Saturday, April 28, 2018

Prescott; Granite Dells; Steep and Steeper; Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial; Prescott Events; 1877 Cabin and Gold Mines? More Hiking; Ty the Camel

One of our favorite places out west is Prescott, Arizona. (Please note that the name is pronounced "PRESS-ket".) Once the capital of the Arizona Territory (twice), it is now the county seat of Yavapai County. It's 5,368 ft elevation gives it a much milder climate than down in Phoenix or Scottsdale. We have stayed here several times before, and are taken with the Granite Dells just north of town. These granite boulders have been sculpted into dramatic forms by wind and rain, and partially surround Watson Lake.

The trail that loops around the lake has several interesting sections, as this sign reflects. It is a moderately difficult (in places) hiking trail, and a suicidal mountain biking trail. Indeed, we have never seen bikes on the toughest sections.

Watson Lake is a neat place to kayak, and the sunlit Dells make a great backdrop. "Kayak-Girl" was having a great time on the water!

There are a dozen or so submerged slot canyons where you can paddle up to a rock face or a sandy beach...

The waterlines shown in this photo are due to the rise and fall of lake water levels over the past few years, unrelated to climate change.

Up one slot, we found a large Amur carp (Cyprinus rubrofruscus; also Nishikigoi in Japanese) swimming alongside our kayaks. It wasn't as big as the manatees we paddled with back in Florida, but it was well-received by us humble humans. Of note, carp are long-lived; one Japanese fish named Hanako lived for 226 years (1751-1977). This fish probably won't live that long because this is a lake favored by great blue herons (Ardea herodias), and the carp's color makes him an obvious target, although he is a big boy...

We took a somber day trip to a state park near Yarnell, about 30 miles south of Prescott. The main reason for hiking that area was because of the Granite Mountain Hotshots; 19 of 20 men assigned to that unit had perished in a manzanita and chaparral-fueled wildfire near Yarnell, about 30 miles south of Prescott. The only survivor had been rescued from a nearby hilltop where he was serving as a lookout. 

This elite firefighting unit (all local young men aged 20-42) was sponsored by the city of Prescott, and after their deaths, the state of Arizona created the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, where we had hiked a few days previously. This bronze statue was at the trailhead where
 we began our hike.

Along the 3 mile trail to the observation point, granite plaques commemorating each man are attached to trailside rocks. When I saw the photos of the 19 men who had died, I said to Suzanne, "They look like a platoon of Marines." In fact, three of these heroes had indeed been Marines serving in combat in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. 

This bleak landscape frames the site at which the Hotshot team was overtaken by a wall of flames fed by 60 mph winds that had changed direction 180 degrees. The 19 rectangles in the photo mark where the men deployed their fire shelters, designed to protect firefighters from less severe grass fire conditions, not the inferno that they faced on June 30, 2013. We finished that hike just a bit tired, but mentally exhausted after reading every memorial plaque to the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

On a happier note, Suzanne had two events here in Prescott; the first was a Sanaya channeling session, and the second was an Understanding the Shift workshop. Both were held at Unity of Prescott, a wonderful venue with an extremely friendly congregation.  

One of the highlights of our time in Prescott was dinner at the home of Billy and Laura Fields, along with our dear friend Diane Calderon. The Fields have lived and raised a family in their beautifully updated 1877 cabin for 43 years, on one of the prettiest pieces of land/mountain/river anyone could ever imagine (oh, and did I mention a couple of gold mines?). The culinary highlight was elk enchiladas, but the homemade guacamole and salsa was a close second. (Diane, thanks for the photo!)

This was the view from the hilltop woodpile above their house; urban sprawl is such a terrible problem out here... along with bears, cougars, wild pigs and javelina.

A short drive from Prescott took us to the Granite Mountain Wilderness for a hike up (what else?) Granite Mountain. The scenery is spectacular - pinon and Ponderosa pines, as well as the ubiquitous manzanita and chaparral, dominate here, along with lots of boulders and rocks!

Rock climbing is a popular sport here - these near vertical cliffs on the west side of Granite Mountain look forbidding. (Darn, I left my ropes, pitons and hard hat at home...)

... so, rather than attack those cliffs directly, we hiked around them. Okay, it's easier, but it's not cheating... who said we had to do everything the hard way?

These red and yellow cactus flowers blooming on the south slope of Granite Mountain were a pleasant reminder of the beauty that one can find in apparently stark mountain desert terrain.

