Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bryce Thompson Arboretum and Our First Dust Storm

The hummingbird sat poised on its branch cocking its head as if it were trying to see me better. I could see it was dark green above and below with a blue gorget and a reddish beak. The tail was a dark black/blue but I couldn't see the underside as it was blocked by the branch it was perched upon.
We were on a days outing with Alan and Sharon at the Bryce Thompson Arboretum. We had thought of taking a drive somewhere and they had suggested it. Both of us kind of looked at each other as we normally prefer rocks over plants, but as it turned out it exceeded our expectations and is another of those places we would go back to!.
They picked us up at 9:30 am and we left Apache Junction, hoping to have a nice excursion before the massive cold front arrived and a dust storm set in. It was a short drive down US 60 to the Arboretum and I used the time to do some homework on the bird list form the Arboretum website.
Parking the car we went into the visitor center and I drifted outside with Alan and headed a little ways down the path. A hummingbird appeared on the edge of a tree and flew around the corner of a shrub. Following it, I first saw a feeder and then the hummer perched on a branch. It was a new life list bird for me, a broad-billed hummingbird, and I pointed it out to Renita when she arrived! Separating, she went to another feeder and waved me over. Another new hummer, an Anna's Hummingbird, fed and weaved and fed again giving us a great view of its colors.
Two new birds in only a matter of minutes! Alan and Sharon both were realizing how slow the walk with us would be as we hadn't even started on the main trail! Another hummer appeared, a black chinned hummingbird. It wasn't a new one for us, as we had seen one at the Red Rock Lodge near Flaming Gorge, but what a day already.
Alan and Sharon both started pointing out birds to us and also pointing out the different plants and trees and cactus.
Sharon explained that the Arboretum had been built by Boyce Thompson, a rich industrialist from the 19th century, and that he had imported plants and trees from deserts all over the world. Across a small bridge and we were suddenly transported to Australia amidst a grove of towering red gum trees. Alan stopped and showed us an eucalyptus gum tree and explained that he had used to make tea from it while living in Australia,(Alan was an Australian Tennis Pro who came to the United States where he met Sharon).
We stopped at a shearing shed and it looked pretty much like some of the places in Wyoming. From there we next walked into a grove of different types of palm trees. A towering date palm impressed me the most, all though I couldn't see any fruit.
Leaving the palms we strolled along a arroyo, a dried stream bed, before heading up a slight inclined path. It led to several gazebos, which gave panoramic views of the arboretum and the surrounding desert.
A small dam pooled water and we watched several turtles sunning on a rock. A black colored bird drew our attention and we watched as it caught insects above the waters surface. Unconcerned with our presence we were able to find it in the bird book and it was another new life bird for us, a Black Phoebe.
We passed gorgeous golden barrel cactus and both Alan and Sharon warned us not to touch the Bunny Eared Cactus thorns. Sharon laughed and pointed out a jumping cactus.(She had read my blog and knew that I had been attacked by one at the White Tanks Regional Park.
It was an amazing place. Mexican Fence Cactus were another species that drew our attention. Renita pointed out the Fairy Hair cactus and again we were warned to never touch the fine haired cactus as they had the worst thorns to get out! It was a great piece of advice as we both wanted to feel the fine and delicate looking hairs.
We finished the trail and were rewarded with a coopers hawk high in a gum tree. Lunch time had arrived and we sat and discussed the place, again thanking Alan and Sharon for the days adventure.
Heading home, we drove out of the protected valley and right into the strong cold front. Winds whipped us and the dust lowered the visibility as I counted only seven towers of a passing power line before the rest became obscured. We arrived safely home, our fifth wheel, and spent the rest of the day inside, glad we were sitting and not traveling. Counting our bird list we found that we had spotted six new birds, a great day for us! Did I say retirement is good? Clear skies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lake Havasu to Phoenix, with our first stopover in Quartizte

