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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hiking with the Usual Suspects to the Stone Cabin

Camp Counselor Kathy announced last night at the Usual Suspects Happy Hour that we were going to take a desert hike today to while away some time as we waited for Tony and Dee Dee to arrive at Boomerville.  Promptly at 10am, as soon as our generator was finished its morning charge, we ventured next door and picked up those friends who were interested in the hike.  George and Nan had other things to do, But Dick, Gaila, Mike and Judy were all game.  So off, eastward, into the desert foothills of the Plomosa Mountains we hiked.  Down wash and up flats, in and out of the cholla and saguaros we tramped.

Kathy had it in her mind that she would find us the gravestone of Elizabeth M. Mullen, which we had discovered on the same hike we did with other Boomers a year ago, described in our blog entry for that hike.  Our group stood in respectful silence for a few moments before passing on up sloping flats:

The entire area is littered with beautiful quartz stones that have washed down from the nearby mountains.  David happened to spot a huge, squarish quartz rock that had sheared along two parallel planes to make three bookend-type pieces.  However, as Mike pointed out, it was levitrite ("leave it, right?") and, dutifully following the "Lucy" rule, David left the beautiful stones to decorate the desert where he found them:

We also ran across a chubby little barrel cactus, just peeking out of the cobble bed of the wash.  From the perspective of our approach, it looked almost perfectly spherical, and stood out with its gorgeous scarlet hues against the green-and-grey desert background:

Our merry band trekked onward, up into the hills, passing several intriguing cairns, to the petroglyph rocks pictured in our blog entry from a year ago, and on up to the BLM road that would take us to the stone cabin.  We paused for a group photo as we waited for a 4-wheeler to pass:

Soon after this, as we neared the "Spanish Wall," also discussed in our earlier blog entry, Mike and Judy decided to head back to camp while the rest of us hiked on up to the Stone Cabin (Gaila snapped this shot):

Just as we neared the top of the grade where the Stone Cabin sits, we ran into George, who had decided to join some mountain bikers on an outing up to the same area we were hiking.  Here is George as he welcomes Kathy to his biking domain:

George was biking with other Boomers, and one of them, Connie Farley, took a great selfie of the bikers and hikers together, to memorialize this historic encounter:

Reaching the Stone Cabin, Gaila, Dick and we rested, rehydrated and ate some snacks, pausing, of course, for the obligatory selfy:

David poked around a bit while the others snacked, and found this very recently constructed mining claim marker.  By its markings, it denotes the corner of four claim sections.

The view west from the Stone Cabin shows a panorama of the valley below, dotted with thousands of RV's boondocking in the desert in anticipation of the big RV tent show which starts this Saturday:

We decided it was time to head back to Boomerville, but not before Gaila noticed a pretty little cholla forest off the road.  We felt they were so cute, they had to grace the end of this blog entry.

And so it is the end of this blog entry.  And, in honor of A. A. Milne, whose birthday it is today (according to our sister-in-law Risa), just as Christopher Robin and Pooh discussed at the end of one of their journeys, we contemplated moving on:

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh's paw. "Pooh," said Christopher Robin earnestly, "if I - if I'm not quite --" he stopped and tried again - "Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won't you?"

"Understand what?"

"Oh, nothing." He laughed and jumped to his feet. "Come on!"

"Where?" said Pooh.

"Anywhere," said Christopher Robin.

Rockhounding at Crystal Hill in Quartzsite, Arizona

On Tuesday, January 17, we decided to give our new Jeep (not named yet, but David is inclined toward, "Nellybelle") its maiden trek down a jeep road and go rockhounding at Crystal Hill.  The site, located south of Quartzsite, Arizona in the KOFA National Wildlife Refuge, is about 9 miles in from US 95 along a dirt road.  Kathy learned about it in a rockhounding book and found more information online.

Crystal Hill, located in the in the Livingston Hills, is the only area within the refuge where recreational rock or mineral collecting is permitted. Quartz crystals are hidden in the washes and on
the rocky slopes of Crystal Hill, making this an ideal location for rockhounding or collecting. While searching for quartz crystals at the top of the hill, visitors can also enjoy the 360 degree view of the
surrounding area.

Here's the Rockhound-in-Chief, armed with her geologist's rock hammer, gazing up lustfully at Crystal Hill (well, she's actually gazing away from it, but the back of her head isn't as pretty as the front):

It turns out that, as proclaimed on a sign at the foot of the hill, the use of tools to hunt for clear crystal quartz is prohibited.  Bare hands (and maybe other rocks) only.  Okay, so the rock hammer goes back in the pack and we plan to do a lot of surface scanning for gems among the loose rubble.

