Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Touring Red Rock Canyon and Death Valley National Park

We said our goodbyes to our wonderful Golden Valley, AZ Hip Camp Hosts Linda, Lawrence, and Max.  Mom bestowed them with some home-baked goods to thank them for their hospitality.  Then we hitched up Suite Retreat, loaded into Big Boomer, and drove to US-95 toward Las Vegas.  Can’t believe how much Sin City has expanded and the suburban sprawl that has transpired since our last visit in 2017.


Soon we were at our next camping destination, Pair-A-Dice RV Park in Pahrump, NV.  This is an Escapees Co-op, available only to Escapees members.  Lot owners who are traveling put their lots into a rental pool, making them available for other Escapees members to utilize.  It is a nice park, with wide, level gravel roads and long, pull-through sites.    All the lots have sheds/casitas that in some instances have been converted to sunrooms.  However, not all lot owners (like those of our assigned spot) give renters permission to utilize the structures.  Still, the shed/casita provides privacy between each RV site.   The Park does not accept reservations, so we boondocked the first night.  Then we took advantage of their $75/week introductory offer for first time Escapees visitors.   What a bargain!  We pulled onto our assigned lot, which was decorated with Southwest motif lawn ornaments.  There was a strange looking couple hanging around the property.  I was a bit leery of them at first.  

Yours truly with my new alien friends.

But then I realized getting abducted by aliens might be a blessing in disguise, especially with the craziness that is going on within our world these days.  So, instead of fearing them, I became friends with them.


After settling in, we did a quick tour of Pahrump.  Once a ranching area, it is now an up-and-coming bedroom community following the course of Vegas’s growth, which is only 45 minutes away.  Throughout Pahrump there are loads of land parcels available for purchase.  Pahrump has plenty of medical professionals, pharmacies, cannabis dispensaries, and casinos.  There is a Smith’s grocery store as well as a Walmart, where this stuffed rat noticed deep price increases from our last grocery replenishment.  Pahrump even has a new saloon and dance hall, Rhinestones.  We were patrons there several evenings during our week-long Pahrump visit for the free line dancing lessons and subsequent musical entertainment.  In fact, we met up there twice with Mike, our buddy from Quartzsite dancing, who was in Pahrump volunteering with the Home on Wheels Alliance.  It seems no matter where we are on the road, we are never far from a friend to share good times and fellowship.


The next day we used Big Boomer rather than Maximus the trike as transportation because of the heavy winds.  Yup, gusts again (this time up to 65 miles per hour) seem to be following us on our route.  We arrived at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area serviced by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  At the time of our visit, BLM required advanced reservations to enter the site, which we made on-line earlier in the week.  As always, we started our tour perusing the Visitor Center, from which we hiked the 2-mile Moenkopi Trail.   The wildflowers were in bloom in this part of the Mojave Desert, the smallest desert within the U.S.A.  Then we returned to Big Boomer to do the 13-mile Scenic Drive, giving us spectacular panoramic views of the colorful Calico Hills.  We were lucky enough to find parking for Big Boomer at each point of interest, including the Sandstone Quarry and High Point Overlook, elevation 4,771 feet.  Soon it was time to stretch our legs.   So, we hiked the Willow Spring Loop, which brought us to the wall of petroglyphs.  The Loop incorporated Lost Creek Trail, appropriately named since this Rambling RV Rat (and a few other folks, too) managed to go astray.  
We had a long, but wonderful day, clocking 5 miles, viewing the gorgeous rock formations, and earning yours truly another Junior Ranger badge.

The weather the next day was chilly and rainy, so Maximus stayed parked at our Pair-A-Dice site and we used Big Boomer to drive to Rhyolite to view the remains of an old Nevada gold mining town.  This is an awesome place, with more original buildings standing than other ghost towns we have visited.  I particularly enjoyed the glass bottle house, built circa 1905.  The bottles, embedded within mortar, keep the interior of the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

We saw the faux grave of Miss Mona Bell, one of the entrepreneurial ladies from Rhyolite’s one-time “red light district”.  

