We don’t choose the road we travel, the road chooses us

Posted by | Filed under Kansas, Nebraska | Jun 15, 2011 | Comments Off on We don’t choose the road we travel, the road chooses us

Well, at least some times. Let me explain. Before I left Joplin I had mapped out a route to Laurence, Kansas where I was visiting a friend. The idea was to head straight west out of Joplin into Kansas where I would head north on highway 59. I have no idea what possessed me or why I changed my mind as I was already sitting in the truck and was ready to go. I just said: “I would like to spend a little more time in Missouri.” So instead of heading west, I went 60 miles north and then west on hwy 54 towards Fort Scott, Kansas.

Restored historic Fort Scott

I was already in the turning lane when something struck my eye and I decided to check out Fort Scott instead of bypassing it. I had not researched the place nor had I ever heard of it. Was I in for a treat! I am not a big history buff, especially when it comes to the American War and the Civil War. I am much more interested in the architecture of the town. The town of Fort Scott has done a great job restoring its old buildings from the mid / late 1800s. I don’t think that I have seen many small towns which managed to revitalize their historic district like Fort Scott. I even felt like doing a little shopping, not one of my favorite pastimes. I stopped in at the life+style kitchen supply / cooking store on Main Street. I bought some wonderful oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies, yummy and asked one of the ladies working in the store what I need to see given that I only had 15 minutes. Cynthia said that I had to see the Twin Mansions just a few blocks down the road. She picked up the phone and called the owner of the Twins, now a Bed & Breakfast place (www.LyonsTwinMansions.com), to find out if she had time to show me the home. The funny thing was that Cynthia first misdialed the number for the Twins, but still knew the person at the other end by name, it is a small town. I was in luck, Pat the B & B owner had time and she gave me a full tour of one of the twins built by a banker back in the 1870s. Beautiful woodwork, high ceilings, just what you would expect of a

Lyons Twin Mansions Bed & Breakfast

grand Victorian house. If I hadn’t already told my friend that I was coming that day (I had originally planned on being there by Memorial Day) I would have spent the rest of the day exploring Fort Scott. Hopefully, there will be a next time. You just never know what happens when you don’t stick with your plans.
I am skipping over my visit at my friend’s place, the beautiful Flint Hill area and the rest of my stay in Kansas for the time being.
About 14 years ago I spent the night in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was on a business trip driving a big van from Los Angeles to Chicago. You can tell I like to drive. I remember that I liked Lincoln, I didn’t really know why, it was one of those feeling you get when you enter a town. Now that I was back in Nebraska I wanted to check out the place more closely. I didn’t recognize anything and I didn’t have this immediate, “I really like this place” feeling either. Lincoln has grown by leaps and bounds since I visited last (1997 pop. 211,000 / 2010 – 258,000). I would call it a big small city, State capital and home of the University of Nebraska. I spent the morning hours driving around town and I liked what I saw. The old manufacturing buildings of the Haymarket had been converted to shops, restaurants and bars. The commercial main streets were busy, but the residential neighborhoods were nice and quiet. Several parks and tree lined streets. People, mainly students, were biking everywhere, a rare sight in a large American city. It is also a walkable city, to some extend. Would I move here, I don’t know. I saw a sign for a 750 sq. ft. one bedroom apartment for $425, don’t know what the wages are like, but you can’t even get a garage parking spot for that kind of money in New York City.

The Haymarket - Lincoln

Lincoln has a variety of ethnic grocery stores, thanks to a diverse population, a big plus. However, fresh fish is hard to get in the middle of the country. I had dinner at the Capital City Grill and I ordered tuna, again. This time it was prepared the way it should be, but I could tell the fish had been frozen. There is just nothing better than nice fresh fish. I can’t wait to go to one of my favorite seafood restaurants in NYC, Ocean Grill, and order some crab cakes.
I am getting a little off track, sorry. I didn’t want to spend another night in Lincoln and was loading my camper back onto the

