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9: Wind and Colors

Updated: Feb 27





Dear Friend,


I hope that you are healthy and busy with mostly fun things, new and old. And that any popping up of unexpected has only brought you happiness. (Like getting a letter in the mail from an old friend, telling you how much you used to make them laugh and how much they miss you), that kind of unexpected thing.


We left Dorland last Monday around 11:00 am and drove into Temecula for supplies, enough to camp for at least a week. We had planned to get on the road, Highway 78 East, to arrive at our Agua Caliente campsite in Anza Borrego by 2:00 pm. But everything takes time. One lane road, motor homes, RVs, Presidents’ day, traffic was silly, and when we approached Anza Borrego, we began to see that the desert was blooming! There were wildflowers everywhere! Gorgeous!

 






And the air was blessed with the beautiful scent of Desert-sand Verbena. In places, the purple carpeted the desert.




And when is the last time you watched bees buzzing around a blooming Agave?

 


 

So many flowers, colors, plants! Every time we got out of the truck to take pics, we just couldn’t believe the beauty! So, after several spontaneous stops to photograph, we finally arrived at Agua Caliente. The ranger told us that the hot springs were closing in a half hour and would reopen at 9:30 am. If we wanted to tent camp for the night, there were two different rates depending on where we chose to be (both over $25). He insisted that we drive the circle and select a site and then come back to register and pay. He was nice and gave us 15 mins to find a spot.


But as we drove the camp and passed the hot spring pools, we saw that all of the pools were brimming with people so we decided not to stay, opted to find a place to boondock, and went on our way deeper into Anza Borrego.


We were so glad that the hot springs campground didn’t work out as we drove into June Wash and followed the road to the end. There was just enough daylight left to set up our camp and make dinner. There were no other campers anywhere nearby. Jupiter and Venus shone brightly among the first stars, it was a new moon night and the air was clean; it was a warm 55• and remarkably, there was no wind!

 




But a wind event was in the forecast so we didn’t pitch the tent. We could have, and might have, if we knew that we’d be staying another night but, again, the forecast was daunting. And if you look back at what the weather was like for you on Tuesday, February 21st, you will probably remember - wind! Tuesday morning at June Wash was stunning! Warm enough, still enough, privacy and quiet.

 


I truly wished that you could have be there to experience the gift of that serenity – and I sent good thoughts for you to suddenly feel a gentle waft of peace wherever you were!

Then the wind began to gust. It skipped the gentle breezes part and just blew and gusted and blew and gusted. There was sand in the air so we packed up and got on the road.

Initially we were planning to be at Gila Bend, AZ, on Wednesday and figured that we’d find camping between Anza Borrego and the CA/AZ border to stay the night on Tuesday. But that didn’t happen and it’s a long story involving 30 miles of off-roading, a prison, a rattle snake, several unwelcoming RVrs, and lots of backtracking.



On we pressed into Arizona and wound up at Saddle Mountain, BLM in Tonopah, AZ, Tuesday night. (Just so you know, it was a good thing that we left June Wash when we did. My Wunderground app reported wind gusts on Wednesday to 82 mph and steady rain. Temps would reach a high of 48•).


Meanwhile, in Tonopah, AZ, our Wednesday morning, we dealt with 35 mph gusts while the wind blew at 23 mph, but we had very little rain, and the temperature at Saddle Mountain reached a balmy 58•. We sat in the cab out of the wind to write and to study for most of Wednesday morning.

 



But rain was predicted for later in the day and we could see it coming like silvery-gray, cloud to ground curtains, moving across the desert, closer and closer, so we decided to pack up and get back on the road to find a dry spot for the night.


We took Highway 10 East to Se 85 South to Highway 8 East and stopped in Gila Bend. The wind was more monstrous than we had imagined, so we had an early dinner / late lunch at the Lunar Café, Salad Bar and Gift Shop on East Pima Street, Gila Bend, Arizona.

It’s an astro / outer-space themed restaurant & hotel, they probably have landing pads on the roof in case you arrive by flying saucer. We’d been there before, about 17 years earlier, on another Arizona highway adventure. I suppose it is appropriate for me to recommend the place whether you are a space buff or not because if you are in Gila Bend and you are hungry, this place is tried and true.

Frank bought me a coffee mug from the gift shop. Thank you, Sweetie.



Have you ever heard of Maricopa, AZ? Home of the Sonoran Desert National Monument. We had read about a camping opportunity there so we ventured along Highway 8 East toward lower ground (and hopefully less windy camping). Before you arrive at Maricopa, you will see forests and forests of Saguaros growing tall and with outstretched arms. It’s as if they all are waiting for you to come and give them a big hug! (The saguaros would probably enjoy that more than you).

 



Anyway, we searched for a place to camp in the Sonoran Desert on BLM land. Mountains of all shapes surround this desert. The horizon is 360• beauty! The cone, mesa, butte and dome shaped dark-rock mountains are inviting at this time of year, covered with green plants and wild flowers waiting to bloom. We wanted to get closer and find a place to camp near the foot of one of the southern mountains. In order to do that, we’d have to cross the floor.



