Author Archives: irishdane3

Hottest Place on Earth – Ever!

Anybody know where the highest temperature ever recorded on the face of our planet happens to be located?

Well, here is your first hint.  We visited this place on May 14th and 15th.  It was hot then, however, no where near the record 134 degrees Fahrenheit that was recorded there on 7/10/1913 at a place called Furnace Creek.

Honestly, this is one of those parks that we were going to just because its “on the list”.  We didn’t have any real desire to go there, however, its not too far out of the way from the route to Las Vegas, our next stop.  So, what the heck.  Lets go check it out.

Big surprise, we had a blast there.  In fact, we ended up spending two days exploring this place.  Easy to do as it is such a large park, covering 3.4 million acres,  ranking as the largest park in the lower 48.

Know the answer now?

For those who don’t yet know, the next clue is that this place receives less than two inches of rain per year.

Still wondering?

Ok, next clue is that in 2001 this place went 154 consecutive days with a high temperature of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alright, last (big) clue, the give-away, is that the lowest spot in North America is found here at 282 feet below sea level!  Now you’ve got it, right?

Interestingly, that lowest point sits in the shadow of Telescopic Peak at 11,049 feet above sea level.  Quite a contrast.  One of many found throughout this amazing park.

IMG_0021The vast majority of Death Valley National Park is located along the southeastern border of California.  A small section of the park is actually in Nevada’s Amargosa Desert region where we chose Longstreet Inn Casino & RV Park in Aramgosa Valley, NV as our home for three nights during our visit here.  Its only about 35 miles from the Furnace Creek Visitors Center within the park and was adequate, basically a large parking lot that could probably hold a hundred RVs.  We were one of no more than five in the place so it worked out just fine.  (And, in case you are wondering, we did not gamble at all cause we are too cheap!)

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We found this beauty standing in the parking lot at the RV Park…interesting, huh?  Area must be big into diary ranching?

 

The initial ride into the park and to the Furnace Creek Visitors Center was so beautiful.

A pleasant surprise for us.  Much more beautiful than we expected.  Huge mountains of various colors, sand dunes, salt flats, just incredible scenery.

Our discussion with a Park Ranger at the visitors center got us oriented. We chose to go as far into the park as needed to see those things that peaked our interest this first day, hoping to minimize the drive time on the second day’s visit.

The first stop (and it was not easy to drive right past some of these places) was 45 miles away.  I told you this was a big place.  It actually brought us out of the park and back into Nevada just a few miles past the small section of the park located there.

There was a small sign on the left side of NV RT 374 hinting at the entrance to Titus Canyon Road.  Not very noticeable and simply dirt, washboard dirt at that.  You see, the Ranger suggested that we might have some fun with our Jeep if we went off-road for this 27 mile one-way drive through the canyon.  High-clearence vehicles only and one-way because the canyon is so narrow at points that the Jeep barely fit through.  What a blast!

Of course, some yahoo in a (likely, a rental) car thought they could do this too.  We had a good laugh as they went flying by us (we had stopped so Siobhan could get pictures of some flowers) on their way into the canyon.  Only a short distance further, we saw them making mini-K-turns, trying to turn around as it must have finally dawned on them that they were not going to make this trip in a car!

This was our first true off-road experience in the Jeep and it was so much fun!  We got to see places that must others that come to the park just can not get to.  And we got to experience that rush of adrenaline that only occurs on epic adventures. You know, the ones that you commit to at the beginning, wonder why you did that during the adventure as you contemplate your chances of survival and then cant wait to tell all your friends about once you make it back in one piece.  Most of this ride was just a fun experience being out in the backcountry.  A portion of it, however, certainly got our hearts pumping.  The best way to describe this to you is this.  Siobhan was in the passenger seat and we were climbing one of the peaks on the route.  The edge of the road, only a foot or two from Siobhan’s side of the Jeep, had a sheer drop of hundreds of feet to the canyon floor.  I could tell Siobhan was a bit uneasy as she got really quiet and her breathing seemed to stop.  No problem for me as I was feeling very secure in the drivers seat on the inside of the turn with a nice solid rock wall climbing hundreds of feet above me.  When Siobhan let out a loud “ahhhhhhh…..”, I knew she was scared.  When she stomped her feet on the floor and literally stood up inside the Jeep, leaning completely over me trying to get to the drivers side of the Jeep, it was obvious that she was truly afraid.  Her head and shoulders were on my side of the vehicle, she wanted out of that passenger seat.  Can’t say I blame her.  There was a very long drop and from her seat, she could not even see a road.  Lots of decent size rocks to climb around or over, exciting to say the least!  Once we completed the climb and started the decent into the canyon, I got my taste of what Siobhan experienced now that I was on the exposed side of the road most of the time.  Exhilarating. (Limited pics though, both my hands were on the wheel!)

