy Paterno cone at the PSU Creamery. Best in the world! Everywhere I went I felt the spirits of Wiggins past.

After a superb dinner at Duffy’s Tavern in Boalsburg and a rowdy night in camp it was Game Day!  The unbeaten Lions were to face the Panthers of Pitt who beat them in their house last season. Revenge! Have you ever been to a sporting event with 109,000 other crazy, screaming fans? I guess it’s BIG Beaver stadium now (having gone through two or more expansions since I was there). The tradition. The pageantry.  The 50 yard-line seats. I was stupefied with joy. A great game with our Boys putting a deserved beating on the poor Pittsburghians. Final score was 33 to 14.  The only thing that could make it better was an authentic Philadelphia cheese steak at Bradley’s.

Back to Goodyear’s farm, Brother Jim departed off to begin his blissful retirement. I dug in for a few fun weeks with Steve and his most lively and hospitable family. We toured the lovely property, tucked in a small valley at the junction of two forested creeks which feed his lush nursery of native plants, trees and shrubs. Steve has built a successful wetland restoration company (Aqua-niche) that rebuilds land and habitat lost to development. Good stuff.  His sprawling 100+ year old stone house is up a hill next to a killer sledding hill he made for his four charming, forest-tested, mountain-forged kids. I’m down the hill, hidden by the bat barn in a sweet spot by the old ball field. Perfect.

The last days of summer were a pleasant blurr of fun, friends, great dinners with pre & post happy hours, concerts, a ball game and a wilderness camping trip in a way I’ve never experienced…

One major event was a dinner that Steve & Janet planned for a group of friends I also knew. One dear friend and indisputable character by the name of Frank Grattola had reminded me of someone I knew well but hadn’t seen since the “submarine” days in Boulder (living in the basement of 723 Marine St – 1974-1978) by the name of Jim Mixon. He had his cell # so I called him with an invite. Long story short he came (all the way from New Hampshire) with his lovely wife and we laughed, drank and acted 23 again. I thanked Jim for being my connection to others such as Tom & Dick (see earlier post), Karle Seydel (Father of Coors Field), Cindy and more.  I love rekindling old friendships!

Next funtime was a concert in Hershey, PA – Ailson Krauss with David Gray. Cool old hall made of hardened chocolate (j k). But that next weekend came a high point in this saga – bicycle camping along Pine Creek inside the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania”. Steve was a veteran of countless spring canoe trips when it is more of a river. Even acted as a rogue outfitter for AWE! when we sent him a few paying clients back in the 80’s. Now the canyon is pathway to a Rails to Trails route for more than 40 river miles (we just did 20). Absolutely gorgeous scenery…. and all downhill if you shuttle a vehicle to the end. We loaded down our bikes with panniers, coolers, sleeping bags, pads, tarps and camp chairs, hooked up with old friends John and Betsy who I met canoeing the Buffalo River in Arkansas years ago and pedaled off. Camp was 8 miles downstream, across the river, down a 30′ cliff which presented a logistical challenge but Steve’s ‘eagle scout’ son Patrick proved to be an able bodied Sherpa. Plenty of cigars, beer, steaks and whiskey around the fire took away all the aches. Next morning dawned sunny. I was hoping for fall colors but the warm weather seemed to delay the show.

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Back at the farm we had a ball game to attend (Baltimore vs Tampa at Camden Yards – Birds lost) and one more concert scheduled… Storm Large and her band (you have to see her if she ever comes round). October was just around the corner and I was expected in yet another paradise… Kentucky.  So I bid my hosts many thanks, packed up Big Mo and pointed my rig south and west to the land of bourbon, bluegrass and horses…. Part Two of this adventure to follow, stay tuned.