This town bustled in its heyday:  6,000 residents, 3 railroads, and multiple hotels and mercantiles.  It boasted electric lights, phone lines, telegraph lines, and water mains.  But by 1920, only 14 residents remained.

Train depot

Remnants of the school, bank, and one of the mercantiles

While in Rhyolite, we explored the Goldwell Open Air Museum, a unique outdoor sculpture park.  Many of the creations represented ghouls, quite apropos for being located within a ghost town.  My favorite was the replica of DaVinci’s Last Supper painting.  Installed in 1984, the artist used human models to make the life-sized ghost figures.  He wrapped the models in plaster-soaked fabric, then posed them appropriately for the scene.  When the plaster dried, the models un-posed and the molded figures, later coated with fiberglass, remained.  Fascinating!  The Goldwell Museum also included a vibrant mosaic sofa art piece, which doubled as the location of a hidden geocache for us to find and log.  We chatted with the Museum curator, admiring the beautiful photography that is exhibited there.


We walked around the labyrinth

The Last Supper

This colorful mosaic sofa doubled as a geocache location.

A statue in honor of the area's most prominent prospector, Frank "Shorty" Harris.

Lady Venus

This ghost is into physical fitness!

We stopped at the Red Barn Art Center, the Museum’s latest acquisition, located in Bullfrog Township, another former mining district right outside of Rhyolite.  We visited the Rhyolite Cemetery, viewing the graves, many unmarked.

Nothing like viewing a desolate cemetery under dark, ominous clouds!

Rhyolite, like Red Rock Canyon, is serviced by BLM.  Hence, we found some folks camping in an area that offered solitude and scenery.


On our return to Pahrump, we stopped at the Museum and Historical Society in Beatty, NV, which regrettably was closed for Earth Day (go figure).  But we picked up a brochure and took the 10-cent self-guided walking tour to get a flavor for Beatty.  I must admit I was intrigued by the 1905 root cellar that was converted in 1953 to a chapel, especially when a young local resident warned me the place was haunted!  I also enjoyed seeing the 1905 Rhyolite home of the Taylor family that had been relocated to Beatty in 1925.  Now it is surrounded by the beautiful blooms of pomegrante trees.  We found a couple of geocaches with the assistance of some local residents.


A 1905 root cellar converted in 1953 to a chapel

1905 home of the Taylor Family, relocated from Rhyolite to Beatty

Pomegrante blooms. 

Memorial Garden at the Local VFW

Local boys Nester and Dominick lent some assistance to us in locating a geocache.

On another day we hopped on Maximus early on a chilly 48F degree morning, heading to Death Valley National Park.  By the time we arrived at Furnace Creek, it was a comfortable 76 degrees.  After perusing the Visitor Center, watching the film, and picking up my Junior Ranger booklet, we fueled up before departing Furnace Creek.  Holy Havarti Cheese--$8.15 for unleaded regular!  This is why Dad despises coming to California!


Unfortunately, many roads within the Park were closed, including the one leading to Scotty’s Castle.  Bummer!  I really wanted to explore the Castle since we didn’t get there when we visited Death Valley many moons ago as a side trip from Vegas for my Grandma’s 70th birthday.  Oh well, plenty of other stuff to see, especially those sites we didn’t visit on our prior trip.  Hence, we went to Mesquite Flat Dunes.  These dunes are not made of sand.  Instead, they are tiny grains of quartz and feldspar.   We hiked out with the aspiration to stand atop the very tallest dune.  It was tricky finding the easiest route out, but we ventured on.  Mom puttered out halfway up the second highest dune.  She knew she could get up the dunes, but worried that getting down the highest one would be problematic.  Dad and I persevered and achieved success in our mission.

The tragic destiny of a desert kangaroo rat.

I made a self-portrait on the way up a dune.  The winds of time had already altered it by the time we climbed down.

Mom called it quits...

....but Dad and I persevered!

