Mt. Mingus Wanderings.

I spent the last week in the Prescott, Arizona area.  About two years ago I blogged about what a great place Prescott is and I’m happy to report nothing has changed, there is still lots to do within about a 60 mile radius, making it a great place to wander for a week.  I have good friends in Prescott Valley and visited them for a few days last weekend and then during the week, I explored the dusty trails in and around Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Skull Valley and the old mining town of Jerome.  On the north-west side of the Mingus Mountains, near the town of Jerome, the trails offer great views of the red rocks of Sedona and the snow covered San Francisco peaks of Flagstaff to the north.  I camped in the Mingus Recreation Area for a few nights at about 7800 feet elevation.  Daytime temperatures in Prescott Valley are already reaching about 90 degrees, but just a few miles to the east and about 3000 feet higher in elevation the temps are considerably cooler on Mt. Mingus!  No “wandering-adventure” would be complete without a great meal or two!  I re-discovered the “tequila lime burrito” from Beto’s Corner in Camp Verde…. well worth a visit if you are in the area!
If you don’t know Prescott or the surrounding area, you really need to visit.  Sedona and Flagstaff are easy day-trips and the Mingus Mountain Recreation area is only half an hour away!To me, the Prescott area is…
a little bit “crunchy”…. Prescott College,
a little bit “cowboy”…. the nation’s oldest continuous rodeo….
a little bit “artsy”…. Sedona
and a whole-lotta outdoors…..
The trail from Chino Valley to Jerome.
The hills to the north west of Jerome.
Sedona and Flagstaff to the north.
Mt Mingus Recreation Area.
Camping in the Mingus Recreation Area.
Camping in the Mingus Recreation Area.
The forest is dry and the fire threat is high!
The Tequilla Lime Burrito from Beto’s Corner in Camp Verde.
Remnants of the mining industry in Jerome.

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North to Zion and Bryce.

After a great couple of days at Toroweap Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon I was planning to drive back south through Flagstaff, and on to Prescott to visit friends.  But realizing I was only about 45 miles from Zion National Park and 75 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park… I had to stop for an overnight visit to both parks!  The last time I visited them was in 1985, when my older brother and I drove through on our way to his first job after college in California.  I have some old 35 mm photographs of the parks but don’t remember very much about our visit!  It was almost 30 years ago and unfortunately memories fade with that many years!The best recommendation I can give anyone planning to visit Zion and Bryce is to buy the “America the Beautiful” annual parks pass before you travel.  The pass cost me $80.00 which may seem expensive, but when you realize the cost to enter Zion and Bryce is $25.00 each… $80.00 is not that bad!  Plus with the annual pass you can visit hundreds of other National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands at no additional fee!  After 3 weeks of traveling on this trip, I have visited parks that without the pass would have cost $74.00… so I’m sure I will get my money’s worth from the annual pass during “Road Trip 2014.”

The second best recommendation I can give concerning Zion and Bryce is to reserve a camping space in advance, definitely during the Summer months!  The parks are very popular destinations, they are easily accessible by vehicles making them very busy!  You can hike dozens of trails in both parks but if you are looking for “Into the Wild” type solitude… you probably won’t find it…. the trails can be busy too!

The amazing beauty of both parks far out-weighs any problems associated with how busy they can be in the Summer… they are both well worth at least a 2 day visit no matter how busy!

I hiked about 6 miles in both parks and had a great time!  We are very fortunate here in the USA to have so many beautiful, well maintained National Parks…. I plan to wander through many of them in 2014!

Zion National Park main entrance.
Zion National Park.
Bryce Canyon National Park main entrance.
Sunset Canyon at Bryce Canyon National Park.

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The Dusty Trail to Toroweap Point!

