Category Archives: Places I’ve Been

Firefighter (Tracy, California)

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I had a house sitting gig in Tracy, California in late October of last year. I stayed in a comfortable house, watched a lot of Food Network and Cooking Chanel shows, hung out with two adorable little dogs, and worked on my blog and my book.  One morning, I spent a few hours in downtown Tracy.

One of the interesting things I saw downtown was a sculpture of a firefighter on the side of the fire station on Central Avenue.

Firefighter sculpture, Tracy, CA

There wasn’t any information about the artist included with the statue. It wasn’t until I did a Google search and read a 2003 article from the Lodi News-Sentinel that I learned a couple of things about the statue.

The artist who created this piece is Lawrence Noble, “an honorary firefighter with two San Bernardino County fire departments…[who’s] spent the past 15 years of his career specializing in large public sculptures, often of firefighters.”

According to the article, “Tracy reserve firefighter Terry Langley commissioned the sculpture on behalf of his nonprofit group Hometown Heritage…” The statue was originally carved in clay, then cast in bronze.

In the same article, Noble says, “The firefighters of Tracy are very, very lucky, because they’ve never lost someone in the line of duty… “What I chose to portray was just an honest day’s work, and the pride a single firefighter would take in doing the best job he could.”

This firefighter is a working class hero, much like the Toilet Paper Hero of Hoover Dam. I like this guy. If you ever find yourself in Tracy, you can visit him too.

 

Waterfall Comparison

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When I returned to the area where I’d lived and worked the last two camping season (mid May through mid October), we went the long way. We were trying to catch up with The Big Boss Man so I could introduce The Man to him while The Man was freshly shaved and wearing clean clothes. We thought The Big Boss Man would be at the campground where he sleeps, so we took the most direct route there.

In the mountains, even the most direct route is not necessarily so direct. The “direct” route to The Big Boss Man’s campground is twisting, turning, winding–one switchback after another. Even Google Maps says it takes 45 minutes to go 25 miles on that part of the mountain. Because the road is so difficult, I seldom go that way to Babylon.

Going that way did allow us to see a waterfall I’d seen before. In years past, the water flowing over the rocks had been a thin trickle. Still, the falls was exciting because it was right there, right off the road, easy to pull up to and take photos of.

This is the photo I took of the falls in May 2015:

I could tell it had been a wet winter because when we saw the falls in late June 2017, the water was rushing and splasing over the rocks.

Stop the van! The Man yelled, and I did so he could jump out a take a photo of the waterfall. I wasn’t

This photo shows my feet cooling in the pool.

thrilled to be stopped on a curvy mountain road, but he was fast with his photo shoot (and thankfully,

there’s not much traffic on that stretch of highway).

I took my photos a week or so later when we stopped there again (this time in a proper turnout) on our

way to visit a tree. I not only photographed the falls, I stood in the little pool at the bottom. The water was so cold and refreshed not only my feet, but all of me.

This photo from July 2017 shows the difference a season with a good amount of snow can make to a waterfall:

I took the photos in this post.

Free Camping Near Kingman, AZ

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I was making the trip from Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix in early December 2016, and I considered an overnight stop somewhere in between. I got on the Free Campsites website to look for a place and found a listing for a spot on Highway 93 east just before Kingman. The listing didn’t say who administered the land. BLM? Forest Service? Department of Transportation? No clue.

I ended up getting an early start the morning I left Vegas. Even with a stop at the Taco Bell in Boulder City for coffee and breakfast burritos, I was still on target to hit Kingman early in the day. I decided I didn’t really want to boondock just for the sake of boondocking. Besides, I was wide awake from the coffee. I knew I could easily make it all the way to Phoenix well before dark.

However, since I was passing right by the free camping spot, I thought I’d stop there and see how it looked.

Just as I’d seen during my Google Maps research, there is a turn lane with giant arrows leading right to the camping area. It’s the only big turn lane with arrows I noticed that wasn’t either in a town or leading to some business. This turn lane must often make drivers wonder, Where the heck does this go?

