Ah, Joy

Oh, the joy of sleeping under the covers with the windows open. We’re in Eagar, Arizona – about four miles west of the New Mexico border. Outside, the temperature is a crisp fifty-two degrees. In Phoenix we won’t see these temperatures until Halloween. Queen Anne is still contentedly snoring in bed, so all’s quiet in the world. I see a cloudless sky through the window and the sun is about to clear the next door trailer which will make it all but impossible to type, so I’ll be quick about my report.

Yesterday’s trip was a pleasant and uneventful six hours. Two of those hours we spent traversing the Phoenix Metropolitan area to Fountain Hills where we stopped to top off the tank and buy some road food. We phone-waved Jeff as we passed his Scottsdale house. Not expecting our call, he offered to put shoes on and meet us for a bite, but we declined because we were already moving.

Fountain Hills is the point where I feel we’ve finally left town. From there we drove the Bee-Line Highway, climbing out of the Valley of the Sun to Payson’s 6000 foot elevation. We noted each time Fritz’s outside temperature indicator dropped from the low 90’s to the high 80’s. That doesn’t seem like a lot until you factor the hour and a half driving time. In Payson, we headed east on Arizona Route 260 and made the last ascent up the Mogollon Rim, and breaking through the 7000 foot elevation. From there, the rest of the way was a gentle descent. Our next way-point was Showlow and back on US Highway 60, ironically the same highway we took out of Wickenburg.

It was almost 3:00 pm when we reached Round Valley — a five-mile circular flat at the foot of the White Mountains — containing the yin yang towns of Springerville and Eagar. Springerville is on the north along US 60 while Eagar is on the south along AZ 260 with Main Street connecting the two highways (Yes, I know they’re the same roads, but there’s a method to my route madness that I’ll ‘splain someday). We stopped at the local Safeway for provisions and a bite to tide us over until dinner before checking into our campgrounds.

About our campgrounds … all I can say is that I’m glad that I went to Alaska last year. This place is somewhere between Watson Lake and Peace Park Gardens in Vancouver, but that’s a very large spectrum and I consider this in the bottom percentile. It’s certainly not a resort like where Fred and Deb are working. It is small and quiet with mostly permanent residences and few spaces for us transients. We picked it for the WiFi reviews and the price. The price reflects the lack of facilities (no showers). When we came in, the hosts had just finished helping a guest with a grand fifth-wheel (“The largest we’ve ever had,” he told me), before helping us with The Ritz (“The smallest one we’ve ever had”). Thanks … I guess. Anyway, behind The Ritz, we have a lovely private space under large Ash trees for sunset cocktails; how could things be better?

This morning. we’re going to spend time to lay out an itinerary for the week. We have a lot on our list and we need to rank it. One item on the list is the 2017 Great Mexican Food Springerville Shootout. Springerville has two restaurants that we like and we’re going to offer up our two cents on (last night’s dinner was at one of them — more later). We also need to spend the morning knocking off the rust on our camping skills, a fact that became obvious to us during set-up yesterday. The adventure awaits and I’ll have lots of photos for you.

Till then … jw

Eww, Bugs

Because we’re so snobbish, we don’t have trash pickup at our house. Instead, we toss the garbage and recycle into Fritz and drive up to the local refuse transfer station. It sounds like another chore, but we get pleasure out of dump runs by stopping off for breakfast while we’re out. There are three local restaurants we can choose from, and we choose which one to eat at depending on the hankering we have at the time. The Ranch House is in Yarnell at the top of the pass, and they have the best ham and eggs. The ham is so big it should come on its own plate and I always get a doggie box, because we can get two more meals out of it. Nichols West is our swanky joint and they probably serve the best Eggs Benedict in the county (if not the state). Finally, there’s the Arrowhead Bar and Grill — usually frequented by geezer bikers that are on a weekend road trip reliving the youth they wished they had. It’s the Plain-Jane of the trio, but it’s the most convenient and so we eat there most often.