The view from Toroweap Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
 
 
Early Monday morning after the Overland Expo, a group of 5 vehicles headed north of Flagstaff to the Toroweap Point camping area on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.   There were 2 Jeep Rubicons, a Ford F250 pickup, a Lexus sports utility vehicle and my Tacoma in the convoy.  One Jeep and the Lexus were pulling off-road trailers. We were all anxious to find some peace and quiet after the craziness of Overland Expo 2014, see some beautiful scenery and more than anything, we all wanted to do some trail driving.  Yes, the Expo motivated all of us to venture off the beaten path, if only for a few days!
The distance from Flagstaff to Toroweap Point is about 258 miles.  The internet map I used called the location, Toroweap Point, Colorado City Arizona.  Drive time under normal daytime conditions is roughly 8 hours.  The easiest way to find Toroweap Point on a paper map is to find the town of Fredonia, Arizonia and go about 10 miles west on Az 389 to the left (or south) turnoff.  From the Toroweap turnoff you have about 65 miles of dirt and gravel road down the beautiful valley all the way to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and the Toroweap Point Camping area.  The first 55 miles of dirt road are pretty easy, much like county roads anywhere in the country, except for maybe the beautiful views…. it’s the last 7 to 10 miles that are a bit challenging.  Plan about 2 and 1/2 hours drive time for the 65 miles.  There are signs recommending 4×4 and high clearance vehicles for the last 7 miles or so and that’s a sound recommendation!  My Tacoma TRD is stock and I had no problem negotiating the rocky 7 mile trail in high 4, but I drove slow!  A passenger car will probably not make it!  There are a few tight turns, so I believe any vehicle over 20 feet long (excluding vehicles with trailers) might get some Mojave pin-stripping during the last few miles.  An “Earth Cruiser” on a Fuso-Truck showed up at the campground on our second day there with some new pin-stripping on his truck-side from a rock wall or two, but he made it!  The campground has only 10 sites, no water or electric is available but camping is free of charge.  One site is a “group” site and will accommodate 4 vehicles and no more than 10 people.  Volunteer Ranger “Bob” was nice enough to let us camp at the site with 5 vehicles.  From the camping area it’s about a 1 mile walk to the rim of the canyon… and yes you are on the rim… one bad step and you could fall about 3000 feet to the canyon-floor and the Colorado River below.  The views are truly stunning in both directions, up and down river!  We spent 2 nights and one full day at Toroweap Point and had an awesome time.  We ate lots of great food.  A generous friend had a 3 pound tri-tip steak he shared with everyone on the first night!  Delicious!  Thanks Kevin!  The second night we improvised a bit and made what we called “North Rim Nachos.”  Everyone had some kind of mexican food, black beans, refried beans, carne, cheese, sour cream and hot sauce… we just combined everything into our bowls and dipped in with tortilla chips.  That way the mix was semi-protected from the wind and the sand!  The meal reminded me of the story from the children’s book, “Stone Soup.”  
 
Thanks to Mel, Kevin, Mark and Kelly for your culinary generosity during our visit to Toroweap Point…. I’d travel with you guys anytime and hope our paths cross again one day!!!
 
The dusty road to Toroweap Point.
The Toroweap sign at the Ranger Station.
Arriving at Toroweap Point Camping site.
Setting up camp.
Sunrise at the camping site, Toroweap Point.
Mel’s awesome ride!
A no legged friend near Toroweap Point.
The mandatory, “I was there picture.”
   

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Overland Expo 2014 and Navajo Nachos.

