Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Odometer. 37748
Trip Miles 0

January 1st 2014

In yesterday's blog I ended by saying that for Joan and for me, 2013 was a very good year.
New years day 2013 found us in Copano Bay RV Park in Rockport, TX.  Both of us retired, and full- timing in our motorhome.  Our goal was (and is still) to travel the USA by the roads less traveled and see this great country of ours.

By late January we departed Rockport where we had been visited by old friends and made many new friends.  We traveled up to Galveston,

 through Louisana at Superbowl/ Mardi Gras time, spent some time in the Gulfport area of Mississippi, 

visited Avery Island and the Mc Ilhenny Tabasco factory, Biloxi, Pascagoula, and on to Gulf Shores, Alabama. 

On February 9th we received the news of the birth of our Grandnephew Tayvin Springstead, born in Salem Oregon to our niece Karon and her husband Todd. 

In February the Gulf climate was not what we would call tropical- or even warm, which kept us moving towards Florida.  By mid February we were in the Big Bend area of Florida, still wearing winter jackets, and seeking manatees at Crystal Springs. 

Still moving and heading south now, we arrived at Fort Meyers, Florida on the 20th of February and met up with tropical climates!

We spent two weeks in Ft Meyers and then headed for the Keys on March 1st- Ohio Key to be exact-
This was to be our biggest indulgence of the year, paying nearly $2000 space rent for a month of pure bliss.  Tropical skies, Tropical temperatures, and swiming in Tropical waters- in the middle of winter!
In April we somehow we tore ourselves away from the Keys and headed north in Florida stopping at Lake Okeechobee, Titusville, and on to St Augustine. 

 From St. Augustine Florida to Charleston, South Carolina we enjoyed visiting the hitoric seaports of the earliest occupation of this continent by persons of European descent.  

For two westerners like Joan and me, buildings dating back to 1565 are astonishing.  Incorporated cities west of the Rocky Mountains were first established in the 1840's- almost 300 years later.  We were enthralled by the history and visual splendor.
In late April Jeff went to Camp Freightliner in Gaffney, SC to learn more about our rolling home.  We arrived in Maryland on April 23rd to stay a week and tour the monuments and the museums of Washington DC.
Believing that it was Spring in the northlands, we naievely headed north and west through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.  We spent a delightful several days in Wheatly, Ontario, Canada with our good friends George and Shona, catching up to them as they returned from Rockport, TX.  

We had our motorhome serviced in Kalamazoo by the excellent Freightliner shop there.  We froze our tookus going even further north in mid May, visiting South Haven, Luddington, Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island,

 Whitefish Point, Sault St. Marie, Musining and the Pictured Rocks.  

By late May we'd had enough cold- we turned the bus south and fled south through Wisconsin to Forest ciy, Iowa- the home of our Winnebago.  We toured the factory and set our sites on the West.  We blew through Minnesota and South Dakota,with rain and cold winds at our heels, not stopping until we got to Mt Rushmore, and Crazy Horse.

We visited with Joan's brother Roger and his wife, Marcia in West Yellowstone.  

Crossed Wyoming and Idaho and entered Oregon again after a 7 month absence.
We still had not decided where we would buy a place that would become our homeport for our travels.  We looked at Medford, and then at Port Orford.  

Port Orford won hands down, and we bought a small house with lake access that we set out to update- a project that would last 3-1/2 months and bring us much satisfaction.
By late November it was time to head south.  We closed up the house, loaded up the bus, and headed first to Salem to see family, and celebrate Thanksgiving.
On the 3rd of December we raised the anchor and sailed south with a cold front right on top of us.  Medford, Corning, Coalinga,

Barstow, Ft Mohave, and finally, here in Ajo.  We didn't break the icy grip of winter until we arrived in Ft Mohave.  After a day of rest in Ft. Mohave we headed south to our favorite place in Arizona- the little  town of Ajo.  This little town refused to die when the Phelps- Dodge copper mine ceased operation in 1987.  Today approximately 3000 people call this home.

Our fellow RVers here at Shadow Ridge RV Park invited us to a New Years Eve bonfire and weiner roast at a nearby desert camp.