We refueled Maximus in Stovepipe Village at the bargain price of $6.34 and then visited the Harmony Borax Works site.  Borate ore was mined and processed into Borax starting in 1883.  Soluble in water, Borax, AKA the “White Gold of the Desert”, is commonly used in industrial and household products.  Once the plant was fully operational, Harmony produced 3 tons of Borax per day, utilizing a crew of 40 men.  And they didn’t even work during the summer months because the intense heat interfered with the chemical crystallization process.  Successfully producing Borax was one thing, transporting it out of the valley was another.  But the 20-mule teams saved the day.  18 mules and 2 horses (to be precise) would pull 2 wagon loads of Borax and a 500-gallon tank of water—30+ tons in total—through the canyons to the nearest railroad, approximately 160 miles away.  Fascinating!  I am always amazed at the entrepreneurial spirit of the early pioneers.


Moreover, I would be remiss without crediting the peoples who roamed these lands as hunters nearly 10,000 years ago and the Timbisha Shoshone tribe who, adapting to their surroundings, inhabited the area 1,000+ years ago and continue to live on their sacred homelands. 


Next up was Artist’s Palette, the 9-mile scenic drive named for the multi-colored rock formations.  Then to Bad Water Basin, the driest, hottest, and--at nearly 300 feet below sea level--the lowest point in all the U.S.A.  While the water tastes yucky with its high salt content, it actually is NOT poisonous. Though we visited these sites previously, they certainly warranted another viewing.

Artist's Palette

Bad Water Basin

That red spot represents sea level!


On to Zabriskie Point to observe the Badlands of Death Valley.   

Then to our final point, Dante’s View.  In my humble opinion, this location is the crème de la crème of the Park.  We ascended 13 miles to this viewpoint that is 5,475 feet above sea level to marvel at the breathtaking views of the entire valley.  Simply spectacular!

Here is a short video of us motoring through Death Valley:

We left Death Valley National Park, but had one final site to see before returning to Pahrump:    Amargosa Opera House at Death Valley Junction.  The property was owned originally by Pacific Coast Borax Company and housed its offices and workers’ quarters.  The property was a mini town, complete with doctors, post office, community center, even a hospital and morgue.  Once Pacific Coast Borax Company moved locations in the 1920s, they turned to tourism for the property.  There was a hotel and café.  The property changed owners numerous times thereafter, with the community center building abandoned completely and left in disarray.  Enter the entertainer (actress, dancer) Marta Becket in March 1967.   She and her husband stopped at a local service station to have a tire fixed.  Yada, yada, yada, she had a vision, purchased the old community center building, renovated it, and turned it into the non-profit Amargosa Opera House.  Quite the talent, she spent 6 years painting all the wall murals within the building.  The murals are awesome, containing characters from various operas and some fun social messaging, like the nuns looking judgingly on the “ladies of the evening” out for a night of culture.  Up until the age of 83, Marta performed ballet on this stage.  At 85, she turned in her ballet slippers, but performed other arts until her death in 2017 at the age of 92.  Marta’s story is quite inspirational.  It is a tale of following your dreams, applying your given talents, persevering, and living each day to its fullest.

Well, I’m bushed from a busy but fun-filled week, so I’ll sign off now.  Talk to you again soon!

Monday, April 18, 2022

Touring Kingman/Golden Valley/Oatman, AZ

We awakened to a much calmer, but nippier day—our thermostat registered 24F degrees outside when we left Overgaard, AZ at 8:30 a.m.!  As we traveled along I-40 we noticed Flagstaff still had plenty of snow on its mountaintops.

Humphrey's Peak in Flagstaff was still snow-covered.

We then took Historic Route 66.  Though we have ridden this nostalgic byway in Williams, Ash Fork, and Seligman, AZ in 2017 via motorcycles, this was the first time Big Boomer and Suite Retreat have traversed the Mother Road in this area.  I spotted 1 of the surviving Wigwam Villages that dotted Route 66 back in the 1940s and several of the famous Burma Shave signs.