We got the house hooked up and left Lake Havasu City on Sunday the 18th. Our plan was to stop for a couple of nights in Quartzite, Arizona, as we wanted to check out the free camping areas for a future visit. We also hoped that there would be a rock shop with the rock polishing equiptment we have been looking at purchasing. From there we would head to Surprise and spend a few days replenshing our supplies and visiting old friends.
It was a short and easy drive to Quartzite, on US 95. We managed to miss our turnoff for the rv park, hard to do in a town this size,(too many cactus?), but we called the resort and the lady helped us find the park while barely containing her laughter.
We set up and unhooked ok and so I was pretty happy about my repair job. Resting first, we took a drive around the town looking for rock shops and beading stores. Unfortunaely for our budget we found both. The next day Renita hopped out of bed, eager to go shopping. I was excited too, as we had spotted a neat looking rock shop called T Rex. We drove there first and were really surprised to see one of the best rocks shops we have visited in our travels,
The storekeeper knew her stuff and had some of the same rocks we had collected in Wyoming, including our Wyoming jade, at eight dollars a pound,(And that was for the cheaper Jade)! We looked at all her samples and finally decided that we couldn't live without a beautiful six plus pound specimen of malachite! More rocks for the fiver.
Our next stop was even worse. As Renita looked at the jewerly making supplies I started talking with the owner and lo and behold he sold both of the rock grinders and polishers I had been looking at. Now we have a rock saw, grinder, shaper and polisher in our basement!
The next day we headed out of town to the nearest free BLM campground, called Hi Jolly. There we drove around the campsites and really liked what we saw. It turns out there are six 14 day campgrounds and a long term area,(Our campground host told us that the thing to do is to spend 14 days at the free area and then go to the long term area where it costs 49 bucks for two weeks. He also said that for 25 bucks a honey wagon will come around and empty your tanks. We really liked what we saw and next time we come here we are going to boondock in the desert!
We like Quartzite so much we stayed another day, it was also pretty windy. I cut and ground and polished rocks and Renita did her beading stuff. It was a nice restful day.
The next morning, we made another run to the bead shop as we still had some money to spend. Returning to the house, we hooked up and left foe the drive to Phoenix. Now of all the roads we have driven I dislike Interstate 10 about as much as any, but it really wasn't so bad. The wind was sideways and the trucks caused us to sway slightly with their blast of displaced air, but ti was just normal and the miles sped by.
Renita spotted a blimp and managed to take a picture of it with her window rolled down. She has turned into a good photographer and its always neat to see what her eyes pick out, usually something that I have missed. We arrived in Surprise and were greeted by the Air Force as jet fighters where zooming back and forth and round and round. It had been the usual, a trip with hidden surprises. Clear skies.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lake Havasu, Canoeing, A Casino Trip, and Jet Ski Races

Of all the times to be at Lake Havasu, we "Lucked" out and arrived on the same day as the World Jet Ski races started. Now I am a fisherman and so that should tell you my general attitude about jet ski's in general. Regardless we actually did get to watch some of the jet ski competition, as we passed it while canoeing and taking the ferry to the casinos.
Now Renita and Flo had talked with members of team Serbia and they had actually met one of the members. It was with sadness that the same person they met was killed in a collision as he and two others crossed the finish line. I now know of four people who have been killed, or have killed someone with these machines, far more deaths than among people I met while rock climbing. I just don't understand the fun or the risk from driving a jet ski.
Anyway, one of our plans was to canoe the London Bridge Canal. It was built when McCullock, of chain saw fame, built the bridge and foresaw the potential of Lake Havasu City. Now the Canal is actually one of the main party spots on the lake and people drive their boats into the narrow canal, beach them, and basically party. Of course Renita and I had to join the fun!
Launching the canoe at Rotary Park, it was a short paddle to the southern entrance of the canal. Renita pointed out bass and bluegills and schools of shad! The canal narrowed and we became more conscious of the other boats, almost all larger then ours! Luckily the whole area is a low speed area and so we were pretty safe, but the boats were throwing small wakes. They would have been pulled over in Utah and Wyoming,(I know this from being pulled over twice while traveling at less than 5 miles per hour).
The paddling was easy and we even encountered a couple of kayaks! We passed through the canal, past private condos and beaches and we actually had people make comments about our outriggers/stabilizers,(Renita suggested that I should make and sell my stabilizers but it would be too much like work). We reached the north end of the canal and watched the jet ski races for awhile, little realizing the tragic event soon to occur. Turning back into the channel the wind came up and we drifted through the channel, may the wind be at your backs!
For our last day at Lake Havasu we invited the Wheelers to join us for lunch at the Chemehavasui Casino. It was actually Flo's idea all along but we had just never taked the time, so we met them at the canal.
Flo gave us passes, she is a casino regular and so we exchanged them for tickets and then climbed the gangway and up the stairs to the top of the ferry. Its kind of funny as we had been on a ferry once in ours lives and now it seems we are taking ferry rides everywhere we go!
As we left the channel we passed the Jet Ski Race course where the Jet Ski Freestyle competition was happening and it really was amazing to see people doing double flips! They were even sticking the landing! I had no idea such things were possible.
We arrived at Casino and one of the workers commented that it must be my first time there as I was the only one taking pictures. He wished us luck and it must have worked as we both won enough to pay for lunch!
The lunch was really good. I had the Flat Bread Taco and Renita had one of the fanciest Chicken salads I have seen. Flo and John stuck with more traditional lunches but they both decided that the Chemehavasu Taco was on their too eat list!
We talked and watched a bass fisherman land a keeper. It was a pleasant day with friends. Retirement is soooooooooo good! Clear skies.

