Sunday, February 9, 2020

Ready to go hiking?

Debi and I love to walk. As part of our lifestyle we try to walk three to five miles every day. This year we decided instead of simple walking we would add hiking to our lifestyle. We chose to vary our hikes to include at least one a week and more if we're so inclined. There are many hiking trails in and around the Mesa, Arizona area. With that in mind, we pulled up the hiking app on our phones and went searching.  We're excited to add this to our lifestyle.

First up is "Spook Hill". A moderate hike up the side of a mountain of just short of a mile. Part of the trail was strenuous but it levels out half way up the hill and became very enjoyable. The views were well worth the effort. Yes, it's winter, but winter in Arizona means tying a jacket or sweater around your waist.

I intend to post more pictures of some of the hikes as we explore around the Phoenix area. 

From the bottom looking up. The elevation gain is less than 500' but the first 1/4 mile is very steep.

Once you make it past the first 1/4 mile the trail widens and becomes much easier. What's at the top? See below.

For those wondering how Spook Hill got it's name...well no one is positive but the commonly accepted story is it's based on a 'dude ranch' that used to be in the area in the 30s and 40s. The ranch offered horseback rides in the area. However, whenever the rides went up on the hillside, the horses unaccountably became ''spooked'' and so the hill came to be called Spook Hill.

 Distant view of Superstition Mountain with the City of Mesa in the foreground.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Sunsets at Usery Regional Park -- Mesa, Arizona

As promised, here are several pictures I took as we were relaxing at Usery Regional Park in Mesa, Arizona. There's nothing better than sitting outside in 78 degree winter weather with someone you love watching the sun set behind the mountains. Life is good - hope you enjoy the pictures....D

I'll start with this picture of Pass Mountain.It's easy to spot from the Phoenix/Mesa area due to it's distinct white stripe, (orange in the sunset) that runs across it western slope. The stripe is a 'tuff layer' which is solidified volcanic ash and includes it's main attraction, a grotto or wind cave. A two mile hike up the mountain is a favorite of locals and offer fabulous views of the cities below. Technically, Pass Mountain is part of the Goldfield Range which also includes the Superstition Mountains.

So, let's get to the pictures. Here they are in no particular order. If you enjoy them, feel free to share them if you like. 

This one gives you an idea of how close you are to the "City".

Usery Regional Park -- Mesa Arizona

Our first journey in 2020 takes us just a few miles outside of Phoenix to Usery Regional Park. This park is close in, yet the feeling is very remote. What makes it fantastic is if you need supplies, fine dining or any amenities they're only a few minutes away. This is a county park and provides water and electricity, 20/30/50amp but no sewer. There is a dump station on site. Phone service is perfect but no wifi, so bring your own. There are many hiking trails throughout the park raging from easy to difficult. Each site is set apart from the next so you have lots of privacy. They are fairly level sites but since they are gravel, the monsoon rains play havoc with them. The hosts rake and clean each site prior to the next campers' arrival.

Upon arrival, you're greeted by the mighty saguaro cactus. The Harris' hawk was a regular and we spotted him several times on our hikes. The Harris's hawk is notable for its behavior of hunting cooperatively in packs consisting of tolerant groups, while other raptors often hunt alone.

The Saguaro can grow to 40 feet and a lifespan of over 150 years. They normally begin growing their arms from 75-100 years of age. The arms serve three purposes; first, they allow the cactus to absorb more water from rainfall; second, the arms produce flowers and fruit to enhance reproduction; and three, they help balance the plant to keep it upright. Inside the green skin are long wooden 'ribs'. During times of heavy rain, a single saguaro can weigh up to 4800 pounds. The largest on record stood 78 feet tall. Their root system can extend over 98 feet in all directions. Saguaros may take between 20 and 50 years to reach a height of 3 feet. They are protected by State Law which prohibits harming or removing them in any way without a permit from the State.

If you look closely, you can see one of the hiking trails within the park, at the base of the cactus.

This Harris Hawk could have cared less that I was beneath him and taking his picture.  Harris Hawks are typically 2 feet long with a 4 foot wing span. Groups typically include from 2 to 7 birds. Not only do birds cooperate in hunting, they also assist in the nesting process. No other bird of prey is known to hunt in groups as routinely as this species. Their social nature has been attributed to their intelligence, which makes them easy to train and have made them a popular bird for use in falconry. Their diet is mostly small creatures such as rodents, other birds, lizards, mammals and large insects. However, because they often hunt in groups they can take down larger prey up to 4 pounds although this is not common. They are gorgeous birds in flight with dark brown plumage, chestnut shoulders and alternating brown and white striped tail feathers.