Driving through the canyon was a totally different feeling with the canyon walls stretching high above us as we could practically touch both walls right outside the Jeep windows.  ar above us as we drove through spaces just barely wide enough for us to fit through.  Really cool place.  And that was just the first stop.

The next stop was another 24 miles further down the road to Ubehebe Crater.  This hole in the ground is 600 feet deep and more than half a mile wide.  It resulted from a Maar Volcano created by steam and gas explosions when hot magma rising up from the depths reached ground water causing an explosion.

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The belief is that this crater was created within the last three hundred years.  Awe-insiring view from the edge looking into this crater.  It displays a wide range of colors that hopefully you will be able to see in the pics. And check out the info on the last slide regarding dehydration.  Interesting that we found it in the bathroom at the closed Grapevine Ranger Station, the one located nearest Scotty’s Castle which is closed due to a mud slide that occurred last year.

After 48 miles back toward our starting point of Furnace Creek, we arrived at our third stop for the day, Stovepipe Wells.  This is a very small village within the park that consists of a general store, hotel, cabins, a gas station and a saloon!

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We walked around a bit, shopped in the store for souvenirs and filled up the gas tank before continuing on our way back toward Furnace Creek and the park exit.

Then a quick stop at Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes to observe them before making our final stop of the day at Harmony Borax Works interpretative trail.  I’ll bet many of you remember the 20-mule-team covered wagons that became the symbol of borax soap many years ago.  Well, that advertising slogan was all part of the borax mining efforts here in Death Valley where, at its peak, the Harmony Borax Works employed 40 men who produced three tons of borax daily.  Additionally, back in the day, Death Valley was mined for all kinds of ores including gold, silver, antimony, copper, lead, zinc, and tungsten.  This all started in 1883 and essentially ended around 1915 although some limited mining operations continued through 1994 when Death Valley was established as a national park.

Day two in the park started with a trip back to the Furnace Creek area where you turn onto Badwater Road for the 17 mile drive to the lowest spot in North America, Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level.  Yeah, this is the spot where that 134 degree temp was recorded.  The sun beats down on the white/silvery salt basin all day and the mountains surrounding the basin hold in the heat so it gets steamy quickly.  We walked out quite a ways before reaching our limit and heading back to the Jeep.  On the way, we could see a sign painted on a rock overlooking the parking area indicating where sea level is…pretty interesting perspective.  Maybe you can spot this in one of the following pics.

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On the drive back toward Furnace Creek, we stopped for a short and easy hike to the Natural Bridge.  Only one mile round trip and relatively flat but hot!  Fun to get out into the canyon and stretch our legs after lots of sitting while driving around.

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Next was a drive through a one-way loop named Artists Palette, named for the amazing colors in the various layers of rock formations.  And another hike into another canyon but we are just going to show you pics rather than trying to describe it….

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Our final stop was at Zabriskie Point.  This spot may present the most spectacular view in the entire park and its only a short walk up a paved path.  The view includes Badwater Basin and its surrounding mountains.  Incredible colors that change as the sun slowly moves across the sky.  What a show!

This park was such a pleasant surprise.  So glad we went and had the time to return for a second day.  We are guessing that they won’t all turn out this way but we are more likely to make the effort to see the next park that is “just on the list” after such a wonderful experience here.

ttyl,

K&S

 

Is it the Journey or the Destination?