Stripper Fishing 101: Lake Havasu 2009

“See if you go out at 4 pm, you can pick up the fish on the bottom, and if you sit and wait you can then see them move up. That’s when you can catch them”, John explained. He also talked about when the strippers would boil and the importance of feeding birds.
I was fishing Lake Havasu, and while the fishing wasn’t great the seminar John was putting on for me was top notch! We had arrived, from Pahrump, on Sunday the 11th and I had immediately called my friend John Wheeler about the current fishing conditions.
He said the fishing was slow as the strippers had pretty much disappeared, but he agreed to take me out and at least he would show me the lake and his methods for catching strippers. The first morning we went to the Site Six fishing pier. There John showed me how to bait my hook with the threadfin shad he had caught, and it wasn’t long before he had a smallmouth fighting on the end of his line.
I baited my pole and cast out. The threadfin shad was lively and my pole tip danced as I watched it. Soon it was my turn as a small stripper inhaled the shad and really hooked itself. I fought the fish to the dock listening as John warned me about the hidden steel cables, used to anchor the fishing pier.
Releasing the fish I cast out and caught another. Other fisherman were also catching strippers but nothing big happened. It was fun to catch fish and listen to John as he talked about the 27 pound stripper that had been caught there while he watched.
Two days later John treated me again by taking me out in his boat. I had met John at a walleye tournament years ago, and I knew I was going to get a lesson from one of the best fisherman on the water. So to say I was excited was an understatement.
See it isn’t always about catching fish, watching a top fisherman as he hunts his quarry and listening to him explain the reasons for his methods or plan is just as much fun to me. So when he explained that the fishing was off, it really didn’t matter.
We left the dock before sunrise and made a short run to Windsor, where a gaggle of boats were casting and trolling pointer crank baits. Soon one of the fisherman caught a nice stripper and John recognized a friend who explained that the bite was pretty much over by six am! We rigged up and cast a bit with no success.
John suggested we troll and so we worked the shoreline but didn’t have any strikes, but it didn’t matter. The sun rose and the morning passed too quickly. We boated through the river channel, under the London Bridge, looking for shad and finding some but we had both forgot our cast nets.
John took me along the west shore and showed me a fish, sitting on the bottom in one of his secret “honey holes”. He explained how the lake was filled with sunken trees and how you needed to fish above the brush or you would simply be breaking off rig after rig.
It turned out to be a dues day but if your a fisherman you have lots of those. This one was special as I got to fish with John Wheeler, one of the best! Thank you John! Clear skies.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Prospecting for Opal in the Mojave Desert

There's a little store in Pahrump, Nevada, called Gotta Get a Map. Inside you will find just what you expect, maps and books and rock hammers and a delightful lady named Cassandra.
Now we learned about this place from the local Chamber of Commerce, where the lady had told us that Gotta Get a Map was the place to go to learn about rock hounding in the area and was she right. We spent a delightful hour with Cassandra as she showed us her rock and mineral collection and shared with us a place to go looking for fire opals!
The next day we took off bright and early, if you call 10 am bright and early, and it was a short drive to the opal location. We had also brought a book, Rock hounding California and it, along with Cassandras directions helped us find the spot with ease!
Parking at the end of a four wheel drive road we were so excited that we took off with no thought of water, food, or emergency medical supplies. It looked to be so close to us, but the mudstone cliffs were actually a lot further than we thought. Arriving, it didn't take long to see the mine shafts where people had dug deep into the cliff walls searching for fire.
We found pieces of broken opal, or at least white opalite. It was really all over the place as some was from broken concretions left by the other rockhounders and some was just weathering out of the cliff walls. Showing Renita what I had found I told her to enjoy as I turned back to the truck to get the supplies we had so carelessly left behind.
The walk across the arroyo was covered with rock and debris from numerous flash floods. There were only a few dead and dried out cactus but I managed to find them and had to stop to pull out long dead spines,(I seem to have a knack for attracting cactus). Arriving at the truck I got our food and spent some time looking for the camera, which of course Renita had remembered to take.
By the time I arrived back at the spot, Renita showed me a large bag full of opal concretions! In such a short time she had learned the look of the crust which covers the opal nodules and had quite a few good looking specimens! I dropped the pack and started looking myself, picking up piece after piece but not finding any fire opals.
Now they really aren't fire opals, those are red opals from Mexico, but regardless we didn't find any, just lots of pretty white opals. There were so many that I quickly filled the pack and another grocery sack.
It was already one pm and the sun was hot and burning. The afternoon is not a time to be prospecting in the Mojave Desert,(At least we didn't have to worry about being bothered by Gila monsters, sidewinders, or scorpions), but I was getting burned pretty good and so we headed back to the truck.
The drive back to Pahrump was only 34 miles and we stopped at a huge black dike of amphibole that Renita had noticed on the way out. We also passed a place where people were working their gold claims, but no one invited us to stop so we passed by.
Now the opal here is crazy opal, which means that it has dried out and cracks easily,(that's why its called crazy opal and is hard to work in lapidary), but it was still opal and we have a bunch of large concretions yet to open, so we still have hopes for some fire opal. Regardless it was a fun day in the Mojave Desert and we have more rocks for the fifth wheel! Clear skies.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Death Valley NAtional Park, The Furnace Creek Area

