Day 8:  Journey’s End…for now!

Today I will arrive at my new home! I’m so excited that I have butterflies!!! Rocky senses the excitement as well. I notice an extra spring in his step. 

It takes a conscious effort to focus on being “where I am” I don’t want to be so focused on my destination  that I mentally skip past this phase of my journey. 

I see  the desert with new eyes today. What I thought was just dry, dull earth is really  golden grass. Low growing shrubs and the occasional ‘tree’ add depth to the terrain. Rugged mountains rise toward the cloudy sky, completing the portrait.

 

I spot a sign: Desert Tortoise terrain 13 miles. Shockingly, I veer off the highway with high hopes of spotting a tortoise in the wild. 

Ten miles pass without a sighting and I return to the highway. 

Oil pumps slide by on my right. A wind farm begins at the foot of the mountains ahead, stretching over its peak. This ‘farm’ is unlike any I’ve seen in my travels. In addition to the giant turbines, there are smaller turbines of varying sizes as if baby wind machines are growing beneath their parents. 

I’ve been transported into a new world! The desert has disappeared and I am surrounded by rolling hills and mountains clothed in green grass. Many of the slopes display blankets of purple and yellow flowers. I desperately search for a safe place to pull over for a picture, but without success. In this moment I realize that I’ve missed the lush green of grass and leafy trees.  

 Another diversion calls to me in the midst of the green mountains. It is the Cesar Chavez National Monument. He is known for his efforts to improve the lives of the farm workers and for his gentle spirit.  I enjoy this chance to learn a bit of history surrounding my new home.  

     

  

 The mountains are behind me and for a brief period the desert has returned.  It ends in a sudden starling appearance of lush green. This transformation of dry earth to an  oasis of greenery springs from the innovation of irrigation systems. Groves of citrus trees and vineyards slide past my windows, all supported by the wonder of irrigation systems. I exit the highway and continue through flat farmlands, trying not to be disappointed that the mountains have disappeared. 

I am only a half hour from “home” when they mountains return!   

      I have traveled through 8 states and 3 time zones, listened to 5 audiobooks, slept in 6 campsites and one motel, survived a creeper and now I am here! I couldn’t be more satisfied with my little mother-in-law apartment. And my landlords feel like long lost friends!  

 Thank you for journeying with me! 

Day 7: Nothing ventured Nothing gained 

“Gotta find my keys.” That’s my first thought as I wake. I slept soundly last night after being  lulled to sleep by a screeching child- a welcome change after lastnight’s  adventure, but before tucking into my sleeping bag I realized the keys were  missing. 

Keys in the ignition, freshly showered I look at my itinerary: Montezuma’s Castle, a place I visited my last trip here, is on 89, but I’d learned of The Red Rock Highway  on 179.  I opted for the unknown. 

The Red Rock Highway is breathtaking! 

  And it is not just a highway. About every 3/4 miles are parking areas with breath taking views and access to trails to hike into the towering formations of red rocks. You do need to stop at the Ranger’s station for a pass to park long enough to hike or bike (national park pass is accepted)

179 takes me into Oak Creek Village.   

 This is a bustling community with homes built into the mountain, restaraunts for every palate and what looks like a McDonald’s with teal  colored  arches? 

There are several jeeps with logos on the side panels and I wonder why so many people would choose this option over taking their own vehicle. Oak Creek is definitely a place to return too.  

   
Beyond the village I head toward Devils Bridge. I’ve programmed it into my GPS and I take in the magnificent views. 

Ahead the road turns to dirt littered with near Boulder size rocks–hence the jeeps. With no time to hike and my Chevy Aveo, Devil’s Bridge will wait for another day. Next destination: Mojave National Preserve. 

I take 89 back to I-17 and the views on this route do not disappoint. I am so near the Grand Canyon that I’m tempted to divert off my path yet again. But I want to save that visit for when my hubby is with me, so I steer past the exits that try to draw me into the canyon.  

    
 The desert that slides past me is dry. The only plant life are scattered patches of grass and parched shrubs. Miniature dust funnels appear randomly. There is no one behind me so I slow to try to film one of these miniature dust tornados…but I’m not sure how it will come out through Rocky’s window that is smeared with paw prints.

I’ve finally reached the Mojave Preserve and it is another beautiful desert terrain. 

  I pass a sign with flashing yellow lights warning me of desert tortoises crossing.  I hope I see a tortoise! 

To my left are the Kelso dunes.  

 Golden sand rising up to the sky. My GPS wants me to turn toward them. I look warily at the dirt road and then ahead at what appears to be some sort of structure. I choose the structure ahead. 