When I pulled in, I saw a small sign saying the area is a  Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund Project. I saw no signs saying people couldn’t camp there or park overnight.

According to the Arizona Heritage Alliance web page,

Formed in 1992, the Arizona Heritage Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is guided by a Board of Directors drawn from a broad base of outdoor sports, environmental conservation, and historic preservation organizations that helped pass the 1990 statewide voter initiative creating the Heritage Fund.

Our mission is to preserve and enhance Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural heritage.  We accomplish our mission by actively:

  • Protecting the integrity and voter intent of the Game and Fish Heritage Funds.
  • Monitoring state legislative and agency activity.
  • Pursuing sustainable and dedicated funding sources for Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural initiatives, programs and activities.
  • Educating people of Arizona about the benefits of Arizona’s wildlife, open space, parks and historic and cultural resources.

The area does have a pit toilet in one of those Forest Service style buildings (known as a CXT in the pit toilet business), but I didn’t get out of the van to check on cleanliness and toilet paper availability.

There are no actual campsites in this area. There’s a strip of road to drive on, and it seems people can park their rigs anywhere off the roadway. When I passed through, there was one camper parked to the side of the roadway near the entrance, so yes, people do boondock there.

I don’t remember seeing a water spigot or a trashcan in the area. If I were going to stay in this spot, I would plan to bring water and pack out trash.

This photo shows a view from the camping area.

The area is not super beautiful, but it’s pretty for a desert region right off a highway. Because it is a desert, there aren’t many trees, which means not much shade. This spot would probably be nice in winter, but hot as hell in the summer.

This spot would be good for boondocking if a driver wanted to stop overnight on a trip between Vegas and Phoenix or if someone wanted to explore the Kingman area.

I thought maybe next time I traveled on Highway 93, I’d actually spend the night in this area, but an April 2017 review on the Free Campsites webpage says it is “is soon to be made into day use only.” I’ll check it out next time I pass by, then issue a full report.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

Gone

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We were camping alone a river, or maybe it was a stream or a creek. I’ve been unclear on the difference for years. According to http://www.differencebetween.net/science/nature/difference-between-river-and-creek/,

1. A river is usually bigger than a creek although there are instances that the word creek is used for a larger body of water, depending on the place or country where it is located.
2. Rivers flow in channels and have branches or tributaries while creeks do not.
3. Rivers, especially the very large ones, are important sources of power supply while creeks do not have enough power to be tapped for this purpose.
4. Rivers are a good means of transporting large and heavy objects like logs downstream while creeks are shallow and are too small to allow this.
5. A creek can be formed by water from the sea while a river usually flows out to the sea.

Anyway, we were camping on the bank of a flowing body of water.

This is the flowing body of water next to where we were camping.

Of course, Jerico had his ball. The Man had been tossing it in the direction opposite from the water. The highway was opposite the water, but our campsite was below the road, and there was a driveway area serving as a barrier too. The Man was being careful where he tossed the ball in order to keep Jerico safely in camp.

After he chased and retrieved the ball for a while, Jerico got tired and decided to take a rest on the ground between where The Man and I were sitting. He dropped the ball on the ground there too.

Jerico rested for a while, then got up again and started exploring our campsite. Sometimes when we are out in nature, Jerico can forget about the ball for a while and do regular dog things like sniffing rocks and grass and peeing on trees.

I got up from my chair and went into the van to dig my camera out of my bag. Camera in hand, I walked along the edge of the water, taking photos for future blog posts. As I walked around, I noticed Jerico’s ball was no longer on the ground between the chairs. I figured he had it in his mouth at the moment since sometimes he carries it as he runs around.

I looked over and saw Jerico standing in high green grass at the edge of the water where it makes a turn as it rushes on. The river was still really high from winter snowmelt and spring rain, and it was moving fast. I wouldn’t have felt safe wading out to the middle. Jerico was standing on the edge, looking towards where the water disappeared around the bend. He had a look of concern on his face and no ball in his mouth.

