Desert Blooms and Desert Moons

Southern Arizona didn’t have a winter. I can vouch that it got off track and landed over in Central Texas instead! The windfall that I am now enjoying after scraping icicles off my overhead and keeping vigil over my freezing plumbing for three months?  The desert is in bloom early!IMG_1628IMG_1616IMG_1633

I am told desert cactus don’t typically bloom until later in the spring, especially the Saguaro, who’s illusive blooms don’t show up until late in April. The beautiful white blooms begin opening during the late evening, and only stay on the cactus for less than 24 hours.  So I feel very fortunate in my timing…IMG_1699 IMG_1622 IMG_1788

This year with the lack of winter in Southern Arizona, I somehow managed to arrive during that short window between soaring temperatures and buds popping out in all varieties.  I thought the desert would be boring, but instead it’s looking more like an unexpected visit to the botanical garden.IMG_1741  IMG_1770IMG_1689

I took three ranger-guided hikes while I was in Saguaro National Park. I don’t typically like hiking with a group, but these three hikes are reoccurring monthly events held during the three nights leading up to the full moon. They all leave in late evening, hike to some saddle or ridge to watch the sunset, and then return through the desert by the light of the moon.

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Bob, a local Naturalist Volunteer comes along with us on the hike. Here, he shows a cross-section of a saguaro.

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I would never have the nerve to hike an unfamiliar trail after dark, so these hikes afforded me the opportunity to be in the middle of the desert in full flooded moonlight. And being the end of season, they were relatively uncrowded.

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Waiting for sunset from the saddle with the hiking group.

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These were “no flashlight required” hikes, as part of the mystique was the moon shadows cast by the giant saguaro. Another magical experience, and a rare treat and utter delight for this solo hiker, otherwise too chicken to hike on anything bigger than the paved “Interpretive Trail” after dark!

"I fear something has come between us."

“I fear something has come between us.”

How fortuitous that the “Blood Moon” would also appear while I was camped in the desert. I sat out in my camp chair under a blanket and watched the entire eclipse, though most of the time was spent futzing with three different cameras trying to get a shot. I had two P&S cameras, a Nikon SLR, and a teeny tripod, and I couldn’t get any of the three to cooperate. So I just had to sit back with a glass of red and watch the show…..and a “Bloody Good Show” it was, too.

As good as it got where my three cameras were concerned.

As good as it got where my three cameras were concerned.

Also ironic that the “Blood Moon” would come on the same day the IRS was also looking for blood. I never changed my withholding amount since I sold my “sticks and bricks,” so with no mortgage deduction, Uncle Sam wanted blood from more than just the moon. It was the first time I have done my own taxes in 20+ years, compounded by the complexity of filing from the road with no printer. My company sends a W2 for my Health Savings Account with no wage amount, which precludes me from filing online. So I had to come down from the mountain and find an OfficeMax so I could finish filing in the parking lot. Not only was my wallet lighter, but so was my stress level when I finally dropped that fat envelop into the Tucson Post Office! :::sigh!::: 

“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

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I am a Crested Cliche’

I have been reading RV Blogs for about three years now. This has been my main source of information for finding RV-friendly destinations, as well as adding hiking and biking trails and scenic wonders to my own wish list. But any RV blog worth its “states visited” puzzle will eventually come to this:

The somewhat rare "crested saguaro."

The somewhat rare “crested saguaro.”

Some say it is caused by a lightening strike, others say by frost, but truthfully, they don't know for sure.

Some say it is caused by a lightening strike, others say by frost, but truthfully, they don’t know for sure.

So now, here I am, just another Saguaro Cactus Blogger, making jokes like “Which way did he go, George?”

IMG_1619As long as I was traveling through the northeast, it was easy to blog about places and not feel like I was plagiarizing, since there don’t seem to be that many RV bloggers on the east coast. But now? Talk about “predictable!”

"My analyst told me..."

“My analyst told me…”

Why am I suddenly so sleepy?

Why am I suddenly so sleepy?

I broke one of my cardinal rules getting here. I didn’t “sense check” my GPS. When looking for the Gilbert Ray Campground, I typed in “McKinney” instead of “Kinney.” I knew something was wrong when I got off the freeway way too soon, but it took me driving through the Air Force Base to finally trust my gut and stop for directions.IMG_1759
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Beautiful Ocotillo flowers look like flame tips in the late afternoon sun.

Neither my GPS nor Siri could find Gilbert Ray. I found it on my Allstays app, but I still haven’t figured out how to make that app give me audible turn-by-turn directions. I stopped at the QuickTrip and asked three different people, one who was a police officer. None of the three had ever heard of Gilbert Ray Campground. This was looking good!! At least if they don’t take reservations, I won’t have to worry about the locals filling up the campground. No one has ever heard of it before!

Fun to drive in the Tracker!   The Winnie?  Not so much...

