An Early Morning Visit to Saguaro National Park

We arrived at the gate of the east park a bit after 7:00 on a cloudy morning threatening rain. Even so, the Saguaro (pronounced “Sa-War-O”) stood tall and magnificent in the shaded morning light. There are two separate parks, east and west, on either side of Tucson.

Even the mean-looking cholla cactus was bright and beautiful on this winter desert morning. I understand that cholla can be really nasty by dropping their “pods” with sharp, barbed spines. I was very careful to make sure Abby didn’t  get into those, especially when we took the short Desert Ecology Trail. Of course, in the Sonoran Desert there’s an abundance of ways to get into trouble with cactus spines!

The park ranges in altitude from 2,180 feet at the floor to 8,666 feet at the top of Rincon Mountain. It truly is magnificent, but I qualify that comment by noting it’s easy to say that when looking at it through a truck or car window rather than passing through on foot!

At the Visitor Center, I learned the Saguaro actually have vertical ribs rather than the “horizontal rings” common trees have, which makes it almost impossible to determine the age of the cactus. The Saguaro can live up to 150 years, sometimes reaching a height of 45 – 50 feet by that time.

Even though the Sonoran Desert hosts such things as poisonous Gila Monsters, the Arizona black rattlesnake, javelinas and black bears, I’m happy to say we didn’t run into any of those on our visit.

We spent the night in Ajo in a comfortable renovated school now named The Sonoran Desert Conference Center. Very comfortable and a spot I’d highly recommend. Tomorrow, Yuma calls us. The farthest west we’ll go without crossing the state line into California. But who knows, at some point in the next week or so we just may do that.

 

Chiricahua National Monument

We spent the past two days exploring this amazing area. Mile after mile of unbelievable huge formations of boulders and rocks, arranged so beautifully you’d think it was done by hand.

Our campground was at 5,400 feet, making nights in the tent pretty chilly as the temperature dropped below freezing. One of our drives up the mountain took us to nearly 7,500 feet…stunning and a bit scary at times on those switchbacks.

Here’s our little camp a mile in the sky:

8BA8322A-55A1-4E8B-BF81-1BA6E9B92A98

Tomorrow we plan a visit to Saguaro National Park.

On Your Mark, Get Set…

Our winter weather was pretty wimpy from November until mid January, but things have really changed to what we normally see this time of year.

winter 1-26-19

Now that’s more like January in Michigan!

My original plan for my camping trip to southern Arizona called for leaving and heading south on Monday, 1/28, but that changed in a hurry when I saw Monday’s weather report this morning:  4 – 8 inches of snow with frigid temperatures. Those don’t sound like fun driving conditions so I plan to leave Sunday afternoon, before Monday’s snow and after giving them time to clean up the highway after Saturday night’s forecast of 4 inches or so! It’s not an ideal “window”, but I’ll take what I can get at this point. My planned route will take me south of here in a hurry to Indianapolis and into the western corner of Kentucky. Hopefully, that will let me outrun snowfall but cold temperatures look poised to affect all areas even into Arkansas. Given a choice, I’ll take the cold before snowfall any day I need to travel.

Thankfully, I’ve gathered my supplies and equipment, packed containers and a small suitcase so I can load up the truck quickly and head out of Dodge. Unfortunately, as I write this our Internet is down…perfect timing. I hope I can get this posted prior to heading out tomorrow. If not, I’ll post occasional entries as time and the availability of wi-fi connections permit.

Preparations Almost Complete

What do you need to eat, sleep and live somewhat comfortably while traveling for a month or so? Thanks to a few camping trips over the past couple years, I think I have a pretty good idea. The packing list I created contains over 190 items and with that I should have most if not all I need to have an enjoyable and safe time next month.

I have been amazed at the huge amount of information available on YouTube.com. Videos ranging from suggested camping supplies to reviews of specific campgrounds have been extremely helpful. Its really nice to actually see and get a feel for the types of terrain we’ll run into.

Unfortunately, this lousy government partial shutdown is beginning to affect our national parks. Reports of trashed restrooms and waste containers overflowing are a sad commentary on the childish behavior of many visitors—visitors who get into the parks free right now! Thankfully, my plans do not include national parks on this trip. So far, most of the places I’ll be visiting have not been affected. Who knows though…perhaps the childish behavior in D.C. will come to an end in a few more weeks.

Anyway, I’ll just keep packing and organizing, knowing that I’ll be heading west in a few short weeks. Shutdown or not, I cannot wait!

 

A Major Camping Trip Coming Up

Since I retired from my full-time job seven years ago I’ve worked a couple part-time jobs here and there. Now finally, my last part-time job is winding down. I look forward to being footloose and fancy-free…and why not at the ripe old age of 71?!!? With the time I’ll have on my hands and since my wife—9-1/2 years younger— is still working full-time I’ve decided to use this opportunity to take a long camping trip to the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona.