Sunken Gardens - Lincoln

truck when I noticed that one of the turning signals on the camper wasn’t working. It was a wiring problem and a broken bulb. It took me a bit to fix both. The signal works, but I still get a fault message in the truck, not good. Of course when it rains it pours. My inflator for the airbags, additional support for the rear suspension, did not work. It worked just fine yesterday. I can’t really drive safely with a heavy load (last weigh-in 11,000 lbs.!!!) without inflated airbags. Fortunately, a fellow camper had a compressor and inflated the bags. At this point it was three o’clock and my mood was not so rosy any more. Bare with me, I am getting to the point.
Once again, I had picked a route before all this happened, but guess what, I didn’t stick with it. Since I left Nevada, I have gotten more comfortable with camping outside of regular campgrounds, i.e. parking lots or streets; the big plus: no charge, the disadvantage: no hook-ups. But with increasing temperatures I am less dependent on electricity since my solar panel charges my batteries. I just have to find a place to dump gray and black water every couple of days. As I was driving along, I started to fade, four o’clock energy lull. All I was thinking of was asking a farmer if I could stay on his land for the night. Just north of Prague, really, was a sign for a recreational area at a lake, I missed the first turn off, put managed to pull into the second one. To my delight it was a very small campground, only 8 or 9 sites, no hook-ups, a beautiful quiet setting and NO charge. There are only few campgrounds where you can stay for free, some even with hook-ups. It might be difficult for you city rats to get excited about campgrounds and hook-ups, but if you have been on the road for as long as I have (today 15 months!), this is gold. There is only one other guy here with his truck and boat, should be a quiet night at the Czechland Lake. Thank you Mother Road!

I received this e-mail today from Joplin and I would like to pass it on to everyone.

The AmeriCorps groups here currently need more volunteers to help us with debris removal, home deconstruction, data entry, call center support, and warehouse support. If you are able to volunteer again, or come for the first time we would greatly appreciate it.

Please contact the volunteer hotline if you have: heavy machinery, want to schedule a group, or want to volunteer as an individual. The number is available from 9am-5pm. Volunteer hotline is: 417-625-3543. Walk-ins are always welcomed just go to the MSSU football field to check in.

The different faces of Joplin

Posted by | Filed under Missouri | Jun 13, 2011 | Comments Off on The different faces of Joplin

My time in Joplin has come to an end (June 5). After ten days, eight in the field, of volunteering my body is exhausted and it is time for me to move on. The heat and humidity (60%) down here have been quite oppressive; 94 F in the shade if you can find any. With the trees gone and the houses flattened shade is a commodity hard to come by.

Yours truly totally exhausted

On Saturday I called it a day after working for four hours in the heat picking up debris. Debris = 2×4 beams, roofing materials, sheet rock – most of the time soaking wet (the day after the tornado Joplin was hit by a thunderstorm), fiberglass insulation (gets all over your skin and itches like hell), siding, building walls, basically anything you use in the construction of a house either in small pieces or big chunks or even whole walls, tree trunks and branches, personal belongings. All that gets separated into piles; tree stuff, home building materials and metal are the big ones. Trees/branches are supposed to get mulched, home building stuff ends up in the landfill or gets burnt and metal will be recycled. Any personal belongings we find are set aside for the homeowner to decide if (s)he wants to keep it or not. Unfortunately, we never knew if what we found actually belonged to the people who lived in that house or if it belonged to their neighbors near and far. By the time I left Joplin garbage trucks started to remove some of the debris piles. I believe this will make a big difference and show that progress is being made. However, it will be awhile before the rebuilding can begin.
Volunteers were taken by school bus to the various clean-up areas and over and over again I could hear the first time volunteers say: “this is not what you see on TV” and “this looks so much worse in person”.

Overlooking the devasted area near 20th Street

As I mentioned in my previous post, I stayed 20 + miles east of town in the countryside. A beautiful location, but the drive “home” was too much at the end of the day. Just by chance the lady at the University bookstore offered me to stay in their driveway five minutes away, lucky me. Mary Kathryn and Tom live right at the edge of the destruction. Fortunately, their house was not damaged and they only lost one tree. From their driveway you can see the start of the devastation across the street. Thank you Mary Kathryn and Tom for letting me stay at your place and for having me “over” for dinner.