While the desert is known as a harsh, hot and challenging environment, we discovered this pond on one of our hikes. The pond is fed by an underground spring and provides needed water for many of the desert species. The water was somewhat stagnant so it appears the spring is pretty small.

Since Arizona is well known for it's beautiful sunsets, I thought I'd close this page with this shot of a Harris Hawk passing by our campsite. If you want to see more exciting sunsets, I'll be posting more on the following page. Good night for now.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A New Decade

As we enter the next decade, we are excited to see what's ahead for us. As many of you know, Debi and I have been volunteering at the California State Parks. We may take a break from that this year and do some more traveling. We've been back and forth across this great country many times but there are some adventures that await us. Debi lost her dad last year so many things we wanted to see and do were put on the back burner, so to speak. Anyway, I hope everyone had a safe and wonderful beginning to the new decade - the NEW ROARING 20s !  Let's GO!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Branson Missouri

We left Arkansas and headed northeast to Branson, Missouri to catch some of their wonderful shows. Branson is known as a family vacation destination  Its 76 Country Boulevard is famously lined with theaters, which once hosted mostly country music performers but today present diverse entertainment. Also along the strip are the Marvel Cave, the Wild West-style Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction and Silver Dollar City, an 1800s-themed amusement park with live music.

We enjoy backroad travel and this portion of Arkansas and Missouri didn't disappoint. The roads were in pretty good shape, traffic was light and the scenery was spectacular. This is Hwy 23 through the Ozark Mountains. A very relaxing and enjoyable adventure.

Whether you love live shows, attractions, museums, shopping or just good old family fun, Branson has it all. If you're an outdoor type person, enjoy hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, fishing and rock climbing.

We booked a two week stay at Table Rock State Park on Table Rock Lake. Our campsite was concrete with grass and full hookups. There is a walking trail from the campground to the marina and all around the eastern shore of the lake. It is about 4 miles to the Branson town center.

It took four years (1954-58) to construct Table Rock Dam on the White River. Construction of the dam enabled the formation of Table Rock Lake, an artificial lake and reservoir. The dam itself is 6,423' long and 947' tall. It's designed to hold back about 760,000 acre feet of water. It's original design was for flood control but it also provides for recreational activities such as water skiing, scuba diving and fishing.

Live shows are what attracted us to Branson and we were not disappointed. There are many shops along Country Road 76 that offer discounts. Make sure to visit several as each has their own brand of discounts. We found the "Purple House" to have what we were looking for. Picture Branson as sort of a cross between Disneyland and Universal Studios.

Looking for a great place to eat? All you can eat breakfast buffet and a discount to boot. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner but breakfast is their specialty. 

Branson was formally incorporated in 1912 but had been in existence since 1882. There is a marble cave nearby which was opened to visitors in 1894 by an entrepreneur named William Lynch, who charged a fee to visit. The cave was renamed Marvel Cave in the 50s another entrepreneur, Hugo Herschend,  leased it for 99 years and installed electricity and staircases. In 1960, Herschend opened Silver Dollar City, a re-creation of a frontier town that featured five shops, a church, and a log cabin, with actors that played out the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys.
In 1962, Paul Henning, a playwright, created The Beverly Hillbillies TV show which was inspired by a camping trip to this area. The first five shows in 1969 were filmed here as the Clampetts returned home.

In all, Branson features over 50 theaters providing entertainment across a broad venue from country to 50's music. Besides the numerous entertainment theaters for which Branson is known for, other local attractions include ziplines, cave tours, go-karts, mini golf, and more.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Exotic places while traveling full time

We are in our tenth year full timing and still enjoying every minute of our time together. There are so many beautiful and forgotten places in this country. As most of you know, we don't like traveling on the Interstates and prefer the adventures you'll find on the back roads. Furthermore, once we arrive at a location, we use the car to explore those places that are not accessible with our coach. We came into Arkansas on US64, a two lane relaxing road, so once we settled into our campsite we decided to explore the area. 

Interstates are ok if you need to get from Point A to Point B quickly.  But, if you're not in a hurry, most of the US highways are perfect to enjoy the journey. You'll find many forgotten towns and little gems. This is US 64 towards Ozark, Arkansas. It is a great alternative to I 40. You'll arrive at your destination much more relaxed and see things that you'd otherwise miss.

I told my wife I'd take her to exotic places and here's one. Now she can't say I never took her to Paris! It's claim to fame is it's the gateway to Mt. Magazine which boasts the highest point in Arkansas. Incorporated in 1879, the population is now 3300. It was named after it's French counterpart. Originally a coal mining community, today it's main industry is farming and ranching but it also is home to manufacturing plants serving the auto and aerospace industries.