What a Beach! August in Montauk

July 29 to September 6, 2017

When you plan an epic road trip like this one, my advice is to look back through your life to determine who were the people and what were the things that made you the happiest along the way.  Then focus on that and avoid stuff that didn’t bring you a smile and a “wow”.  Early on in my process from going from a normal, predictable, safe life to that of a modern day, big rig hauling gypsy, I was driven by the freedom I now had to go wherever I wanted (as long as it was south of the freeze line). Three things became my guiding passion…. to see friends and family I infrequently see, to immerse myself in the awesomeness of nature and beauty of national and state parks I’ve yet to experience (including our now threatened National Monuments), and at the end of the day, to be able to drift off to sleep with a smile on my face knowing tomorrow will be just as fun and rewarding.

So keeping to my plan, August 2017 was dedicated to one of my favorite places, the beach at Montauk, NY.  By some stroke of luck, I was blessed with a brother who played his cards right on Wall Street, bought a big house in Montauk years ago and decided to retire to a life of leisure just before I rolled in. Now anyone who knows the roads, bridges, tunnels and thoroughfares of New Jersey and New York, would agree, it just isn’t a place to bring a 43-foot trailer. Those things just aren’t welcome in these parts. Too big when having to share the road with 20 million other nutzo drivers. So I parked Big Mo at my buddy Goodyear’s outside of Harrisburg, PA and completed my eastward plunge in Mini Mo (the new name given to my GMC pick-up by the Eastern Wiggins clan).  Sun, sand and surf was the mission but as you can guess, there was so much more!

So here was my typical day in Montauk…. about 30 of these in a row

  • 7 am – Get up, drink coffee, read the NY Times, check emails, check the weather report. Sometimes when no office work to be done, go for a bike ride.
  • 10 am – Drive with bro Jim to the fish market (you can plug in: Chicken farm, organic veggie stand, liquor/beer store, IGA market, or gourmet grocery store in East Hampton) to get items for dinner.
  • 1 pm – lunch of last night’s dinner leftovers.
  • 2 pm – THE BEACH – maybe the Atlantic side (just a 5 min walk), maybe the Long Island Sound side (5 min drive). Lay on the sand like a beached seal in the sun, listen to my tunes, splash in the waves, drink beer.
  • 5 to 7 pm –  Happy Hour back at the house (as my bro pointed out, “you have to have the second half of your cocktail after draining the first.” If conditions looked good we often drove to a bar or beach on the northwest side to see the sunset – wow.
  • 7, 8 or 9 pm – First watch as the fish, chicken, steak, whatever… gets expertly grilled or smoked, help set the table, light the candles for the right mood, then EAT!
  • 9 to pass-out – star gaze, gather around the outside fire ring, or if there were enough young bloods around, open the Tiki Lounge downstairs for music and laughs.
  • Next day – repeat with even more determination.

For those who are geographically challenged, Montauk (aka The End) is located all the way past the snooty Hamptons to the end of the south fork of what is Long Island. It has incredible beaches, ultra hip bars and club scene, a vibrant harbor and fishing industry (the thriller Jaws was inspired by locals here), interesting celebrities past and present (Andy Warhol, Dick Cavett, Edward Albee, Robert De Niro, Bernie Madoff, Mic Jagger, and Teddy Roosevelt to name a few), an historic lighthouse commissioned by George Washington, lots of open space with cool trails, the best surfing in the northeast at Ditch Plains, a quaint downtown and way too many summer tourists which my presence didn’t help. The local saying is that Montauk is a drinking town with a fishing problem. After a month there I fully agree.  One fact I didn’t know…. it also is home to Deep Hollow Ranch, a working cattle ranch founded in 1658 way before there were cowboys. Another thing I didn’t know (and they just found out), off shore is a natural nursery and breeding ground for Great White sharks which they were busy studying and tagging all summer long. Made a swim more interesting.  Here are some Must Do’s when in Montauk….