On the way down! There were a few other hikers around and we asked one to take our photo - better than a selfie, plus we always forget to carry that silly stick! The hose running across my shoulder is connected to a 2 liter water bladder; I also had a soda bottle with water in my pack. (I was acting as MLB's camel on this trip... that's true love!) Our time in Prescott is coming to an end in two days... 

Oh, and when we finished this short hike, this was the time shown on my stopwatch... what's with all the 2's???

Monday, April 23, 2018

Bear Spray! Irises; Helping Parents Heal; Desert Flora and Fauna; Ferrari! Forced March; Saguaro; Do You Cook?

In my last post, I mentioned that Suzanne had hiked in with me partway on my overnight backpack. She returned to the car, but on the way decided to test the bear spray she was carrying, since it was a couple of years old. She removed the safety pin, and gave it a short burst that went about 10-15 feet. She put the can back in her pack's side pocket and returned to the car. A few days later, as we were preparing to leave Silver City, I took the bear spray out of her pack and stored it in a bin. I must have gotten a tiny bit of oleoresin capsicum (made from chiles) on my finger, because a few minutes later, when I rubbed my eye, I experienced serious irritation and burning that lasted several minutes. I can't imagine how much a full shot in the face would hurt, and I'm glad I haven't offended her enough to test it on me!

Also related to a previous post, thanks to Faithful Readers and Ace Gardeners Colette and Daphne for identifying the Louisiana Iris (Iris hexagona) that we photographed near the Tchefuncte River. This beauty can also be found in South Carolina and Florida. It loves wet areas in full or part shade, especially ditches, canals, swamps and slow-moving streams. 

While in Silver City, we had two delightful meals with Scott and Denise Kennedy. They gave us a wealth of recommendations and information on the area, having lived there most of their lives.  Suzanne and Denise enjoyed a hike on the trails behind the Kennedy's home, and they enjoyed a magical moment when Denise and Scott's son dropped in from the spirit world with some verifiable evidence.

Sunsets and sunrises in New Mexico are often strikingly beautiful because of the extraordinarily clear skies, as was this one...

From New Mexico we drove on to Cave Creek, just north of Scottsdale, Arizona. Suzanne was invited to be a keynote speaker for the first annual conference of Helping Parents Heal, a world-wide support group for parents who have a child on the other side. Suzanne's upbeat speech was very well received. (A Shining Light Parent is one whose child has left the physical body, but whose light continues to shine as an ongoing presence in their family’s heart and home.)

When the conference was initially planned, the goal was for about 200 attendees; in fact, over 500 people attended the event, which was a huge success, a tribute to the enthusiasm and planning of Elizabeth Boisson, Irene Vouvalides, and Jason Durham.

The dinner on Saturday night was very special; rather than a somber affair, it was filled with hope, joy and love. We shared stories about our kids and encouraged one another along the path to healing... it was truly a remarkable event.

Here is a shot of the Still Right Here (Suzanne's latest book about this journey we are all on) folks - from left to right, Ty and Suzanne, Cyril and Elizabeth Boisson, LeAnn Hull, Irene and Tony Voulalides, and Lynn and Jeff Hollahan. We discussed some fairly difficult topics.  I think I speak for the other husbands on the panel that we were not thrilled to discuss our emotions so publicly, but for some reason, those present seemed to find a bunch of teary-eyed guys sorta special.  You can watch a video of the discussion here:  

While on a hike a few days after the conference, I came upon a saguaro cactus with a piece of slate stuck in one arm, probably the result of vandalism. But it reminded me how resilient saguaro (and people) can be...

And then... when Suzanne and I were walking up the road to a trailhead, we came upon this local resident - a desert tarantula (Aphonpelma chalcondes). Females live up to 25 years, but males live only one season past mating for the first time. Hmmmm..... let's hope that doesn't become contagious to other species! By the way, tarantulas are very docile critters, and many people keep them as pets, and there have been no reports of fatal stings. 

Speaking of desert critters, while at dinner one evening at a golf course cafe, we were surprised to see two javelinas (Tayassu tajacu), otherwise known as collared peccaries, running among the tables. I was advised not to approach them - "What, do I look really dumb???" Interestingly, javelinas are not pigs. The latter are from the Old World, primarily Europe, while javalinas/peccaries are New World animals. The young are called "reds" due to the color of their hair. Javelinas are herbivores, and eat cactus, agave, mesquite beans, tubers and other green vegetation. They grow to about 55 lbs.   

