Texas

So, Texas is a really big state. Looking back through my log I see that I’ve spent 12 days circling around the state. I’m trying to avoid driving on the major interstate highways so I stay on the two lane roads towards Lubbock and stop for the first night at Buffalo Springs Lake. It’s an odd place, you are driving across west Texas with desert scrub and cotton fields, suddenly there is a sort of canyon with a lake and tons of wildlife. IMG_20160907_192414.jpg

In Abilene I visited the 12th Armored Division museum, small but lots of great exhibits. The 12th AD trained here before shipping off to Europe at the end of WWII. They were involved in some battles in late 1944 after the Battle of the Bulge, some of the first into Germany, liberated concentration camps. and were the American troops who captured Dr. Werner von Braun who would become one of the fathers of the American space program.

I’m talking to the guy who maintains the vehicles, I remark on how simple the Jeep engine seems and he tells me yes, with a screwdriver and a couple of wrenches you can tear down and rebuild the whole thing. The story behind the ‘Cooked Rat’ is that he was rebuilding it for a parade, had pulled out the radiator to flush it then reinstalled the radiator but left the hoses disconnected. A couple of weeks later he plugged in the hoses, added coolant, fired it up and it immediately started overheating. Suspecting a blockage in the hoses, he disconnected them and soon pulled out a fully boiled rat with a pair of pliers.

On the two lane highways you go through a lot of small towns. Here is one, I don’t remember the name but they are all similar. The county building and the square around it. Many of the smaller towns are mostly dead, all of the old mom and pop businesses are closed and boarded up. This town is doing pretty well.

Oil wells everywhere, still pumping.

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Every town has its claim to fame

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Spent a night at Possum Kingdom Lake State Park. At the entrance. the ranger said “Just go on down and pick out a campsite, leave a cooler or something to save it, then come back up and register with me.”  Chicago people will know there’s only one way to save your spot.

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It’s very nice, right on the lake. I can hear the tiny waves lapping at the shore all night.

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From Possum Kingdom I drive to Allen TX north of Dallas. I’m visiting my friend Jim, recently of IBM.  It’s strange as we have worked together probably 15 years but have only met maybe once in person. Jim immediately makes me feel at home, and we make an attempt at installing some 30mm spacers on the Land Cruiser rear springs. After loading all of my gear the truck sits mostly level, I would like to get an extra inch of clearance in the rear. I’m having trouble getting the rear up high enough to drop out the springs so in the interest of safety we call it a day and go inside to the AC and cold beer and watch some baseball. Jim and his lovely wife Liz make me feel right at home and it’s great to relax in their home as Jim cooks some excellent steaks on the grill. Next day, after a great omelet for breakfast, I am off to Waco.

There are a ton of Monarch butterflies around, it must be the winter migration

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Morning on the Brazos River outside Waco

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I mentioned to Kelsey I was on Waco, she said I had to visit Magnolia Farms, the store of the HGTV Fixer Upper people (and buy her something). This place is crazy, on a Monday morning I have to park three blocks away. It’s filled with women looking for knickknacks, the few men in attendance have the same look as guys accompanying their wives/girlfriends to a big sale at the shoe store. The place is huge and they are adding on to it even as we speak. There is also conveniently a cupcake/muffin bakery in the complex.

I went with a blueberry crumble muffin, it was very good.

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The other thing that Waco is famous for is Dr Pepper, it was invented here in the early 1900s and now hosts the Dr Pepper museum.  They have uncovered the original well which supplied the water to make Dr Pepper as well as all the bottle washing (they switched to city water in the 1930s)

On my way out of Waco, I’m going around a corner and see a huge smoky barbecue with a tiny old man tending it. The smell is incredible so I whip right into the 1.5 car parking lot of Ma and Pa’s BBQ Shack and go inside for the lunch special. Chopped beef with a cold Dr Pepper, it doesn’t get much better than this. My only complaint is the bread, they serve it up with a plain slice of white bread. I’m missing  Sheffield’s jalapeno corn bread.

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Visited Austin and the state capitol. Very nice with a big park all around with statues and monuments.

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On to San Antonio. I visit a couple of the famous missions, Mission San Jose and Mission Concepcion.

I stay a few days at an AirBnB place in the NW burbs, a relaxing break from driving and camping.

I really liked the San Antonio river walk, here on a Friday afternoon but I bet it is jumping on the weekend nights.