  • Surf Ditch Plains
  • SUP off Navy Beach
  • Get ice cream at John’s
  • Hike the trails (watch out for ticks) and see old WWII bunkers
  • Catch a sunset at the Montauket
  • Buy the freshest fish possible at Gosman’s Market and grill it for dinner
  • Get fried chicken for a beach picnic at Herb’s Market (can’t beat their meat)
  • Spend a cloudy afternoon at nearby Longhouse Sculpture Gardens 
  • Ride a bike out to the lighthouse
  • Play mini golf at Puff ‘n Putt
  • Have a sunset beach cookout (bring a fire pan)
  • Try to make dinner reservations at the Harvest (2-3 weeks out)
  • Have a drink at the Memory Motel (made famous in a Stones song)
  • Take the ferry to Block Island and rent scooters
  • Have lunch at Lunch (seen in Showtime’s The Affair)
  • Beware of the Montauk Monster!

You know summer is fading fast when you get to Labor Day. Sorta sad. But who knew we were in for a special treat? Went to the beach that day as usual and set up my chair facing the pounding surf. As my eyes drifted over the rollers coming in I spotted what looked like a spout of mist in the corner of my eye. I kept staring and 30 seconds later I saw a black blob rise and sink. “WHALE!” I shouted. Sure enough 40 seconds later the majestic beast rose a fin and whale butt out of the ocean. Been looking for years off this beach and this was my first sighting. Way cool way to kiss the summer goodbye.

The next day everyone left and Jim and I celebrated Tumbleweed Tuesday – the annual event for Montauk townies to get together at the town square for live music and BYO beverages. Gone are the bad drivers, congested roads, packed bars and restaurants and the general din of way too many tourists. Tomorrow we were to head out but today we join in the party wishing my ass farewell.

Thanks to brother Jim, boss Chris, nieces Alison, Lily and Margret for extending their generous hospitality for more than a month! It was great to have Luke come out for a week of fun and beach Olympics. Met some cool people and ate some very fresh farm & sea to table fare.  Looking back now…. August just doesn’t get any better than this.  On to the hills of Pennsylvania!

Eastward Ho the Wagon – Michigan UP & Rockin’ Cleveland

July 10 to 30, 2017

It’s been a while I know. Spent 6 wild and action-packed weeks in Colorado. Took care of business, tuned up the chassis as well as the GMC and Big Mo. Thanks again to Annie, the Safety Club, me boys and countless friends for hospitality and laughs.

A certain amount of planning was also taking place for a major road swing back East – all the way to the Atlantic. After all, I had a bit of apprehension as to what I’d find in the way of Big Rig-friendly campsites, roads, underpasses and services. But hell, it’s been well over 50 years since I’ve seen an eastern fall and several since my last Montauk beach BBQ.

But before pointing the show east I had to spend 2 weeks at Elk Meadow RV Resort in Estes Park!  With a breakfast table view of the north slope of Longs Peak I entertained guests for hiking, drinking, 4th of July fireworks, Rooftop rodeo action and drives into the National Park. Got a new hummingbird feeder and went through a quart of special formulated Tubac, AZ nectar juice. Powerful stuff! After a cool pool party (at my old Pawnee stompin’ ground) and B’Day celebration for my friend Bill (welcome to the Medicare Club) I was ready to go!

One thing all serious RVers know is that you can overnight in any Walmart parking lot in America (and probably Canada, Mexico, and faraway places they are yet to be built). My first two nights on the road (I-80) were in a nice well-lit corner in the Omaha WM and an equally secluded uneven spot in a WM in Michigan City. Ran my generator for air-conditioning, raised my dish for some HBO, poured a cocktail and it was like heaven.

Pulled into Markin Glen County Park in Kalamazoo, hooked up with my buddy Ludwig and after a nice visit with his family, we turned north to the most upper reaches of Michigan’s legendary Upper Peninsula. But on the way we had to swing by the arrivals lane of the Traverse City airport to pick-up our always smiling, charged-up friend Dick. Two plus one equals trouble. The next five days were devoted to sampling local beers, searching for the Northern Lights, swatting mosquitoes, hiking lakeside trails and eating planked-cooked whitefish whenever possible. We did all this and more.