Last weekend I attended the Overland Expo 2014 at Mormon Lake, Arizona, just 30 minutes south-east of Flagstaff.  It was my second time attending the Overland Expo in the last 3 years.  For anyone not familiar with Overland Expo, it’s basically where people of all walks of life and from all parts of the globe gather for 3 days to celebrate all forms of overland-vehicular travel.  Participants arrive in just about every vehicle imaginable, from 500 thousand dollar MadMax looking live-in vehicles to jeeps, trucks, motorcycles and everything in between.  The Expo hosts classes on all aspects of vehicular travel from how to fix a flat tire, to cooking on the road or how to negotiate challenging obstacles properly in your vehicle.  Vendors also have the opportunity to show-off and sell their latest equipment and vehicles.  So in a nutshell, if it has anything to do with overland-vehicles, travel and people who like to venture off the beaten-path, then it was probably at the Overland Expo last weekend!  I tent-cot camped in the pasture with about 900 of my closest friends and their vehicles.  The Expo opens a large cattle pasture for attendees to overnight.  I have no idea how many vehicles camped there but it was probably close to 1000!  The weather was dry and windy, translating into lots of dust in your face, your food and in your vehicles!  Despite the daily sandblasting, it was still an awesome weekend!
I met some of my friends there and made new ones over the 3 day event!  It was kind-of-like a “Woodstock” for overland-vehicle lovers, minus the drugs and nudity…. darn!  I participated in some great classes, with particular interest in the motorcycle ones in order to prepare for a possible trip through the Americas starting in the next 12 months!  The only down-side to the entire weekend was when I ate the dreaded “Navajo Nachos” for the first time!  What are “Navajo Nachos” you ask…. well they are a large piece of “Fry Bread,” covered with refried beans, ground beef, cheese, lettuce and tomato of course.  They tasted great but after about an hour, I felt like I had swallowed a helium-ballon!  I could have squeezed about a cup of oil out of the “Fry Bread,” which may have contributed to the “bloated” feeling.  As you can imagine, the best way to pass the “bloated” feeling is to…. well…. let the methane escape…. and boy did I….. I was afraid my tent-cot was going to float away like the Goodyear Blimp!  Lucky for me, I had strapped the cot down to my vehicle running board because of the high winds and I was safety-strapped to the ground and suffered no unintentional flights!
All joking aside, the best part of the Overland Expo was meeting so many great people, eager to offer their expertise in overland vehicular travel, regardless of your level of experience….
It was just the motivation a guy needs when contemplating a 6000 mile motorcycle ride south of the border!
My Tacoma with Tent-Cot and Kelty Carport.
Breakfast of Overlanders must include BACON!
The cot – awning set-up.
An Earth-Roamer.
A few GXVs ready to road trip!
An Earth Roamer negotiating the obstacle course.
A nice innovative truck cap.
Lots of motorcycles attended!
A new GXV ready for a new owner,
A Sportsmobile.
An XP Camper.
An Earth Cruiser.

 

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Ancient Indian Dwellings.

A few days ago I departed Oklahoma and headed toward Flagstaff, Arizona where I am today.  Along the way I came through the northern New Mexico mountains.  From the town of Eagle Nest, all the way to just south of Taos it snowed!  It wasn’t a lot of snow but it was snow… it was quite a change from the sunny 88 degree weather I experienced in Stillwater, Oklahoma just a few days before.  One thing I have learned about traveling through mountains anywhere in the world, expect the unexpected, you never know when it may snow.  I made it from the Oklahoma panhandle all the way to Gallup, New Mexico in one day.  I arrived late in the evening in Gallup and decided to spend the night so I could visit Richardson’s Trading Post in the morning.  I love the place and try to stop anytime I’m passing through Gallup.  Richardson’s is a must visit store, everything indian art related, like blankets, pottery, jewelry and the like, plus western saddles and leather goods can be found there!
Richardson’s Trading Post in Gallup, New Mexico, a MUST visit store!

I stopped at the KOA in Flagstaff on highway 89 just east of downtown.  It’s one of the nicest KOAs I have ever visited.  I wanted to do some laundry and have a hot shower after a few days of traveling and truck-camping.  The campground is a great place to base out of as you explore the Grand Canyon and local attractions like Sedona.  The campground is also popular with European travelers so don’t be surprised if you hear 7 or 8 foreign languages being spoken there!

I have passed the Wupatki National Monument at least a dozen times in the last 10 years going north or south on highway 89 but never stopped to visit.  Yesterday I decided to explore the park, and what a great place it is.  The park is home to numerous stone structures built by the Ancient Pueblo People about 1000 years ago.  The area flourished between 1040 and 1100 AD, shortly after the eruption of the nearby Sunset Volcano, making the normally dry soil, rich in volcanic material!

The lava flow from the Sunset Volcano near Flagstaff, Arizona.
Some of the ruins at the Wupatki National Monument.
The “Big House” at the Waputki National Monument.
A worship circle at the Waputki National Monument.
A ballfield where indians played a game similar to lacrosse.
An ancient home of the Pueblo People overlooking the grasslands.
A box canyon with the San Francisco peaks in the background.
My version of “cowboy steak.”  Steak, mushroom and tomato sauce… very tasty!