Quartz, belonging to the class of silicates, comprises approximately 12 percent of the Earth’s crust. It is produced when the two most abundant elements in the surface of the Earth, oxygen and silicon, bond. Quartz crystallizes when volcanic magma cools and becomes solid.  Quartz appears in a variety of forms and shapes and varies from being clear to almost opaque. It may be found in the form of large grains, crystals or veins.  Crystals can appear either as a single point or in a cluster. Pure quartz is white or colorless, while other types of quartz may be rose, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, or black depending on the trace elements they contain.  The Livingston Hills are known to have
both quartz veins and crystals. Some veins in the hills contain tourmaline and pyrite, two other minerals. Most of the quartz crystals found at Crystal Hill are either clear or milky white.

It didn't take much climbing to get above the valley floor.  Here, Kathy surveys a likely site with a big wash below which we had had to cross to get to the base of the hill:

As we climbed further up the hill, we would search for quartz seams where rocks had broken off and tumbled down the hill.  These rockfall areas are the most productive, and one or two of them seemed to produce some clear quartz.

We got so high, we could barely see old Nellybelle on the desert floor below:

One big quartz seam was so rich, others had actually mined into it, creative caves, perhaps looking for gold.  Here, David's shadow peers into one of the man-made caves:

Kathy kept finding fields to examine for quartz, so her progress up the peak was slow.  David, on the other hand, had the summit in mind, so he made steadier progress up the hill, but was less successful finding the clear quartz.  From the summit, he had some great views -- first to the northwest --

-- and then to the southwest:

If you're interested in the entire scene from the top, here is a  360 degree view from the summit of Crystal Hill.

We spent a few hours combing the hillside, and it paid off.  Kathy found some pretty little gems and proudly displayed them by the gloves she used to protect her hands from the sharp edges of quartz rocks:

This was a very successful trip!  We got our rocks off, and Nellybelle did her job admirably.  Now, on to the next remote rockhounding site!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hike Up Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon, with a summit elevation of 9,159 feet, is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. It is located in the Coronado National Forest north of Tucson. In the native O'odham language, it is called, "Babad Do ľag," which means "Frog Mountain."  Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, on the mountain's northeastern side, reportedly receives 200 inches of snow annually.  Locals have told us we can't miss a drive up here, and they were right.  We didn't know what to expect.  While a hike was our main goal, we decided to decide on a hike once we surveyed the whole road up.

We gave our new Jeep its initiation by driving the 28 miles up the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) into the Santa Catalina Mountains from the east side of Tucson.  The whole area is embraced by the Coronado National Forest, which includes about 1.78 million acres spread throughout mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The beautiful, curving Catalina Highway is a favorite drive for tourists, for locals escaping summer's heat and cyclists, and has been recently designated as the Sky Island Parkway, part of the US National Scenic Byway system.

We were completely unprepared for the beauty we encountered.  Essentially, we spent the day in two completely different zones.  Starting in Tucson, at about 2,000 feet elevation, we rose through spectacular arid terrain, sprinkled with hoodoos, between 4,000 and 6,000 feet.

We reached a section where spectacular towers of rock sprung up on each side of us, and we couldn't resist hopping out of the Jeep to take photos and explore the dramatic environment.  Here, Kathy perches on a capstone of one of the hoodoos:

If one hoodoo is good, many hoodoos are much better, so we'll share with you some of our best new friends:

We especially liked the drama and depth of this photo, looking down into a canyon from above one of the hoodoos:

Thoroughly excited, we jumped back in the Jeep and continued up the road, making a stop at the Ranger Station for information and hiking suggestions.  The ranger on duty was friendly and suggested we hike to the top of Mount Lemmon by the Aspen Draw Trail.  While not long (only 5 miles out and back) it is steep, with 1,350 feet elevation gain, most of that in the last mile of the climb.  Our ranger reported to us that fires in the early 2000s burned large areas of the mountain, changing the terrain along sections of nearly every high elevation trail. The Aspen Draw Trail is a beautiful exception; while some small sections had clearly seen small ground fires (probably from lightning strikes), there was no impact from large forest fires along our hike.

By the time we reached our trailhead in Summerhaven, we had reached 7,800 feet, and we were surrounded by an old growth forest of Ponderosa pine and aspen.  Here is the scene that greeted us as we started hiking up from where we parked the Jeep:

Only at the last minute before we left the RV did we remember to bring our microspikes, and just about at this point, we became grateful we had remembered them.  Nearly the entire trail was icy or snowy, with maximum snow depth only 6 inches or so.  But what a bonus:  SNOW!