It had been months since we were awaken by an alarm clock but we had to do it to get up early enough to make the hour drive from Castaic to Oxnard to catch the 8:00 AM ferry to Santa Cruz Island.  We opted to disembark the ferry at Prisoner’s Harbor, the second of two possible landings on Santa Cruz, which added another twenty minutes to the otherwise sixty to ninety minute crossing of the Santa Barbara Channel.  Fine with us!

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What a spectacular place.  According to the crew of the Island Explorer, we were lucky as the channel crossing was quite calm, making the trip magical as the fog banks shrouding the islands gave way to crystal clear blue skies as the sun rose higher in the sky.  The calm waters  also provided multiple opportunities to view dolphins up close and personal.  First, there were bottlenose dolphins, literally hundreds of them, visible to us as they played along side of the ferry.  They seemed to enjoy riding the bow wake and we could see them darting back and forth, to the surface and back underwater again.   So fast!

Then, as we approached our destination of Santa Cruz Island, we spied the even-more-playful (although, perhaps, inappropriately named) common dolphins.  These guys seemed more shy, not willing to come as close to the ferry.  Yet, they still enjoyed launching themselves out of the water and crashing down into the breaking waves from the stern wake.  What a blast and we had yet to reach the islands!

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Oh, right, the islands.  So here are a few fast facts about the Channel Islands National Park:

  • established in 1980, consisting of five of the eight California Channel Islands; Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. In addition to these five islands, the park also includes one mile of the Pacific Ocean surrounding the islands, creating a protected area for marine life as well( no fishing in the waters, no hunting on land);
  • covers 249,500 acres;
  • home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, of which 145 are found nowhere else in the world;
  • park access is via boat or plane.  This makes it one of the least visited parks in the country.

Since we chose to visit the island of Santa Cruz, here are a few quick facts about that specific island:

  • the largest island in the park (and the entire state of California, too), roughly the size of New York’s Staten Island;
  • the western and central portions of this island are privately owned and managed by a Nature Conservancy (76% of the land area of this island) while the eastern end is managed by the National Park Service;
  • there are two landing areas for the concessioner boats, Scorpion Anchorage and Prisoner’s Harbor.

We agreed to join a ranger-led hike from Prisoner’s Harbor to Pelican Bay.  This special experience required that we sign our lives away first, affixing our signatures to a two-page waiver to completely release the Park Service and the Cruise Line from any liability.  Its the kinda thing that makes you think about what you are getting yourself into, right?  The ranger shared a recent story about a scare they had when a seemingly fit middle-aged man had a heart attack while climbing the first ascent out of Prisoner’s Harbor.  Evidently it took some quick thinking, some medical expertise and an evac helicopter to get him off the island and back to the mainland in time to save his life…I’m guessing they wanted to be sure we understood that help was a long, long ways away.  As my friend, Mike, once told me when explaining the risks of white-water kayaking – its all about “self-rescue, bud”!  Anyway, we went along and it was so well worth it!

Prisoner’s Harbor is located at the boundary of the private nature conservancy and the National Park.  It’s a privilege to be allowed into the nature conservancy portion of the island and that can only be done if accompanied by a Park Ranger.  What a special treat!  The hike was strenuous and the very first climb set the tone for the rest of the trip.  Also, with limited time to get to Pelican Bay and back to catch the ferry to the mainland, the ranger set a quick pace to be sure we made the round trip in the time allotted.

You’ve all heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, right?  Well, here you go!

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I told you this hike was strenuous.  Well, this is where the question posed in the title gets answered.  When we hiked out of Prisoner’s Harbor for headed for Pelican Bay, our destination (and my personal goal) was quite clear.  We climbed up a number of hillsides and back down into the following valley multiple times along our journey.  Somewhere along the way, not too far before reaching Pelican Bay, Siobhan decided that she had had enough and wanted to enjoy a relaxing picnic lunch in a shady spot before heading back to the ferry landing for the return trip to the mainland.