Saturday was this week’s dump day and after unloading the truck and heading back, we pulled into Arrowhead’s parking lot. It was exactly 8:00 am and some people were standing in the parking lot talking. The door to the dining room had a sign saying it was closed, so Anne rolled the window down and asked the group what was going on. The group was the new owners having just bought the place two weeks ago. The wife explained that the dining area was infested with boxelder bugs, but the kitchen and bar were open. She added that the exterminator just left but the treatment would need some time for it to work. We considered leaving but they told us that the area was under siege, including the other two places that we frequent. Reluctantly we decided to risk it.

Boxelder bugs are beetles smaller than your pinky fingernail, and Wikipedia said that they get their name because they favor the tree of the same name. They winter over in the warmth of nearby structures by invading through cracks and crevices. You may see one or two of them occasionally, but they lay eggs in the millions that hatch at the same time. The swarm forms large mats of bugs on the warm side of rocks and buildings until they dry out. Then they fly back to good tasting vegetation nearby. I don’t know what they eat here because I don’t think boxelder trees grow in Arizona, but it must be good and plentiful, because (with all the rain we’ve had) there’s an exceptional hatch of bugs this year. They’re not aggressive and don’t bite, but like a mosquito, they can leave a mark if they think you’re food.

Boxelder Bud
The innocuous boxelder bug is harmless until they swarm in the millions.

We’ve seen other insect hatches on our morning walks. White flies, midges, no-see-ums, and those irritating mosquitoes. Early this summer while driving down our street, we drove through a bee swarm moving diagonally to the neighborhood. Until I figured out what they were, I thought it was a dust storm.

We tried to have breakfast at the bar and ordered our usual. As I drank my coffee and Anne her Diet Coke, we watched each other for bugs. Occasionally one would land on our tee-shirt and the other would brush it off. When they served breakfast, we hurriedly gulped it down before ‘the pepper’ moved on the plate. Before we could finish, our waitress came over and apologized and told us that they were closing. “The owners want to say they are sorry by comping your meal,” she said. We left a large tip and thanked them as we left.

On the way home, we had to stop at the Quickie Mart and Post Office. On each of those walls were large mats of bugs with others crawling away from the swarm. My hair is itching just writing about it. We live four miles down the road from town and nary a bug is found. I don’t know what we’d do if they invaded our house. Fortunately, they move on in a week and things go back to normal.

So the next time you think that humans rule the world, just remember insects were around before dinosaurs. Our 7.5 billion world population looks tiny in comparison. I’ll bet there are more boxelder bugs in Congress now. Enjoy your breakfast … watch the pepper closely.

Till then … jw

Springerville, Here We Come

It’s almost the middle of August. Queen Anne and I got our monthly allowance and paid the bills, but we have a couple of bucks left over and they’re burning a hole in our pockets, so we’re getting out-of-town for a week. The plan is to head for the hills … literally. To be precise, we’re off to Springerville and the White Mountains. Once again we’ll be camping in the trailer, or as my friend, Jeff once said, “We’ll be taking the Mercedes and spending a week in the Ritz.” That joke won’t be funny anymore if we ever get a different truck.

Normally we escape the desert’s heat at the north rim. We love going there because there’s nothing to do. So we pack all of our crap and do nothing for a week … except for sleep in the cool air, eat, snooze, drink,  slumber … and then take a nap. That was before we were doing this blog, and there’s no Wi-Fi up there. There’s also no radio, phone coverage, television or any other form of communication … well, maybe smoke signals, but I’m lost without auto-correct.

We picked Springerville — actually, the town of Eager which is next door — because it’s central to a lot of touristy stuff. We found a campground that (in reviews) has decent Wi-Fi, so we’re going to go play Tommy and Tammy Tourist and write about it … just like last summer. Won’t that be fun? I hope you’ll join us.

Rich Hill Rainbow
As an afternoon storm moves north, a rainbow touches a peak in the Weaver Range known as Rich Hill. Hmm.

