Search This Blog

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Climbing Mount Cunningham

Saturday, January 26, 2019 was our last full day in Quartzsite.  It was our last chance to hike up Mount Cunningham, the highest mountain in the area around Quartzsite, and we persuaded our friends Duane and Jean to join us.  Duane even volunteered to drive us in his 4-wheel drive dually pickup.  We didn't refuse his offer.

The drive out from Quartzsite to the trailhead via Dome Rock Road was its own adventure.  The road kept getting narrower and rougher, but Duane was able to navigate our way until we finally reached the trailhead.  We took a selfie in celebration before starting our climb:

The climb was 2 miles long, with 2,000 feet of elevation gain -- quite a steep climb, and we huffed and puffed up the gravel road as it switched back and forth up the shoulder of the mountain:

We paused periodically to catch our breath and take in the views.  Here, Kathy poses with Jean and Duane halfway up the peak, with the Dome Rock Mountains in the background:

Halfway up, we finally got a dramatic view west through a nearby drainage in the Dome Rock Mountains:

The bright red color of numerous barrel cactus surprised us as we came around corners of the road on the upper reaches of the mountain:

Suddenly, as we made a turn up the road, Duane encountered our first close-up view of the summit with its numerous antennae and towers:

The views from the top of Mount Cunningham were breathtaking.  Here is a view northeast with Quartzsite in the distance in the left of the photo below, and Pipeline Road, leading out to Arizona Highway 95 on the right in the photo:

Our passage through these mountains is as brief and ephemeral as shadows upon the rocks.  We marveled at the grandeur of the peaks to our north:

Duane was so inspired, he tried to embrace the entire landscape!

Down there, far away, sat Duane's and Jean's truck, which they circled in this photo.  It was hard to imagine we had climbed this far.  We were a great distance above the truck than we were away from it!

Having reached the top, we stopped for lunch.  Here, Duane and Jean take a well-earned rest:

David, too, munched away on his lunch as we enjoyed the views:

To get a sense of the views we had, take a look at this 360 degree view from the summit of Mount Cunningham.

Of course, every climb up a mountain requires an equal descent.  The walk down is always faster, but much tougher on joints and muscles, than the aerobic climb up.  While our climb to the top took about 2 hours, our return took only a little over an hour -- half the time of our climb!

Needless to say, at least three of us were a little stiff and sore the following days.  We're not sure Duane felt the climb; he seemed to dance like a bighorn sheep up and down the mountain.  Oh, well, at least he was kind enough to pause and let us catch up with him from time to time.

All in all, a most memorable hike!  Thanks for joining us on it, Jean and Duane.

Swansea Ghost Town

Because we were suffering from airplane colds, and because of the heavy social schedule at Boomerville, we found it hard to get out to see the desert around our campsite in Quartzsite.  Finally, on Friday, January 25, 2019, we were able to take a Jeep ride northeast to Swansea Townsite, a ghost town located near Bouse, Arizona.

It was about an hour's drive.  Near the end, we summited a ridge and saw this view down into the valley where Swansea Townsite is located:

The site is well signed.  We stopped to read the historical markers:

Swansea was settled around 1909. It served as a mining town as well as a location for processing and smelting the copper ore taken from the nearby mines. Prospecting and mining in the area first began around 1862, but the remote location and lack of transportation kept activity to a minimum.

By 1904, the railroad was coming to nearby Parker, and local miners Newton Evans and Thomas Jefferson Carrigan saw an opportunity to develop the area. Within a few years, the two miners had built a 350-ton furnace, a water pipeline to the Bill Williams River, and hoists for five mine shafts.

By 1908, the claims in the area had been consolidated by the Clara Gold and Copper Mining Company, which set up its headquarters in the mining camp that would become Swansea. That same year, what was to become the Arizona and Swansea Railroad connected the town to Bouse about 25 miles away. These two factors spurred the growth of the town, and its population quickly grew to about 300 residents.  At its peak, Swansea boasted an electric light company, an auto dealer, a lumber company, two cemeteries, a saloon, theaters, restaurants, barbershops, an insurance agent, a physician, and of course the local mining and smelting facilities.