The afternoon was lovely until the sun set, and then as you can see, we put on jackets and huddled next to the fire.

Reflections on the year 2013.

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

The Big Blue Rock

Ajo, AZ
Odometer 37,748
December 28, 2013

Joan and I both enjoy taking drives and walks in the desert around here.  We have been told by many friends that two great opportunities to see the sights are Charlie Bell Gap and the Blue Rock.
Yesterday we started out from the RV Park at 1 PM, heading for Charlie Bell.  Our destination was only 18 miles up a dead end road that should take- what- maybe half hour up and half hour back?  Not even close... 
The road started out bad-

And then it got worse...

The last two miles was a boulder strewn path that had us crawling at a snails pace.  Our CRV  doesn't quite have the ground clearance for this track.  If we could have turned around we would have.  We kept telling ourselves- it will get better just around the next corner...

We finally made it to the end of the road!  We discovered a beautiful vista- 
and an emergency beacon which, thankfully we did not need.

Due to the fact that it took 2 hours of carefully picking our way up the trail in low gear, and that it was now 3 PM,  we decided against taking the trail down to Charlie Bell well on the far side of this ridge top.  We found out later that the trail is a mile down hill and three miles back up! ;->)

In stead, we took in the sights and stretched our legs for a few minutes and headed back towards town, arriving back at the RV at 5 PM.  Whew!

December 29, 2013

Today, we thought we'd try a more suitable destination.  This morning, Jeff accepted an invitation from Norman, another RVer in the park to look over several USGS quadrangle maps of the surrounding area.
Norm has been coming to Ajo in the winter for about 14 years, and has driven and hiked just about everywhere.  Norman offered to loan several maps to me for the duration of our stay.  We were interested to know if the mapping system on the iPad works in areas where you do not have a cell signal.  The answer is not really, once the signal is lost the maps don't load anymore- so quad maps, or a true GPS  device are your only option.

We'd heard several of the long timers talk about the big Blue Rock, and suggest we see it.  After lunch, we invited our neighbor, Barb, to drive out to "Blue Rock" with us.  We all loaded up in the CRV and drove the 10 miles south- mostly on good gravel roads.  Using Norman's maps we found it without much trouble.
It really is a very large chunk of copper ore, and there was more in an open seam nearby.
From what we can determine the blue- green color is from malachite, which is a oxidized form of copper.
Many of the yards and driveways around Ajo are bordered with rocks such as these.

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

More Desert Finds

Odometer- 37748 - Camped in Ajo, AZ
Trip meter  0 miles

Monday December 30, 2013

My friend and fellow desert scavenger, Mark Lankford, called to see if I was up for another trip into the Barry M. G Goldwater Gunnery Range north and east of town.  "Absolutely"! said I.

We set off at 10 a.m. and Mark drove us in his Chevy  4 x 4 pickup, as it has better ground clearance than our Honda CRV, and it already has it's "desert stripes" as the locals call the brush scratches down both sides of the body.

We were heading out to an area called "Well that Johnny Dug".  I'm not kidding- it says so on the published maps.  On our way there Mark turned down a side road to the more approapiately named Sloven Well. Both wells are no longer operating, but Sloven Well looks as if it could be resurrected with some work and expense.  It has a Swimming pool sized concrete tank and has a metal well casing.

While we were poking around Sloven Well, we were approached by Lukeville Air Force Security, something that can happen while you are on the range.  The officers checked our permits and then engaged in some pleasant conversation with us.  One of the officers has been on the BMG security team for 12 years! Mark knows all the right questions to ask and he found out that it isn't as difficult to get into the "Hazard Area" around the active range as we thought.  We may get a chance to go into that area soon.