Ever since I was a small child I wanted to see Death Valley and so the sign pointing out the borax mine road and the Twenty Mule Team road were both a sight that spoke of a wish fulfilled.
Soon after crossing into the park, and posing for silly pictures, strange wax like drippings painted the mountain walls. It turned out to be dried mud that had flowed over the canyon's rims, before drying in place and resembling, well wax drippings.
Our first stop was at Zabrinski's Point and we walked up and turned in a 360 degree circle taking in all the variegated rock formations. The rocks were painted with colors from volcanic deposits of ash and pumice. Death valley and Manly peak were in the distance.
Our first stop was at the Furnace Creek Visitor center and then the Furnace Creek campground where we found a bunch of nice sites for dry camping,(dry camping is when you have a campsite but no hookups, and carry your own water, verse boondocking where you just pull over where ever you can park).
Heading south towards Badwater, we stopped at the Devils Golf Course where I had to tee up a golf ball. Renita was amazed as each step on the salt encrusted spires gave off a metallic sound! The salt ridges were sharp and somewhat scary as we walked among them.
A little further we arrived at Badwater, and of course had to have a picture of us at the lowest point in North America. We couldn't launch the canoe and the salty water was to low and so we walked on the salt flat and posed for more silly pictures.
After eating lunch we headed back north. A sign told of a natural bridge and so we turned up the gravel road. What a mistake! The road was the worst gravel road I have ever been on and that says a lot as we have been on a lot of four wheel drive roads. The washboards on the road threatened to shake the canoe off and maybe even our heads! With no place to turn around we had to drive to the parking lot and the drive took 30 minutes for only 1.5 miles!
Vowing to never take a Death Valley gravel road again we next drove the narrow one way paved road Called Artist Drive. Renita took image after image of the multicolored formations as we played leap frog with other cars. The road had a maximum length restriction of 25 feet but we were easily under that at 22 feet and didn't have any close calls.
The drive back to Pahrump seemed longer as we had had a full day in Death Valley. We both could only imagine the feelings of the early pioneers, who braved such a crossing. Clear skies.

From June Lake To Pahrump

We broke camp at June Lake, heading south and east hurrying before the cold front arrived and its predicted 70 mile per hour wind gusts. The weather forecaster had even used the word snow, and that word alone would have done it.
As I went to raise the front of our fifth wheel the gears stopped moving, the gear box had broken. Luckily I was able to hand crank the house up enough to hook up, and we headed south.
The Sierras passed, a string of thirteen thousand plus peaks and even a 14000 plus peak, Mt Toms, all displayed their granite faces. To the east of Owens Valley the White Mountains reared high above the valley floor.
At Bishop we discovered a nice small city that we would have liked to stay at but the cold and wind drove us on. We turned northeast on US 6 and passed White Mountain, another thirteen thousand feet mountain standing proud.
Before crossing into Nevada we drove through a series of small towns and irrigated fields which spoke that not all the water of Owens Valley had been stolen by Los Angles. Nevada's tallest peak, Boundary Peak stood out as we crossed into that state.
At Coaldale we merged onto US 95 and the traffic increased but it wasn't bad. The front hadn't caught us yet and so we easily reached Tonopah and its gold mines. Turning south we headed for our destination for the day, Beatty, but the sightseeing wasn't over. A longitudianal sand dune, called Giant Dune tempted us to turn off and climb it, but not this day.
Now the Rv Park Reviews site told of a coyote crossing the road at Beatty and warned people to watch their small dogs. Sure enough a large coyote ran across the road just before we turned into our rv park, reminding us to keep Molly on a short leash.
We couldn't unhook and so we spent the next two nights in Beatty, or north of it, as the front blasted through and the wind shook our house. Pretty impressive as the fifth wheel and truck weigh over 22000 pounds!
Finally,the wind seemed to abate and we headed for Pahrump, but seemed was the right word as 40 mile per hour gusts hit us sideways and threatened to turn us over. I slowed the rig to 40 and then to thirty and we creep the 40 miles east fighting the crosswind all the way. Turning south on Nevada 160 we put the wind behind us and it was pretty easy to Pahrump.
The drive had been scenic and windy and tempting and we decided we would like to drive this way again. Towns such as Goldfield, Rhyolite and Silver Peak all make rockhounders giddy with prospecting fever! Clea skies.