The town was short-lived. By 1911, the Clara Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining Company was in financial trouble. The company's promoter in Swansea, George Mitchell, spent considerable sums of money on improvements aimed at attracting investors at the expense of practical improvements to the process of mining, hauling, and processing ore. As a result, the high cost of improvements coupled with the high cost of production meant that the mines could not turn a profit, as the per-pound cost of copper production exceeded its price by three cents. The company collapsed in 1912, closing down the mines.

A new owner reopened the mines, and Swansea lived on until just after World War I when copper prices dropped, and the town went into a steep decline. Swansea's post office was discontinued on June 28, 1924, and the population dispersed. By 1937, the mines shut down, and Swansea was already a ghost town.

Today, Swansea is under the protection of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). You can still see a number of adobe structures, the remains of the railroad depot, two cemeteries, and several mine shafts. Remains of numerous cars can be seen scattered throughout the site. The BLM has restored roofs to rows of single-miner's quarters:

The miners' quarters boast views of the valley below.

Foundations of other structures remain, such as the general store:

However, adobe walls have been deteriorating, leaving partial walls as unique sculptures in the middle of the desert:

Some vehicles still sit where they were last parked, but the desert is slowly swallowing them:

Slag piles and tailings loom over the foundations of the main mining buildings:

This wall and its dramatic vents are all that remains of one of the separator buildings:

The ruins have become part of the dramatic Arizona landscape:

We only had time to spend about one and a half hours walking around the townsite, but we could have spent several hours exploring the ruins of the ghost town.  The trip paid much higher dividends than we expected!

Boomerville 2019

Hi Blog!

Happy New Year! We returned from our holiday trip to Myanmar and retrieved Buster and Dusty from storage and Flip and Baxter from the pet sitter. We camped for a few days in Chandler, Arizona in order to restock the rig. On Saturday, January 12, 2019, we drove out into the desert of Quartzsite, Arizona to commune with our friends.

We have often heard Quartzsite referred to as Burning Man for old people. Thousands and thousands of RVs arrive in January in order to attend the Rock and Mineral Show and the Big Tent RV Show. Various groups stake out their corner of the desert. We camp with the Boomers of the Escapees RV Club. Our little corner of the desert is know as "Boomerville." Here is a drone view of our "little" enclave. The total number of rigs this year was 214.

We circled up with a group of Unusual Suspects - Boomers that we have camped with before at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta or prior Boomervilles. Several "Unusuals" traveled to Mexico with the Mexican Connection. Our little circle grew by leaps and bounds as more Mexican Connection folks joined the Unususals.

Some of the "Boomer Babes" decided to head into town for lunch. This was a girls only event, but that didn't deter Dave McKenna from trying to join the group.  Sorry, Dave, no one was fooled.

You may ask what do you do boondocking in the desert for two weeks. While we try to get out on hikes, bikes and Jeep drives, the majority of our activity revolves around eating and drinking. No one goes hungry from one of our pot lucks!

It just so happened to be Bob's birthday, so Ann bought dozens of pies to share. Happy Birthday Bob!

Oh Snap! The latest craze to sweep through Boomerville: snap-on jewelry. The ladies discovered a vendor in the Tyson Wells Craft Show which sold snap-on jewelry.

There is more to Boomerville than eating, drinking and shopping. Weather permitting, Norm sets up the Desert Winds Movie Theater. This year, we got to watch some classic music videos while dancing the night away. The theater also screens a funny signs show and the most famous RV movie ever made, "The Long Long Trailer"!

With so many RVers coming from all over the US and Canada, we have the opportunity to share some of our favorite finds. Several Boomers got together to sample various gins. While each was tasty in its own right, our favorite is still Gin Thuya from Fils du Roy Distillery in New Brunswick, Cananda.

Sunsets in the desert are always colorful. We could probably fill the blog with sunset photos. Here is one of our favorite. Nothing says sunset like crepuscular rays!