Uh-oh, dilemma.  I wanted to reach the destination (Pelican Bay) but did not want to leave Siobhan alone in the middle of nowhere.  Anyone ever heard of cognitive dissonance?  Anyway, after a very brief discussion, I took off to catch up with the rest of the group bound for the destination.  Then, suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around and went back to join Siobhan for that quite picnic lunch she had in mind.  Its only taken 59 years (ok, alright, the better part of 60 – there – I said it) to realize that THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION!  Lunch was wonderful and we enjoyed our more-leisurely-paced trek back to the ferry landing.  The ferry ride back to Oxnard Harbor was enjoyable even though we didn’t see any more wildlife.

Since we were now well-aware of the traffic conditions on the mainland, we decided to cap off a great experience with a visit to seaside bar in Ventura for a massive plate of chicken nachos and a cold one while we waited for the parking lot to gradually convert back to a freeway for the ride back to Castaic.

Best park yet!

ttys,

K&S

City of Angels

Our time in the Los Angeles area started on Monday, May 8, 2017 when we departed San Diego (Escondido, actually) bound for someplace in the Los Angeles area.  Without reservations, we knew we had to be flexible (do you notice a theme here…).  Our interests included touring Hollywood and heading out to the Channel Islands National Park, just off the coast of Oxnard.  From there, we would be heading across California to Death Valley National Park.  So we looked for a place that could serve as a central point and ended up in a smallish town called Castaic, just north of Santa Clarita.  This was not our favorite campground by any stretch but it filled the need of a central place and had full hook-ups which insured A/C.  Not bad without reservations!  We ended up staying there for four nights.

Gotta admit, we were a bit apprehensive about driving the RV right through the belly of the beast, LA rush hour traffic that is, after all the horror stories we’d heard.  Because we got a later start than expected (first time for everything, right…) we were definitely pushing the time limit to get through the city before the dreaded rush hour.  The first part of our drive was stunning as the highway closely followed the inspiring Pacific coastline.  The road conditions, though, left much to be desired.  Hard to imagine how the highway got so bad since this area of the country doesn’t have to deal with winter.  Maybe it’s the earthquakes or the high taxes?  Anyway, as we got closer to downtown, we did get to experience some LA traffic but, luckily, made it through just before the rush hour turned the highway into the daily parking lot.  One local told us that it gets so bad that drivers sometimes get out of their cars to talk to others (didn’t witness this though).

We arrived at Castaic Lake RV park about 4:30PM.  We set up camp and relaxed on Monday afternoon after arriving there.  We dedicated Tuesday to chores and scheduling some places to stay for upcoming stops (which is more challenging than one would expect).  Of course, had to have some fun too so we rode our bikes to Castiac Lake and took the Jeep to explore Castiac Reservoir, another truly spectacular spot.  You can check out the pictures below.  We even took a swim in the campground pool.

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Our next post will be about our really fun touristy tour of Hollywood on Wednesday followed by our Thursday visit to my favorite park so far, the Channel Islands.

Ttyl,

K&S

SoCal

Finally, on May 5th, we crawled (ok, not really, but it kinda felt that way…) out of the desert to experience the Pacific Coast!

We left Joshua Tree in a big hurry to escape the unrelenting sun and extreme heat of the desert bound for the “perfect climate” we expected in sunny San Diego.  We heard that San Diego was almost always between 75 and 85 degrees and sunny.  We couldn’t wait for that weather relief.

Well, things don’t always turn out like you hoped, but, we did get lucky to find a spot for Our Way (the RV) at an RV resort in Escondido, only about 35 minutes north of San Diego.

You see, we’ve learned the hard way that finding any place on Friday for that Friday night is really difficult.  Especially in a very popular area.  So, we paid the high price of about $75/night for full hook-ups and smiled when we pulled in to the resort.  It’s a beautiful place and we got a nice spot at the top of a hill with green grass, shrubs and flowers.  A welcome contrast to the desert spot of the night before, that’s for sure.  But, it was pretty cloudy and cool.  Once we got camp set up, we headed out to explore San Diego and Coronado, an island just across San Diego Harbor.