My wife has absolutely no interest in camping, especially in a tent, nor does she have any inkling that traveling over 2,000 miles by pick-up truck only to wind up sleeping in a desert with rattlesnakes, tarantulas, cactus galore and scorpions would be a good time! So, my dear friend and four-legged buddy, Abby, and I will be making the trip by ourselves…and we can’t wait. Near the end of January, I’ll be closely monitoring the weather reports from southwest Michigan, down to Arkansas, and then westward along I-40 and the old Route 66 to Arizona. As soon as it seems we’ll have a calm enough stretch of weather for traveling, off we’ll go.

I’ve been studying the area, reading the reviews of dozens of camping spots, and watching YouTube videos to decide where we should be setting up our camps. January through March is prime time for northern U.S. and Canadian snowbirds to visit that area, so I believe we’ll be with lots of company, even when camping in Bureau of Land Management free camping areas in the desert.

I’ve been stocking up the supplies and equipment I feel we’ll need, including an 800-watt power inverter to attach to my truck battery so we can power a few lights in our tent, phone and iPad chargers, rope lights and other low-power-using gadgets to make our camps more comfortable. Yes, I have a “jump-box” to help start my truck, just in case we drain the battery too far, although I don’t see that happening. Thankfully, my coffee pot and Coleman two-burner stove are powered by propane. Also, my First Aid Kit has been beefed up with a tourniquet, quick-clot gauze, and other “serious wound” items just in case I get stupid somewhere along the way.

So hey, if you’d like to “travel along” with Abby and me, be sure to “follow” our site so you’ll receive an email notification whenever we publish a new post. The follow button is at the top of the left-side column on this page.

Another Visit to Ocqueoc Falls

Last weekend I met my son and family for a weekend of camping ten miles west of Rogers City, Michigan, at Ocqueoc Falls State Forest Campground. My daughter-in-law arrived an hour ahead of me and reserved two campsites, directly across the road from each other.

Ocqueoc 8-18

It did rain Friday night into Saturday morning, then a bit later Saturday afternoon, but we had plenty of shelter so that didn’t slow us down at all.

The grandkids couldn’t wait to get into the water at the falls, but Abby wasn’t so sure she liked the water temperature; I can’t say I blame her!

PA Tregurtha-Calcite

No trip to Ocqueoc would be complete for a couple “boat nerds” like my son and I without visiting the limestone quarry at Calcite, just south of Rogers City on Lake Huron. We arrived just in time to see the Lee A. Tregurtha pulling in to pick up a load of limestone. She joined the H. Lee White which had just completed loading.

Tregurtha at Calcite

On the way back to camp, we stopped at Plath’s Meats in Rogers City to pick up a little jerky and a few beef sticks. Excellent! Plath’s has been making fantastic meats for over 100 years. As they say, “Bacon makes everything better!” Here…watch for yourself: Under the Radar at Plath’s Meats

We had a great time together, made even better with Melanie’s delicious cooking for everyone! I headed for home around 1:00 Sunday afternoon, leaving the kids to enjoy the waterfalls one final time before traveling home themselves.

 

A Few Days at the Soo

I recently spent the better part of four days camping in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. I wanted to watch the lake freighters up close and personal. It was fantastic! I saw 17 ships negotiating the twists and turns of the St. Marys River before or after going through the locks. The locks make it possible for the ships to move between Lakes Huron and Superior, lifting or lowering them the 21 feet of differing lake levels.

A few facts about the locks, courtesy of SaultSteMarie.com:

  • 90% of the world’s iron ore moves through the Soo Locks
  • Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean (via St Lawrence Seaway) is 2342 miles or 7 days
  • Soo Locks have no pumps they are 100% gravity fed
  • Poe Lock requires 22 million gallons of water to lift or lower a boat
  • The Soo Locks close from January 15-March 25 each year for repairs
  • It would take 584 train cars to move 70,000 tons of cargo or just one 1000 foot freighter
  • The Paul R. Tregurtha is the largest freighter on the Great Lakes at 1013.5 feet
Hon James L Oberstar

The Hon James L Oberstar slowly glides under the railway bridge and the International Bridge to Canada and into the locks before heading south to Lake Huron.

Yurt at The Soo 2018

Our camp/tent/shelter/yurt—call it what you will—at The Soo Locks Campground was just 100 yards off the river and a few short blocks from downtown.