PS: This is a new picture that I put up on my site a few moments ago. I hope you’re not tired of these storm photos because I’m having fun with them. It’s just a phase I’m going through, I’ll get over it.

What a Doozy

I’ve been reporting about this year’s monsoon season, how afternoon storms roll through here every other day, how they put on a great show, and how they have distinct personalities. Today I want to tell you about last Tuesday’s storm. It was a doozy!

August Storm
The clouds from Tuesday’s storm ran the full gamut of gray, from white to black.

The day started off normal enough, the Queen and I ran into town to do some errands and grab a bite of lunch. As we drove home, we noticed clouds building up in the west and south. We ignored them, because it’s rare that weather comes in from those directions. Since there wasn’t a lot of activity over the mountains that normally affect us, I figured that we’d have a quiet evening. When we got home, I laid down for a nap, but when I woke an hour later, the house was dark. The sun wasn’t streaming in the windows, so I stepped outside to check the skies. Everywhere I looked were storm clouds in every shade of gray; white to black. The most menacing patch was over the pass where Yarnell is. As I watched for a few minutes, I realized it was heading in our direction.

From Yarnell
As the winds pushed through the pass, they began to form vortexes like you often see on aircraft wing tips.

I’ve been having fun and some success shooting storms as they move in this summer. I was playing junior storm chaser and already had a couple of, as I call them, Mitch Dobrowner—light images, and here was another chance at dramatic weather shots. I grabbed my camera and walked down the street to the open desert. As I began clicking off frames, the darkest section of the front cleared the mountain range and began behave oddly. As it forced its way through the pass, it formed a vortex and began dropping in elevation. It looked like the spirals coming off Formula One wings during rain races. Behind the main thrust, the mountains disappeared in a curtain of black rain. Since the storm was closing fast, I started walking back to the house. Half way home, I turned for one last shot, and as the wind picked up, I could feel drops on my skin. When I got back to the house, I told Anne that we have to think about finding a safe place to hide should the storm spawn a tornado.

White House Before the Storm
As I made my way back to the house, I turned to take this shot. After I got home, I told Anne that we may need to find a safe place to hide.

The full force of the wind hit just as we were checking out the kitchen pantry. We watched the front tree blow back and forth brushing its limbs against the porch for a few minutes before we heard a pounding on the roof and kitchen sky light. It was too loud for rain, and we went out on the back deck we confirmed that hail was pelting the house. In a matter of minutes, the hail began to turn our red-rock drive to white, then just as quickly, a heavy rain started and washed the hail away. Even though we were on the leeward side of the house we got soaked because the wind whipped and swirled so the rain was coming in under the roof.

Lake What-a-muck-a
That’s not grain, it’s rain. In minutes the back yard went from rock to covered in hail and finally to Lake What-a-muck-a.

For a moment, I thought about getting my rain jacket and microphone out so I could pose like one of those idiot Weather Chanel reporters do in a hurricane, but I decided not to because I’d have to stand out in the wind, rain, and lightning. Besides, I don’t have a waterproof microphone. In a matter of minutes, the back yard turned into Lake What-a-muck-a.

Meanwhile, out front the streets were fast flowing, knee-deep rivers from curb to curb. The swift flowing water would have knocked you down if you attempted to wade across them. The streets were designed to drain to a wash that cuts through the park, but it was running beyond capacity and couldn’t take any more run-off.

Within an hour the wind and rain stopped. The thunder and lightning continued for a while but finally died as the storm moved south. Anne and I ventured out on the front porch and watched the water slowly recede uncovering sand bars. Neighbors ventured out of their homes and compared notes. Those that have rain gauges said they had 2-2.4 inches for the hour-long storm. I would guesstimate the wind gusts a conservative 60 mph. All of our water ran down the dry creeks to Wickenburg where the evening news had flooding stories.