Fun to drive in the Tracker! The Winnie? Not so much…

Gates Pass Road in the Tracker

Gates Pass Road in the Tracker

It had been another “white knuckle wind” drive across southern New Mexico, complete with flashing roadside lights warning of sudden gusts and zero-visibility dust storms. Then, a very frustrating commute through downtown Tucson followed by Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of a road over continuous dips and curves. I finally arrived at the Gilbert Ray Campground in the afternoon heat. I was tired, hot, weary, and resigned to the conclusion that maybe the desert just wasn’t my thing…

And then….the sun begins to drop low in the sky. The wicked wind settles down to a nice cool, gentle breeze. Hundreds of giant saguaro cactus all around me rival any sculpture garden as they begin to cast long shadows across my campsite at the far end of the A loop.  I can’t see another rig in site. The temperature drops ten degrees. The mountains turn a fiery orange in the sunset glow, then deepen to a cool, majestic purple afterglow as the stars begin to make their shimmering appearance one by one in the cobalt blue sky. And all at once, I am smitten…

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I love this little Gilbert Ray Campground. The cool night breeze blowing through my window has me sleeping like I am under a spell, as the enchanted giant saguaros stand guard in the moonlight. I can hear absolutely nothing except the occasional high-pitched yip and howl of a coyote in the distance, until I am awakened each morning by a cacophony of birdsong. I would be good here for at least another ten degrees.

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Chained Cholla, also known as “jumping Cholla” for its propensity to reach out and touch someone…

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Now on Arizona Standard Time, I wake as the sun is coming up.  I decide to take a side trip to visit the stunningly beautiful San Xavier del Bac Mission, located on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation just a 20 minute drive from the campground. I get an early start to take advantage of the early morning light. I am quite surprised as I get closer to see all the people walking along the road, seemingly headed for the mission as if on a pilgrimage.

Stunningly beautiful San Xavier Mission

Stunningly beautiful San Xavier Mission

Side chapel through beautiful cactus garden

Side chapel through beautiful cactus garden

This would make a gorgeous watercolor.  Too bad I can't paint.  Or know someone who can...

This would make a glorious watercolor. Too bad I can’t paint. Or know someone who can…

As I approach the parking lot, I can see it is full, at 8:00am. I look again, and notice they are all carrying palm fronds. A quick mental calendar check, and I realize it is Palm Sunday!
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The place is PACKED with one Mass right after another. It is standing room only! Bad news for photography, great news for people-watching, as families stand outside the door waiting for Mass to end so they can get a front row seat. Mothers are teaching their children how to weave a cross from palm fronds, and worshipers queue up single file to place their hand under the wooden head of the Saint Francis Xavier statue and lift, the belief being that if you are able lift him up, you are in good stead with the Saint.

Locals making Indian Fry-bread

Locals making Indian Fry-bread

Confetti eggs...

Confetti eggs…

The parking lot takes on a festive atmosphere, as locals offer up “Indian Fry-Bread” with a plethora of toppings. I choose honey and cinnamon, which seeps into the soft, puffy fried dough, hot out of the bubbling oil. It is the perfect breakfast on a perfect Sunday morning on a perfect Arizona blue sky day. It’s great to be a cliché!IMG_1648IMG_1776

TLC in T or C

I have been feeling a bit “ordinary” lately.  After being on the road full time for over a year, I can honestly say this is the first time that I have felt somewhat unsettled in my conviction to this lifestyle.  I have even had a couple of those little pangs of “ugh, is this nomadic lifestyle too much for me while trying to hold down a full time job?  And if I can’t get up the nerve to quit the job, well then….”  Continue reading

Blowing Hueco…

Never in my brief nomadic life have I experienced wind like I did at Hueco Tanks State Park. Relentless, constant, wearing, psychologically taxing wind, all day and throughout the night. I was in a gorgeous campsite, but there was no sense in trying to sit outside the rig. The first day, I took my Caesar salad out to dine “al fresco,” but my romaine lettuce was taking flight faster than I could eat it. Continue reading

Hi-Ho, Hueco…

It’s off to work I go…

I have just finished up two straight weeks of blissful vacation, where I rambled and roamed to my hearts content.  I visited three National Parks, found ten things to love about Big Bend, climbed the highest mountain in Texas, and discovered pitfalls in the Bat Cave.  I had so much fun on this vacation, yet I spent less money than any vacation ever. Continue reading

A Day at the Beach…with No Ocean

It occurs to me, of all the states I have lived in, Texas, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, and Georgia, none have been “land locked.” I have always had access to the ocean. Maybe it required a drive for five hours, but I could still get there in a weekend. So as I sit at the picnic table at White Sands Monument observing the different families, I realize this “monument” is not just a tourist attraction for nomads and bucket listers. Continue reading

As for me, Roswell…

My brother Don is three years older than me.  We have mutual childhood friends our respective ages, George and his younger brother Fred.  We had a lot in common as kids.  We all grew up on a farm, and Fred and I shared a mutual love of music since “the early years.”    Still to this day, Fred is the only person to whom I can say “They just don’t make music like they used to,” and know he feels my same pain.

It’s the autumn of 1966.  Football season is winding down, while basketball season is in full swing in Small Town Texas.   Camaraderie is fierce during this time of year, with parades, floats, band practice, and giant homecoming mums.    So it doesn’t take long for word to spread among the small town community that there has been an “accident.” Continue reading

Phoning it in from the Bat Cave

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is just thirty miles up the road from Guadalupe Mountain National Park, so it seems like a “no brainer” to make the detour. Though I have to admit, my heart wasn’t really in it. Maybe it was because I had already been there as a child on one of my parents many road trips out west. Or maybe it was because Continue reading