When we arrived at "Well that Johnny Dug", Mark pointed to a 4 foot square of plywood covering a hand-dug hole in the ground.  So impressive I didn't even take any pictures.  We were not here for the well anyway, and continued east to a search area that Mark has been working for several days, looking for an ejection seat and a canopy from a downed F-104G that crashed in 1966.  I spotted some yellow flagging in the mesquite that was outside the search area and we decided to investigate.  We parked the truck about 2-1/2 miles from the crash site and set off on foot following the flagging in a north-easterly direction which looked promising because it could intersect the inbound flight path.  We spaced ourselves about 200 feet apart and headed in the direction the flagging was taking us.  Unfortunately what we found was a section line marker- a rebar pin with a bronze USGS cap on it.  Since we were on the probable flight path, we decided to turn east and follow the path towards the crash site.  We were further out than Mark felt to be reasonable, based on his research- but it couldn't hurt to be thorough.  By 2:30 we had searched to within 1-1/4 miles of the crash site.  We knew this because Mark has a Garmin and he had loaned me one also.  Mark is good about setting waypoints in memory and we could dial in a radial that showed us where we were in relationsip to the crash site at any time.

Mark suggested that we move 200 feet further south and parallel our seach back towards where we had parked the truck.  We had only gone about 1/4 mile when I spotted something way south of me and hailed Mark who was 200 feet north of me.  Mark came over and we put the field glasses on the shiny spot.
Still not conclusive we decided to walk over closer.  As we got closer based on the brilliance of the reflection, we thought we may be seeing the windows of another car or truck parked on the road.  About 50 feet closer we looked with the binoculars again and out hearts started beating faster!  It looked like a piece of curved plexiglas!  Yeah!

 Eureka!  We found the canopy of  the F-104G and the serial number was a match!

The discovery gives us a more exact flight line and should enable us to find the ejection seat- that is unless someone has taken it.  It is rare, but some unscrupulous types will sometimes take objects.  As I've said before, Mark is a purist, and if we pick anything up to look at it, he wants to put it back in the same place, to allow the next finder to have the same experience we just had.

We were now jazzed about searching for the seat, so we set out a seach area, first toward the crash site, then away from it.  Alas the ejection seat, if it still exists, has eluded us once more.  At 4:30 p.m. we were both tired and set a course back to the truck.

On our way out, Mark showed me one more "site" which was no more than this piece of a control surface
in the ditch beside road  #607 (I think).  I said "site" in quotes above because there is nothing else here, and no record of an aircraft going down here.  So what is it from, and how did it get here?  We'll ask the experts at Aircraft Archeology and see if they have anything on it.

As Mark deposits me at the door of our RV he lets me know that we have been gone 7 hours and logged a little over 5 miles on foot, and searched the better part of a square mile.  He will use the GPS tracks and the canopy location and overlay them on his grid map tonight to see if we have left any gaps.  Next time we go out we'll have tightened down on the search area.  Today's find depended on the previous searches that Mark has done on his own- always narrowing the search window.  I was just glad I could be there when the find was made.  Next time we go out, I hope to have pictures of the ejection seat.

Joan had a day to herself, washed the car, shopped for groceries, refilled our driking water bottles at the kiosk, and even made a pan of chocolate brownies!.  We had dinner and watched a movie on TV and turned in for the night.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve.  We count our blessings that this past year has been a dream-come-true.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A visit to the Gunnery Range

Much of the land around Ajo, AZ is in a reservation of some kind.  There is the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, the Organ Pipe National Monument, the Tohono O 'Odam Indian Reservation, and the 2.1 million acre Barry M Goldwater Air Force Range.  Initially established in 1941 by Presidential order, the part closest to Ajo, has had several names and is now called the Ajo- Gilia Bend Aerial and Gunnery Range.

The Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge is actually totally within a little used portion of the BMG Air Force Range.

The range is still active, as as a matter of fact, according to the historians at Luke Airforce Base, all of the F-15E and A-10 pilots and at least half of the F-16 pilots that flew in the Gulf war, were trained here.

While Joan and I were at the Port Orford RV Villiage last summer, we met a fellow RVer Mark Lankford, who coincidently has been coming to Ajo in the winter months for many years.  We made a pact to look each other up this winter while we are both in residence.  Mark has a great love of the desert, and is intrigued with finding artifacts and photographing them.  Mark invited me go with him on an outing today and I jumped at the chance.  