Crossing the Mackinaw Bridge brings you into another world. Lake Michigan to the left, Lake Huron to the right and ahead, the biggest of them all – Lake Superior. Ludwig had to anoint the waters (leaving a small slick) before we drove, and drove, and drove north into the Keweenaw to our destination; Copper Harbor, now small, quaint and pristine but once a stinky mining and lumbering center (till all the resources were tapped out).

Cool things to do in Copper Harbor?

  1. Stay at Lake Fanny Hooe Campground, RV Park & Resort
  2. Go hiking in the Old Growth white pine forest of Estivant Pines
  3. Take the Brockway Mountain Drive – a scenic road that takes you 735 feet above Copper Harbor for a breathtaking view.
  4. Eat 2 or 3 times at the Harbor Haus for their whitefish and more…
  5. Relax

I decided I have to return one day. If I had done better planning we could have taken the ferry over to Isle Royale National Park (4 hrs, 1-way) but to do it right you should overnight for 1 or 2 before coming back. One national park I will still need to check off on my list. But I did add one I hadn’t even thought of a few days later….

The i-phone is great but I think it is possessed at times. Check out this photo of Dick and Tom coming out of Red Jacket Brewery in Houghton after sampling the local beers. Strange indeed….

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Two-Headed, Three Legged Ludepig

Good-bye Michigan, hello Ohio and my birthplace, Cleveland!  Part of the reason I’m on this never-ending road odyssey is to reconnect with family and friends. So I couldn’t wait to see my cousins Barb and Don and their kids Steve, Debby and Holly. Hadn’t seen them in decades! Holly and hubby Jeff own and operate Blue Ridge Farm, a top-notch riding center and stables.  They were kind to let me park my rig there. Just wish I could have ridden but English really isn’t my style… Barb and Don were like private tour guides, whisking me around town and country with highlights being a visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park (who knew? But a new NP check on my list), the historic Erie-Ohio Canal (that provided the last link in a trade connection from NYC to New Orleans) and my old boyhood home on Essex Road in Cleveland Heights. It looks better now than when we lived in it! Another highlight was a surprise 25th anniversary dinner party for Steve and Barjesh and watching Holly nail all the top honors at a local horse show. Go girl!

A trip to Cleveland would not be complete without a visit to the center of the hip universe… the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! “If it’s too loud, you’re too old!” reads the t-shirt of the girl in front of me as I filed in. I spent a day there and could easily have come back for another. Cool exhibits like hand written original lyrics of songs like Voodoo Child (Hendrix), American Girl (Petty), Blue Sky (Allman), I Can’t Tell You Why (Eagles) and more. Several theaters too, where in one you can watch a recent Jonathan Demme film with shaking seats, wild lights and smoke (like in a real rock concert). Prince’s solo on While my Guitar Gently Weeps will give you goose bumps.

All I can say is Cleveland is a happening place – on some sort of a rebirth and renaissance. New stadiums, lakefront parks, downtown energy and that now clear and blue lake. They even reintroduced salmon to the Cuyahoga River (famous for having been so polluted that it caught fire in 1969) and they make annual runs again! So put it into your plans. Cleveland Rocks!

Off now to Harrisburg, PA where I park Big Mo at my buddy Goodyear’s farm and nursery while I enjoy August in Montauk with brother Jim and family. Clams and lobster here I come!

Zion to Bryce to Capital Reef – Phantasmagoric Utah

April 15 to May 25, 2017

What can I say about the state of Utah? Another gem in the priceless tiara that’s the landscape of the American southwest? More like the main attraction, the big kahuna, Shangri-La (except for the politics). In all honesty, if planning a road trip, you could not pick a more gorgeous, vast and empty, real yet totally unreal place.  Ever-changing around every bend you get the feeling you are missing something spectacular over every distant hill.  More for a return trip, but what you do get to see may wet your pants.