While we could easily spend the entire two weeks out in the desert, it is fun to poke about. We discovered a Bluegrass Festival in nearby Blythe, California. There were two stages going at the same time. The bands were from all over the U.S. and Canada. We spent a beautiful day sitting in the sun, listening to some very talented musicians.

Another favorite road trip is an off-road adventure to the Nellie E. Saloon, otherwise know as the Desert Bar. Located 5 miles down a dirt road, this old mining camp has been converted into a bar, restaurant and music venue. The Unusuals took over the upper deck and were joined by two couples from Betty's RV Park.

No blog about Boomerville in Quartzsite would be complete if we didn't mention the pancake breakfasts. Four times during our stay, Gretchen and her volunteers man the grill and make pancakes for CARE. This photo is from cinnamon swirl pancake day. We also had blueberry pancake day and bacon-and-pancake day, just to mention a few.

The Big Tent RV Show is big. By the time you've walked around the entire circus tent, you have built up a powerful thirst. Lucky for us, just outside of the Big Tent, is Beer Bellies Adult Day Care Center. A number of RVers from Betty's RV Park drove up from Yuma for a day of shopping. What better place to hold our Betty's RV Park Reunion than at Beer Bellies!

After reading this blog about Boomerville, you might think that all we did was eat and drink. However, we did manage to get out and collect a few geocaches. We also did a really cool Jeep drive to Swansea Ghost Town and hiked to the top of Mount Cunningham. You'll have to read the next couple blogs to get more details on those adventures.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

A Tale of Four Pagodas

On our visit to Myanmar in 2017, we indulged our appetite for pagodas by visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, and then simply gorging on them when we visited the temple city of Bagan.  This year, our pagoda visits were more targeted -- partly because William doesn't have an adult's patience for walking around looking at old buildings.

We had a chance to see four of the most significant pagodas within range of Yangon.


The first we saw was the Sule Pagoda, which we caught sight of as our taxi took us to the ferry for our day trip to Dala on December 27:

(credit Jason Eppink -, CC BY 2.0,

The Sule Pagoda is a Burmese stupa located in the heart of downtown Yangon, occupying the centre of the city and an important space in contemporary Burmese politics, ideology and geography. According to legend, it was built before the Shwedagon Pagoda during the time of the Buddha, making it more than 2,600 years old. Burmese legend states that the site for the Shwedagon Pagoda was asked to be revealed from an old nat who resided at the place where the Sule Pagoda now stands. The Sule Pagoda has been the focal point of both Yangon and Burmese politics. It has served as a rallying point in both the 1988 uprisings and 2007 Saffron Revolution.


The story of our Tuk Tuk Tour of Dala is in another blog entry.  However, one stop we made which fits more with the theme of this blog entry was the Shwe Sayan Pagoda:

Shwe Sayan Pagoda lies just outside the center of Dala.  Our guide Htou Htou told us that, in the stupa lies a mummified monk enclosed in glass protected by a locked gate. The monk lived in Dala before he died.  He was put in the pagoda 150 years ago. His body is wrapped as a mummy and covered with gold. One of his eyes is said to have opened in 2008. The villagers took this as a warning sign from the monk of the cyclone that destroyed Dala later that year. Our guide related that, above the monk's glass resting place is a photograph showing his eye open that year.  We could not enter to see the monk's resting place or the rest of the interior of the pagoda, our guide told us, because the pagoda was under construction.


Because Katie and her mom and aunt had not visited Yangon in 2017, we revisited the Shwedagon Pagoda in downtown Yangon:

According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda was constructed more than 2,600 years ago, which would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world.  According to tradition, two merchant brothers from the north of Singuttara Hill what is currently Yangon met the Lord Gautama Buddha during his lifetime and received eight of the Buddha's hairs. The brothers returned to Burma and, with the help of the local ruler, King Okkalapa, found Singuttara Hill, where relics of other Buddhas preceding Gautama Buddha had been enshrined.

The pagoda is surrounded by the teeming city, which makes some of the approaches quite dramatic:

Inside the pagoda, the main stupa dominates every scene:

This year, the stupa was undergoing renovations, so it was surrounded in scaffolding, which you can see behind this shrine:

The pagoda grounds are enormous, which makes navigating the entire complex challenging.  It would take hours to see the entire pagoda complex.