Now I’m off to Overland Expo 2014, and I hope to see some of my readers there!

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“No Man’s Land,” and Dinosaur Footprints.

When I departed Stillwater, Oklahoma yesterday it was 88 degrees… when I arrived in Red River, New Mexico today at noon it was 28 degrees.  I was hoping the temperature would be a bit cooler in the New Mexico mountains, but a 60 degree drop in about 24 hours was more than I anticipated!
I have plenty of cold weather gear but with some luck I hope I don’t have to use it very often.  Tonight, the down sleeping bag and long undies are going to be on duty!
The No Man’s Land Sign in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Driving west in the Oklahoma panhandle you cross the Santa Fe Trail a few times!
One of the many small theaters all over Oklahoma,  many are no longer in use, but still picturesque.

The Oklahoma panhandle has been referred to as “No Man’s Land” since the mid 1800s.  The panhandle was originally part of Texas, but when Texas wanted to enter the Union in 1850 as a slave holding state, they forfeited the land that would later become part of Oklahoma.  As I drove west from Stillwater, I realized that the area could also be called “Not Many Peoples Land” because it really is sparsely inhabited.  Pronghorn antelope, tumbleweeds and rattlesnakes all hopped, bounced and slithered across the highway in front of my truck as I drove west on highway 64.  I was lucky to avoid tornadoes during my 4 days in Oklahoma, but my truck did get a good 5 minute “sandblasting” from a dust storm near Boise City!  I stopped for the night at Black Mesa State Park, located about as far west in the panhandle as one can go!  The winds were really high, probably 40 to 50 mph all night.
I decided it would be better to sleep in the bed of the Tacoma than in the tent-cot.  Lake Etling was only about 20 feet from my campsite and I didn’t want to test how well the tent-cot floats in the middle of the night after a strong gust of wind!  Their was a group of 2 tent campers a few sites away from me when I went to bed.  In the morning at about 7:00 AM when I departed, their tents were nowhere to be seen,  it looked like they sought refuge from the high winds in their vehicles, fortunately I didn’t see any tents in the lake!

A view north from the Black Mesa State Park.
Pronghorn Antelope a few feet off the highway.
The Truck sits atop the riverbank as I search for the dinosaur footprints.
On my way out of Oklahoma, I stopped at the Black Mesa Summit area about 8 miles north west of the Park.  I wanted to see the fossilized dinosaur footprints in the dry riverbed and the tri-state border marker.  The dinosaur footprints were really pretty cool to see, the three-toed prints were about the size of a trashcan lid and crossed the riverbed in a diagonal pattern.  The last time I saw three-toed footprints was in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, and I think those were human?  I’m glad the creature that left the prints no longer inhabits the area, I’m not sure I could out run him today!
  If you plan to visit the area, the exact directions to find both the dinosaur footprints and the tri-state border marker are available in the window of the Black Mesa State Park office. 
 
  
Not easy to see, the dinosaur footprints near Black Mesa Summit.

The tri-state border marker is on the spot where the Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico borders all meet.  If you have ever wanted to be in three states simultaneously, you can do it there!  I managed to get one foot in Oklahoma, one foot in Colorado and my hand in New Mexico.

The Tri-State Border Marker in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

I saw an interesting quote from an Indian on a historical marker today,

“I don’t want to settle down in the houses you would build for us.  I love to roam over the wild prairie.  There I am free and happy.”

-Satanta (White Bear), Kiowa Warrior and Chief.

I know what you mean Chief, when I wander, I fell free and happy too!

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Still Waters and Good Times.