While out walking the next morning, we were surprised there wasn’t more damage in the neighborhood. A handful of trees had broken limbs, some ocotillos were knocked over and some of the wash’s engineering suffered, but there wasn’t much structural damage. I had to mend some skirting, but that was it. Mostly the people we saw were busy shoveling dirt from the streets back into their yards. Not bad for the storm of the year.

Till then … jw

On Display at National Bank

I’m pleased to announce that my premier print Mt. Hayden is on display in the lobby of Wickenburg’s branch of the National Bank of Arizona. At 24 x 30 inches, it’s the largest framed print in my collection. It’s also notable because it’s entirely analog. That’s right, it was shot on film and printed the old fashion way; in a darkroom.

Mt. Hayden
Taken from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, Mt. Hayden, at over 8000 feet in elevation, is one of the most recognizable canyon subjects.

I’d be pleased if you’d stop by National Bank and tell the folks that you came to see the Mt. Hayden print. The bank is at 540 West Wickenburg Way; just west of the railroad bridge, and they’re open normal banking hours. The print will remain on display until September 1st. Just for fun, ask if you get a free toaster with a new account.

Till then … jw

Lightner Creek Fire

It was the Wednesday before July 4th and the Lightner Creek Campground and Cabins staff were making preparations for the busy weekend when our friends and fellow camp hosts – Tony and Amelia – raced into the park. This was unusual because the speed limit is 5 mph and camp hosts try to enforce it. They had just come back from town and breathlessly told us that there was a house on fire just east of the campgrounds. We all rushed up the park’s hill to gawk.

It was the house of our, shall we say, interesting neighbor. She lives there with her kids and they regularly shoot off fireworks and guns. On Memorial Day there were loud gun shots coming from there well into the night which made the campground guests nervous. Someone called the sheriff, but the shots stopped before they got there. One of her other neighbors said there were three loud explosions before the house caught fire. The house was burning very quickly and the color of the flames suggested that a gas fueled the flames. Rumors in the community said that she grew pot and processed something more potent in a back room, but we never verified any of that.

As we stood on the hill, we watched the fully engulfed house, when suddenly the fire jumped to the trees and started up the mountain. We all started panicking and using a lot of four letter words. Thank God the wind was blowing away from us.

Amelia – a 911 dispatcher in a previous life – asked if there was an evacuation plan. Robert and Andrea, the owners, fetched ours from office and contacted its creator – the original owner who lives alone at the campground’s west end. She came over, very upset and helped coördinate the evacuation. The plan broke the campgrounds into sections. The owners assigned camp hosts different sections and sent them to their assigned area with instructions for how each campsite should exit. We told everyone to “prepare to evacuate”. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes when we got a “MANDATORY EVACUATION” from Code Red – a must have cell phone app. No matter where you are in the USA, it will send you emergency alerts for your area. When the alert sounded, the camp hosts spread out to their assigned areas and began evacuating the campers. Several people were in Durango then, but we made sure anyone in the campgrounds knew they had to leave. After we got the guests out, Deb and I started to hook up our trailer, but before we could, a sheriff showed up in front of our rig and said we had to leave; NOW! So we started throwing stuff in the truck and car and abandoned the trailer. I had time to put in the awnings and turn off the propane, but that was it. A personal evacuation plan for our RV is on my to-do list from now on.

The fire quickly spread after jumping the road. Fortunately, the wind kept it away from the campgrounds.

The campground is in a box canyon and the only way out was down the road toward the fire. The wind was blowing the fire away from us, but it had jumped the road and started up Perins Peak to the north.  The fire had jumped across high enough that the road was not blocked. We drove through a maze of fire trucks but finally made it to Hwy 160. We assembled on the side of the highway and wondered what to do. We could see the smoke billowing out of the canyon and flames crawling up Perins Peak. We didn’t know if we would have anything to return to, but we got everyone out safely.

At The Rendevouz
After getting out of the canyon, we gathered at the sided of the road to ponder what to do next.