The bend in the river down which Jerico must have watched his ball disappear.

I quickly scanned the area where I’d last seen the ball. Nothing. I looked on the ground all around the camping area. No ball.

I looked over at Jerico. He was looking at me. He glanced back at the water rushing by. He still looked concerned. He also seemed about ready to spring into the current.

I understood in a flash of insight. Jerico had brought the ball over to the water. For some reason only he will ever know (or maybe by accident), he dropped the ball in and watched it float away. Now he was about to jump in after it!

Jerico! No! I called sternly. He looked at me, then back at the water.

I knew if he jumped in, at best we’d have to deal with a cold, wet dog. At worst…well, I didn’t even want to think about it.

Without taking my eyes off the dog, I explained to The Man what I thought had happened. He dropped the ball in the river, I said. He’s about to jump in after it.

Jerico! Come here! The Man commanded.

Jerico looked at The Man, then back at the water. He stared at the water longingly, then slunk over to where The Man and I were.

I thought maybe I was wrong about the ball floating away and maybe it would turn up, but it didn’t. I searched under the bed, hoping a ball had rolled among the plastic tubs and tool boxes stored there, but I didn’t find one. Jerico had to spend the next couple days being a regular dog and not a ball fiend, although he did bring out his stuffed monkey, and we did toss that around a bit for him. I felt a little sorry for him, but the silence of him not bossy barking to get us to throw the ball was a relief. Besides, I didn’t drop the ball in the river; that mistake was on him.

Jerico and his monkey. He loves the monkey, but not nearly as much as he loves the ball.

 

 

 

Free Camping Along the Rio Hondo

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The best free camping in the Taos, New Mexico area is tucked between the Rio Hondo and the Ski Valley Road.

Turn east at the stop light locals call “the Old Blinking Light.” Follow Highway 150 to the village of Arroyo Seco. Pass the Taos Cow (http://www.taoscow.com/) on the right or stop for coffee, sandwiches, or locally made ice cream. Right past Francesca’s Clothing Boutique, follow the road as it curves to the left. Pass the Holy Trinity Catholic Church (http://www.visitseco.com/arroyo_seco_catholic_church.php), then the road will curve to the right. After the post office, the road straightens out. When the choice becomes left, right, or off the mountain, go right. When you start seeing water flowing on the right, you’ll know you’re close.

There are three official campgrounds along the Rio Hondo: Lower Hondo, Cuchilla de Medio, and Italianos. Lower Hondo and Italianos have pit toilets, but I’m not sure about Cuchilla de Medio. When we stayed at Italianos Campground in June 2017, the inside of the toilet was filthy, and no toilet paper was provided. All of thes campgrounds are free, but offer no amenities other than pit toilets and the occassional picnic table. There are no trashcans and no water other than what’s in the river/stream/creek. The stay limit is 14 days within a 45 day period. The camping spots aren’t designated, so don’t look for numbered poles or timbers separating campsites. Just find a place to snug in a vehicle and/or a tent or a camper and leave the roadway open.

Campers who don’t need the pit toilets don’t need to limit themselves to the signed campgrounds. There are camping spots all along the water. Look for driveways going off into the trees and firerings constructed from stones by previous campers.

It’s amazing to me that I can be up in the desert, surrounded by sage and precious little shade, then drive 15 miles and find myself surrounded by tall pines and cottonwoods. Even on the hottest summer day, the Rio Hondo is icy cold. When I’m hot, I tell myself I”m going to strip down to my underwear and stretch out in the water, but in reality, I’ve only ever managed to go in ankle deep. In less than thirty seconds, my bones ache from the cold water, and the rest of me feels cool and refreshed. If I get hot again while I’m there, my feet go back in.

On Saturday afternoon in June, The Man and I were looking for a camping spot along the Rio Hondo. As we drove up toward the Ski Valley, we saw spot after spot taken both in the official campgrounds and in the boondocking areas. I was beginning to lose hope when we saw a poorly maintained dirt driveway leading down to the river. I pulled the van off the road, and we peered through the trees. No one was down there!