Before civilians can enter the ranges, they must watch an informational video that outlines the dangers that are inherent to not only the range, but also to any desert travel.  After signing all the waivers of liability, the military will issue the applicant a permit.  When you want to enter the range area, you call Security at Luke AFB, and they will log you in (and back out) if the ranges are safe to enter.

Today dawned bright and beautiful, the high temperature forecast to be 64 degrees.  I packed a light lunch and loaded up a day pack with survival gear, and lots of water.

Mark took me to some crash sites he has found over the years.  The first site we visited was about a half mile hike- straight up!  It was an F-100 crash site on the top of a knife edge ridge.

The debris from the crash was strewn all over the hillside, and it was like a scavenger hunt all the way up.  Mark convinced me that it is best to be an observer, and let others that follow have the same excitement of discovery- so we take nothing and leave the pieces we handle- where they were found.

On the way to the next site we found a flare canister and it's parachute.
We may not have seen it if an expired mylar balloon glinting in the sun, hadn't found the same spot to snag up in a bush.  Mark tells me that the desert is where old mylars come to die- according to him they are everywhere.

The last site we visited was a more current F-16 crash site which had the misfortune of being too accessible.  It appeared that most of the wreck had been loaded up and hauled off.  That's not to say that it wasn't fun and interesting.  Mark and I picked through the debris pile that was left, finding shards of aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium, and fiberglas, along with wiring, bits of circuit boards, tiny servo motors.

Neither of these sites was a fatality, courtesy dictates that those sites are off limits to lookie-lou's.

Mark showed me how to use a hand-held GPS to navigate to his known sites and then how to find your way back.  All the roadway based GPS units I have used did not prepare me for the very different  interface on these hand-helds.  I was very glad to have Mark's instructions.

I returned back to the RV at 5 PM after a happy day of traipsing through the beautiful desert.

Your Traveling Friends,

Jeff and Joan

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ajo Architecture

 Odometer 37748
Trip meter 0

December 18, 2013

For a very small desert town (population 3,300) Ajo has some amazing architecture.

Of course the reason behind many of the beautiful buildings here is that this is a mining town laid out and built for the mining company.  There was a purely capitalistic reason for the nice plaza, beautiful school, railroad station, post office, etc. Happy families makes for stable workforce.  Living at a mine site is hard enough, the company sought to soften that a little by having the workers live with their families, and that means making some concessions to the spouses.  
The company made sure there were at least two churches- one catholic and one protestant, so they funded those also.

The architecture is both beautiful and graceful in the spanish style- now if we could just fill all the storefronts.  This once vibrant plaza used to be hopping with activity.

The mine provided rental housing to most of it's workers.  Size and style of the house varied with the workers race and importance.  Yeah I said race.  There was a separate area of town for Mexican workers and for the Native American (Indian) workers.
This is fairly typical of a home provided in the workers housing area of Ajo.  When the mine was closed, most of the housing was sold.
Most of the homes have been extensively remodeled.  Here are some examples of nicely remodeled homes in town.
Joan checks out a stucco wall built around one nicely fixed up house.

Now this house must have been one heck of an extensive remodel

This house (the two culverts are joined together like a habitrail) shows a lot of imagination!

Although it's not technically an Ajo house, this next one is by far our favorite desert house.

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff

Ajo Loop Road

Odometer- Not Moving
Trip meter 0
December 22, 2013

Joan and I invited our neighbor Barb to join us on a short drive to see some of the local sights.  We took the car and drove an 11 mile loop road that roughly circumnavigates the mine on the south side of Ajo.

The recent rain, though very light, was enough perk up a lot of the desert plants, which made this a great time to be out exploring.  The loop road we took was a county maintained gravel road that had many, not so well maintained spurs- and that's were where we had the most fun!

Most of this area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and as such is open to "wild camping".   Anyone who wants can dry camp out here for up to 14 days.

Old  structures are always a magnet that pulls our interest.  We always have to wonder what the enterprise looked like in it's day.

A short distance off the main road was a place called Darby Well.  We decided to check it out and found that  there is a real working water well there.  The wind pump was turning in the breeze, and the pump rod kept a steady trickle of water coursing into this concrete cistern.  A minor miracle in the heart of the desert!