New snow on the Henrys

The last place in the American West to be fully mapped by the Geological Survey – The Henry Mountains. Somewhere on the south flank is a huge herd of wild buffalo!

 

I had been to Zion years ago with Ricky McMahan but that was in another lifetime and state of mind. I was now seeing the southwest corner of Utah with new eyes, like the river running by my truck, like a virgin. Probably good since now I was smack-dab in Mormon Country.  The white spires of the Temple greeted me as I drove past St George on the way to my RV park in Leeds. My two main objectives this week were to take a Chicago Tribune columnist who lives here to lunch and to visit Snow Canyon State Park. Both were accomplished along with some other fun.  The weather was stellar and if you are ever in the area, Snow Canyon (most likely named after John Snow the King of the North) is a “have-ta-see”. The pics tell the story….

I guess work got in the way and I didn’t have time to tour Zion NP from the Springdale entrance but my next RV “resort” provided another opportunity I may have otherwise missed. I was headed to Cedar City, just 90 minutes north and 15 degrees colder when I saw a small sign for Kolob Canyons, another, mostly overlooked section of the Park.   After freezing my ass off for the next three days (my waterline didn’t thaw until 10 am) I made the trip down the road to Kolobsky. It was well worth it.  I was wondering where the cover photo for my blog was taken???? Now I know. Great hike, few tourists and another must-see discovery. On my way back to camp I passed a sign telling me I was at the southern end of the Great Basin which used to be a huge lake before the dinosaurs drank it dry.

My rig is humming along with Big Mo in tow and we are headed to a park that’s been on my list for decades… Bryce Canyon. Hell, I’ve been handling images, writing catalog copy and press releases on it since I was a pilgrim fresh off the boat. So I thought I knew what to expect. Checked into Ruby’s Campground and RV Park (Ruby own’s the whole friggin’ park gateway town it seems) and I’m here to report it was one of the most spacious and best situated parks I’ve been at.  Only the wind was a bugger (more on that later).  A cool bike path led from the front drive right into and through the national park. Uphill all the way it seemed. But I humped it and had a very scenic ride.  I stocked up on beer at Ruby’s grocery because I had a two special guests coming… John Beers and lovey new wife Barbara (high school hoodlums we were) and my old Boulder buddy Tim Griffin.  Cooked the Beers a steak dinner and we drained three bottles of wine and told stories. They were on a crazy 100 parks in 50 days rampage but it was good to see them.

Tim and I had decided a year ago that he would hook up with me in Utah and damn if he didn’t keep his word. In a blur of barbecuing, beer and bourbon drinking, cigar smoking and other sundry sins, we attacked the park trails with a vengeance. First we biked then hiked the breathtaking Rim Trail from Fairyland Point to Inspiration (aka perspiration) Point. Wow. The next day we descended into its depths along the Queens Garden trail to the Navajo Loop past weird creatures and twisted spirits frozen in orange, yellow, brown and white stone. Hiking just doesn’t get any better than this. Bryce is a gift to the eyes.

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We had a day to kill before packing up and moving to Torrey, Utah and Capital Reef NP so I perused the detailed map I have (one of my favorite pastimes) and noticed a state park and some natural arches only 20 miles away so off we went.  Double wows… Kodachrome Basin Park was an unexpected marvel of huge monoliths, multi-colored rock, sheer cliffs and after a long dirt road drive – one incredible double arch (named Grosvenor – go ahead, try to find it on a map).  Made a mental note that the park campground would be a perfect place for a future stay.

Utah State Route 12 needs to be on everyone’s road trip dream list.  It’s a marvel from Bryce through the towns of Escalante, Boulder and finally Torrey.  Hard to stay between the lines but even harder for Timmy who was driving with a bashed in windshield compliments of a wind storm that blew Big Mo’s back awning off its track and into Tim’s SUV. We were able to fix it but it took a day drive to Richfield which revealed more unexpected scenic wonders of Fish Lake and the Fremont River on the way back.

