Thursday, November 25, 2010

Journey Through the Mojave

As with most of our vacations, Robert and I seem to plan our adventures in the off-season and this year was no exception. We had the silly idea of going camping in the Mojave National Preserve over the Thanksgiving holidays. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit all of our normal car camping comforts into the Jeep, so we had to leave a few things behind, like our sleeping cots and heavy canvas tent. Instead we opted to sleep on blow-up mats and take our lighter Coleman tent, which didn’t work out so well….

Day 1 - November 23rd – After some confusion of where the Mojave Road actually started and some six hours after leaving the comfort and warmth of our house, our tires finally hit the rocky sands of the Mojave National Preserve. Our plan was to follow the Mojave Road from the eastern border towards the west while visiting a few of the historical points along the way.

First stop: Fort Piute
Time: 1610 hours
Temp: 54-degress

Fort Piute was originally established in 1859 as Fort Beale by Captain James H. Carleton to protect the travel route from San Bernardino across the Mojave Desert to Fort Mojave. It was reoccupied in 1866 because of increasing mining activity in western Arizona and renamed Fort Piute at that time. The fort was abandoned in 1868. Not much remains except for a few rock walls.

As it was getting late and the wind was beginning to gust, we pitched our tent not too far from Fort Piute. Steaks were on the menu, but as the temperature dropped and the wind blew, we opted to huddle in the back of the Jeep to eat trail mix and listen to the radio.

At 6pm we crawled into our sleeping bags, but it wasn’t sleep that came, but the wind. Fierce, howling, angry WIND. At midnight it was too much for me and I sought shelter in the Jeep, but then there was the cold. After some prompting from Robert, I crawled back into the tent and prayed we wouldn’t blow away.

Day 2 – November 24th - Happy Anniversary to us! What better way to celebrate our wedding anniversary then cuddling in 49-degree weather in a flattened tent? But there we were in the middle of the Mojave Desert freezing our asses off. Sometime during the night, the wind had snapped two of our fiberglass tent poles and it collapsed on us. Sand was in our sleeping bags, hair, and everywhere, but we were troopers! We’d come for an experience and we were getting one.

At about 0920 hours with the wind kicking up (again) and with a belly full of steak, we packed up our mangled tent and plotted our next course of action. Although the tent was now useless, we decided to continue our journey along the Mojave Road and, if the weather permitted, sleep out under the stars that night.

Next stop: A rusted out bus
Time: 1047 hours
Temp: 47-degrees

Don't know any of the history behind the abandoned bus, but it was cool to explore.

The road towards Rock Springs.

Next stop: Rock Springs Cabin
Time: 1145 hours
Temp: 42-degrees

WWI veteran Bert George Smith built the rock cabin in the early 1930s. During the war, Smith’s lungs were damaged by gas. He came to the desert in hopes of improving his health. He expected to live only a short time, but lived at the cabin until 1954.

We followed the GPS coordinates in our guidebook, which led us to a one mile loop trail to the rock house.

Once we reached the rock house, we realized had we gone straight on the road we would have ended up at a dirt parking area just a few yards from the cabin instead of having to hike to it in the cold. It was a nice hike nevertheless.

The pen behind us in the photo below was used to hold sheep owned by Smith.

Next stop: Government Holes
Time: 1250 hours
Temp: 41-degrees

The first well at Government Holes was dug in 1859 and originally named Banning’s Well, but the following year the well was enlarged by U.S. soldiers and renamed Government Holes. The most famous incident in Government Holes’ history occurred in 1925, when two gunfighters – Matt Burts and J.W. “Bill” Robinson - had a shootout in a nearby cabin.

Next stop: Kelso Depot & Visitor Center
Time: 1405 hours
Temp: 54-degrees

The first depot at Kelso opened in 1905 followed by a post office, engine house, and an eating-house to serve railroad employees and passengers on trains without dining cars. Additional buildings were added, including a boarding house and a restaurant called “The Beanery.” The depot closed in 1962, although the restaurant and boarding house remained in operation until 1985.

Cold, dark clouds had moved in and since we had no tent, we were concerned rain might be in the forecast. Robert spoke with the Park Ranger at Kelso and no worries! Rain was not forecasted, however temperatures were supposed to drop below freezing. 28-degrees is what the Ranger said. Robert and I both looked at each other and laughed. I guess we were headed home. Neither of us had any interest in turning into Popsicles.

Next stop: Kelso Dunes
Time 1520 hours
Temp: 50-degrees

Nearly 700-feet high and covering 45-square miles, Kelso Dunes are among the tallest and most extensive dune fields in the United States. The dunes also produce a ‘booming’ or ‘singing’ sound when sand with the right moisture content slides down the slopes.

Next stop: HOME
Time: 2100 hours
Temp: 43-degrees

Indeed it was a Happy Anniversary and what better way to celebrate than to set the heater to 70-dgrees and cuddle under the flannel bed sheets!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day Trip to Sandstone Canyon

On Sunday, Robert and I met up with our good friends Frank and Heather and took a drive through Sandstone Canyon in Anza Borrego. Sandstone Canyon was closed because of a rockfall caused by an earthquake last April and we wanted to see if it had reopened and how much the trail had changed. The rockfall was towards the end of the trail so it didn't hinder our adventure too much.

Robert made a video of our drive. We had a good time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Road Trip....continued.

The next morning after visiting with Carrie and the boys, we left Denver and headed south on I-25. At Walsenburg we turned off on one of our favorite stretches of road - Hwy 160. When Robert had driven it on the way to Denver, he said it was full of beautiful fall color. I was looking forward to seeing some spectacular scenary and hoping I could capture its beauty with my camera.

As we headed through Fort Garland, we could see Blanca Peak (elevation 14,345') off in the distance. We wondered how long it would be before we hit snow...

...and it wasn't very long. We drove through Wolf Creek Pass (elevation 10,850') during our honeymoon, which was in December, and we hit a white out. This time it wasn't as bad, but the snow was thick and it was cold. Robert said this area was alive with color just a few days ago. I guess winter comes fast in Colorado.

Just past Wolf Creek Pass we came to a viewpoint. It was wet and cloudy, but lots of beautiful color.

We pushed on to Cortez where we would lodge for the night. I really wanted to see the UFC fight between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez so we found some dive bar called Angels that was airing the fight. I don't know which was more entertaining, the fight or the local drunks. One guy kept making bets and he was so drunk he couldn't remember who he had chosen. Of course he kept losing! Actually Cortez was a really cool town. We both liked it very much.

Oh, before arriving at Cortez, we saw this pond with a beaver lodge in it. I'd never seen one before. At least I think it was a beaver lodge and not just a pile of sticks.

The next day we visted Mesa Verde National Park. Again, we had stopped here during our honeymoon, but the weather wasn't very cooperative. This time, however, it was.

Heading into the park we saw lots of deer.

Our first view of the cliff dwellings was Spruce Tree House. Simply amazing.

We drove through the park enjoying the views and each others' company. It was a wonderful day.

From Mesa Verde NP we headed towards Four Corners. It wasn't very photogenic as construction was being done, but now we can say we were there. And the fried bread was delicious.

From Four Corners we stayed on Hwy 160 to the 89 and dropped down into Flagstaff, through Sedona, and into Jerome for a photo.

From there we were anxious to get home, so other than bathroom and quick food breaks, Robert put the pedal to the medal. Other than not being able to spend enough time visiting with Carrie and family, it was an enjoyable road trip. We are planning to go back to Denver at Christmas, but not sure exactly when or what route we will take. Although I know this time I will pack my beanie and gloves, because it will be cold.