One of the guests in the group got word that the Red Cross was at the La Plata County Fairgrounds setting up an evacuation center. A seasoned camp host knew where it was, so most of us followed him. Wouldn’t you know it, the fairgrounds booked a rodeo for the holiday and the parking lot was full. Trailers and motorhomes were redirected to the high school parking lot next door. The next day the shelter moved to the Escalante Middle School which had a big parking lot for rigs. The Rocky Mountain Team Black Hotshot fire fighters moved into the fairground shelter. By the way, the Red Cross was great! They provided a place to sleep, water, snacks, and food – donated by various town restaurants.

Deb and I opted for a hotel room instead of trying to sleep in a dormitory full of kids, dogs, and people. When I got on the phone I found out that most of the hotels were booked for the big weekend. I finally found a room at the Holiday Inn, and we spent two nights there until they let us go retrieve our trailer. One at a time, a sheriff escorted the camp hosts in to hook up trailers then get out. The fire was only 20% contained so planes were flying over us while helicopters picked up water from trout ponds close to the road. Some idiot was flying a drone in restricted air space and delayed air operations a day (he was later found and he’s facing charges).

Lightner Creek Fire Damage
This is the ridge that the fire went up when it first started. The wind blew it over to the other side. This ridge goes right up behind the campground. The burn line runs along the ridge line and the only campground exit was down the canyon and past the fire.

It was a relief pulling our rig out of the park. We headed straight for the middle school parking lot where we dry camped for two nights. The Red Cross commandeered the dining room and they organized a big meeting on the fire’s fourth day with all the players; fire fighters, police, sheriffs, etc. who gave us the status of the fire. Denver TV stations filmed the meeting and we made the evening news. They told us that the fire was still only 20% contained, but they were letting some homeowners return to their homes. Since we were not home owners but were permanent summer residents, officials excepted the camp hosts and they issued us special Rapid Access ID cards. The next day they let us go back to the campgrounds. Whoopee! The road was still closed to the public and we couldn’t take any guests yet, but we were back in our summer home.

Fire Damage
This is where the fire started and continued over the top of the ridge toward Hwy 160. You can see how close the fire came to the campgrounds.

Since we had the campgrounds to ourselves, we threw a 4th of July Bar-B-Que. The campground wasn’t burned at all, and the facilities were fine. The fire came closer than we thought, but it did not cross the boundary. We were very lucky. There were a lot of cancellations for the 4th of July week, but we are now back up to full capacity and it is still a great place to spend the summer.

Fire Break
The morning we got our trailer out there was a line of fire fighters walking in single file to cut that fire line.

They have not identified the reason the house caught on fire, but it was very suspicious. Since the house was destroyed and the fire was so hot, the fire investigators couldn’t find the fire’s cause. As for our interesting neighbor … she wasn’t at home when the fire started, but she did check into the evacuation shelter, so she’s homeless but otherwise ok.

Fred Poteet

The Face of Mother Earth in a Sand Pile

As I wrote earlier this week, we’ve had a pretty good Monsoon Season. The afternoon storms have brought rain every other day. A couple of the storms were short but intense causing a lot of run-offs. The amount of rain is too much for the soil to absorb and so, most of it runs into the street. If the flow is great enough, it will drag sand off the lots on to the street.

On our morning walks around the trailer park, Queen Anne and I come across these sand trails all the time. One of them, however, stopped me in my tracks. I saw something that I recognized and as we examined it, we realized it was a pretty good map of the North American Continent. Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Cuba, and Mexico were all in their places. Missing in the map was Florida, some of the Aleutian Islands and parts of the east coast. With climate change and all, maybe it’s a sign of things to come.

A map of North America in sand run-off
A pretty good map of North America that we found in sand run-off while on our morning walk.

What do you think?

Till then … jw

ps: After three storm cells move through the area last evening, it washed more, sand onto the street. On this morning’s walk, the shape was completely different. Only the Alaska part remained recognizable.