Torrey is very cool with quite a few GREAT restaurants like the Rim Rock and Capital Reef Cafe (not to forget Slacker’s burger joint).  But we were in Torrey to explore and visit an old AWE! outfitter, not only pig out. Pat Kearney of Hondoo Rivers and Trails set us up with noble steeds and with her in the lead and two other guests from North Carolina, we headed into Pleasant Creek Canyon as it cut right through the rock bulge of Capital Reef. Not long after leaving the horse trailer I heard Tim yell, “Pat!!#%&”. Well his horse shook his cinch and Tim’s saddle went vertical, Tim went head over ass onto the ground.  Yeehaw!  We had a rodeo.  But that was all the excitement there was.  Tim kissed his horse, Pat re-secured the saddle and he remounted with no more incidents. We saw a rock panel with picto AND petro-glyphs along with settler graffiti and bullet holes. The scenery and silence was overwhelming.

Sent Tim on his way and I had another free day to explore so I checked out the map for the most remote corner of the park and saw a 50+ mile dirt road loop through Cathedral Valley. Triple wow. Had to ford the Fremont river to get to the road but once on it, it was nonstop visual orgasm. I bet fewer than 1,000 people see this hidden wonder every season. I considered myself lucky and fortunate. A fitting ending to a phantasmagoric month and a half in Utah.  Now it’s back to Colorado and old friends until I point my pony east to Michigan, Ohio, Long Island, Pennsylvania and Kentucky!

Some pics of Cathedral Valley….

Death Valley

April 1 to April 15, 2017

Next national park I had never seen and what promised to be a fun stop on my rambling route is Death Valley, site of that 20 mule team Borax childhood memory. What boomer could forget that 1940 western 20 Mule Team starring Wallace Beery as Skinner Bill. Or the TV show Death Valley Days (1952-1970) starring none other than Ronald Reagan. So you can bet my expectations were high.

What also got me chompin’ at the bit was where I was booked to stay… Literally right on the CA-NV border (on the Nevada side) at the Longstreet Inn, Casino and RV Park.  I had visions of blackjack after breakfast, slots and shots the rest of the day.  After a wild drive over secondary roads through the heart of the Mohave Desert, past giant sand dunes, vast military bases and the world’s largest thermometer I arrived and parked in the spot furthest from the casino with the Funeral Mountains jagged against the western horizon (a fitting range to border Death Valley).  Here’s a few picks from my trip and home….

Most people enter Death Valley from one of the main paved highways leading into the park…. not me.  I decided to cast caution to the wind and check out this one-way four-wheel road marked on the map through Titus Canyon.  Wow.  The wildness and multicolored hills were breathtaking.  My truck handled it well but I did get nervous when the track led into a narrow slot-like canyon with only a foot between my dually tires and the walls.  I kept from painting the rocks iridium metallic and exited into the vast landscape of Death Valley.

No super bloom this year although they did get a lot of precip last winter.  The wildflowers were sparse but none-the-less amazing. Stopped into the visitor center where the thermometer read 95 degrees (20 degrees hotter than when I started). Hell with spring, welcome to summer.  Checked out Zabriskie Point (wasn’t that a 1970’s counter culture film with music from Pink Floyd and Jerry Garcia?) and took way too many photos. Then it was back through Twenty Mule Team Canyon to Big Mo.  Tonight is steak dinner time at Longstreet’s Nebraska Steakhouse (not all that bad). After my rib eye it was down to the slots where I proceeded to kill it. A group of Swedes gathered around and OOO’d and AWWW’d while I lit it up. Ended up paying for dinner, drinks and tomorrow’s breakfast with my winnings!