The desert floor is home to Saguaros and barrel cactus, Palo Verde, mesquite, and creosote trees, tiny pink and yellow wild flowers, such amazing land and so expansive! But if you don’t have a good internal compass, you might think that everything looks exactly the same in all directions and you could even get lost.


We approached the road-head (off of Maricopa / Stanfield east exit) as had been described by the "Dyrt App", “for high-clearance vehicles only,” and expected to see signs that said, “Welcome to Arizona BLM, pack it in, pack it out! Don’t do this! Don’t do that!” but since Arizona has a lot less signage than California, there wasn’t any clear way to know if we’d arrived at the entrance. We didn’t know if we were on Reservation, BLM, State Park or private land… We drove onward, into the forest of cactus and trees, and crossed over countless other recently used dirt roads (no signs, no rhyme or reason) and because of rain and erosion, every gully cross-through was terribly steep and mangled – some were like canyons with sheer drop-offs… We have a 4-wheel drive truck with high-ish clearance and Frank is an excellent driver, but some of those washes were completely missing a way down and up again.


We eventually found a road that seemed to lead straight toward the hills and it felt like we were on the right road as it smoothed out for about a quarter mile without a gully at all. (In case you were wondering, I did see a Horned Toad so my life is nearly complete). But then we came to yet another impassable wash. Boo. Hiss. Sadly, we would just give up on camping in this desert until there is more stable weather.


We agreed to make our way back to the main road and go across the highway into higher hills. It’s colder at night, the higher in altitude you go. We had wanted to avoid ‘colder.’ But, we had lost a lot of daylight while we’d been wandering the desert. We’d never find our way back to the main road in the dark, so Frank turned the truck around and drove back out the way we came in ... at least, that’s what we thought.


Ok, we weren’t exactly lost, we could hear trucks on Highway 8 off in the distance, but as we tried to backtrack, we couldn’t find the road that we came in on (or any other that would take us back to the main highway). There were so many cactus, trees and boulders, it would not have been possible for us to make our own trails. We were stuck, driving hither and thither in a Sonoran Desert Labyrinth. We considered camping right where we were, but we needed to get out of the low area of the desert before the next rains.

After several long and arduous attempts, we finally rolled onto the right road and found ourselves on asphalt again.


As we were struggling with wrong road after wrong road, I kept thinking about my friend, Judy Graham, who used to search (and rescue) people exactly like us… and since we chose NOT to continue to follow roads that would have taken us further into the desert, Judy would be proud.


The overpass off of Highway 8 (Maricopa / Stanfield east) took us across the freeway to the higher hills that we’d seen from the desert floor. Maricopa is not ‘off the beaten path’ but has a few out of the way BLM camping opportunities, if you know where to look, or if you are just lucky. We turned onto the frontage road, headed east and just happened to see a dirt road that lead up a canyon into granite rock formations. It was obvious that horses (poop) and people (broken beer bottles) frequented the area near the entrance but as the road wound up the canyon, the ground was clean and the scenery was spectacular.

 


 

Puffy white clouds, deep blue sky, magnificent, towering, red, brown and black rock formations - we found a flat place to park and we were home for the night!

The next morning, after Frank shot sunrise, we packed up and headed out toward Tuscon, AZ. We stopped in at the very busy Saguaro National Park and learned that no one actually camps there. Our next plan was to try the Saguaro Wilderness. Ok. We could have if we were willing to backpack in. (Over 7 miles at over 8K’… Not with all the snow, not this time).

Our next best idea was to find a campsite on BLM land at Ironwood National Monument, Marana, AZ. Again, it took some luck and knowing (now) what to look for… by happenstance, we took a side road onto BLM (camping) land. A friendly Arizona Forestry person drove up, asked us what we were doing, was satisfied with our answer, and left. The magic answer: “We’re camping.” We found a nice flat site at the lower, 2120’ elevation.



It’s been wonderful to be in the same place for more than a day! We’re surrounded by Saguaros and barrel cactus, chollas, creosote and palo verde.

We’ve been visited by many birds and lizards, we’ve heard lots of coyotes and seen tracks of big horn sheep that went right through our camp while we were sleeping. The place is fairly secluded, though there are a ton of campsites, we’ve only seen eight other campers – happily for us, no one wants to be our neighbor. (And it is interesting, even at this time of year, with all of the crazy weather, we aren’t the only people camping out of a truck). We plan to be here until we need to leave. (How do you like that for decisive)?


We’re surrounded by rocky soil, sandy washes, little green plants with pink and yellow flowers starting to bloom, and sky, rocks, mountains, clouds, and, yes, the wind!


Please stay warm and dry and take good care of yourself! We are always grateful for your caring thoughts. When you have a moment, drop me a line or two and let me know how things are going for YOU.

Gently Be,

Leslie


PS: two more friends: a desert stink beetle and a VERY large winged-ant... no doubt, someone's Auntie?




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