Category Archives: Places I’ve Been

Seven Magic Mountains

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I first saw Seven Magic Mountains on my way to Las Vegas (NV) in December of 2016. I was heading south on I-15 when to my right, out in the desert…What is that? I wondered.

The Seven Magic Mountains art installation from a distance. I know this photo only really shows six towers, but trust me, there are seven!

In the middle of undeveloped nature rose several bright, multicolored pillars. They rose up from the desert floor, no other signs of humanity near them. What in the world could they be?

By the time I saw the pillars, I would have had to backtrack to visit them, and I hate to backtrack. Besides, I didn’t know if it was possible to visit the pillars or if there was an admission fee. Also, I was excited to get to Vegas and see my friends, so I decided to just keep going.

I tried to describe the pillars to The Poet and The Activist in hopes they could offer some explanation. They’re bright, colorful blocks stacked on each other in the middle of the desert…

My friends knew exactly what I was talking about. It was an art installation called Seven Magic Mountains, they said.

Wow! Large-scale art installations impress me, and this one was so brightly colored. Both the size and the colors of this one were awesome. The bright colors made each block look as if it had been sculpted from Play-Doh, but such an endeavor would have taken a lot of the modeling compound. Even though I hadn’t gotten close to the pillars, it was obvious that each block was huge.

While I was out and about in Vegas, I found a free informational card dedicated to the installation. I picked up the card and learned a few things about Seven Magic Mountains.

The artist responsible for the piece is Ugo Rondionone. On the card, Seven Magic Mountains is described as

a large-scale, site specific public artwork…

made from

This photo shows a closer-up shot of one of the magic mountains.

locally sourced limestone boulders stacked vertically in groups ranging from three to six. Each stone boasts a different fluorescent color; each individual totem stands between 30 and 35 feet high.

The card also gave the dates of display of the installation as May 2016 to May 2018. I felt sad I hadn’t stopped to see the installation when I was passing by. I hadn’t realized the towers would only be there for a specific period of time. I wasn’t going to pass that way when I left Vegas, and I didn’t know when I’d return to Vegas via I-15. I may have missed my only chance to see the art up close.

As luck would have it, I ended up heading to Vegas again in October 2017. As I left Baker, CA and got closer to Vegas, I remembered the bright towers. I texted The Poet and asked her

Are those giant colorful blocks still out in the desert between here and Vegas? If they are, I probably should stop and see them.

She wrote back

yes they r. last I saw. magic mountains something like that

That was enough information to get me there.

Right before exit 12 for NV-161 toward Jean/Goodsprings, I saw a small brown sign simply reading Seven Magic Mountains so I took the exit. When I reached the stop sign, there was a second brown sign, again reading Seven Magic Mountains and pointing to the right. I turned, came to a stop sign, and found no indication of which way I should go. How are visitors supposed to know which way to turn? I guess the sign posters figure if drivers don’t see the art to the right as they approach the exit, they’ll know to turn left at the unsigned intersection. I thought I had maybe missed the art, so I pulled into the casino parking lot and turned on my GPS to get me there.

The Google Maps lady on my phone (I call her Mildred Amsterdam) told me to take a left onto Las Vegas Blvd. I drove about five miles, then saw the colorful blocks on my right. This was it! I was almost there.

Signs along the road warn drivers not to park on the shoulder. There’s a fairly large parking area, just follow the signs to get there.

Once I was parked, I put on my hat, locked up my van, and walked out into the desert toward the art.

First stop was an sign with some information about the installation. These are some of the things I learned:

The artwork extends [the artist’s] long-running interest in natural phenomena and their reformulation in art. Inspired by naturally occurring Hoodoos and balancing rock formations, the stacks also evoke the art of meditative rock balancing.

As I walked closer to the installation, I counted the columns. I only saw six. Wait. What? I thought. This is supposed to be Seven Magic Mountains. Are their only six?

I stopped and counted again. Only six. Then I moved to the right, and the seventh mountain appeared! There are seven columns, but from different perspectives some of the columns line up and only six of them are visible at once. Ah, the artist was playing with the viewers. Fun!

This photo shows all seven of the magic mountains, plus the bonus natural mountains in the distance. Notice the size of the human visitors in relation to the limestone boulders.