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We went to Coronado first.  Drove around town to get a sense of the place then stopped in at Hotel Del Coronado right on the Pacific Ocean.  Kinda windy, yet that made for some interesting waves crashing on the beach.  It’s a very old hotel and it’s been used to film many TV series and movies too.  The grounds are meticulously maintained as you can see in the pictures.  Fun place to visit but too chilly this afternoon to stay for long.  We moved on to the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego and chose the “Tin Roof – A Live Music Joint” to start our Cinco de Mayo celebration.  Then it was on to the next gin mill just a few blocks away before heading back to Escondido for the night.

We awoke Saturday to more clouds, temps in the 50’s (only half of what we experienced only a couple of days earlier) and threats of rain.  We’ve learned to be flexible and make the best of every day, no matter the weather so we packed our rain gear and headed to the San Diego Zoo for the day.  I’ll stop there, though, because Siobhan has a post prepared to fill you in on the details.

On Sunday, we decided to take it easy and just relax while catching up on chores (laundry, grocery shopping, paying bills).  It rained on and off all day so it worked out well.  Although we originally planned to depart Escondido on Sunday, we had some business to take care of on Monday morning that required a solid wifi connection.  Since we did not have a reservation  anywhere else, we decided to stay one more night in Escondido to complete our business before heading north.

Guess what happened Monday morning?  The sun came out for the first time in the days!  Absolutely beautiful skies with warming temps.  Perfect, finally.  That afternoon we left for the big city of Los Angeles and we will tell you about our exploits there in the next post.

Ttys,

K&S

Joshua Tree National Park

Welcome to California!

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This was Siobhan’s first visit to California and she was excited to see what it is all about.

Our first stop was Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.  This park covers 792,510 acres (a big place) where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge.  And, as you might expect, it gets hot in the desert, especially in the eastern section of this park located in the Colorado Desert which is below 3,000′ in elevation (might be a bit more relenting in the Mojave Desert section of the park which is all above 3,000′ above sea level).

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As you can see from the picture, triple digit heat is how we were greeted upon our arrival late in the afternoon on 5/4/2017.  In fact, it reached 105 degrees before the temps started to decline.

There is only one campground within this park that we could fit our RV into and it was primitive camping only (no water, no sewer, no electric).  It was the no electric part that really hurt because you can’t run a generator (needed for A/C if there is no electric) after a certain hour (9PM here).  This is one of those rules that we do try to follow just to be considerate of the other campers.  We realize that many of them do not have generators and are there for the peace and tranquility.  So, guess what, it was still over 90 degrees in our RV at 10PM which made for a long and uncomfortable night with little sleep.

So, this place became an “F&L” as our friend Jim would say.  That’s “First & Last” for those who are not aware of the saying.  We were on the road before 7AM, bound for cooler climes and an electric hook-up to ensure we could run our A/C to get a comfortable nights sleep!

Of course, that decision did not put us in a place to comment on this particular National Park.  It might be stunning, maybe not?  One thing we both agreed on though, it was way to hot for us to stick around even one minute longer to find out.  The weather report indicated even higher temps for the next couple of days so we were outta there!

Onward to the Pacific Coast of Southern California…

Ttys,

K&S

Family Visit

Our eldest niece (22 years old), Jennifer, lives in Scottsdale, AZ.  We had made plans with her a couple of weeks earlier and tonight was the night we were scheduled to meet for dinner.  Jenn is working on her Masters degree while interning so she is really busy. And we had not seen her since summer of 2016 so we were really looking forward to it.

We rolled into Tempe mid-afternoon, set up camp in the Apache RV Resort in downtown and got ready for dinner out (yeah!) with Jenn and one of her friends, Cheyenne.  We met at Claim Jumpers in Tempe, a new place for all of us.  It has an interesting and welcoming ambience with friendly people and good food.  We got a chance to catch up with Jenn, enjoyed meeting her friend Cheyenne and shared a few good laughs!