We visited several good friends while in town for the HPH conference. Cyril Boisson took me for a drive in his 2008 Ferrari... OMG, what a sweet car! The only time I've ever been in one was in 1968, when as a college senior I drove my date's father's 275 GTB. (He was out of town, and I think she forgot to mention the events of that evening to her parents... WAIT... 1968 was 50 years ago... Nooooooo..... Suzanne reminds me she was in second grade then...).

This is the Ferrari's 450 horsepower V-8 engine. That's the same as the Cummins diesel on our 42 ft motor home, but the Ferrari's acceleration is just a tad bit faster than ours.

Cyril and I also went on a six mile forced march in Spur Cross Regional Park while Suzanne was doing her weekly radio show. I say "forced march" because I think Cyril was trying to exhaust me on this hike. He was hiking at a 3.5 MPH pace, which over rocky terrain is pretty quick, and I was struggling to keep up. Okay, he's 10 years younger than I, but he had hiked 8 miles that morning, and was none the worse for wear. (I really should have put some lead weights in his pack.) The highlight of the hike was a visit to these two memorial benches on Mariposa Hill, one for Cyril and Elizabeth's son Morgan; the other honored Kyle, Nita and Glenn Ericsson's son. It was a beautiful place, one which we had visited before on the evening of the benches' dedication two years ago.  

Cyril took this photo of the largest saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) I have ever seen. It could be about 200 years old, since saguaro don't grow their first arms until 75 years of age. The largest ever measured was here in Cave Creek, and was an armless saguaro 78 feet tall; it was toppled by a windstorm in 1986. They absorb water during the monsoon season and store it for dry periods. Saguaro can weigh up to 4,800 lbs when fully hydrated. Illegal cutting of these cacti is a felony with a 3 year 9 month jail sentence. (N.B. that's more than drug dealers get... hmmm.)

Speaking of our coach, here is Your Faithful Correspondent and His Lovely Bride outside said RV in Cave Creek Regional Park. It is a great place to stay, with miles of hiking and mountain biking trails - most are rocky and up and down, but that's what makes this park beautiful. (For Judson: yes, this is the same shirt you have commented on before. The horse is NOT the symbol of Mustang Ranch, nor is it the Ferrari symbol, and the reason I wear it a lot in the desert is because the white color reflects the sun's UV quite well. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)

Finally, people have asked us if we cook while camping. Yes, we cook. This isn't the same as backpacking and boiling 12 oz of water for dehydrated chili mac (although that's one of MLB's favorites). Here we see a dinner that I prepared for MLB -  shrimp remoulade (I am part Cajun, after all), ribeye steak, wilted spinach with feta cheese, and homemade (not by me) Polish pierogies. Life is good...

Monday, April 9, 2018

"Underway; Shift Colors!" Falling Waters; Covington, Crawfish and Duck; Two Mediums; Tchefuncte River; Silver City; The CDT; "Have a Good One"

The lead title on this post is a phrase that is familiar to any Navy veteran who ever spent time aboard ship. It indicates the taking in of the last mooring line attaching the ship to a dock or buoy, and the lowering of the national ensign (US flag) at the stern and the simultaneous raising of the flag at the masthead, as high as it can be flown on the ship's upper mast. It also signals that the ship is heading to sea on her next mission. In our case, we recently "got underway" in our motor coach for our 2018 Messages of Hope Tour. This summer's voyage will take us through 28 states and 3 Canadian provinces. We are looking forward to making lots of new friends, and renewing acquaintances with old friends. Please let us know if we're passing through your area and we can try to link up. (A rough map of our trip is posted on the right side of this page.)

We departed The Villages at the end of March, and stopped for the first night at Falling Waters State Park in Chipley, FL. After a long day's drive, we were delighted to set up camp in a pleasant setting of pines and sinkholes. A 4 mile hike covered the entire park and Florida's highest waterfall. 

Our next stop was in Covington, Louisiana, where we caught up with my sister Karen and her partner Debbie. They had prepared a Cajun feast, with crawfish bread (a "to-die-for" treat) and about 20 lbs of boiled crawfish with accompanying corn and potatoes boiled in Cajun seasoning. (It WILL set your mouth on fire!)

Suzanne got to spend some quality time with Nicole Reilly, a medium who lives in Covington and who had given both my sister and me very accurate and evidential readings. 