Visited the Alamo

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Then east to Spring TX to spend the weekend with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Another relaxing weekend, they take me out to a Brazilian steakhouse (one more thing off the bucket list) and Old Spring which is packed with quirky little stores. It looks like the Pirate/Steampunk store is having some kind of event and there are a bunch of people walking around in interesting outfits.

Heading west I jump on I-10 for the long haul west to LA. Stopped in Balmorhea TX, nice campground with roadrunners everywhere and a giant  pool fed by natural springs

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They are hard to catch on camera. here is one jumping up on my tailgate

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Caught a baby roadrunner perched on the dumpster

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New Mexico

First night in New Mexico I arrived late to Gallup NM and stayed in a motel on Historic Route 66. Got some great chiles rellenos at a little cafe in town.

Continuing on to Albuquerque, first thing is a Breaking Bad tour.

The Dog House was the site of several meetings in both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

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It’s a Wiener’s Circle type place, seems to be very popular. Their specialty is the foot long chili cheese dog, charred not boiled. It was very tasty.

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The A-1 car wash

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The White house. I feel sorry for the lady who lives here now, there are bars on all the windows and doors, big fence, security cameras and signs all over. You can see her sitting in the garage ready to chase off sightseers. I guess people are constantly trying to throw a pizza onto the garage roof.

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Hiked around Petroglyph National Monument. These images date back 400-700 years.

and toured the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, which also appeared in a Breaking Bad episode.

On the left is The Gadget, first plutonium bomb detonated at the Trinity Site in Alamogordo NM, to the right Fat Man and Little Boy which were detonated over Japan.

Atomic cannon

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You could get one of these science kits for your kid back in the 1950s

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Continuing east toward Texas, the grave of Billy the Kid at the old Fort Sumner cemetery. This headstone was added in 1931 and has been stolen and recovered several times since.

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Arizona

Sorry, I got a little ahead of myself in the last post. Kingman is actually part of Arizona not Nevada.

Continuing along in Arizona I booked two nights in the Grand Canyon campground. It’s the first National Park I’ve stayed in so far that was not almost completely full, I guess summer is over. After setting up camp and relaxing for a bit there is a huge crashing right behind me in the trees. There are two huge elk looking for food. They use their antlers to hook onto branches up over their head then pull them down to the ground where they can chew on them. These guys are really big, you can see the full size dumpster in the background for scale.

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I drive over to the Visitor Center (which conveniently closed 3 minutes before I arrived) and walk along the Rim Trail enjoying the view

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Found a nice spot on the rocks off the trail and watched the sun set over the canyon

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I’m thinking about doing the Bright Angel Trail down to the river and back up the next day. This is the one that they have signs all over the park warning you not to attempt in a single day, but the weather forecast looks good, 97 and partly cloudy at the bottom and mid 70s at the top, and I really need to work off that Sam’s Town buffet. I figure I will go down to the last water stop at Indian Gardens and see how it looks from there. Since they don’t want you to try to hike to the river they don’t show how far it is or the elevation change.  I set out bright and early at 7:00 down the trail. Early on I meet a bunch of people coming up, they came from the North Rim down to the river and back up the South Rim. Today is their fourth and final day on the trail.

A snake crossing the trail, first one I have seen so far.

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Maybe 3 miles down or so. It’s great just scooting along down hill.

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I get to Indian Gardens, 4.5 miles from the rim in about 2 hours. Finally there is a map that shows 3.1 miles from here to the river. It’s only 9:00 so I figure I have plenty of time no matter how slow it is going back up. I fill up 2 liters of water and set out for the river.

This section is the corkscrew, not a lot of switchbacks just a giant spiral down into the canyon.

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Almost there

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I reached the river at 10:00, 3 hours and 7.6 miles down from the rim. It feels great to kick off my boots and wade in the Colorado River, but you can only go out 8 feet or so because of the current.

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A rafting group pulls in and sets up lunch while I’m resting and enjoying the view. It turns out that almost all of the people walking down to the river with me are joining the rafting trip midway through. The rafts started the full trip 6 days ago and they have 8 more days to go. The biggest rapids are supposed to be downstream from here. That is definitely the way to go, walk down then raft out. One thing I didn’t realize is that only the guide has two big oars for steering, everybody else is just a passenger.

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After 45 minutes at the river I have to face the long slog back up. It is 2000′ back up the corkscrew to Indian Gardens and with the sun out it is slow going. A lot of rest and drinking stops, by the time I get to Indian Gardens two hours later I have gone through almost all of the 2 liters I started with. Hung out there drinking water and relaxing in the shade for awhile then continued toward the top. From here there is water every 1.5 miles. After an hour or so the clouds turn dark and it starts to rain. It’s nice to get cool but I only have a pack cover, no poncho, so I have to huddle under a rock overhang until the worst of the storm passes over.