Great visit.  But, Siobhan really wanted to see Jenn’s apartment so we made arrangements to meet her there in the morning before we moved on to our next destination.  Beautiful place.  Since we were close, we checked out the arts district in “Old Scottsdale” too.  Here’s some pics…

Ttyl,

K&S

Saguaro National Park

 

On 4/29/2017 we left Salt Flat, TX and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park bound for Arizona.  Since this leg of the trip would be over 400 miles and we had the time, we decided to split it into two days.  We’ve found that we like to keep the daily driving under 300 miles when we can.  So, after about 200 miles of wind-blown driving, we stopped in Deming, New Mexico to provision and do some free WalMart camping.  After an uneventful night (thankfully) we departed for our first stop in Arizona at Saguaro National Park near Tucson.  We arrived on 4/30/2017 after about four hours of easy highway driving on I-10.

This park is physically split by the city of Tucson.  The eastern portion of the park is referred to as the Rincon Mountain District which is where we stayed at an RV park named Adventure Bound Camping Resorts.  This RV Park was less than 30 minutes from the entrance to Saguaro East and yet still near a residential part of town with plenty of services nearby.  This RV park turned out to be a decent place to spend three nights.  It had a good laundry facility, friendly guests and a fair number of full time residents.  They even had a Tiny House on site!  (Our daughter has a Tiny House so we thought that was cool to see.)

Just after we arrived and set up our camp, we drove over to the visitors center at the park to get the scoop on things to do the next day.  Turns out there is a paved eight mile one-way loop that goes through the desert, providing great views of the Saguaro cactus forest.  We drove the loop that afternoon, found it to be pretty hilly and decided to take our bikes for a spin in the morning when it was a little cooler.  We spoke with a local biker who just happened to be starting the loop when we arrived and he shared the location of a good bike shop in town.  I had somehow gotten two flats on my bike while it was on the bike rack…I’m choosing to believe it was the heat that caused it.  Anyway, we had some fun talking to the people at the bike shop, running the Jeep through the car wash and getting some provisions at the grocery store on our way back to the RV.

The morning bike ride was a blast.  We both got some much needed exercise and really did consider taking a second lap around the loop before giving way to Mother Nature as it was already over 90 degrees at the end of the first lap.  Siobhan did spot three deer grazing off in the distance but that was about it for wildlife on this ride.

The following day we toured through the city of Tucson with the Jeep, doing some errands while on our way to the west side of the park, called the Tucson Mountain District.  To us, the west section of Saguaro National Park did not appear too different than the east section.  Getting there seemed to bring us higher in elevation and we enjoyed seeing the residential neighborhoods built into the side of the mountains.  However, we opted out of a hike that day since the area looked so similar and it was too just hot for us to enjoy another extended hike in the desert.

Now, for some interesting facts from the area that might interest you:

  • this NP is located in the Sonoran Desert which surpasses all other North American deserts in lushness and variety of life yet is still one of the hottest and driest regions on the continent;
  • High temps in the summertime are commonly over 100 degrees;
  • On average, less than 12″ of rain falls here annually;
  • Between the winter and summer “rainy seasons”, it’s not unusual for months to pass without a single drop of rain;
  • Saguaro catci have a lifespan of 175 to 200 years, reach a height of only 12″ after 15 years, begin to flower and produce fruit after 30 years, reach 7′ tall after 50 years, sprout its first branches or “arms” after about 75 years, reach 25′ tall by 100 years and if they survive to 150 years old may be 50′ tall and weigh 16,000 pounds.
  • The Saguaro’s root system is generally only about three inches below the desert floor yet extend as far away from the trunk as it is tall.  This root system is capable of soaking up as much as 200 gallons of water from a single rainfall, enough to sustain that cactus for an entire year.
  • When the Saguaro flowers, it’s blossoms are creamy-white in color, big, bold and numerous, coloring the desert from mid-April through June.  However, each individual blossom opens after sunset in the relative cool of the evening and wilts by the middle of the following day.  This process lasts about four weeks as each cactus produces approximately 100 blossoms during that time.
  • The correct pronunciation of Saguaro is (Su-waar-o) as I was informed at the Visitors Center.

Back at camp, we chilled out a bit and looked forward to our next stop in the Phoenix / Scottsdale area.

Ttys,

K&S