Friday, February 6, 2015

Desert Explorations: Sonoran to Mojave

Leaving  Lilypad  safely stowed with Bette in Apache Junction, we took a short vacation from our vacation and flew to Seattle  to see granddaughter Olivia in “Annie” and celebrate her thirteenth birthday, watch Xan start his basketball career, and begin our search for new winter headquarters on Vashon Island. The decision to be nearer to these two wonderful growing spirits was easy, but getting Liz to accept moving has been hard. She can’t handle the term “moving to Vashon Island” and is careful to explain to friends and family that we will always be on San Juan Island for the summers. But for the winters, we want to be closer to Xan and Olivia and the wonderful family they share. So our travels in Lilypad will soon be coming to a close and we are looking for a place to rent or buy on Vashon.

Hiking in Organ Pipe Cactus National Preserve
Then one more night at Road Haven in Apache Junction and we were back on the road again. It was with great relief that we escaped from the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and headed to the remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the southern part of the Sonoran Desert.  Administered by the National Park Service this lovely park on the Mexican border was only recently reopened to the public in the wake of a drug smuggling-related shooting death of a ranger and subsequent border security build up. We attended “coffee with the superintendent” and learned that in 2002 there were 15 border patrol officers in the area and now there are 550. These agents and the park personnel play cat and mouse with folks who (aided by humanitarians who leave caches of food and water) try to cross the desert to a new life in the United States. In 2013 4,000 people were intercepted in the area. When we headed north away from the park we were merely waved through several armed checkpoints, exactly like our passage through border patrol checkpoints in Texas; which made us think that the perfect way to smuggle people north would be to engage older white women in RVs to drive them out. But back to the park, having been assured that it is “safe,”  we took a lovely hike up the unspoiled desert hill, full of organ pipe cactus, ocotillo, teddy bear cholla  and  other beautiful desert plants.  We stayed two nights, enjoying the solar-heated showers in the campground and the volunteer-naturalist-led slideshow programs in the evenings: one  on the desert tortoise and the other on the coyote.
Arizona Oldtime Fiddler plays Ashokan Farewell
Heading for Yuma, located on the corner of Arizona that borders both Mexico and California, we wanted to see what makes this town so appealing that there are some 4000 hotel rooms and 24,000 RV hookups. We never figured out the appeal but we now know that people do not go there for organic food.  However there were some interesting moments. The highway between Quartzite and Yuma  mostly skirts Bureau of Land Management (BLM) territory and lots of snow-birds ply this stretch of road to camp free  on their journeys north or south. Lilypad fit right in boondocking behind the VFW, between the $300K rigs and a handful of homeless people camped in the bushes. The next day we found a very disappointing  Farmers Market, but while we were there we happily learned of a monthly jam sponsored by the Arizona Oldtime Fiddlers Association happening that afternoon.  Off we went and Liz hopefully sallied forth with her fiddle and was surprised to be signed up on a list to lead a tune. It was nerve-wracking but great fun and we met Dan Levenson who played like a dream and agreed to take her on as a student. Later, we Skyped a lesson with him and, among other things, he told her to relax, trust her own instincts, and stop playing like a violinist.

American Pelicans float the Salton Sea
Liz got to practice this new technique and posture at our next stop:  two nights alongside the beautiful Salton Sea. The pelicans appeared unimpressed as she fiddled at the sea shore . Presumably if your species has survived for millions of years, nothing humans do is that interesting. But humans are going to have to do something soon if they want to save this critical refuge that is a stopping place for 40% of the migrating waterfowl in North America. The Salton Sea was accidentally created in 1905 by industrialists attempting to divert the Colorado River to irrigate the desert, and it surprised future generations by not drying up in the years following. Runoff from theset agricultural lands is the primary source of water now and, as you may have guessed, this water is laden with fertilizers and pesticides. A few decades ago the Sea supported five types of fish and a depth of 60 feet. Now motorboats can barely maneuver due to low water, and the only fish that survive is tilapia. Another notable organism besides the birds is the beautiful pink barnacles that were introduced by amphibious watercraft during World War II. The shells of these dying animals create lovely pink beaches that crunch when you walk. Now birds find haven here and we saw two species of pelican, black necked stilts and many gulls. To see them fly across the Sea, landing on a landscape that once bustled with human activity and now is all theirs, really makes one reflect on the egregious impact of human greed and folly.

Lisa taught us how to pick citrus
Then back to the city: La Quinta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs and other connected cities too numerous to mention.  Faithful readers of our blog remember when we first encountered the town of Palm Springs a year ago and marveled at the downtown historic district. This time we learned much more about the development of the Coachella Valley including the “checkerboard” allotment of land to indigenous people which has resulted in some of the wealthiest tribes in North America. Although historically the allotment system was used as an excuse to not supply basic services to tribal lands, the municipalities are now grateful for the leases and gratuity of the tribes in returning profits from the casinos to the greater community. We visited a beautiful hillside oasis spring on Cahuilla Indian land, attended a great evening of drumming and dance, and enjoyed the hospitality of a casino parking lot while we were in the area. While visiting with our friend Lisa we learned about an event called Lunafest, sponsored by local Soroptimists. This excellent two hour program featured nine short films by, for and about women, with proceeds benefiting the Breast Cancer Fund and local Soroptimist charities including a recovery program for chemically dependent women.  

Super Bowl Party with Marie-Josée and Lisette

While camped at the Palm Springs Wal-Mart Janna got caught taking pictures of an adjacent camper-trailer which turned out to be owned by two delightful women from Quebec. We found we had been sharing a similar travel route from Louisiana, where they had been pursuing Lisette’s interest in Acadian ceramics. We had a great time with them and trotted out our high school French which they good-humoredly tolerated as we discovered Marie Josee’s interest in all things athletic. We met up again at a sports bar to watch the Seahawk Super Bowl heart-break, and totally enjoyed it when they loudly cheered the Seahawks … French. 

We've touched all 4 deserts on this trip
Then it was time to be away from cities and into the wilderness again. We woke up this morning in a sweet boondocking site alongside a wall of volcanic material that shapes the beautiful landscape in the Mohave Desert National Preserve. This is the last of the four US deserts and now  we have seen them all: the Great Basin Desert in Utah, the Chihuahuan in Texas, the Sonoran Desert (above) and now the Mojave. We are headed north and west now, so will soon be leaving the deserts behind. This is our fifth night of dry camping and we are feeling pretty smug with Lilypad’s capacity and our learning of how to stay away from shore power for extended periods.  But it is time to plug in again and today we head to one of the great finds of our trip 12 years ago: Tecopa Hot Springs southeast of Death Valley. Tonight we will have electricity for Lilypad and hot mineral baths for us. What could be better?  

1 comment:

  1. Escaping the greater Phoenix metropolitan area is *always* liberating and enhearterning. I always suspected tilapia could survive in any kind of water, however polluted....tilapia, cockroaches and Keith Richards would survive a nuclear holocaust. Very happy to see Liz not just playing but *leading* Ashokan Farewell! I am pleased thinking of you heading north/ could still manage some more semi-arid locales (SE Oregon), but it's time for lots of green landscape & the smell of the Pacific....