Tom, Mary Kathryn and me

I have worked with some great volunteers. I am always impressed when I hear from how far away they came or that they are sleeping in their cars in the university parking lot. One young kid lost his job in Wisconsin, took all his money to drive down here and is sleeping in a small tent on the university campus lawn. He got poison ivy all over his legs, stepped on a rusty nail and he still plans on staying here as long as it takes. That’s what I call dedication. The university didn’t object to the handful of tents on their lawn, but they didn’t spread the word about bathroom facilities. It took awhile to figure out where on campus the not so official showers and flush toilets were located. Even though I have a shower in my camper, I didn’t want to even drive a mile after a day out in the field without having showered beforehand. My skin was covered in grime; my arms itched from the fiberglass, never mind the overall sweatiness. On my second day I wore shorts, but quickly realized that jeans, even though much warmer, do a better job protecting my legs from the itching fiberglass.
One of the days I didn’t work in the field, I helped out at a donation warehouse. People had dropped off loads of clothing, food and toiletries. All that needed to be sorted and organized. Did you know there is organic herbed chicken with pasta BABY food in a jar? Why?? Anyway, Joplin residents who had been displaced would come to these warehouse locations and pick-up what they needed for the moment. It is hard to comprehend to have to start at zero. Even harder to comprehend is how some people take advantage of these bleak situations. We had to cross-out the barcodes on all new items we received because word had gotten out that some people were re-selling these items. Hopefully these were only isolated instances.
I spent the last day of my volunteering duties doing some data entry. After spending days in the heat moving and lifting heavy stuff I figured I’ll give my body a break and sit in front of a computer in an air-conditioned room instead. All those hours the volunteers put in need to be logged.

Historic Main Street

The tornado destroyed about 30% of Joplin; however, you can drive around town and never know what happened. People in the unaffected areas, even if they are only a block away from destroyed homes, go on with life as usual. It was odd to see people mowing their laws and trimming the edges.

B & B Victorian home

I had planned on visiting Joplin long before this disaster happened and so I decided to play tourist for an afternoon after work. I drove to the old / historic downtown. Joplin used to be a zinc mining town in the early 1900s and many of the old merchant buildings along Main Street are still standing. A little to the west of Main Street is a residential area with several very nice Victorian homes. None of this was touched by the tornado.

The number of volunteers that sign up and go out into the field under AmeriCorps’ organization has dwindled. On Sunday only a couple of hundred went out into the field for debris removal versus thousands last weekend. Let’s hope that people will continue to come out as long as they are needed.

Wow, volunteers everywhere

Posted by | Filed under Missouri | May 30, 2011 | 2 Comments

I have now been in Joplin for four days and I am still amazed and excited about the continued outpouring of volunteers. Today I worked with three folks from Chicago; Larry, Jack and Lauren. They drove through the night to get to Joplin to help for the next three days. They are not the only ones that have come a long way; two young women drove 15 hours from northwestern Pennsylvania to help. It goes on and on like this. People have come from near and far. AmeriCorps is organizing the volunteers and they are doing a great job. A lot of young people have come out, but you can find people of all ages, even kids who come with their parents. It is an amazing effort to clean-up Joplin. In addition to the thousands of volunteers picking-up debris and cutting down trees you have hundreds of people preparing food for the people displaced as well as for the volunteers. People drive down the streets handing out cold drinks and sandwiches. It is so inspiring that even though I am exhausting, I have a hard time going to sleep at night. I feel guilty sleeping in just a bit when I hear how long people drove to get here. I have yet to hear someone say a bad word about anything, except about the looters earlier in the week. What kind of person steals from someone who just lost everything?

Hard working volunteers Lauren, Larry and Jack from Chicago in front of a cleaned-up house

The other day I dropped of two boys who were looking for a place for the night at a church. When I saw the large parking lot I figured I could ask if I could park there overnight. I spoke with Kelly at the church and she wasn’t sure if I could, however, I was more than welcome to stay on their property, I could even plug into their electric. She and her husband David live 20 miles east of Joplin. It seems to be in a different world. Hay fields, cows, frogs and crickets. Just the kind of beautiful scenery one needs after spending the day in rubble. Everyone has been very helpful, except the owners of my first campground who were not willing to give any kind of discount.
The magnitude of this disaster is hard to comprehend. The tornado tore up an area one mile wide and six miles long, that’s a whole lot of destroyed homes.