The structure is the Kelso Depot and Visitor Center. It’s only open Thursday through Sunday.  

  I see a sign that indicates campgrounds are 26 miles away. It’s a few minutes befor 5 and I decide not to chance the trip to a campground that I may or may not be able to check into. Instead I explore the Depot. There is an old post office building,  a ‘cage’ claiming the title of Kelso jail.  

  

 I can’t imagine being confined to this jail, baking in the desert sun all day and then shivering in the cold at night.  

 it’s nearing 6 pm and I make the decision to stay in a motel in Barstow  tonight. 

I call the Days Inn- the picture and ratings look good. But when I arrive it is not what I saw in the pictures. I hesitate, but I’m tired and don’t want to keep looking. I drive around to where my room is, but I don’t even go in. I drive back the front desk and tell them I am not staying. I’d feel safer back in my tent at Collosal Cave with the creeper! 

Six miles up the interstate I discover a Comfort Inn Suites. This is my home for the night. 

  I soak in the hot tub, then Rocky  gets a bath too.  He’s actually happy about it and races around the room after he’s dried off. 

It’s nice to be sleeping on a bed, but part of me misses the sounds of night time. 

Day 6: A Short Day

I’m up, but tired. 

I start my day interviewing my neighboring camp mates. No they didn’t hear anything last night. No they didn’t come down to check on me.

But the creeper will not ruin my day or my trip. I set out to explore Collosal Cave Moubtain Park.  I am to see a roadrunner. 

I see some sort of orange ringtail critter.

A deer. 

Lots of birds. 

No roadrunner.

I took pictures of these with my regular camera. Once I get back to civilization I will update this post with the photos. (I’ve typed all these blogs from my phone!)

I’m off to Saguara National. This is an unplanned excursion, but it’s only 10 miles away.  And it is so worth it. I drive the 8 mile loop taking pictures of the desert.  

    
    
 There is a cactus forest. I never thought of cacti all together as being a forest.  But they are as big as a tree and birds do build nests in them. 

I look at the time and gauge how long it will take me to arrive at my planned camping destination. And I realize, I’m just to tired. 

I choose a site only 3 hours away, call for a reservation and I’m on my way. 

The roadside views are breathtaking

And the camp is beautiful.  

 I’m sitting by my fire. The stars are brilliant in the night sky. There are two families and bunches of kids on either side of me. And you know what?  I don’t mind their noisy kid sounds one bit!  

Day 5: There and Back

 I am awake. And I’m excited, not just because of the amazing sunrise or the way the sun sets the mountains behind me on fire! 

    
 I am excited because today,  for the first time, I know where I am going. Years ago I visited Collosal Cave Mountain Park and fell in love with the surrounding desert, so when I realized that I could make this one of my stops I was ecstatic. I am ready to go back! But I’m also working on embracing the here and now, so before I hit the road, Rocky and I set out to explore one of the trails at Rock Hound State Park. 

On our journey, I spot a cottontail. He freezes on the path, waits for us to get closer than hops a little farther down the path. I can’t help wondering if I’m following Peter Cottontail down his bunny trail or if I’m Alice being led to wonderland!   

 At the end of my walk, I notice this sign. And I think: if this was the end of the road for me, it’s a good place to be.  

 On my way back to the interstate I discover a Walmart!!  Yay! So happy to stock up on real food.

In the parking lot I meet, Tim.  He strides over to my car with his white cowboy hat, black vest, faded jeans and cowboy boots wearing a smile beneath his oh-so-western mustache and a sparkle in his blue eyes and says, “Maine, now you’re a long way from home.” 

I spent the next half hour learning bout Tim: retired after thirty years in the military, Forester, engineer and now Pecan Farmer.  He tips me off to breakfast at Si Senorita and I have my first Mexican breakfast…Yum!!   

 Per my usually ADHD while driving,  I wander off the interstate in search of another historical Fort. This time I find it!  Rocky and I head down the 1.5 mile trail to the fort. He really isn’t up to the task and I find myself carrying him most of the way. 

  

  

  

After about a mile I am stopped by two border control officers. They want me to know that they are after an illegal who is here in the woods. He’s wearing a red hoodie. I hesitate for a moment, then decide to finish my hike. 

I meet a few people, but no red hoodies. And here’s where I’ll probably irritate a few people. When I think of illegal immigrants, I don’t want them crossing the border illegally…but then I think of the person and I wonder what they are running from that would drive them over the mountains and into this desert.  It’s easy to feel strongly about a concept, but more difficult to apply that to a living, breathing person. 

 I considered another tale about finding the illegal hidden away in my car….

I arrive at Collosal Cave and it’s everything I remember. 