Loved this old maintenance rig parked nearby.  Looks like a '46 Chevrolet with a home made crane on back.

 Not sure it would pass an OSHA inspection, but it sure looked the part for a home made crane.

On our way back into town we rounded a corner to find three wild burrows grazing alongside the road.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Desert Delight

Odometer 37748
Trip meter- 0

Wednesday December 18th

Joan and I are staying put in Ajo, AZ for the time being.  Several of our close friends have asked us why Ajo? and I will have to admit that got us to thinking- what is it that attracts us to this place?
We do like the Sonoran Desert, and no not every desert is the same- they actually have a very different look and character.  
The Sonoran desert is encompassed by the Southeast tip of California the Southwest 1/4 of Arizona, and continues south into Mexico on both sides of the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) The body of water that separates the Baja peninsula from the mainland of Mexico.

What we love about this desert, is that it seems more lush than most, and to us anyway always seems to be framed by magnificent mountain ranges.
There is a great variety of prickly things that grow out in the hills around here, and they all are such beautiful  creations.

Jumping Cholla (aka Chainfruit Cholla)

The Jumping Cholla is very silvery this time of the year, like they just dressed up for Christmas.  From a distance they look almost furry and soft.  No one would make that characterization up close!
Saguaro Cactus

The Saguaros are prominent in the higher elevations of the Sonoran desert.  They look like stately giants standing tall above all the other growth.  The Gila woodpeckers and flickers carve holes in the Saguaro for nests.  Holes that have been abandoned are often inhabited by other species, including the tiny elf owl.
Organ Pipe Cactus

The Organ pipe Cactus is native only to this area of the US and down into northern Mexico.  In the US the cactus is typically only found in, or within 80 miles of, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument .  The OP National Monument occupies 330,000 acres of land between Ajo and the Mexican border. 

The owners of this RV park have a couple donkeys and a burro in a paddock that adjoins the park.  Joan asked the owners if we could feed them some carrots.  The answer was yes- so now we are stocking carrots for our furry friends.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Not the End of the World, but we can see it from here...

Odometer 37748

Hi friends!
Here is a mural we spotted in downtown Ajo today-

Apparently the people of this small town have no problem poking fun at themselves

On a walk today we found a house that looked like a good little fixer for us.  (just kidding :->)

Still our favorite garage of all is this one-

I know I showed you this one last year, but it bears a repeat.

Joan spent the morning writing and addressing our Christmas cards.  

We decided to do two batches, one via snail mail, and another batch via e-mail, to make sure we get one to everyone we don't have physical addresses for.

Jeff spent a good (bad) part of the morning re-stringing the window shade on the dining area window.  For those of you that said "Aha! you did that window shade last year" give yourself a gold star.  One of the plastic bushings that keep the strings from fraying came loose and the aluminum cut through the cord.  No way to just fix one cord- the whole blind has to be competely disassembled, and then re-strung with one new cord (there are a total of four cords)

Last night our little 1500 watt electric heater quit- so Jeff took it apart to see what was going on.  Turns out it was an easy diagnosis, the main power switch was getting too hot and melting?  Jeff searched the web for a replacement switch, but thought why not contact the manufacturer?  He wrote off to Vornado and got an answer back this morning.  They will not send parts, however for $30 to $40 dollars plus shipping, will fix it for me.  It's a 11+ year old heater and I think that is what we paid for it new-  probably won't go that route.

While we were having lunch, I looked up and saw what I thought were a couple of house cats moving through the space next to ours.

I looked again and realized there were two Lynx heading across the road and disappearing into the scrub on the other side.  We were told by the park host, Sandy, that it is not an uncommon sight here. Sandy also told us wild pigs will wander through occasionally.  All this, and a zoo too! - what more could we want?

Joan got out the little 18" Christmas tree we bought in Medford and decorated it all up.

We are looking very festive.
Hope you are all getting in the spirit of the holiday

Warm wishes from the Sonoran Desert

Your Traveling Friends

Joan and Jeff