One of the coolest things about this road trip adventure is finding stuff you had no idea ever existed.  How could I have known that the entrance to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was just 1 mile up the road.  Ash Meadows (according to the flier) has the greatest concentration of endemic life in all of the U.S.A.!  A system of boardwalks lead to Caribbean-colored springs bubbling up from the desert. No one else was there. The cactus flowers were orgasmic.  But speaking of orgasmic…. just a little way down the road was a monument to Area 51 (where aliens crash landed). Not a monument of stone mind you, but a must-see roadside attraction, the Area 51 Alien Travel Center and Cathouse. A bordello with not-from-this-world hostesses.  I just took pictures having an aversion to green-skinned ladies.

Time for one more daylong visit to Death Valley. For anyone traveling from the east or south, you must stop for breakfast at the Amargosa Cafe and Opera House in Death Valley Junction, CA.  Great breakfast and a bit of weird local history. Took a new route into the park today – Rt 178 from Shoshone, past mill ruins, Badwater (lowest point in North America at 282′ below sea level), the Natural Bridge, Devil’s Golf Course and Artists Palette (some of the most colorful rocks and hills in the park).  After a drive through Mustard Canyon (the rocks look like they are covered in French’s and Gulden’s) I exited via Daylight Pass and explored the mining ghost town of Rhyolite.  Some big deal back at the turn of last century.  Cool way to wrap up an active two weeks. Now it’s on to St George, Cedar City, Zion and Bryce Canyon NP.  May be another few weeks until I post a report.

 If you want a treat – click on each photo group for bigger versions!

 

Joshua Tree

March 15 to April 1, 2017

After a memorable side trip to Colorado to check in with the tax man and a handful of doctors (they continue to keep me alive and thriving) it was back to Arizona and Big Mo. She missed me. I restocked the fridge and liquor cabinet and checked into the Saddle Mountain RV Park and poultry ranch (I can close my eyes and still smell the chickens). A remote exit off I-10, Tonopah, AZ (not the Nevada one in the song Willin’ – “I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonapah”) where the main attraction is the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant and a ton of desert roads into the Eagletail Mountains and Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Real wild and desolate desert that would kill you if it can.

Eagle Tail Wilderness AZ

Mapped out a day trip to drive by the power plant and try to find the Royal Arch marked on my map, located somewhere near the Kofa.  First part of the route was on good gravel roads with the main surprise being a massive solar power array next to the nuclear facility – dirty energy vs clean.  The second part of the trip was real desert doggin’ over some rough but fun 4×4 roads. This is where it really sunk in – I had better learn to change a truck tire!  Just a mile from the mystery arch I busted through a patch of cholla and boom! I gashed my outside dually tire on the passenger side.  Shit balls. The thing about dual tires – you can drive on a flat since you have 3 more to keep you going so I decided to limp back to Tonopah where I knew there was a tire repair shop. A friendly dude whipped my spare on in 5 minutes (would have taken me 60). But the tire was ruined (side wall gashes are un-repairable as I found out). It was my second trashed tire in 3 months… and a new radial truck tire ain’t cheap (which I found out at Twentynine Palms Discount Tire – my next stop).  (click on the pics for full size)

Bye bye Arizona…. hello Cali-freakin-fornia! Land of fruits, nuts and weird looking trees. My destination was the Twentynine Palms RV & Golf Resort. Friendly place near a strip-town right out of the 50’s.  Tattoo parlors and Combat barbershops lined the main drag. Besides being the northern gateway to Joshua Tree National Park it is the main entrance to the massive Marine Air Ground Combat Center. Side note: Another thing that amazes me on this road trip is the number of and size of government restricted military facilities in the West.  Freakin HUGE blocks of desert and mountain land that you’ll never see unless you are a General. One can only guess what’s going on up there!