    
   
Camping is only $5 and there are only two other people in the section of the campground I’m. I pick a site way in the back so that I can have privacy for the first time this week!  

 The one strange thing… The gate to the campground is locked at 5 and opened at 7:30 am. There is no cell reception, but if need to, I can run a 1/4 mile to the 911 phone that rings automatically to the sheriff.  

Filled with plans for morning and thankful that it’s not dropping below 60 tonight, I settle in to sleep.  

   

Day 4: Deserts and Desserts

I unzip my tent and shiver in the cool air.According to my phone it’s only 34 degrees.  For a moment I consider crawling back into my sleeping bag to wait for the sun to rewarm the earth. And then I glimpse the colors on the eastern horizon.   

 I’m ten miles away from I-10 and even  though the posted speed limit is 70 on this “back” road, I have it to myself so I take my time. I think the desert creatures have come out to see me on my way. Hawks perch in the branches of trees along the road.  

 They wait patiently for me to snap my shot before flying off. A beautiful buck grazes on the dry grass a little farther up.  

 And then a roadrunner dashes into the brush. Vultures line up like sentinels on the fence posts. On the ground before them is what looks to be a wild pig. Flowers add splashes of color along the roadside and mountains stretch toward the sky creating the perfect backdrop.  

 I discover a white chapel- a historical landmark.  

 An hour later I finally merge onto I-10. 

The needle of my gas gage is hovering at 1/2 a tank when I spot a lonely gas station at the top of the hill.  

 If there’s one thing I learned yesterday, it’s that gas stations are few and far between on this stretch of highway. 

Not long after I fill up, I spot a scenic overlook. Rocky and I run to the top of the hill. It feels good to stretch my legs and get my heart racing!  

   
My next stop is The Cattleman’s Ranch Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs. 

 The surrounding landscape has been used to film a few movies.  Not only is the food amazing, but Rocky is allowed to join me! This is the first sit-down-inside meal since I started this trip, so I treat myself to cheesecake! The only thing that would make it better is hubby by my side. He would love this place! 

 More and more vehicles crowd around me as I near El Paso, Texas. But thankfully not enough to slow my pace.  

Stretched across the road ahead of me is a yellow sign with red letters. I have entered New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment.  

    
 I made it! I’ve reached Rockhoud State Park and it is beautiful. Rocky and I take advantage of the sunlight and hike one of the trails. I love these desert plants: Prickly pear cactus, yellow, purple, orange, white desert flowers, mesquite, beargrass, yucca. Some of the cactus  look like they’ve been eaten and I keep my eyes peeled for wild boar or pigs (and I’m in the lookout for rattlers)!But all I see are quails, glimpses of squirrels and cottontails, and various desert  birds.  

    
   
The sunset does not disappoint. It’s been another full day! 

  

Treasure of The Beehive – Acadia National Park

I’ve been practicing a new skill. I’m learning to reach out to the world around me and embrace it. Which is why, after working the overnight shift in the ER, I wasn’t napping as I waited for my friend to join me at Acadia National Park.

The sound of the crashing surf drew me down the stairs to Sand Beach. My face tingled in the moist salty air and I breathed deeply feeling the ocean energy flow through me, chasing away the last vestiges of sleep.

Sand Beach - Acadia National ParkThe sea glowed a mystical green as she sent her waves rolling toward me. I stood for several minutes and watched them swell, rising to a crest that, for a moment, opened a window to the world beneath the surface before transforming into a bubbly white foam as the water crashed against the golden sand and rushed back to the sea. It would be easy to spend my day here, but instead I forced myself to turn away. Today is not about the sand and sea. It is about challenging my muscles as my hands grip the rockyBeehive Mountain - Acadia National Park surface and my legs carry me forward and up. I turn my back to the sea and join my friend, together we begin the first phase of today’s journey—The Beehive.

Beehive Mountain TrailheadI step along the strategically placed rocks that form the beginning of the trail.
The sun filters through the aspen and maple that stretch toward the sky on either side of me. I can’t help but reach out and runmy fingers along their trunks as I pass.Beehive Mountain TrailAfter a few minutes of easy climbing, we reach a marker. Despite the yellow sign warning of narrow ledges and steep climbs, I veer away from the easy route that skirts The Bowl to ascend the backside of The Beehive and set my feet on the path to ascend the face of the mountain.IMG_9317

Here the trail turned into a combination of scrabbling over boulders and making our way along the narrow ledges.Beehive Mountain Trail As I hugged the rock wall to work my way around a sharp bend in the ledge, my friend spoke behind me.

Beehive Mountain Trail

“I don’t think I can do this.”