Recovery Joplin – the right thing to do

Posted by | Filed under Missouri | May 27, 2011 | Comments Off on Recovery Joplin – the right thing to do

I had planned on visiting Joplin on my last road trip back in 2007, but did not have enough time. This time Joplin again was on my itinerary. I just didn’t think I would be here under these circumstances. I was in northwestern Arkansas last Sunday when the tornado destroyed parts of Joplin. The news was grim and information about volunteering was not very straight forward in the beginning. I felt the need to do something and so I decided to drive the short drive from Arkansas to Joplin and to help out in any way, shape or form I could.
I had called the volunteer hotline (417.625-3543) to confirm that they needed basic laborer. I was told to come to the Missouri Southern States University Recreation Center on 3950 Newman Road to sign up. I found a campground only ten miles east of Joplin and was all set.
I arrived early afternoon on Friday and I was greeted by a heavy thunderstorm, lightning bolts shooting straight down from the skies. Fortunately, the storm was short lived.

E. 24th Street and Kansas Avenue

I didn’t know how I would react to so much devastation. I don’t have TV and I only heard the news reports on the radio and saw some photos on the internet. If you would only drive past Joplin on I-44 you wouldn’t even know that anything happened to the town. Many of the main drags are unharmed. It isn’t until you get west of highway 71 between E. 26th Street and E. 7th Street that you really get to see the devastation. That’s where the brunt of the tornado hit and destroyed home after home after home. A lot of trees were down, but it was really weird to see trees standing with absolutely no leaves left on them.

E. 24th Street and Kansas Avenue

After I filled out some basic paperwork a small group of volunteers and I where taken to Kansas Avenue. Our job was to clear the front yard of a home of building debris and fallen trees. I worked alongside a group of firefighters from St. Louis who had brought their chain saws and some women who didn’t even have gloves to pick-up the debris. There are a lot of people here who just want to help and there is plenty of work to be done.

E. 24th Street and Wisconsin Avenue

I am not sure how long I’ll stay, maybe a week, maybe longer, I don’t know yet.
I’ll try to blog while I am here, but given my track record and the circumstances, I don’t know how often that will be. I am taking some photos while I am out cleaning up, but my main focus is to clean-up.

Looters stay out!

I don’t believe in horoscopes, the one below is mine for today. It could not have been any more fitting.

“Today you might face a task that seems as workable as emptying the ocean with a teacup. But with help from others, you will not only be able to handle it but also produce exceptional results. Physically, you’re likely to feel full of strength and stamina, ready to move mountains. Don’t be too surprised if you actually manage to budge a few!”

Tornado warning

Posted by | Filed under Arkansas | May 22, 2011 | Comments Off on Tornado warning

I just sat through three hours of tornado watches and warnings for northwestern Arkansas. I am about 10 miles west of Eureka Springs near Beaver Lake. It was no fun at all, actually quite scary, especially when the campground owner comes to your camper and tells you to go to the bathrooms when he blows the alarm. The bathrooms are made out of cinder blocks, the strongest structure around.
We were fortunate and only got hit by a big thunderstorm with lots of rain. I had been glued to the radio, map in front of me, following the reports and being very relieved that the likely tornado places where to the southwest of the campground. Still the rain has been banging on my roof.
Joplin, Missouri 100 miles to the north west, had just been hit by a tornado a few hours earlier today, a place on my route to Nebraska.
It was May 20th last year when I was glued to the radio in Alabama listening to the weather forecast hoping the storm and tornado would pass; very unsettling moments.

The rain stopped for awhile just to come back with a vengeance.
It is 11 PM and it seems to be finally quiet again.

What have we done to Mother Nature to piss her off so badly?

From New Mexico to Arkansas

Posted by | Filed under Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas | May 22, 2011 | 4 Comments

I have covered a lot of ground since I left my friends’ place in Lemitar, New Mexico a three weeks ago, roughly 1,500 miles. That is a lot of different scenery. Instead of giving you a step by step detailed report, I will give you the highlights of the trip, including some random thoughts / observations.
I had heard a lot about Roswell, NM and people told me I should stop there to check out the International UFO Museum.