In various sites around the grounds, large bells are situated where visitors may strike them three times for blessings.  The one who tolls the bell is blessed, but anyone who hears the gonging of the bell is also blessed.

The gold seen on the stupa is made of genuine gold plates, covering the brick structure and attached by traditional rivetsPeople all over the country, including monarchs, have donated gold to the pagoda to maintain it. The practice continues to this day after being started in the 15th century by the Queen Shin Sawbu (Binnya Thau), who gave her weight in gold.  On our visit December 29, 2018, we were lucky to watch part of the ceremony of accepting a donor's contribution of gold for the stupa.  After the donated gold is received, it is carried up to the stupa via at gondola as if rising to heaven (the white forms on the scaffolding are, indeed, representations of clouds):

The whole ceremony is impressive.  Here is a video of a gondola hoisting contributed gold leaf up to be applied to the stupa.


On December 30, 2018, we embarked on a 3.5 hour journey up to see magnificent Golden Rock Pagoda:


Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (also known as Golden Rock) is a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site. It is a small pagoda (24 feet tall) built on the top of a granite boulder covered with gold leaves pasted on by its male devotees.  According to legend, the Golden Rock itself is precariously perched on a strand of the Buddha's hair. The balancing rock seems to defy gravity, as it perpetually appears to be on the verge of rolling down the hill. The rock and the pagoda are at the top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo. Another legend states that a Buddhist priest impressed the celestial king with his asceticism and the celestial king used his supernatural powers to carry the rock to its current place, specifically choosing the rock as the resemblance to the monks head. It is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Burma after the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Pagoda.

When we decided on New Year's weekend to make the trip, we didn't realize that that weekend is the heaviest travel weekend of the year for people in Myanmar.  This meant that EVERYONE traveled up to see Golden Rock.  The local village was absolutely besieged with vehicles, and it took nearly a half hour for our little van to work its way from the edge of town in to the bus station where the transport trucks were picking people up to shuttle them to the pagoda.

People were everywhere, waiting for their rides, including this large group of Bhuddist nuns:

There were so many pilgrims, and so few trucks, that people mobbed a truck as soon as it appeared, jumping up into seats even before the fortunate pilgrims returning from the pagoda could get off.  To get an idea of the mayhem, check out this video of the mass confusion where everyone was trying to jump on transport trucks to golden rock pagoda.

Katie pointed out that, if it was so mobbed at the bottom during the morning, it could be impossible to get a truck ride back from the pagoda later in the day.  We might not get out of the village until late in the day.  We decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and we piled back into our van for the long ride back to Yangon. While we stopped for lunch at a pretty resort along the way, this still didn't stay the fatigue of 7 hours of riding in a van.  Little William had to exercised his last nerve of patience to endure the ride:

As a result, we never actually saw Golden Rock, as you might guess from the credited photo above.  But we certainly experienced a slice of Myanmar cultural life that we'll never forget!

Perhaps when we visit Myanmar in 2019, we won't put pagodas on the list.  We know William will agree with that.

Tuk Tuk with Htou Htou!

Hi Blog!

We spent the Christmas holidays with Matt, Weina and William in Yangon, Myanmar. This was our second Christmas in Myanmar. Last year we toured the temples of Bagan and Inle Lake. This year we were hoping to do some touring closer to Yangon that didn't require an air flight. We heard from one of Matt's colleagues about a local tour guide who takes you around his home township of Dala, which is just across the river from Yangon. We contacted Htoo Htoo (pronounced two two), the owner of The Beyond Yangon Tuk Tuk Tour, and arranged a day of adventure.

You might wonder what a Tuk Tuk is.  Well, take a look:

Our day started bright and early. The sun was just peeking over the horizon when Htoo Htoo met us at the American Club with two taxis. After a short drive through downtown Yangon, we arrived at the ferry dock. We arranged our round-trip tickets and waited for the boat to board. There are two ways to get across the Yangon River. One is by large ferry boat and the other is by small dugout canoe with a loud diesel engine. Because the canoes are easily tipped over, foreigners are not permitted to ride in them. So, it was the big boat for us.

