Monday, February 28, 2022

Day Trip to Chiricahua National Monument

 We were back camping at the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area after making the short run over to Hot Well Dunes for a while.  It was time for a change of scenery, so when a windy day was upon us, it was a good time for a road trip!

Solar panels were all laid flat as a precaution because of the strong and gusting winds.
After an hour's drive eastward on the I-10, some of the Dragoon mountains came into view.
Unlike what this sign indicates, we took a slightly longer approach to our intended destination - the Chiricahua National Monument.  We turned off the interstate on highway 191 down through Cochise, Sunsites, and Sunizona, down near where Al and Kelly were ranch-sitting for a few years, and where I first met them.  I wanted to make it a circle route as much as possible.
It may be hard to see in these photos, but there were full-on dust storms happening anywhere there was not vegetation to contain the dust.

Just prior to the monument entrance, we headed down the Pinery Canyon road to check the options for boondocking, as we had previously camped out that way.  Unfortunately, the washboard was so brutal, I didn't want to drive the truck on it, let alone subject the 5th wheel to it at a later date. :-(

We got to the Chiricahua entry gate, which was not operating.  Not sure if fee collection has been suspended because of Covid, or whether it will remain free in the future?
The campground inside the monument (full) also has a length restriction, required by some steep, narrow washes inside the campground.
The amazing rock formations and scenery begin just shortly beyond the Visitor Center.

There are a few pull-offs, but it can be difficult to get good photos because of the thick trees along the road.

The road climbs and climbs to higher elevations, and eventually breaks out with great views to the east, and back to the west.
After checking out Massai Point at the end of the park road, we headed for the trailhead for the Sugarloaf Mountain fire lookout.  I had hiked up there several years ago and wanted to do it again.

It had rained the previous day, and I found that at these higher elevations there had also been some snow.  In the interests of science, I measured the dump with my hiking pole and determined that there was a full 10cm (6 inches) of snow on the ground!

The trail up to the lookout was apparently constructed by conservation corp workers, who managed to cut this short tunnel out of the rock face.  I'm guessing that supplies to build and maintain the lookout were likely hauled up by packhorses back in the day.


 While the lookout does not appear to have been active for years, the structure seems to host some radio repeater equipment.

Winds were really howling up there, and you had to keep the hat locked in place to avoid losing it!

Back in the day, the lookout obviously collected rainwater from the roof in a small cistern along the side.

Back in Las Cienegas Conservation Area, with the high winds and extreme fire hazard, I was worried about this fire I spotted a few miles away.  All the grass was tinder-dry, and there was a Red Flag fire warning in the area at the time.

It only lasted a few hours, so I guess they got it under control.  Perhaps it was surrounded by roads or fields?

In other news -

The big GM just passed yet another milestone, and turned over 500,000km (about 311k miles).  It just keeps purring along like new, after 14 years, never using any oil or having any other major problems.  It's been from Alaska (twice), to the Texas gulf coast, and from San Diego to Newfoundland, and everywhere in between, usually towing the fifth wheel or with the camper on it.

Hailey and I are sure missing all the snow and cold temperatures back home!

Next post:  Looking for camping spots in Ironwood Forest National Monument ...

Friday, February 18, 2022

Las Cienegas National Conservation Area - Hot Well Dunes - and back (pain)!

 We'd spent a week or so camped in a beautiful spot under some big old Oak trees that Hailey could climb, but it was getting time to depart for greener pastures.  But my back had other ideas!  Didn't really do anything to it, but after a long hike in the loose sand of the wash, something back there was upset.  After a day or so it was so bad that I could barely roll over in bed, or stand up, or bend over, or put shoes on!  Luckily, I was able to get into my truck, and with the seat heater on my back, off we went into Tucson to get some back meds.  What I expected was to visit a pharmacy, get some muscle relaxant, and head back to camp.  But it was not to be.  Google led me to a couple of places - urgent care type centers - at one they assured me that the 'pharmacy' out front would be open shortly.  But that turned out to be a table and chair out front - with a lady who did not show up on time anyway.  I could barely walk, but with the help of my hiking stick, made it back to my truck and a 'real' pharmacy.  Staff directed me to the very back of the store where the 'back' medications supposedly were, but there was nothing but a couple of herbal remedies.  (I think Canadian pharmacies have more options for non prescription muscle relaxants?)  I sat uncomfortably for a 1/2 hour, waiting for the pharmacist to show up, but he was no help at all - without a prescription!  So then it was off to another pharmacy, that apparently had an 'urgent care' facility, where perhaps I could get the required prescription.  I hobbled in, only occasionally yelling in pain, but the reception desk was empty.  Eventually, I got directed to a computer screen, and started to enter countless screens of my personal details to start the sign-in process.  Of course, the system does not expect anyone from outside the US, so I have to fake a US state and zip code!  Eventually, staff must have heard me moaning, or swearing, and came out and informed me that there were no available appointments anyway!