Mexican alien - how ironic

First off, I did not get abducted. Several blocks of downtown Roswell are all about aliens, green little guys. It doesn’t matter if it is the tax preparer or the gift store, everyone has an alien painted on the window, a little much if you ask me. I didn’t go into the museum, only to the gift store, I can only take so much. The story about Roswell is that in 1947 a UFO crashed in the area. It wasn’t until the late 70’s until conspiracy theories started to develop about a government cover-up as to what was recovered back in 1947. Was it a surveillance balloon or some spacecraft and its occupants? Will we ever know and do we really care? At least Roswell has been attracting visitors from all over the world.
The scenery changed from hilly grassland dotted with pine trees to pretty flat desert land, no more hills or mountains in the distance, and eventually into farmland once I hit highway 70 heading towards the Texas border. The Texas panhandle, especially the western part, is as flat as a pancake,

Flat enough for you?

nothing but fields all the way to the horizon and beyond. There are lot’s of feed lodges along hwy 60, pretty smelly in some areas.
My destination was the Palo Duro Canyon. I had been in the same area last June, but back then the Canyon was flooded and therefore closed. This time the weather was perfect. Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the US, after the Grand Canyon. Have you ever heard of it? The canyon is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep. Only a relatively small area has been turned into a state park, the rest is owned privately and is inaccessible to the public.

The Lighthouse - Palo Duro Canyon. Yes, it's in Texas

The canyon is beautiful, lot’s and lot’s of green. Cottonwood trees along the creeks and juniper pines and mesquite trees throughout the canyon. The green makes a nice contrast to the red mud hills and mesas in the park. What is really nice is that you can drive to the bottom of the canyon. The campgrounds are also located at the bottom. Another neat feature is that you can hike and climb all over the place, as long as you are careful and don’t trample over plants. In contrast to the Grand Canyon, the hills and mesas in Palo Duro are mainly formed by mud and gypsum and not rock, less footing and more slipping. I got my hiking mojo back at Palo Duro. I went for two four hour plus hikes, climbed up Capitol Peak and

One of my "mountain" hikes

explored the mesa behind my campsite. What fun it was to be able to take advantage of all those climbing possibilities. I have to admit that I was a little more hesitant than I used to be and always took the easier way out. Palo Duro is not as intimidating as the Grand Canyon and at this time of year not nearly as crowded.
Please tell me why Texans have to let their car engines idle, no matter if they are in the car or not. What’s up with that? There is not even a law against idling in Texas. Idle more than three minutes in New York City and you run the risk of getting a ticket. While I am bitching, what’s up with putting up bright lights all around your camp site? Keep them on until you go to bed, but why all night? It is so hard to find a totally dark place

Who wouldn't like to wake up to this?

nowadays. So much light pollution comes from near, and not so nearby towns and cities that we should appreciate the darkness when we venture into nature. That’s at least why I like to get out of town. Don’t get me started on passing over double yellow lines, no passing zone…
From Palo Duro I went via farm roads and small highways to Dallas. I don’t like Dallas, but I have to admit that I found some interesting places this time around. And as long as you stay off the freeways, it’s not so bad. I didn’t come to Dallas to find interesting places, but to visit my friend Lynn. Thank you Lynn for letting me stay, not only the planned two nights, but three. I love visiting my friends; I hate to say good bye. I just never know when I’ll see anyone again.
Before I reached Dallas I drove through a lot of grassland, big ranches with cattle and horses. From time to time the earth opened up and all of a sudden there was a canyon, totally unexpected. Caprock Canyons State Park was one of those surprises, a small park but with nice hiking trails.
Not only have I crossed time zones moving east, but it seems also weather zones. When I left Nevada “way back” at the end of March the temperatures had already reached the 80s. New Mexico was not quite so warm (26F in the mountains over night) and the western part of Texas greeted me with 103 F, back into the 60s just a few days later. The West has been very dry and everywhere a fire ban has been in effect; a stark contrast to the East where it has been raining seemingly non-stop.
Besides visiting with Lynn in Dallas, I also took care of some errands. Once again, I was totally overwhelmed when I walked into one of the supermarkets. The produce section alone was larger than most of the supermarkets I had been shopping in; too bad that produce just don’t last very long.
Originally, I had planned on just driving east back to New York. If you have been following my travels you might have noticed that plans are meant to be changed. Since I still have two months to get back to New York, I decided that I would drive up to Nebraska. I once drove through Nebraska back in the late 90s on I-80. I remember liking the area and now I want to go back.
This post has taken me several attempts to complete and as I am writing this, I am sitting at Lake Ouachita (Wash-i-taw – don’t ask) in Arkansas. The drive from Dallas to Oklahoma and now Arkansas has been full of surprises.