I slowly nosed the van down the rutted, potholed driveway. At the bottom of the driveway, we found two stone firerings and a nice, flat area to park the van. We had our own lovely, secluded waterfront campsite.

I took all these photos of the Rio Hondo and my feet in the Rio Hondo.

 

 

Wild Magnolias

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My friends and I were on an epic road trip to see Lou partway home.

Lou was in her car heading to Ohio to decide on her next move. Shortly before we left town, a friend of a friend said he wanted to go to the Midwest too, so Lou had agreed to take him on as a passenger.

Sheff and I and his dog Wednesday were in his car. Sheff did all the driving because I didn’t know how. I read aloud an article about glaciers to keep us both awake during the hottest part of the day.

Our first stop was in New Orleans, where we spent a few days crashing at the home of our sweet friend Kel. If she was surprised by a virtual stranger among us, she didn’t let it interfere with her hospitality.

It was the same with my former neighbor when the four of us went to her apartment for Cajun cooking. Of course, the neighbor had never met any of these friends, so she didn’t know who was close and whom I barely knew.

Our next stop was Mississippi. We spent a night at a state park. As was our habit, we didnt set up tents. Instead, we lay our sleeping bags on tarps and looked up at the stars until we fell asleep. It rained a little in the early morning, and, wanting to stay dry, I scrunched myself into the tiny back seat of Sheff’s compact car.  When I woke up again, the rain had stopped, but my muscles were kinked, and I felt grumpy and disoriented. Sheff handed me a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and suggested I wash my face with it.

Nothing’s so bad that Dr. Bronner’s peppermint and a clean face can’t help, he told me. He was right. It’s a lesson I haven’t forgotten. Dr. Bronner and his peppermint soap have cheered me many times.

We drove for a couple more hours, then stopped for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. The interior of the restaurant was clean and cool, and the food was delicious. Still, I felt sad because I knew when the meal was over, I’d say good-bye to Lou. I had no idea when–or if–I’d see her again.

We parted ways in the parking lot amidst hugs and tears. I didn’t think even Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap could mend the hole in my heart my friend’s absence was already causing.

Sheff and I journeyed on to the De Soto National Forest for a couple days of camping. I’d never been there before. I don’t think Sheff had either.

I wasn’t much of a hiker and backcountry camper (I’m still not), but I was basically along for the ride and willing to join in on whatever Sheff wanted to do. I followed him out into the forest, even though I was wearing a tiny dress and inappropriate shoes.

During our second day of camping, Sheff went on a long hike with his dog, and I chose to stay behind with the tent. Our whole time in the forest seems like a dream now, so many years later. Brief memories of the time flash through my mind when I try to remember those days.

Flash! I’m sitting against a tree, writing in my journal when an armadillo comes crashing into our camp. While we are surprised to see each other, the critter doesn’t seem scared of me and ambles away.

Flash! I’ve taken off my clothes, and I’m stretched out in a shallow, muddy, barely flowing body of water. The cool water feels good on my sweaty skin, but I worry someone will come along and see my nakedness. I slip my dress over my head and go back to camp.

Flash! Sheff is back and making dinner. I’m impressed by the way he can cook on his tiny backpacking stove.

Flash! It’s dark, and we’re all in the tent. Sheff’s in his sleeping bag, and I’m in mine. Wednesday the dog wiggles between us at some time in the night, and I wake to find she’s pushed me until I’m up against the tent’s side wall. Her dirty paws have left sand in my sleeping bag.

What I remember most about the camping trip are the magnolia trees growing wild in the forest. Before that day, I’d only seen magnolias growing in cities and towns. I’d assumed people had planted them. It had never occurred to me that magnolias would grow wild, that magnolias could be a natural part of a forest environment.

Those magnolias are growing just to grow, I marveled. No one planted them here.

I couldn’t stop looking at thse trees, thinking about them. They weren’t there to please people. Those magnolias belonged to themselves and were growing for themselves.