One of the nostalgic attractions along Route 66

After encountering problems with an unresponsive Harvest Hosts (HH) site in Valentine, AZ (I’ll talk about HH issues in another post), we received approval to our requested 1 night stay at Keepers of the Wild Nature Park.  Upon arrival, however, we learned that the Park had no record of our reservation nor that of Judy/Wayne, the RVers who arrived shortly after we did, though we all received confirmations.  Thankfully, it was just the 2 RVs staying overnight because the gravel/dirt parking lot was very unlevel with huge holes.   Furthermore, cars were parked haphazardly, making it difficult to maneuver our RVs.  We had to wait for the place to close to get ourselves positioned properly, but the time went quickly since we were enjoying chatting with Judy/Wayne.  The unbearable noise from the trains that ran on the tracks right across the road from the parking lot was reminiscent of the “First Stop” I Love Lucy episode.  (Do you remember it?  It was where their road trip motel beds moved across the room from the vibration of the trains that travel right outside their door.)


Proximity of train tracks to parking lot.

The parking situation improved once we relocated after all the staff/guests left for the evening.

Keepers of the wild is a non-profit 501(c)3 home for approximately 150 animals, many exotic, that were rescued from abuse or monetary exploitation.  In fact, several of the Tiger King cats are now at the Park.  Take note:  the Park is closed on Tuesdays.  Tickets are a bit pricey at $20/adult for general admission and $30 for the 1.25 hour guided safari tour, though they do offer discounts for 65+, military, and first responders.    The 3:30 p.m. tour, for which we opted, gives the added opportunity to watch the lions and tigers get fed.  The tour was interesting and informative.    Depending on their age/weight, the “cats” require 6-13 pounds of meat daily at a cost of $700/day!  After learning that, I fully understood the steep ticket prices.


Rambling RV Rat with some of the Nature Park mascots.

One of the "cats" awaiting dinner.

We said goodbye to Judy/Wayne and left Keepers of the Wild super early the next morning to avoid getting tube-blocked when staff/guests arrived and parked their vehicles. We stopped for brunch at Black Bear Diner and arrived in Golden Valley, AZ.  Our intended Boondockers Welcome (BW) site never responded to our on-line reservation system request.  So, we were fortunate to find an alternative called “Flat Desert with Mountain Views”, a wonderful Hip Camp site that allowed multi-day stays.  Owners Linda and Lawrence were gracious and friendly.  Their site is a flat, cleared desert tract that can accommodate big set-ups.  We enjoyed chatting with them and learning about this unincorporated area.  We visited with their nanny goats and chickens and purchased delicious farm fresh eggs.   And we all fell in love with Max, their adorable 8-month-old American Bullie.


Large, level area for parking multiple rigs...

 ...surrounded by blooming desert flora.

The adorable Max

I visited with the nanny goats, including a newly-acquired kid who had quite a bit to say to me.

We unhitched and set up Suite Retreat, unloaded Maximus the trike, and headed to downtown Kingman, known as “The Heart of Historic Route 66.”  We were the typical tourists, visiting Locomotive Park, drooling over muscle cars, posing for all the requisite photos, and reading the placards on historic buildings along Andy Devine Boulevard (named for the character actor known for his performances in Western films).  Of course, we had to visit Mr. D’s 50s Diner.  Dad stuck to his plant-based diet by eating a veggie burger.  But Mom and I, though weened off dairy, simply could not resist having an old-fashioned hot fudge sundae sans the whipped cream.  (Mom reasoned that she would reduce caloric intake by foregoing the dairy topping. These tactics don't usually work--she gains weight just by walking passed fattening foods, let alone eating them).  Anyway, it has been eons since we have eaten ice cream, and it was simply DE-VINE (like my little play on words there?)


Locomotive Park

Mr. D's 50s Diner

Mr. D has the perfect vehicle for a stuffed rat my size.

The interior of Mr. D's.

The next day we traveled on Maximus from Golden Valley to Oatman along Historic Route 66, AKA Oatman Highway.  What a gorgeous ride!  It starts out straight and flat.

The ocotillo were blooming.

However, once you arrive at Cool Springs, the next 8 miles contain 191 curves, turns, and switchbacks, hence its moniker “Arizona Sidewinder.”  