Wild flowers and the Kiamichi Mountains

Again, I stayed on the smallest roads possible and I have been at awe at all the green and all the trees; oak, cottonwoods, maple, pine and many more. You have to remember that from mid December on I have not seen many trees or green grass. Yes, there was the Gila Forest, but that was mostly evergreens and in a relatively small area. But now just driving down a country road seeing all this lush greenery is just wonderful. The biggest surprise to me was Oklahoma. The only thing that came to mind was – dust bowl. But the south eastern corner is anything but. It is all GREEN, meadows with wildflowers framed by trees. The smell of morning dew on the grass, it just smells so fresh.
I have stayed at some state parks; they are nice, but often crowded and noisy. A ranger told me about a spot in the woods, two miles of the

My kind of spot

highway, no hook-up, no lights and no people. I crave solitude when I am out in nature, the quieter and further away from people the better. I prefer nature’s music at night, cicadas, crickets, frogs and the wind in the leaves is just fine with me. The moon was watching over me, not quite full yet.

Cicada, hatched after 13 years

Throughout my trip / journey I have traveled through many small towns (population 1,000 or less) and most of the time I have been saddened by

Main Street - small town Texas

their condition; storefronts boarded up, buildings falling apart or just a shell of a building standing. I don’t even like to take photos of these places anymore. The downturn does not necessarily stem from this recession. I spoke with a woman in one of those towns and she said that some of the stores had been empty for ten years! People just moved away to find jobs elsewhere. Arkansas seems not to fit that mold, at least the 100 miles I drove through so far. Even just the houses along side the road seemed to be in better condition than what I saw in the other direction over in Oklahoma. I drove through chicken country, many Tyson signs next to the farm’s name and many, many, many chicken houses, those long ones where the chicks get raised.

Paris to Detroit via Reno in less than an hour, only in Texas.

I have been hiking or walking in the woods in Oklahoma and Arkansas. As pretty as the trees are, I get a little bored walking through the forest. There is nothing to climb on; I need some rocks to climb over, a little challenge and fun.

Fourteen months on the road – 30,000 miles, but who is counting.

This post had been further delayed due to lack of internet connection.

Back to basics

Posted by | Filed under New Mexico | May 11, 2011 | Comments Off on Back to basics

It sounded really good on paper.
But first I would like to say thank you to Deb and Mark, my friends in Lemitar, New Mexico. Not only did I spend almost two weeks with them, but they were also kind enough to hire me to work on some house projects. So if you have a garage that needs to be organized or if you are in need of some help with your horse fence, give me a holler. Thank you, I enjoyed spending time with you and thank you for feeding me.
After driving through the Gila Forest coming from Arizona, I felt that I wanted to spend a little more time in the forest before continuing east. I had mapped out a loop trip through the forest which would take two or three days. I called the local ranger station to inquire about road conditions and closures. Good thing I did. The road I wanted to take was still closed for winter. The ranger suggested another route but she stressed that I should get a forest map. Since this trip would go through the forest and over dirt roads that require 4 wheel drive, I decided to leave the camper with my friends and just take my tent. On my last road trip a few years back I used to sleep in this tent all the time and I loved it. Let’s just say tenting in a campground with showers and running water is very different from tenting in the woods. I had forgotten how much stuff one has to pack when going on a trip. When I take the camper I don’t have to pack anything, everything is right there.
My route took me west on highway 60 through Magdalena, a small town with a handful of art galleries. The wind was blowing so hard sending tumbleweed and sand across the streets.
Further west is the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Very Large Array radio telescopes. Very cool stuff. I had seen them last July on my way to the West Coast. Back then the weather was not cooperating, totally cloudy. This time was not much better. The wind made it impossible to hold the camera still, even a tripod would not have helped.

Hillside with pine trees

The scenery was mainly grassland over rolling hills dotted with pinon pines which were moving closer to the road and then disappeared into the distance again. I was very glad that I left the camper at my friends’ place. The wind would have made this a very difficult trip. I like to coast downhill and usually I gain speed, but this time I slowed down, that’s how strong the wind was blowing.