After dinner in Paducah, Kentucky last Tuesday evening, I continued my drive west and crossed the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at about 7:00 PM and entered Missouri.  I was’t tired, so I decided to continue driving west on highway 60 for a few more hours.  Six hours later I was just south of Springfield, Missouri, in the town of Nixa.  I am not against hotels, or RV parks.  I’m sure I will stay in both during “Road Trip 2014, but if it’s late at night and I find a safe location, I prefer to save the $75.00+ hotel cost and stay in the truck-bed.  Nixa had a great, safe little park and I took advantage of it, sleeping for a few hours.In the morning I visited the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield west of Nixa.  On August 10, 1861, the battlefield was the scene to one of the first major engagements between the North and the South during the Civil War.  What makes the battle well known to many Civil War buffs is that Union General, Nathaniel Lyon, was the first General Officer killed during fierce fighting.  Although the South was seen as victorious that day, more than 2500 fighting-men from both sides were wounded or killed during the 6 hour engagement,  leaving some to wonder if there really was a “winner” after all.
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Visitor’s Center
Wilson’s Creek Battlefield

Just before noon, I visited the Global Expedition Vehicles (GXV) factory in Nixa.  Even though I will probably never be able to afford one of their incredible overland vehicles, I have always wanted to see their operations up close.  I normally don’t like to show-up unannounced but since I wasn’t really sure when or if I would arrive in Nixa, I didn’t want to call ahead and make an appointment that I might not have been able to keep!  Lucky for me the folks at GXV were happy to show me a few of their vehicles and I was even more impressed than I thought I would be!  The Global Expedition Vehicles are truly amazing machines.  Basically, they are self-contained go anywhere RVs on steroids.  I was lucky enough to meet a new owner at the factory, there to pick-up his vehicle and go on his first trip! He let me have a peek inside his vehicle and the interior looks every bit as good as the exterior!  Maybe one day I will buy one…. because what is a life without dreams….
Thanks to all the great people at GXV for letting me visit the factory!

An amazing Global Expedition Vehicle at the factory in Nixa, Missouri.
A Global Expedition Vehicle.

Back on the road that afternoon, I continued west toward Oklahoma.  I camped for the night at the Twin Bridges State Park near Miami, Oklahoma.  The park had about 130 spaces for campers and RVs but I think when I arrived, I made the 4th guest for the night.  Summer break has not started yet and I was there during the week, so the park was pretty empty!  There was a severe thunderstorm warning all night but fortunately I only got about 2 minutes of rain and gusty winds!  No tornadoes is always a plus when you are sleeping in a tent-cot that would probably act like a giant sailboat in high winds!  The tent-cot survived 30 mile an hour winds and I got a good night’s rest!

The Rt 66 Sign in Miami, Oklahoma.

Thursday morning, I continued my trip toward Stillwater, stopping at a few famous Rt 66 spots along the way.  Most people don’t know it but Oklahoma at one time had more than 400 miles of Rt 66 meandering through the state and has some iconic sites still today!

I spent from Thursday afternoon to Sunday morning in Stillwater and Oklahoma City visiting my aunt and my cousin.  It was really great seeing them again.  They were awesome ambassadors and showed me a wonderful time!  We toured the campuses of both Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma, went to the horse races and ate some great food!  After eating chili-cheese fries from Eskimo Joes and Pizza from the Hideaway… I might need to look for a pair of old-man stretchy pants!
Thanks Aunt Jackie and cousin Brock for a great visit!

The Stillwater Welcome Sign.
The Boot on the OSU Campus.
The beautiful grounds of OSU Campus.
OSU Campus
The Spirit Rider at OSU.

Now, I continue my journey westward toward the panhandle and “No Man’s Land.”

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Westward Toward Oklahoma.

As I mentioned in the last post, I don’t really have a set agenda for “Road Trip 2014,” and it’s true, I really don’t!  But I still have a few people and places I want to see!  My first want to see person is my Aunt in Oklahoma.  The last time I visited her at her home was over 10 years ago when she and her family were living in the Oklahoma panhandle.  We see each other just about every Summer, usually in Michigan for a few days.  I’m really looking forward to seeing her again, but this time in cowboy country, Stillwater, Oklahoma later today!In order to get to Stillwater, I departed Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and headed south-west on the Bluegrass and Western Kentucky Parkways.  Along the way I made 3 stops in Kentucky, which made the usual 4 hour trip to Paducah take all day!

