Archive for November, 2010

Leaving the Iron King rail to trail, we turned north intending to drive through Death Valley National Park on the way back to Oregon.  We also wanted to drive over the new bridge spanning the Colorado River at Hoover Dam.  Our interest in Death Valley had been piqued by friends who visited there and described the valley as an intriguing and unique natural resource.  It was even more impressive than I had expected.  Some things you just have to see to believe.  The complexity and beauty of Death Vally can be so difficult to describe.

Heading north from Prescott, we crossed into Nevada over the new Hoover Dam Bypass bridge.  More info about the bridge:  http://www.hooverdambypass.org/purpose_overview.htm   It was disappointing because of heavy traffic and essentially no good view or place to stop for pictures without risking traffic chaos.  We saw one exit for tourists and picture taking, but it was stuffed full.  There is a hike from a casino parking lot just over the Nevada border I would have liked to have taken but Matt was in no mood by then.  It looked like it could have some spectacular views, but it was just too late in the day to check it out. 

Skirting the south and west flank of Las Vegas in rush hour traffic, we discovered Lovell Canyon in Springs Mountain National Recreational Area only 30 or 40 miles west of Vegas. http://www.sunsetcities.com/lovell-canyon.html   We spent an amazingly peaceful and quiet night just a couple miles from Hwy 160, gazing at the Springs Mountains while eating dinner and then at the brilliant stars after nightfall.  There are no facilities in Lovell Canyon; you just pick out a level spot with a view and claim it as yours (and hope for no motorcylce gangs or other Las Vegas area weirdos). 

Death Valley:barren landscape to the horizon

Death Valley:hard even to walk in this soft sand

Next day we drove hwy 190 through the Death  and Panamint Valleys, and then along hwy 395 and the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas to Hwy 50.  Matt was extremely generous and patient with many stops to take pictures as I became increasingly fascinated with the desert vegetation, the challenges of trying to capture the barren isolation of Death Valley, the colorful topography of Panamint Valley and the towering immensity of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Death Valley:no easier to walk here

Wikipedia has great info on Death Valley NP:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_Valley_National_Park

The overwhelming impression of Death Valley for me is that nature here is oblivious to our human sense of self-importance.  This dangerous environment is one we should enter with forethought, because nothing else out there cares if we live or die through our own arrogance, stupidity or bad luck.  I like that. 

approaching panamint valley, hwy 190

overlooking panamint valley

Highway 190 cuts across Panamint Valley which is separated from Death Valley by the Panamint Mountains.  The northern part of Panamint Valley is included in the Death Valley National Park.  The smaller Pamamint valley is 65 miles long but only 7 miles at its widest point.  Panamint mountains are incredibly colorful with a very ancient carved and sharp featured appearance.

Panamint Mtns:so much color and texture

beautiful mountains all the way to the horizon:Sierra Nevadas

Sierra Nevadas, Lone Pine,CA:alpine majesty-breathtaking

After crossing the Panamint Valley, we headed north to Lone Pine and hwy 395- approaching and then paralleling the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west.  Highway 395 would take us almost all the way to hwy 50 where we intended to cross the Sierras to Interstate 5.  The drive is an unforgettable feast for the eyes and spirit. 

Lone Pine, the first real town north of the junction of 190 and 395 is a small but quite adorable town with the Sierra Nevadas as a backyard.  Very alpine!  Big Pine is the next town on 395- it looks like a tourist trap. Then comes the “big” town of  Bishop, California.  Biship is-well-Bishop.

I had a lot of fun this trip taking pictures of desert vegetation.  Lots of familiar cacti and some plants new to me.  Here’s a brief sampling:

makes you pay attention when walking

yuccas, Lovell Canyon

If you know this one let me know (answer next blog)


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Fuji and us about to begin our journey

As the weather in Oretgon started to deteriorate this fall, I decided a trip to Arizona would be just the thing- and I found the perfect excuse.   I volunteered to deliver a Pug dog to his owner, now living in Alamagordo, New Mexico, since New Mexico is right  next door to Arizona.   Fuji, the Pug, turned out to be a lovely traveling companion.  His preferred traveling position was front and center in my lap.  He had his own center platform complete with doggy bed, but it was clearly second best for him. 

Fuji's perch in Ruby Slipper


His sleeping position at night was a bit more difficult as he felt he could only sleep plastered next to me, wrapped up in my sleeping bag.  I found him adorable even at night; Matt was less amused.  We made the trip to NM in record time, reuniting Fuji with his owner;  then drifted on to Tucson, AZ to regroup with our dear friend, Susie.

sunset in Tucson

Susie’s home in the Catalina foothills above Tucson has a panaramic view of the City as well as three mountain ranges and stunning sunsets.  What a fabulous setting!  We could hear coyotes on the next ridge over as we watched the sun go down.  The next morning we encountered a family of javelinas while strolling between the saguaro cacti behind her house. 

huge barrel cactus and several saguaros


We watched a Cooper’s hawk patrol his territory around her hillside.  We are always treated like royalty when we visit with lots of food, drink and good conversation.  No wonder I love to go to Arizona!