While Twentynine Palms is nothing to write home about…. Joshua Tree National Park is! Magical, other-worldly kind a place with a playground of rocks and strange vegetation unlike anything I’ve seen. Number of cool drives and trails through what is a Nirvana for rock climbers. Took a stroll around the Hall of Horrors, Jumbo Rocks, and Hemingway one day, hiked 2.5 miles into a hidden canyon with wild native palm trees (Fortynine Palms Oasis) another. Key to this place would be camping inside the park in one of the very cool campsites they have, Big Mo is just too tubby to fit. Ended my stay with a massive dust storm that deposited 2 inches of fine dirt on my decks.  Something else I’m learning that is part of springtime in the desert SW! And if the winds don’t blow me back to Kansas, next stop will be Death Valley!

Tucson to Tubac via Mexico

January 14 to February 25, 2017

No, I did not crash and end up in a ditch near Tumacacori although that was one of my stops this past week.  I’m learning that a blog takes time and effort – two things I like to fill with other mindless stuff.  Not sure if I was going to like this new lifestyle of mine but so far I’m LOVING IT!  So enough of an intro, on to my travels these past 2 months….

My buddy Brad Hendrix suggested that I check out Catalina State Park near Tucson. I booked a site there for the max 2 weeks, little did I know it came with Roadrunners and coyotes cavorting off my deck.  When not working, time was spent hiking, biking, eating amazing Mex food at El Charro and attending two dinners at the annual Dude Ranchers Association meeting at the Tanque Verde Ranch. Got to see some old rancher & media friends; Russell True, Gene Kilgore, Nancy Schretter…. but most faces were new. When the temps hit freezing one night I was glad that I was headed south to Mexico again!

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Picked up my dear friend Marion at Sky Harbor and we hightailed it south across the boarder once again to the Reef RV Park in Puerto Penasco. Our mission was simple, bask in the sun, play bocci, eat fresh caught seafood, drink beer and go on a treasure hunt. You may remember our first trip there and that mason jar of contraband we buried in the Sonoran desert? Good news is that our memories are still razor sharp and we dug it up at the first try. Needless to say the rest of the week was a blur…. But did we have some fun! Dolphins and a sea lion visited our beach. Osprey dove for fish in the tide pool right in front of the back deck. Vendors enticed us with tamales, burritos, Cuban cigars, a cowboy sombrero and a cute handmade cocktail table I just had to have. Took a backcountry road tour of El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve where NASA trained for the Apollo missions. Love this place!  Be back the entire month of February 2018 (booked) so come and visit!

Got back to Arizona and a forgettable RV park just in time to watch the Stupid Bowl. Boo Patriots, Brady and Belicheat! Bid farewell to Marion and headed southeast, past Tucson to the small eclectic hippie artist town of Tubac, AZ.  Established in 1752 it’s the oldest European settlement in Arizona.  Great history, shops, bars, restaurants (all the baby back ribs you can eat on Thurs at Tubac Jacks), and a great RV Park – the Flying W Ranch.  Visited the tumbledown mission of Tumacacori and took a self-guided tour.  Very cool.

On the road, traveling like I do, you are always open for surprises. One evening I saw a new trailer pull into the Flying W and park a 100 ft from me.  Thought nothing of it.  The next day I was heading into town and waived at the cute blonde gal hanging by the door.  Wanting a better peak I walked closed and said “Howdy!” I was not expecting her response…. “Wiggins?”  My God! It was Susie Hendrix, an old acquaintance from Boulder. Then out walked Brad, her hubby and damn, I knew I was in for some good social time and three nights of serious drinking.  You see Brad was the one who told me of this place. This was their 3rd visit.  Small world.  Getting with them for laughs reminded me how solitary a life I lead and how good it is to see friends.  I’m off to Phoenix and the airport this weekend. Flying to Denver to see a bevy of doctors for wellness check-ups, my tax guy and most of my old buddies again! Be good to recharge my social life!!!  Next post…. on my return to AZ trip and Lake Havasu. Then on the Joshua Tree, Death Valley and the parks of Utah!!  Back to Boulder for the month of June. Travel on!!