The desert floor was almost empty as I approached the art. Only small, scrubby bushes grow in the area. I guess venomous snakes are an issue because there were a couple of signs warning visitors to watch out for them. I didn’t want to end up like my friend who was bitten by a rattler, so I was careful where I put my feet.

It was really cool to walk among the totems. I enjoyed looking up at them and seeing the bright colors against the blue sky. Everyone out there seemed to be having a good time.

The pillars are totally incongruous and also totally right. The colors stand out against the earth tones of the desert environment, but the size of the columns fit in the wide-openness of the desert. Their scale is just right. I guess Ugo Rondinone knew what he was doing when he decided to put the bright boulders out there.

That’s me in the hat, looking up and up and up and up.

I took all the photos in this post, except for this last one, which was taken by a very nice visitor lady. The older woman who was with the nice lady who took my photo said this was all very “interesting.”

Nobe Young Waterfall

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Nobe Young waterfall is tucked away off the Western Divide Highway (also known as Mountain 107) in Tulare County, California. It shows up on maps of the area, but there’s no sign marking its location. If you want to see it, you might need to ask a local, or you can use this blog post to find your way.

Who was Nobe Young and why is there a creek and waterfall named after him? I have no idea on either count. When I did a Google search, I found no information online about Nobe Young the person. I’m not even sure how to say the first part of the name. Some locals rhyme it with “probe,” while others rhyme it with “adobe.” I don’t know who’s correct.

From the junction of Mountain 50 and the Western Divide Highway, turn left toward the Trail of 100 Giants. Pass the trail’s entrance and the nearby campgrounds. About three miles after the trailhead, look for three tires placed as a landmark in a big turnout on the right side of the road. The tires are immediately before an unmarked road to Last Chance Meadow. (This unmarked road is a shortcut to Lloyd Meadow Road.) From the turnout with the tires, go 9/10 of a mile. Look for another big turn out with boulders to the right and a big log well to the left. Just beyond the middle of the turnout, the land rises in a gentle slope. Park in this big turnout.

Walk to the left, toward the big log and find the trail. Walk 10 or 15 minutes on the trail. The first part of the hike is flat and easy, but the downhill part of the trail is somewhat steep. When I visited, I was glad The Man had reminded me to carry my walking stick. I was also glad for my closed-toe Keens. I wouldn’t want to walk that trail while wearing flip flops.

Very soon after we started out on the hike, I thought I heard the sound of water flowing. The Man contended we were hearing the sound of wind through the pines. I’m not sure who was right. Maybe we were hearing a combination of wind and water.

Seeing the waterfall was worth the hike, even the steep part. The drop in temperature was delightful, as was the moisture in the air. The Man called the falls “Native American air conditioning.” The falls were lovely, with water cascading down boulders at different levels. Bright green grass grew at the base of some of the rocks, and the water splashed as it fell.

I’ve heard it’s possible to walk behind the waterfall; there’s talk of a cave back there too. I didn’t try any fancy exploring. I did climb up onto one of the huge boulders in front of the falls for a photo opportunity and found the wet rock rather slippery. I’m in big trouble if I break a bone or hurt myself in some way that makes working for money impossible, so I carefully got off the boulder and stayed off the treacherous wet rocks.

We followed the water down the rocks to a small pool. The water in the pool wasn’t deep enough to swim in or even for an adult to submerge in, but it was plenty deep enough for wading. The Man and I took off our shoes and socks and stood in the pool. Yowza! The water was cold (although not as cold as the water in the Rio Hondo earlier in the year). I’d joked about taking off all my clothes and lying down in the water, but I wasn’t nearly hot enough to do such a thing.

We’d come down, so we knew we’d have to climb back up. After our feet dried, we put on our socks and shoes and started up the trail. I was really glad for my walking stick on the way up. I struggled a couple of times, but I made it safely back to the van with no injuries.

It was a wonderful afternoon of exploration. With a picnic lunch, I could have spent half a day out there, but it’s also possible to make it a quick half hour or 45 minute trip.

I made a short video of the falls, which I like because it lets me see and hear the water splashing down the rocks. The sound of water flowing is so comforting to me. I wish I could sleep next to Nobe Young waterfall (or at least the sound of it) every night.

I took all the photos in this post and made the video too.

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.