After all these years, I still think of those trees out in the Mississippi forest, growing just to grow.

 

 

The Last Rest Area in New Mexico

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The Man and I were in Las Vegas, NM, and we decided to go to Trinidad, CO. We got on I-25 and headed north.

It was late afternoon by the time we got started, and I was tired of driving well outside of Raton. I knew we had the Raton Pass ahead of us, and I didn’t want to make that mountain crossing in the dark. I’d looked at the map before we left Las Vegas and seen the last rest area in New Mexico on I-25 was less than twenty miles south of Raton. I needed to pee anyway, so I decided to stop at the rest area and check it out.

I knew there was a Wal-Mart in Raton, and we could probably park there overnight. However, I wanted to cook dinner, and I always feel weird cooking in the parking lots of stores. Even if we decided not to spend the night at the rest area, we could certainly cook dinner there. No one tends to blink an eye at people having a picnic at a rest stop.

I pulled into the reast area on the east side of the highway and found a spot to park. I walked briskly to the toilets while The Man took the dog out. The restroom was really clean, with flush toilets and sinks complete with running water for hand washing.

When I went back outside and had a better look around, I realized everything in the rest area was really clean. There was no litter on the ground and no graffitti.

In addition to the building housing the restrooms, there are several covered picnic table there.  The picnic pavillions have low stone walls to block the wind and there are many trees throughout the rest stop, making the area pretty and providing shade.

As I looked around, I saw The Man and the dog in a flat, treeless area at the back of the rest area, so I walked out to meet them. Beyond the flat area were train tracks. As we stood there, we heard a train a comin’. It got closer, and I saw it was an Amtrack.

It’s a people train! I exclaimed. I stood tall and waved vigorously as the train passed. I couldn’t tell if anyone waved back–or if indeed there were passengers on the train–but I had a great time waving and imagining  passengers wondering who I was and why I was there.

We walked back to prepare our dinner of eggs and cheese and onions and zucchini on tortillas. We decided to cook next to the van instead of hauling all our supplies and equipmemt down to one of the picnic pavillions. In minutes, we had a table and our stove set up, and onions were sizzling in our cast iron skillet.

After eating and doing my share of the cleanup, I didn’t want to drive anymore. Let’s stay here tonight, I suggested, and The Man agreed.

While the rest area is developed and well-lit, it seemed better than a Wal-Mart parking lot. Maybe the trees helped. Maybe it wasn’t quite so hot because there wasn’t so much asphalt. Maybe I was just dog tired. In any case, I slept well, despite the idling big rigs parked rigth behind us and the comings and goings of drivers who needed to stretch their legs or take a bathroom break in the middle of the night.

In the morning, I snapped a few photos. I’ve noticed there’s often at least one historic marker at New Mexico rest areas. This stop has a marker with information abouth the nearby Clifton House site. According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifton_House_Site),

The Clifton House was an important overnight stage stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. It was located in Colfax County, New Mexico about six miles south of Raton, New Mexico, on the Canadian River. The site is located at mile marker 344 of U.S. Route 64, just off of exit 446 on Interstate 25.

Tom Stockton, a rancher, built the Clifton House in 1867,[2] using furniture, glass, and shingles that were brought overland from Dodge City, Kansas.

The Clifton House was a stop on the Barlow and Sanderson Stage Line

The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad arrived in Otero, two miles to the north in March 1879, and stage service on the Santa Fe Trail ceased. The Clifton House was quickly abandoned, and the building was destroyed by an arsonist in 1885.

The other side of the marker shows a “Points of Interest” map of the area, and I saw we were quite close to the mountain branch of the Santa Fe  Trail. Neat!

When I finished taking photos, I found The Man and the dog were ready to go. I climbed into the driver’s seat, and we headed to Raton in search of coffee.

Read about the Raton Pass Scenic Overlook here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2017/05/30/raton-pass-scenic-overlook/.

I took all the photos in this post.