We were in the right place/right time to catch the CSL Welland sounding the standard “greeting and salute” to another freighter she was about to meet on the river:

 

Wednesday morning dawned beautifully…with a gorgeous pink, cotton candy sky over our Canadian neighbors to the east. Wow! Makes it well worth getting out of bed at the crack of dawn!

Sunrise

Camping in town, close to restaurants and lots of fast food places, I found it hard to take the time and trouble to start a fire and do my own cooking. I did, however, have the urge for a plate of fresh tomato and avocado, accompanied by a few pretzels and Schuler’s Cheese Spread. Yum! Of course, my next meal was an olive burger and french fries prepared by Clyde’s Drive-In.  🙂

Good Lunch

I was a bit surprised to see the number of U.S. Border Patrol vehicles here and there along the river. Evidently, they were watching for unauthorized border crossings between the states and Canada. The Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba was even passing through from her home base in Boston. Beautiful, isn’t she?

USCGC Escanaba

Our last morning in camp, fog rolled in soupy thick on the river.  You could barely make out the Sugar Island ferry midway between the island and mainland. About 45 minutes later, the fog was starting to clear and we were fortunate to catch the American Integrity upbound, along with the blast of her foghorn.

Fog

Some folks say, you see one of those freighters, you’ve seen ’em all. Well, to each their own; I don’t happen to agree with that myself. Whether you’re watching a thousand-foot self-unloading bulk carrier, a chemical tanker, a tug/barge combination, one with a more modern single aft superstructure, or the older style with the bridge and superstructure on the bow, each one is unique and interesting…at least they are to me. I do seem to favor the older, bridge/superstructure forward style, like the Roger Blough, shown in the two photos below. Originally launched in 1972, she’s a majestic ship, isn’t she? That distinctive paint style on the bow really sets off all ships of the Great Lakes Fleet, Inc.

Roger Blough

Roger Blough aft

I’m not sure at this point where my next travels will take me; time will tell. Duluth, Minnesota sounds interesting. We’ll see. I may not have enough time to make that long trip this year due to work responsibilities. Wherever I go, there’s a very good chance lake freighters will influence that decision!

A Few Days on the Water Highway

I just spent the better part of four days camping near the Saint Clair River, running between Algonac and Port Huron, Michigan. Dozens of Great Lakes freighters make their way along this byway, either heading upbound to Sault Ste. Marie and into Lake Superior on their way to Duluth or Two Harbors to pick up a load of coal, iron ore, various grains, or other valuable cargo, or downbound to deliver the equivalent of 3,000 semi truckloads of cargo to waiting processors.

I was thrilled to be able to see the MV Paul R. Tregurtha, the current “Queen of the Lakes” at 1013-feet in length.

Paul R. Tregurtha

Over the three days I camped at Algonac State Park, I was able to see 25 other freighters moving along the river. There is quite a variety of sizes, styles and destinations among these ships. My favorite iPhone app, MarineTraffic, made it very easy for me to know when a certain ship would be motoring by.

 

Actually, I enjoyed the ship-watching and camping so much I’ve decided to head north to Sault Ste Marie next week. The Aune-Osborn Campground is just east of town, on the banks of the St. Marys River and not far from the Soo Locks. Without a doubt more ships will be coming by during my short stay.

Camping on a Freighter Highway

Last week I spent five days on the east side of Michigan, camped next to the St. Clair River, just north of Algonac. Algonac State Park provided my campsite, just a couple hundred yards from the waterway that runs from Port Huron to Algonac, separating the United States from Canada. Here’s our meager camp; I’d guess the campground was just 1/4 full or so.

Campsite 192

It was pretty cool to see and hear those huge ships from our campsite. We made a number of trips up and down the river, trying to see as many ships as possible. Here are just a few of the ones we watched churning by:

Cason J. Calloway

The 787-foot Cason J. Calloway

Edgar B. Speer

Edgar B. Speer—1,004 feet in length!

AlgoCanada

AlgoCanada

Up in Port Huron, we also saw these coming in:

John J. Boland

The John J. Boland entering the river from Lake Huron under the Blue Water Bridge.

AlgoSteel

AlgoSteel

My youngest son has gotten me very interested in Great Lakes shipping. The premiere web site for all things freighters on the Great Lakes and up the St. Lawrence Seaway is BoatNerd.com. Look what I found on one of our trips to Port Huron:

BoatNerd.com

I went in to look around and came out with their 2017 booklet, Know Your Ships, containing tons of information about shipping and ships in our area. I also grabbed a deli sandwich which was very tasty!

Next summer I hope to get up to Sault Ste. Marie to see the locks in action, raising and lowering these huge vessels on their journeys. This may have been my last outing for this year. At 6:30 Friday morning it was 48 degrees! We’ll see—maybe one more heat wave will come our way yet this year.