Cool Springs

We have ridden Iron Mountain Road (16A) in the Black Hills of SD, the Tail of the Dragon in Deals Gap, NC, and the Auto Road up Mt. Washington, NH, all of which we found more challenging than the AZ Sidewinder (but in fairness, those other rides were on 2 wheels, not 3.)  The route provides outstanding views of the valley, rock formations, and the winding roads traversed to reach Sitgreaves Pass, elevation 3,550 feet.  Check it out for yourself in this video:

Oatman was a kick, with the old mining town buildings transformed into souvenir shops, clothing boutiques, and pub and grub establishments.  We watched the Oatman Marauders perform their cheesy bank heist/gunfight for an 8th year.  They might act like outlaws, but these are some kind-hearted thespians—all the donations they collect for their performances are passed along to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, so I was happy to dig into my cheese money to support such a worthy cause.  Oatman’s main attraction, however, is the local burros, who walk down the middle of the road as if they own it.

Mamma and her baby burro.  Since the youngster is still relying on Mom to get nourishment, the baby burro wears a sign that reads, "Please don't feed me."

What a fun time we had.  After making requisite souvenir purchases, we loaded back on Maximus and headed along 66 to Golden Shores.  Along the route, we passed some truly secluded off-grid camping areas.  How very cool to boondock along this historic road with wild burros as neighbors!

This burro was EXTREMELY happy to see me.  I told Dad to high-tail it outta there before Mr. Happy tried to hump me!

We stopped for fuel in Golden Shores, then turned onto County Road 1 that led us to US-95 in Bullhead City, which reminded me very much of Lake Havasu.


We got back to Golden Valley with hungry bellies, so it warranted a visit to Great American Pizza.  The establishment is family-owned and operated and very community minded, supporting ball teams, Scouts, etc.   It subscribes to a patriotic motif/theme and emblazes its motto, “we trust in the crust” above its front door.   Pleasant, efficient, and accommodating, the staff was comprised of lots of young adults and high school students.  How impressive is that?  Our delicious vegetarian pizza came loaded with a variety of plant-based toppings, including spinach and artichokes at no extra charge, and included our own vegan cheese.  Great American Pizza earns a coveted Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese rating!

Probably the best vegan pizza we have ever devoured.  Look at the piles of veggies and bubbles on the crust!  Yum!

Dad is always happy when he gets his belly full.

The next morning we rode Maximus up Hualapai Mountain Road.  There are some gorgeous homes here, surrounded by the tranquility and beauty of the Hualapai Mountains.  We saw where Hualapai Mountain Road intersects with the AZ Peace Trail, the very same trail that we ride in Quartzsite, AZ.  It would be so cool to someday travel the full 625 miles along this back country loop trail!  We planned to do some hiking at Mohave County Park, but the winds kicked up ferociously.  It is no fun being on a trike with 50+ mph gusts hitting you in the face, so we hightailed it back to our campsite and hunkered down the rest of the day. 


We celebrated Easter by attending services at Abundant Grace Fellowship and enjoying Mom’s plant-based Shepherd’s Pie dinner.  I had another reason to rejoice—it was the 39th anniversary of my rescue from the toy store.  Instead of cake, Mom baked me a bread that she said was a rendering of me.  How insulting!  Every year her depiction of my physical attributes gets more hideous.  Fortunately, Mom’s images of me taste much better than they look!  And my parents bought me a cool celebratory gift!  Look who the putty cat has in its basket:  one of my rodentia relatives.


Yours truly coloring Easter eggs.

Mom's plant-based Easter dinner spread.  Notice the bread she baked for the 39th anniversary of my rescue from the toy store.  Don't know if this takes the "worst rendering" award...

...or does the honor go to my cake from 2021?

At least I got a cool gift!

After dinner, we walked around the neighborhood, clocking 3 miles.  There are lots of affordable parcels of land for sale here.  But even with 40-acre tracts, homeowner associations are prevalent and can restrict/dictate what can be done with your property.  No thank you.


Well, it’s time to delve into Mom’s plant-based desserts--cheese cake and chocolate pumpkin loaf.  I’ll talk to you again soon!