With all the food and wine we were consuming, we were badly in need of some exercise.  We tried out Tucson’s very nice, mostly paved city bike trail that travels the north edge of The Rillito River.   The ride is flat with a dry wash below you on one side and a mix of old and new construction to peruse on the other side.  It’s very much a city ride, but safe and easy.  It felt good to be on wheels again.  Right next to the bike path, we entered a Sunday open market that was delightfully full of vendors, locals and tourists.  Fresh fruits and veggies, chips and salsa, music, artwork- all under a clear sunny sky.

After leaving Tucson, we headed north, finding a marvelous Rail to Trail to share. 

it makes you wonder

 The Iron King and Peavine Rails to Trails actually converge from separate starting points into one terminus.  They are located in the Prescott Valley and travel through some of the most spectacular granite rock bluffs and outcroppings I’ve ever seen.  We started at the east end of Iron King off Glassford Hill Road, in the town of Prescott Valley.  Iron King ends in 4 miles at Peavine Rail to Trail near a place called “point of rocks.”  Point of rocks was the location of the railroad terminal buildings.   To the left, Peavine continues to a terminus at the south end of Watson Lake, ~4 more miles.  That was our end destination.  We then turned around and returned to our starting point.  Peavine ‘s other  terminus is about 1 mile from the point of rocks Iron King-Peavine junction, near hwy 89, north of Prescott.   We scouted that section, but it stretched across rather flat dry prairie scenery that was no match for the rest of the trail, so we returned to the junction.

We first entered the Iron King via an underpass that avoids crossing a busy highway.  Because of a recent rain, the underpass concrete surface was muddy and slick, but we made it without mishap.   (We continually congratulate ourselves for buying fat tire trail bikes for these excursions.)   Courtesy mandates that we wait for a horse and rider to walk their way through the underpass before proceeding so as not to spook the horse.  These rail to trails are shared by bicyclists, horseback riders, walkers and runners.

At the risk of boring you with multiple vacation photos, I just couldn’t begin to select the most appropriate pictures.  Trying to illuminate the awesome topography in a few snapshots is a fool’s task.  You simply must see this place for yourself.  It’s easy to get to and so worth the effort. 

matt approaching the entrance to Granite Dells


magnify this and you'll see a hiker sitting on top

After a couple miles of rolling rangeland, punctuated by old railroad cars at the mile markers, the trail enters a granite rock wonderland, the Granite Dells.  Riding between granite boulders, outcroppings and bluffs, the landscape is overwhelming.  One hiker passed us with a backpack on and running.    We saw him a few minutes later on top of the highest bluff in the area.  Talk about an ironman!  I wanted to try to find his path up the bluff, but we were not equipped to hike in desert and rock (no boots). 

A couple miles farther on, the junction with Peavine is marked by an informative history marker.  Turn right and Peavine leaves the granite boulders and courses across sweeping broad rangelands to its terminus.  Continue straight as we did, and you soon come to Watson Lake.  A stunning vista of blue-green water, towering granite bluffs and partially submerged granite boulder “islands” fills one with wonder and awe.  It’s also a perfect spot to pause for lunch.  The trail ends at the south end of Watson Lake, jarringly so, next to a major highway.  We did meet a few walkers and bikers around Watson Lake area but most of the time we had the trail to ourselves.

railway car at mile 1


rock pile Granite Dells

oasis-I'm looking for cougar

point of rocks

this lake is unbelievable-Watson Lake

dreams are made of this


A brisk wind came up by afternoon; fortunately it was behind us for the ride back.  My adventurous husband thought we should try one of the many single track trails that branch from the main route through the granite rocks to the lake shoreline. 

side trails are for walking


these are the easy parts!


The experience once again confirmed that we are not single track contenders.  We walked our bikes over and through the boulders.  I don’t see how people can ride bikes through that terrain! 

nice trestle bridge

The main rail to trail route is hard packed dirt and easily travelled by hybrids and trail bikes.  Skinny tires would have a pretty rough time of it.  Once we got to Granite Dells,  I could have spent hours just hiking/walking over and through the granite boulders and along the water’s edge. 

 The history of Granite Dells was fascinating as depicted by the trailside sign.  One can only wonder why these fabulous areas lose their appeal.  I suspect they don’t but somebody makes more money selling them to the privileged wealthy.  A few lucky people live among the boulders and bluffs.   The rest of us can only gaze and dream. 

historical granite dells

go for campsite 18


We discovered a beautiful, quiet national forest campground for our after trail evening: Yavapai campground in Prescott National Forest, 8.5 miles from Prescott.  Campsites are nestled between slick rock boulders and scrubby trees, offering both privacy and stunning views.  Made me wish I was considerably younger as the boulders were nearly irresistible climbing surfaces.  I settled for the wine and the pleasures of a lingering sunset. 

life at campsite 18


I did fall in love with Arizona and its beautiful dramatic landscapes all over again; just as I did the first time I visited 30+ years ago.  Of course the weather was perfect: all sunshine and temps in high 60s to low 70s.  What’s not to like?!?

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