First stop, the small town of Central Kentucky, hometown of the famous singing duo, the Everly Brothers.  The town has a small monument in their honor and a one room museum filled with all sorts of Everly Brothers’ memorabilia.  I bought a 4 CD box set (the young lady at the museum was a great salesperson) and have been listening to the 100 tunes nonstop for the last 2 days… The lyrics from songs like, I Kissed You, Wake Up Little Susie, All I Have To Do Is Dream and Bye Bye Love are now permanently burned in my memory!
Note to self… bring more music CDs next trip!

The Everly Brothers Museum and Monument in Central Kentucky.
The Everly Brother  Monument in Central Kentucky.

The next stop was the Land Between the Lakes for just a few hours, a great place to visit for anyone in-to all sports water related!  I was really surprised to see a marina with large sailboats!  The area is way too big to do it justice in just a few hours, so I will definitely visit again in the Fall.

The Lighthouse Marina in Grand Rivers on Land Between the Lakes.

The third and final stop in Kentucky was in the river town of Paducah.  The city is truly a must see location for visitors to western Kentucky.  It’s picturesque, artsy downtown is located on the Tennessee River and only a few miles from the Ohio, Cumberland and Mississippi Rivers.  Needless to say, the town’s location, so close to 4 major rivers has played a key role in its history.  The town has been a major stopping point for river-borne commerce for over 3 centuries!
Second note to self… when packing a bottle of curry spice before a long road trip, try not to spill any on your car seats, otherwise you will smell like an Indian Food Truck rolling down the highway.  I do love curry but I’m not fond of smelling like I’m wearing curry-cologne for the last 2 days!  Speaking of curry…. it’s time for dinner!

One of the many beautiful tree-lined streets in Paducah.
The Flood Wall and the Tennessee River beyond, in Downtown Paducah.

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Road Trip… 2014.

After a few weeks of great visits with friends and family in
Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky, it’s time for “Road Trip 2014.”No surprise, like my 2011 and 2012 road trips, I will be heading West again this time!
I love the American Southwest and want to explore more off the beaten path in 2014!  This trip will be in my Tacoma with ARE cap, which should make exploring the trails of the Southwest easier than in Bertha the Bigfoot Truck Camper.  That’s not to say that Bertha has been sent out to pasture, no way… she is just enjoying an extended vacation in a secure storage unit for a few more months!

For “Road Trip 2014” I really tried to pack as light as possible and still have the necessary equipment to be as “off the grid” as possible when camping!  I have limited solar capability, enough food and water for a week or two in the sticks.  But let’s be honest, I am probably not going to be more than a half day drive from a small town, no matter where I wander in the lower 48.  I wanted all equipment to fit in the bed of the Tacoma, so nothing will be on the roof rack, at least that’s how I departed Kentucky anyway… who know’s what I may bring back on the roof, maybe a stuffed moose head would look good on the farm… maybe not!  In any case, this is a great opportunity to explore Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and then Maybe up the West Coast?  I don’t have a set agenda, other than plans to visit some family and friends along the way… first visit…. family in Oklahoma!

Above, just about all my equipment for “Road Trip 2014” packed and ready to fit in the bed of the Tacoma.  Believe it or not, I still have room to sleep in the bed, when the gear is properly stacked and that includes the kayak too!  It’s not a lot of room, but enough for a good night’s rest!  With all gear onboard, a full tank of gas and me in the driver’s seat, the Tacoma weighed-in at 5050 pounds.  Not bad, with a GVWR of 5500 pounds, I still have about 400 pounds to spare!  No one can call me a
Phat-Azz this trip!

Above, the Tacoma in Bertha’s parking spot, all packed up and ready to go for
“Road Trip 2014.”

Above, before departure, I needed a proper cup of coffee!  After trying may different coffee making solutions over the years, to include 12 volt coffee makers and campfire percolators to name a few,  I have finally settled on a small coffee grinder and an MSR filter.  Grind your beans the way you like, pour hot water over the MSR filter and presto…. a great cup of coffee!  Coffee always makes departure more enjoyable!

Above, departing the “Farm” for “Road Trip 2014.”  The weather was perfect… a great sign of things to come I’m sure!

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