At the bottom, our trail followed the fetching little Turkey Run, which showed off some little cascades from the melting snow:

Perhaps half a mile up the old forest road, we arrived at the official trailhead, which David cuddles up to in the photo below:

The soft, fresh, powdery snow was a pleasure to hike on, despite some icy spots.  The snow also set off the forest and every little detail with an iridescent glow:

Along the stream, we encountered this unexpected, quirky construction on the top of an old tree stump.  The sign reads, "Welcome to Abigail's Good Luck Fairy Village":

Further along the trail, upslope from the trailhead, we skirted the edge of one of the ski runs on Mount Lemmon.  While the ski runs are not yet open due to lack of snow, daytrippers were able to ride the ski lift up the mountain and enjoy the views and scenery.  We, on the other hand, looked at this scene and imagined ourselves schussing down the gentle, curving trail in deep powder:

In due course, we reached the top, shed our packs, and sat down to a scrumptious lunch of peanut butter and strawberry-and-rhubarb-jelly sandwiches (YUM) with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for dessert (DOUBLE YUM).  While we at, we had a 360 degree view from the top of Mount Lemmon, south toward Tucson and north toward Saddlebrooke, Arizona.

As we started back down, we paused for a selfie at the junction of the ski runs near the top of the ski lift --

-- and took in the gorgeous view this sunny day:

We couldn't have picked a better outing if we had known what we were doing.  The weather was perfect.  The hike through the snow was perfect, the climb was invigorating.  We got breathtaking view of the Catalina Mountains.  It whetted our appetite to come back and try hiking some more of the maybe 50 picturesque hikes in the area around Mount Lemmon.

If you happen to be in the Tucson area, don't miss this wonderful, scenic wonderland.

Christmas in DC

Hi Blog!

We have returned to Tucson from our three week trip to the East Coast. While we still don't have our motor home, we did pick up our Jeep! Before beginning our RV adventures anew, we wanted to share some more of our holiday memories. When last we blogged, we had just completed a trip to the Philadelphia area. When we returned to Arlington, we began the Christmas preparations. Here Bubu (the Host with The Most) shows off the newly trimmed tree.

Matt, Weina and William had a few days of work and school to finish before Christmas vacation. We occupied ourselves with Christmas shopping and a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

We love all the Smithsonian Museums and this newest museum does not disappoint. It is so well curated and very interactive. Your journey starts in the basement where it is very cramped and dark, much like the history of slavery. As you work your way up the different floors, the building opens up and the exhibits take on a much lighter note, celebrating achievement and hope for the future. Do NOT miss the museum restaurant! They have home cooking from all over the country - fried chicken, gumbo, BBQ, buffalo brisket, trout and corn bread - just to name a few. If the timed tickets weren't so hard to come by, we'd go back again just for lunch!

Katie planned to arrive on the red eye and surprise William on his first day of Christmas vacation. As fortune would have it, Katie's flight was delayed about four hours. This gave William enough time to get up and surprise Katie at the airport!  Here is Sir William on his way from the Reston Metro Station to the airport taking time to let his little light shine!

Once we got back from the airport, it was time to get busy baking Christmas cookies and decorating the gingerbread house.

Dave admires the finished product.

One of our favorite places in D.C. is Blues Alley Jazz Club. Every time we are in the area, we check to see who is playing. As it turned out, Jane Monheit was scheduled to perform a holiday concert. We asked the kids if they wanted tickets for Christmas. Chance to go Christmas Clubbing with your kids - priceless!

Back at the home front, William helped Weina make baozi for our Christmas Eve breakfast.

After breakfast, Katie, Matt, Weina and William drove up to Joan and Joe's house in Delaware for their annual Christmas Eve dinner.  Before leaving, William made sure the stockings were hung by the fireplace video with care.

Christmas morning dawned bright and early. Before long, the merry band of Christmas travelers returned to find that Santa Claus had indeed visited while they were away. Here, Weina models the latest in Christmas fashion head gear.

While Matt and Katie cooked up a storm, Mommy, YeYe and NaiNai kept William entertained with Christmas movies, games and books.

A truly amazing feast was laid out before us - fresh green salad, pork shoulder braised in milk and onions, roasted brussell spouts and pumpkin mac and cheese!

Katie had to return to LA right after Christmas. We stayed through the New Year, having amazing adventures. William recently visited an art gallery which inspired him to create his own.

While we were still in town, Weina and Matt scheduled a "date" night which meant that we could also have a "date" night with William. Here we are enjoying one of our favorite Chinese restaurants.

We also scheduled a "play date" with William's cousin Ryan. We all drove to Kathy's brother's house, where Steve and Lea Ann hosted a New Year's Eve taco party! Since Ryan is six years older than William, he likes to share his "younger boy" toys. Here William and Dave are laying out the dozens of matchbox cars Ryan gifted to William.

Here we are getting ready to ring in the New Year!

We had time for one more adventure before it was back to work and school and retirement. Since the Smithsonians are only a metro ride away, Weina suggested we visit the National Air and Space Museum. We are doing our best to teach him to "boldly go where no one has gone before"!

As a final postscript, we have included a photo of the matchbox Jeep Wrangler Sahara that William gave us before we left. Whie it is not the same color as our new Jeep, William thought we should have it since we like Jeeps so much.  Now it sits proudly next to the (about to be historic) model of our truck and 5th wheel:

And so ends another holiday adventure. We are looking forward to trying out the new Jeep. Stay thirsty my friends.