The storm hitting the North Rim

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Finally nearing the top, I can see the railings on the overlooks. Not many people out due to the rain. Made it back to the start of the trail at 5:00, so 10 hours to go 15.2 miles round trip, 5000′ down and back up. I think I drank at least 7 liters of water along the way.

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Leaving Grand Canyon on the way to Page

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Horseshoe Bend outside Page AZ. Fun to sit on the edge of the cliff and take in the view

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A short detour into Utah, camping on the beach in Glen Canyon. I have cleverly framed this picture so you can’t see the 300 RVs, campers, and tents going all the way down the beach. It’s the weekend and this is a popular spot.

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I wanted to hike Antelope Canyon but it’s Labor Day weekend and all of the tours are booked until Tuesday. Instead I set off across Navajo country towards New Mexico.

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Nevada

Shortly after leaving Death Valley behind and entering Nevada, Google suddenly wants me to turn off the highway onto a gravel road in the middle of nowhere. Instead of just blindly following it and crashing to my death off a cliff or something I stop to check, and sure enough Google is right on the money. This road past an abandoned airstrip cuts out about 12 miles of highway driving, and after about 3 miles turns out onto the highway to Las Vegas so I continue on.

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I got a cheap hotel for the weekend at the HoJo’s on Tropicana, a couple blocks off the strip past the MGM and Hooters. First night it’s Friday night in Vegas, so of course I spend the evening in bed with the AC blasting, all of my stuff plugged into actual power outlets, a long hot shower, and catching up on some TV. After awhile I run out a grab a pizza and lie in bed eating pizza and watching the last few episodes of the Deadliest Catch season. Next day the Vegas excitement continues (at a somewhat late hour after staying up late the previous night) as I make my way to Henderson and do some shopping at REI, get a haircut, and pick up some groceries.  On the way back I stopped at the Pinball Hall of Fame, it’s just a warehouse with a bunch of pinball and video games lined up in rows. They do have a card on each giving the date it was manufactured but that’s about it.

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I visited the Neon Museum, a lot of fun. It’s a guided tour which takes over an hour; our guide knew the detailed history of all of the signs and had many stories about the history of Las Vegas. Halfway through the tour the sun set and they turned on the lights, making for a great show. Most of the signs are not in working condition, they’re just lit by spotlights.

Made one trip up the strip to the Bellagio fountain and back. No gambling, the only money the casinos got from me was through their restaurants. Instead of eating dinner I just snacked my way down the strip.

I was waiting for my forwarded mail to catch up with me and needed to spend one more day in Vegas so I went east of the strip to Sam’s Town on the Boulder Highway. I saw on some billboards that they are having a Killers extravaganza at the end of the month for the 10 year anniversary of the Sam’s Town album and figured why not. Being a Monday the room was quite inexpensive and came with two vouchers for the buffet. This place is huge, in good shape if a little tacky, and has everything: the aforementioned buffet, 8 movie theaters, bowling alley, pool, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Panda Express, Dunkin Donuts, and of course all the usual gambling stuff.

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Another relaxing day, first off to the pool to cool off, then to the movie theater to catch Jason Bourne, then the enormous buffet for dinner. Being a Monday I think I’m the youngest person here. Someone in the buffet line actually called me “young fella.” Wandered through the casino but still no gambling. I don’t get slot machines at all…they did away with money and the slot part, then the giant handle. Nowadays you just swipe a card and press a button or two and see what happens.

After picking up my mail I’m off to Kingman. A lot of old Route 66 stuff along here. Every gas station, restaurant, and store is playing Elvis music.

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I’m looking for a campground around Kingman. There are 2 right in town but checking the reviews shows a lively debate on the first whether the drug users have been chased out yet or not (consensus says yes but it’s still a pit), and the second says that the cockroaches mostly stay hidden during the day but at night they are all over everything. I end up going to a county campground outside town, 12 miles up at the top of Hualapai Mountain. A nice place with lots of big pine trees and deer and elk wandering around. The campsite across from mine is lined off with police tape but I’m pretty sure it’s because of water erosion across the middle and not that the previous occupants were murdered in their tents.

Northern California

The first stop in California is at Redwood National/State Park, the first of two redwood parks.

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A short detour along the ocean before getting into the big redwoods. It’s foggy, windy, and cold today.