We also went to dinner with Karen and Debbie at a fabulous Covington restaurant... if you're ever in the area, Del Porto is amazing. I had one of the best meals ever - appetizer of fresh Mozzarella with confit tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, anchovies and olive oil over crostini; main course was pan-seared duck breast with sweet potato mash and Luxardo cherry sauce. Oh, and did I mention a scrumptious Tiramisu? And a delicious Michael David Petite Petit (a petite sirah and petit verdot blend).

Our campground on Covington was at Fairview Riverside State Park, in Tangibihoa Parish on the Tchefuncte River. The setting was serene and typically Deep South.

We kayaked the narrow, winding upper reaches of the Tchefuncte, but forgot our camera and phones back in the car. Boating is popular, and fishing for striped bass, largemouth bass, catfish and sac-a-lait (crappie) is excellent. We saw one guy cleaning his catch, which would have easily fed a platoon of hungry Marines.

A boardwalk through a swampy area was surrounded by wild orchids (I think... help from knowledgeable gardeners in identifying this flower would be much appreciated). 

One final Tchefuncte River photo - in the background is a riverside estate with a palatial home, several large white columns and numerous statues in the garden. It could be owned by an Italian mob family, or perhaps by a very successful (Italian) crawfish vendor... and there ain't many of them out in the bayous... this is Cajun (AKA "Coonass" Country!)

From Louisiana, we drove long days through Texas to Silver City, New Mexico, where we stayed for four nights in a small family campground with great sunset views...

When we arrived in Silver City, we linked up with friends - Scott and Denise have had a reading with Suzanne, and last year took us hiking. We had two great dinners out in this delightful town, and Scott gave me some recommendations for places to go backpacking.

I only had time for a two-day backpacking trip, but the Continental Divide Trail runs through the area... It's 3,100 miles long, from the US-Mexico border to the US-Canada border, running through New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. I couldn't do the whole trail in two days, so I settled for a short section between Pinos Altos, NM, and the Twin Sisters, 8,341 ft peaks in Gila National Forest. 

Here's a Shout-out and thank-you to our good friend Brad and his US Forest Service buddies for their great work in making America's forests accessible, safe and user-friendly for us city folks!

My Lovely Bride wanted to see me off on my trek, and hiked in a couple of miles with me, and then returned to the car - Rudy and Gretchen were back at the coach and had to be taken care of. There was absolutely no one on the trail that day, and she carried bear spray with her, just in case. (Not to use against me, but any psychopathic coyotes she might meet. In any event, her return trip was uneventful.)

This was my first overnight backpack since turning 70, and we had just come from sea level to 8,000 feet. I will admit that it was a hard hike, what with carrying 30 lbs of my normal gear plus 5 liters of water (the area is very dry, with nary a single spring for many miles). The other "issue" was a distinct lack of comfortable campsites. I am not a hedonist... well, let me re-phrase that... I am not a wuss... but I don't particularly care to sleep on bread basket-sized rocks and chunks of lava, which is what most of this area is blessed with. So when I passed a nice stand of pines with a relatively soft forest floor, I said to myself, "Self, if we can't find a nicer place than this to spend the night, we're coming back here!" And indeed, this was the best place for miles to set up camp."

For those interested in the culinary aspects of backpacking, let me show you my kitchen... here we see an Esbit stove (11 oz. with fuel tabs, compared to 23 oz. for my MSR butane stove), protected by some well-placed rocks for a windbreak, with all of the duff scraped away to prevent the forest floor from catching fire. The Esbit's "pot" holds a voluminous 585 ml (19.7 oz) of water, which two fuel tabs will bring to a not-quite-rolling boil in about 7 minutes. That was enough for my gourmet dinner of Spanish rice and chicken, and a cup of coffee in the morning to go with my blueberry crisp Clif Bar. (No, I wasn't going to gain weight on this trip.)

We departed Silver City this morning and are now at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson for one night. Our arrival at the base was somewhat eventful - the female airman (that is a rank, and has nothing to do with her gender) looked at our ID cards, saluted, and said, "Have a good one." On a Marine Corps base, the gate guard would salute and say, "Oooh-Rah, Sir! Welcome to Camp Pendleton!" On an Army base, we would be greeted with, "Hoo-ah, Sir! Welcome to Fort Bragg!" Even on a Navy base, we would hear, "Good morning, Sir! Welcome to Submarine Base Bangor!" But "Have a good one"???? Only the ChAir Force could think that one up...