After another drive around town, I found another urgent care place.  Because of covid concerns, I had to stand outside, filling out a form (with a sterile pen) saying that I had no symptoms, etc, then scan a QR code, and go through the whole thing again on my phone before going inside.  After a mere 4 hour wait (luckily, I was able to wait in my truck), I got in, got an injection, and a prescription at the nearby pharmacy in a Target store!  Even though it was in the same complex, I wasn't sure I could walk that far, so drove over - very, very tempted to park in the disabled parking :-)  After standing in line for a half hour at the pharmacy - only letting out the occasional yelp from pain, while clinging onto shelving, the pharmacist informed me that they did not have in stock what I was prescribed !  They promised it would be in, in three days!!  So then, I drove, hobbled, and moaned back to the urgent care place, where the physician was able to make the desired changes to the prescription.  Back to stand in line again at Target!  So - the trip into Tucson that I expected would take an hour at most, took all day before I was able to drive back to camp.  While I certainly was not up to moving, I was able to roll my propane tank over to the rig and install it.

After several days of inactivity, and a two-day pack-up procedure, we were finally able to pull up stakes and get gone.  Thinking that a nice long warm soak might be good for my ailing back, we turned east onto the I-10, with Hot Well Dunes, outdoor hotsprings in our sights.

Every time I go to Hot Well Dunes, I am driven out by the ATV people it seems, so I know not to show up on a weekends, when they tend to accumulate.  It was quiet when we arrived, and due to my back, I did not unhook or set anything up other than my solar.  I managed one good late afternoon soak in the pools, but didn't take any photos!  The next morning at 8AM, a whole bunch of ATV's showed up, and moved in right beside me, and started to crank the tunes.  I'm guessing the stereo system in the one side-by-side was worth more than my 5th wheel?  If that wasn't bad enough, the little kids got on their mini-quads and commenced racing round and round and around the campsite, through my spot, raising dust.  There was no way Hailey wanted to go outside and be run down, nor did I, so we did the only sensible thing, and pulled out.  I know this is a designated off-road area, so I can't really complain about them showing up, but why have them operating right beside the hot pools?  I think the BLM should do their best to separate the two user groups.  Since the pools can't be moved, ...

 Looks like the town of Bowie has seen better days.  I imagine the downfall began like it has in many small US towns when the Interstate detoured around them.

On our evacuation route, we stopped in Willcox and decided to make use of the time to do some laundry, though still barely able to walk.  Two washing machines - took a total of 32 quarters!  Why doesn't the US make use of their dollar coins?  They exist, I've seen them!  Back in Canada with our $2 coins, this would have taken 4 coins total!

After getting all laundered up we headed back west, looking for a new camp spot.  Campendium showed some great looking spots up Middlemarch road, just out of Tombstone, but the first 1/4 mile of unrelenting washboard had us making a U-turn faster than Roadrunner chased by Wiley Coyote!  Speaking of roadrunners, I've still only seen 1-2 of them this entire winter so far.  Not sure if they are getting scarce, or if we are just camping and traveling in the wrong spots this year?  And coyotes!  There must be hundreds around here, judging by the constant howling at night, and the plentiful droppings on the roads and trails.  But despite hiking, biking and driving on trails and lots of time with the binolculars, I've seen zero live coyotes in the last couple of months.  Perhaps they are hunted here regularly?

Hailey is getting a bit concerned about her future food supply!  There seems to be an ongoing shortage of cat food all over; the worst we've seen are these empty cat food shelves at a local Walmart!  There seems to be a shortage of lizards and voles in this area for her to catch as well.  Luckily, there were still quite a few 40-can cases of food, so she won't be going hungry for a while!


We found a temporary spot for the night, but again didn't unhook or set up.  It was a bit close to a main road, and the sign on the pond said it was for endangered species.  Not sure what species it was protecting, but we moved on anyways.  Never want to scare an endangered salamander or keep the Pronghorn from their water source!

So, we ended up on a low hilltiop on some BLM land, a mile or two from the nearest neighbours, and with a great 360 degree view.  Completely exposed to the wind, but no shortage of solar!

We had some bullies as neighbours, though.  Check out the video below!

On the bright side, the sore back seems to have cured itself mostly, with the help of the administered medications!  I can pretty much  forget about it now, but kept some of the meds, just in case it returns.  I've been putting miles on the bike again, and really enjoying all the trails and old roads around here.

I'm not usually that regular of a blogger, but this time around I had a few more excuses than usual.  As well as my back getting in the way for a while, my almost brand-new laptop decided it no longer wanted to boot up.  And conveniently, none of the usual options to recover or restore would work!

Luckily, I had just updated my backup (old) laptop, so I wasn't completely off line.  I took the crashed one into the Sierra Vista Best Buy.  (on Sunday nothing else was open), and they ran some checks on it for free, and told me that likely one of my hard drives was failing!  I could not leave it there, but took it into a Best Buy in Tucson the next day.  They managed to restore most of it for a princely sum, saying it was just some problem with Windows 11 drivers, so they returned it to Windows 10.  But in the process, I lost some of my favourite photo programs, and had to re-configure a lot of other things, while remembering passwords for various programs, and convincing Microsoft, banks, email programs that it was really me trying to get into my accounts.  Whew.  Finally almost back up to speed.  When will I dare to upgrade to Win 11 again?  This time, I'll make sure I have a bootable recovery drive handy!

Next time - a visit to Chiricahua National Monument!