The Yangon River is a marine estuary that runs from Yangon to the Gulf of Martaban of the Andaman Sea. The channel is navigable by ocean-going vessels. We saw a number of large oil tankers and shipping container vessels as we made our way across. Once we docked in Dala, Htoo Htoo introduced us to our Tuk Tuk drivers, and we began our tour. We drove past this colorful temple on the way to a traditional Myanmar marketplace.

After walking around the open air market, Htoo Htoo took us to one of his favorite villages for breakfast. We learned that Dala Township contains at least 50 separate villages. After filling up with spicy noodles, fresh fruit and tea, we continued to explore. Every village has it own temple, some are more ornate than others.

The longest manmade canal in Myanmar is Twante Canal. It is a shortcut waterway from the Irrawaddy Delta to the Yangon River.  It is over 21 miles long. There is only one bridge that spans the canal. Walking out on the Twante Bridge gave us panoramic views of the Irrawaddy Delta. The teak plantations and mangrove swamps have all been cleared for rice production.

After photo ops on the bridge, we Tuk Tuked our way over to Hmwe Paya, more famously known as the Snake Temple. Before meeting the snakes, we stopped in a local tea shop for a bit of a rest stop. Here, Sir William learns the fine art of balancing your way across a bamboo bridge.

Htoo Htoo makes a point of bringing snacks and candies for the local school children we meet along our tour. The kids are friendly and curious.

Unfortunately, the kids can be a bit enthusiastic. William got a flower from the flower market which he carried around all day in a water bottle. The bottle was sitting on the table when a young girl accidentally decapitated it. William was devastated.

After apologizing profusely, the young girl ran off and came back with an even better flower. Here we are with Htoo Htoo and the two flowers.

Hmwe Paya or Snake Temple was founded in 1974 when a Buddhist monk was tending the old pagoda. Inside, the monk found two large pythons wrapped around a statue of Buddha. The monk dutifully carried the snakes out to the jungle and returned to clean the pagoda. Within a day the snakes were back, and a third had joined. Each time, the monks would carry the snakes out to the jungle, and each time they would return. Eventually the monks came to see the snakes as holy, possibly the reincarnated souls of monks who used to tend to the pagoda. The monks stopped removing the snakes and instead began taking care of them.

The temple building is surrounded by a lake. The locals sell fish food which you can buy to feed the large carp and catfish that live in the pond. The fish must have already eaten by the time we arrived, because not a one came up to eat our crackers.

True to its name, the Snake Temple is filled with snakes. Some are so large, it would take two people to lift them. A couple of them were moving about the building, but most were just content to sit and soak up the sun.

After the Snake Temple, we visited a local monastery known for their buddha statues. There were hundreds and hundreds of them all lined in rows.

The statues are all sponsored by various family members in the community. On special occasions, the family will visit their buddha and wrap him in silk and leave offerings.

After communing with the buddhas, it was time to Tuk Tuk over to a nearby village. Twante Township is known for their clay pots. We stopped at a small pottery factory. Here the bowls are waiting their turn in the kiln.

The potter took us over to his workshop where he prepares the clay. Once the clay is the correct consistency, he throws it on the wheel. He showed us a couple of bowl designs that he makes and then he let William have a turn at the wheel.

Sir William proudly displays his creation. While we couldn't purchase that exact bowl since it still needed to be kiln dried, we did come home with one that looks just like it.

After the pottery shop, we stopped at a recycle center. The local artists take all sort of recycled materials from bike tire tubes, plastic bags, tarps, broken umbrellas and turn them into usable products like door mats, wallets, backpacks and table cloths.

Our last stop was Htoo Htoo's home. His mother and father invited us in and we met his two younger brothers. We finished our tour with a delicious homemade lunch.

We had a wonderful adventure. If you are ever in Yangon and want to get out and see the country side, we highly recommend The Beyond Yangon Tuk Tuk Tour.