And this is where I learned something new about my friend. I learned that she (along with about 5% of the general population) suffered from Acrophobia—the fear of heights.  While I was taking in the view and enjoying the climb, her terror had silenced her. That silence hadn’t been a signal to me, because when we’ve hiked in the past, we’d often walked side-by-side along the trail, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the sounds of the forest.Beehive Mountain Trail

Beehive Mountain Trail

I heard the tremble in her voice and I turned. Her face was flushed red and her hand shook as she clutched the rock wall. I looked down, we really weren’t very far
along and we could turn back. I looked up at the ledges, rungs and rock scrambles ahead of us and did what any good friend would do. I encouraged her on. I talked non-stop about how beautiful it will be when we get to the top. I coached her around tight ledges and coaxed her up ladder rungs, until finally we reached the top.

Below me, the mystical green sea had transformed into a sparkling ocean of blue diamonds. The beach that I’d stood on that morning was only a strip of golden sand. I paused and watched the waves crash against the shore.Beehive Mountain Summit

After soaking up the sun on the rocky summit of the Beehive, it was time to continue our trek. Stubby pines and bushes covered with dark blue berries bordered the trail. I held one of the berries in my hand. It looked like a blueberry, but I’d never seen one so dark.

There’s a comradery among hikers, even day hikers—an opportunity for brief encounters among strangers connected by their appreciation of the natural world. And it was through this connection that I learned that the dark berry in my hand was a huckleberry. Curious, I popped it into my mouth.Huckleberries

I don’t like huckleberries.

The Bowl is a serene body of water nestled at the base of the surrounding peaks. Pale purple aster grows along the banks and tiny fish dart about beneath the surface. It’s a peaceful place and I could have spent the rest of the afternoon there.The Bowl at Acadia National ParkIMG_9385But my goal was to reach the summit of Champlain Mountain, so I turned away from the water onto what I, at that time, believed was the trail.

A red squirrel chattered and scolded me as it raced up and down the trees along the trail. I realize now, that he was warning me that I was off track.IMG_9386 But I pressed on. Before long the ‘trail’ tapered off and disappeared. I backtracked, looking for a blue blaze, then gave up all together and tromped onward to what I at that time believed was Champlain Mountain, puzzled as to why I couldn’t find the trail.

It was a fun hike, scrambling up the occasional boulder, weaving around huckleberry bushes and enjoying the artwork of nature on uprooted tree stumps faded gray but the wind and sun. IMG_9391When I reached the top, I did what I should have done as soon as I lost the blue blazes. I took out my map.

As I looked across at The Beehive, then down to The Bowl and realized I’d gone right when I should have gone left. I led the way back down the mystery mountain, past the screeching squirrel to the water’s edge, then onto the clearly marked trail to Champlain Mountain.

I walked along the double-plank trail alongside the water, enjoying the shade from the maple, pine and aspen that towered over me.IMG_9395Before long, my friend and I left the flat ground and began our ascent up and over rocky boulders. To the delight of my good friend, there were no ledges here. Scattered stubby pines, huckleberry bushes along with the occasional low growing blueberry bush dotted the landscape.

IMG_9389A tiny maple, that somehow managed to root in the rocky terrain put on an early fall display of red-orange leaves. In the sky above, three vultures circled. IMG_9402We crossed a long flat stone clearing where cairns led us on toward the peak.

The sun was highChamplain Mountain Summit - acadia national park in the sky when we reached the summit.

I looked out at the five Porcupine Islands and realized once again, I wanted more time in this beautiful place. I could spend a year here and still not experience the full splendor of Acadia National Park.

The comradery of hiker’s failed me when I tried to convince my friend to take the Precipice Trail down and follow the road back to the parking area. Without fail, every one of them advised against using this as a downhill route! So we followed the guidance of those who’d experienced the trail and made our way back along the now familiar trail to the trailhead.

Although my friend had to return home, she followed me to the Blackwoods Campground. I said my goodbye, then set up my tent. I always feel a little giddy when I manage to get my campfire going, so I settled onto the ground to watch the fire, mesmerized by the flames as my burger sizzled on the tinfoil covering the grate.Blackwoods Campground - Acadia National Park

With my belly full, I dug my laptop out of my car and leaned back against the trunk of a tree and worked on Whispering Spirits, the sequel to Troubled Spirits. After all, what better place to work on a ghost story set in the Maine woods!

As always, I slept soundly in my little tent.

The next day, a steady rain foiled my plan to capture the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, but still I enjoyed my day. I didn’t attempt to start a fire in the rain. Jeannie's Great Maine BreakfastIMG_9563
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