Camping & Taking Photos in E. California and the SouthWest

Archive for November, 2012

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree, California

The campground was almost deserted during the week, but filled up on the weekends. We were so lucky with the weather. The sun went down so early, but we managed to catch quite a few sunsets. They are so lovely in the desert.

One day we saw this flying near our campsite…we had to check it out!

Our neighbor was thoroughly enjoying the flight!

Joshua Tree is such a playground…

The sunsets blow me away…


Joshua Tree

Keys Ranch
Joshua Tree National Park, California

Doug and his friend, Jim Keany, made arrangements to meet in Joshua Tree and do some rock-climbing, so that was our next destination. We got there a few days before Jim so we could get set up and be sure to have a campsite that weekend. The weather was perfect and the sunsets were amazing. Jim joined us a few days later. We really enjoyed having him visit. Doug and Jim went climbing every day, while I worked and went into town or took walks. I signed up for a tour of Keys Ranch, located in the park. It was very interesting; I learned a lot about the history of the area.

The first white men came for the free land – at that time there were grasslands throughout the area. After years of over-grazing, the grass was gone and the weather got drier, so most of the people moved on. Then gold was found at the Desert Queen Mine. The first owners of the mine spent more money than they took in, so the lender took the mine and property back. He lived in LA; he hired Mr. Keys to run the mine for a cut of the proceeds from the mine. After two years without income, Mr. Keys went to LA to talk with the owner and found out he was dead! Mr. Keys met with the family and said he either wanted the mine and the property or his back wages. He got the mine and the property and worked there for another few years, all alone. At that point he decided he needed a wife and married a woman he met in LA. I cannot imagine her dismay when she arrived at the Ranch. The nearest neighbor was 6 miles away; there was so much work to be done, it took years. They built a dam with concrete they mixed on the spot, and also built a retaining wall using stones they cut into squares. Obviously both of these projects took many years to complete. They developed a number of income streams in order to eke out their living. They built cabins and rented them out to travelers; they had machinery used to extract gold from the rocks and would charge for the extraction; they got gold out of the mine; when new settlers came to the area, they would sell them furnishings and machinery that they purchased when other settlers gave up and left. Apparently it took all of the income streams just to make it. Whenever they got a little money, they would add on to the house. They lived at the ranch for 40 years, before it was deeded to the National Park.

Leaving Arizona

We spent a week at Cochise Stronghold, then another night in Tucson at Gilbert Ray campground. From there, we spent a night in Yuma; the next morning we walked across the border into Los Algodones Mexico and had our teeth cleaned and I had 2 cavities filled. The town is crazy – wall-to-wall dentists, opticians and pharmacies. We just walked over – no customs going in. Mexicans all along the streets trying to get you in to see their dentist or buy their goods. The cleaning was very basic; the fillings went fine except that the dentist left some amalgum between my teeth and now I can’t floss! Definitely not what we’re used to, but the price was right – $160 for 2 cleanings and 2 fillings!

Shortly after we left Yuma, we stopped at a rest stop and saw this helicopter…

Obviously, the pilot had a very steady hand and the other guy was nuts!!!

Southern Arizona

We made a quick circuit of Southern Arizona. Unfortunately, we arrived in Tubac, an intriguing artist colony, after everything was closed up. It looked like a fun place to visit. We spent the night at Lake Patagonia (another nice campground next to the lake; with hot showers!). The town of Patagonia consists of about one block. We found a great Mexican restaurant and had dinner.

Our next stop was Bisbee. It is an old mining town that in its heyday had a population of 20,000. Now there are around 9,000 people living there, mostly in former miners’ cabins at the top of the hills above town. They say there are 10,000 stairs in Bisbee – the weekend before we were there, they held the annual Stair Climb. Apparently the climbers carry blocks of ice! We spent the night in downtown Bisbee in an historic hotel.

The next day we drove to Cochise Stronghold, where the famous indian hid out. It’s an amazing place. There is a small campground (no more than 12 sites plus a large group site) nestled beneath a grove of oak trees, accented with yucca and cactus. There are some great hikes; it’s a popular place for rock-climbing.

When we first arrived, we noticed a site with lots of Halloween decorations – how fun, we thought! More and more people arrived to join that group. They were quite unfriendly and kept to themselves. Doug joked that they were probably Wickens. The next night, they dressed in black robes and started chanting as they walked in a line into the forest! After about 1-1/2 hours they returned, chanting still. Obviously, Doug was right!

The following day, we met some grad students from UofA who were getting ready to host 60 junior high school kids for the weekend. They arrived that evening and quickly got settled. So, while the high schoolers were putting on skits, laughing and cheering, the Wickens started their chanting again. What a contrast! The Wickens went back into the forest, while we visited with some regular folks who were camped next to us. This time when the Wickens returned from the forest, we noticed two women at the end of the line who were all in white (virgins who were just initiated, we thought). We really wanted to sneak into the forest and watch!

We saw lots of birds throughout the campground, particularly red-headed woodpeckers, and heard several owls each night. Along the road we would always see several red-tailed hawks sitting in trees or on the electrical wires.

Doug took the photo of this woodpecker…

One day we drove to the Chiricahua National Monument, about an hour east of Cochise. It is referred to as a “Wonderland of Rocks”. Indeed, it is an inactive volcanic range 20 miles wide and 40 miles long with miles and miles of hoodoos, pinnacles, balanced and strangely shaped rocks. Most are covered with a thick cover of green lichens. It’s a wonderful place to hike when it’s not too hot.


From the Valley of Fire, we drove to Tucson to pick up a new part for our internet satellite system (this has been the season of repairs). We stopped at Hoover Dam on the way. We found a great campground – Gilbert Ray – just west of town, next to Saguaro National Park. Very nice campground, landscaped with native plantings. We even had a little bit of shade!

We enjoyed an amazing coyote concert – I can’t even describe some of their sounds, they are so bizarre! We spent two nights, got our repairs completed, and then headed south. On our way South we stopped at the Mission San Xavier del Bac. There is a large chapel, fully decorated inside with saints and such.

Hoover Dam is quite impressive

Our landscaped campground

sunset at Gilbert Ray

The Mission

In the Mission cactus garden

Canyon Colors

Valley of Fire, Nevada

One of our favorite small canyons in the park…we got there just in time for the best light. The colors got more and more vibrant as the sun settled behind the earth.

The Details

Valley of Fire, Nevada

The shapes, colors and textures of the rocks here are the most varied we have seen in any of our travels. It truly is an incredible landscape.


Valley of Fire, Nevada

We saw this gathering of Bighorn by the Visitors Center – apparently they really like the grass that grows there. It was such a thrill to get this close!