San Francisco River - Gila Forest

I took a lunch break in the last town before the woods, Reserve. Nothing fancy, just a big mushroom/cheese omelet. When I looked for a seat a local waived me over to sit with him and so I did. Tuffy, his nick name, has lived in Reserve most of his life. Only the military had taken him to New Jersey and Alaska, now he bartends here in town. He left the restaurant before I did and when I asked for my check I was told that Tuffy had already taken care of it. I was floored, thanks.
I bought my forest map at the ranger station in town and asked for directions. I was told that everything was well marked. I was also told that not all roads are indicated on the map, but it should be fine for where I was going. We’ll see.
The campground I was hoping to reach that afternoon was only 50 miles away. The ranger had said it would take two hours to get there due to the nature of the road, a curvy washboard dirt road.
It was beautiful driving up the mountain overlooking parts of the San Francisco River.
I made it half way to the campground before I started to feel too tired to keep on driving. Setting up the tent took longer than I remembered, the wind didn’t help. I didn’t just park on the side of the road; there was a primitive campsite with a pit toilet which helped. Right next to my spot was a hillside that looked like a good place for a late afternoon hike. This was my first hike in almost a month, it felt good to be back exploring. The mountains around the Gila Forest are largely composed of volcanic rock. I made sure not to slip.

Gila Forest

When was the last time you wore a short sleeved t-shirt, a long sleeve t-shirt, a warm sweat shirt, thermal underwear, socks and a wool head – to bed?? It was supposed to get down to 32 F. I wrapped myself into my sleeping bag and two warm blankets and tried to go to sleep. Of course I had some dinner before hand. What I didn’t have was a book. I ended up reading the front pages of my trucking road atlas, not very exciting. Don’t forget your book when you go camping!

Tent camping - it sounded good

Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well all night, just couldn’t find a comfortable position, got all tangled up in my blankets. At least I stayed warm.
I did wake up to some strange noises outside my tent. They didn’t sound threatening so I decided to unzip my door and look what was out there. Wow, how incredible a small herd of elk had been grazing around my truck / tent. I saw four elk run up the hillside and two or three more made it up to the road. Nice way to start the day. Now I just had to convince myself to get out of my warm sleeping bag. Did I mention that it was only 26 F (-3C) inside my tent?!?
If you thought this was enough of an adventure for one trip, just wait ‘til I tell you about the drive through the forest.

Grassland and rolling hills

The drive from my site to the Snow Lake campground was all on pretty well kept dirt roads, a little bumpy, but no big deal. The drive started to get more interesting once I started to drive on a primitive road. I had been told that the road might be washed out in places, but I was not prepared for what I would encounter. In the beginning I was driving through wide open grassland over volcanic rocks, very slowly at 5 mph. After bouncing around for some time I saw a fence in front of me, darn, did that mean I had to turn around, no way that I would drive back over those rocks. Luckily, it turned out to be a cattle gate that I had to open. At one point I came to an intersection without any signs, I made a right turn thinking I would get to a gravel road pretty soon.

Rock formations - Gila Forest

After a couple of miles I had the feeling that I was no longer on the road I was supposed to be on. Thanks to my compass I at least knew that I was going in the right direction. None of the intersecting numbered roads I passed were on the map, so much for the forest map. The road got very narrow; still a very rocky, washed out dirt road. Instead of driving through open grassland I was now in the middle of the woods. Branches were hanging so low that I had to stop and break them off (they were dead) or they would have scratched up the roof of the truck. The road was just wide enough for the truck, a little drop off on the driver’s side but nothing serious. The next thing I see is a big pine tree lying across the road. What now? Again, I was lucky, there was a little path around the tree, oops there was another one. This time there was no way around it, I had to drive over it. Fortunately, the tree was not too big. I wasn’t out of the woods yet, no pun intended, there were no more trees blocking the road, but I encountered more steep, rocky and washed out roads. Eventually I reached a gravel road. Surprisingly, I came across a ranch, a rancher and his wife who gave me directions. He warned me about the road ahead, “take your time” he said, but it was nothing like the last twenty miles. Just to give you an idea how bad the roads were; it took me six! hours to drive sixty miles.

Bare cottonwood tree

You have no idea how happy I was when I finally hit the asphalt again, finally driving at speeds faster than 5mph. Of course I had to get stuck behind a slow moving truck :( . When I made it to the interstate I set the cruise control to 75 (legal speed) and made it back to my friends in no time. So, instead of a hiking experience it turned into a driving marathon, 200 miles in 9 ½ hours. I could have spent one more night in the woods, but I really didn’t feel like waking up to freezing temperatures again.