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Both parks seem to claim the biggest redwood, this one is over 21 feet in diameter and over 300 feet tall.

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Further south in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which has the Avenue of the Giants that everyone remembers. Some nice hikes through the redwood groves, then I turn off onto the road to the campground. It’s narrow and twists around and through the redwoods.

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I always feel special when they put my name on the campsite. This spot is really nice, surrounded by redwoods.

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Back along with coast to Ft Bragg before heading inland. Still cold and foggy.

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I’m heading east toward Yosemite, I managed to get campground reservations for a Sunday and Monday. Weekends are impossible, I think they all book up on Jan 1 every year. So I have a few days to make my way across California. First stop is the Kelsey Creek campground just outside of Kelseyville CA. as I move inland the temp starts to rise. It was 54 degrees this morning on the beach but as I pull into Kelsey Creek it hits 100. But, as they always say, it’s a dry heat. Not too bad if you can find some shade and once the sun nears the horizon it’s very nice.

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There is a lake next to the campground, perfect for beating the 100 degree heat.

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Next off to Acorn Lake campground for the weekend. It’s a BLM campground on a man made lake, actually a water reservoir. Since there has been such sever drought in California what should be a lakeside campsite is a couple hundred feet above the lake. The lake is perfect temperature for swimming, which is good as it’s still close to 100 degrees in the afternoons. In the evening herds of deer come out of the trees and rocks to graze along the lake, at one point I counted 32. In the morning there are wild turkeys and geese grazing in the same spot. This is definitely a local place, I am the only one without CA license plates. Two ladies stop by to see the tent and ask how someone for Florida ended up here.

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Finally I arrive at Yosemite and set out on the valley rim hike. It’s late in the summer and they have not had much rain so all of the famous water features have dried up. Here is beautiful Mirror Lake, just under Half Dome. It’s just a puddle now not even knee deep.

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Continuing the hike along the valley rim, Lower Yosemite Falls. There is actually some water coming down at the very top, but it’s about like a garden hose turned halfway on.

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On the way out of the valley back to the campground I stop and look at El Capitan. It’s amazing in size and sheerness, despite the picture you have to crane your neck to look at the top. I get out my binoculars and watch a couple of climbers on the wall, about 300′ from the top. You can’t even seem them without binoculars.

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Next morning I drive back into the valley from my campground near the west park entrance. It’s a little hazy, but nice view of El Capitan and Half Dome together on the way in.

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I’m hiking the Four Mile Trail today, which is actually 4.8 miles of switchbacks going 3200′ up the valley wall to Glacier Point. There are so many trees in the valley it’s hard to get a good view but once I get up the trail near the top it is great.

Looking up the valley with El Capitan on the right.

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It is really steep, right here you can look straight down to the valley floor 3200′ below.

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At the end of the hike, Glacier Point. Half Dome on the right, North Dome on the left. A great place to sit, rest, and look around although it is mobbed by tourists who drove up here rather than hiked. If you drive I think it’s a 40 or 50 mile detour from the valley.

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On the way down I realize there is also a great view of the full length of Yosemite Falls, both Upper and Lower. Too bad it’s turned off.

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For reference this is what it’s supposed to look like from here

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The 9.6 miles/6400′ round trip ended up taking 3 hours up and 1:45 down.

Second night I could only get a hike in tent site so out comes the $12 Walmart tent

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Third day leaving Yosemite out the east entrance into the Owens Valley.

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I spend 3 days going down the Owens Valley, it’s very scenic and uncrowded. Although hot on the valley floor there are tons of National Forest campgrounds up against the Eastern Sierra mountains.  First night at North Lake campground outside Bishop, it was actually a little cold up at 9500′ but a very nice spot right on Bishop Creek.

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Gray’s Meadows outside Independence, a little lower elevation with great views and another campsite right on a creek. I was the only one in the campground.

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Stars were really out that night

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A deer came by to visit in the morning.

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Manzanar Historic site on the way to Lone Pine. This is one of 10 camps where thousands of Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. It has some very good displays and mock ups showing what life was like back then.

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Third night in the Owens Valley in Lone Pine campground at the foot of Mt Whitney (14505′ highest in the lower 48 states). It was almost 7 years to the day that I did the day hike to the summit, that is still one of the hardest I have done. 22 miles round trip, 6000′ up and then back down in 16 hours.  Nice spot to sit and watch the mountains in different conditions.

In the morning I set off across Death Valley on the way to fabulous Las Vegas NV.

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