One month later

Posted by | Filed under New Mexico | May 2, 2011 | 4 Comments

It has been a little over one month since my accident in the Mojave Preserve. The leg is pretty much healed. Now it is just a question of time for the scars to disappear.
I am on my way to Texas, heading further east…

Staple and staple remover

My leg one month later

Trees – the smell of pine

Posted by | Filed under Arizona, New Mexico | Apr 19, 2011 | Comments Off on Trees – the smell of pine

Wow, I am traveling again. I had been “home bound” for most of the week. I caught some kind of a bug in Tucson and stayed in bed for almost two days. Fortunately, I stayed at the house (backyard) of a friend of a friend of mine in Dragoon, ten points if you find it on the map. My good fortune didn’t end there. The friend was a retired WW II Navy nurse. So I had someone to look at my leg (it is slowly healing, but still oozing in some spots) and make sure that I had enough Echinacea tea to get me well. It was just nice not to be sick and alone. Never mind the great stories I got to listen to. Eva had traveled this country quite extensively, on her own!, by car and later in a Chinook, the precursor of the truck camper. Thank you Eva for taking care of me and for sharing your stories.

Historic Clifton, AZ

As you by now know, I don’t like to travel via the interstates. Sometimes they are hard to avoid and you just have to take a detour to get away from them. That’s exactly what I did. Instead of continuing east on I-10 into New Mexico, I headed north on hwy 191 toward Clifton, AZ.

Historic Clifton, AZ

The desert is a funny place, it never looks the same. On the drive east of Tucson it looked dull, no real colors, but once I hit 191 colors returned. Not the greens of Nevada, but the yellows / gold of California. Yellow grasses and yucca plants dominated the scenery, beautiful in its own way. I spent the night in Clifton, an old mining town of yesteryears. There is still some mining going on, but seemingly in a different capacity.
I had a pretty late start today and I knew I had a long drive through the mountains ahead of me. One hundred twenty miles don’t sound like much, but up mountains, plus a couple of photo stops, it took me five hours. It was so worth it. I took hwy 78 east, a narrow, winding one lane road through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. I hadn’t seen trees in almost four months, except for the occasional palm tree or Joshua trees; the smell of pine was just wonderful. I love the unobstructed views you get out West, but there is something to be said for camping in the middle of the woods. Hopefully, the trees are tall enough to keep away the lights of any nearby city.
Once I left the mountains and forest behind I was greeted by endlessly rolling hills covered by yellow grasses and sprinkled with juniper trees, I just couldn’t stop starring, so beautiful. Sorry, but I can go gaga over the beauty and diversity of nature.

Rolling hills - Mule Creek

I didn’t get to Truth or Concequences as I had hoped, but I knew I shouldn’t push it. To my luck, only about thirty miles east of Silver City in the Gila (Hee-lah) Forest there was a sign for a campground right there in the woods. I found myself a nice spot and settled in. Hoping for a starry night, the moon is

Gila Nat'l Forest

almost full. I am going to treat myself tonight to a nice dinner, linguine with shrimp (frozen :( ) in a tomato/zucchini sauce made from scratch, yummy. Who says camping has to be all about hot dogs? Actually, what I am doing should really not be considered camping.

Well, the night was very nice and quiet. I didn’t see many stars, but I could have read a book outside since the moon was so bright. Illuminated my site like a safety light.

Pain sucks

Posted by | Filed under Arizona | Apr 11, 2011 | Comments Off on Pain sucks

OK, it has been eleven days now since I cut my leg and I am sick and tired of being in pain. I pulled the staples out on Saturday. It wasn’t bad until I got to the last staple. If I had had any hard liquor in my fridge I would have had a drink or two (I don’t drink). Instead, I drove to the ER. You have to understand that my insurance will only cover ER visits or visits to doctors who are in their network. Since I am in Arizona there are no in-network doctors here. What is really stupid is that even if there are no hospitals around for 60 miles or more the insurance still won’t pay for an emergency visit to an out-of-network doctor.
Anyway, at the ER they took an x-ray of my leg and it turns out that some “foreign body”, sand, or the like got stuck inside the wound. This is probably what keeps the wound from healing and that’s why I was feeling so much pain when I pulled the last staple out. For now I am suppose to treat the wound only with antibiotic ointment. Let’s hope that that will do.
I am in Tucson and there are lots of great hiking places around here, and I can’t go. It is really frustrating to see all those great mountains and all I can do is look and keep on driving.
Sorry, that this is a bitching post, but I had to get it of my chest. This is the first time on this trip that I wish I wouldn’t be traveling on my own…