The highway leading into Paris. Of note is Paris was the site of the last execution by hanging in the State of Arkansas in 1914. John Arthur Tillman was hanged for the murder of his girlfriend Amanda Stephens. The gallows were replaced by the electric chair after the hanging. The jail where Tillman was held and hanged still stands today and is the Logan County Museum.

Entry from the west. The Logan County museum is on the left and further down is the County Courthouse.

The Logan County Courthouse was built in 1908 out of brick set on a cut rock foundation. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1976.

Every Christmas they have a parade through the city to the courthouse which is then lighted in spectacular fashion.

Cove Lake is a 160 acre lake off Arkansas 309 south of Paris. Popular activities include swimming, fishing, hiking, water skiing and scenic drives. A boat ramp is available and an on-site concessionaire provides boat rentals and other equipment available for purchase.

The lake is home to catfish, large mouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, crappie and perch. It is stocked every other year, although a small amount of catfish are stocked annually and just prior to a yearly kids' fishing derby hosted at the lake.

After Paris, what could be more diverse than going on to Havana. Not too many people call this their home, but it's an interesting city. Poultry, farming and livestock make up it's industrial base. Although a very small city, it provides city water, sewer and trash service to its residents, as well as a Rural Fire Department with several pumper, tanker and brush fire trucks.

Main Street, Havana, Arkansas

Cloud formation over the Arkansas River at dusk.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Aux Arc Corps of Engineers Park

Leaving Oklahoma, we headed east into Arkansas. Our next stop was to be the Ozark-Jeta Taylor Lock and Dam on the Arkansas river just south of the town of Ozark, Arkansas. We arrived early afternoon under clear skies and warm weather. We selected the Aux Arc Corps of Engineers Park situated along the banks of the Arkansas river across from the locks which allow barges and vessels to go up and down stream to deliver goods. Enjoy some pictures taken from the park. Areas around the park will be coming in my next segment. Look for it....Dennis


Our site at Aux Arc COE. Aux Arc is French. A name that originated with French explorers when they first mapped and explored the Arkansas river and adjacent area. Loosely translated, it means "top of the arc" referring to the large bend in the Arkansas river here. These words were eventually morphed into what we call "Ozarks" today.

The COE park has water and electric at each site. Some sites are only 30 amp but the majority have 50 amp. There are two dump sites available. The sites are situated on the river side and inland side. Fortunately, ours was alongside the Arkansas river. The sites were large and spacious. Due to the abundance of trees we could not use our roof mounted satellite dish so we had to put up the remote dish. Not too big a deal but worth mentioning. If you're offended by train noise, this probably is not the campground for you, as the tracks are right across the river.

This is a view from the back of our site. The Arkansas river makes a huge bend here with the town of Ozark, Arkansas at the apex. The river is so wide here that this area is referred to as Ozark Lake. In the distance is the railroad bridge and while I never counted, I'd estimate about 14 trains use these tracks daily. Fishing along the banks was excellent. The park also offers a very large play area for the kids.

For those not familiar with the Army Corps of Engineers, it is a federal agency that employs about 37,000 civilian and military personnel. It was established on June 11, 1775. Yes, it's 243 years old! The corps' mission is to "Deliver vital public and military engineering services; partnering in peace and war to strengthen our Nation's security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters." Most of their work is preventing maritime disasters and maintaining flood control and waterway navigation.

If you look closely at this picture, just below and to the right of the bridge, you can see one of the freight trains. There are several unprotected and protected crossings along these tracks. While they run across the river from the campground, the trains are required to sound their horns as they pass these crossings. Obviously, they can be heard from your campsite. Since we enjoy trains, we didn't find them disruptive.

This park is one example of the corps byproducts of flood control and waterway navigation. All locks and dams along major rivers in the United States are run by USACE.

Here, you can see the dam and the adjacent locks in the foreground. The large concrete facility at the far end is at the entrance to the campground. 

Since the Arkansas river is used to move cargo to ports up and down stream, there has to be a device that allows them to pass the dams. This is where the locks come into play. Simply put, a lock is a huge passageway that is sealed on both ends. When a cargo barge approaches, one end opens and allows the ship to proceed into the passageway. That end is then closed. If the river is higher at the far side of the dam, then the passageway fills with water raising the ship to the level of the far side.

Here is one of the large boats that push the barges up and down the river. These boats, referred to as 'towboats', have engines ranging from 600-11,000HP. Here, on the Arkansas river, they are limited to 5,000HP and generally push 16 barges at a time. Each barge is typically about 200 feet long and 35 feet wide. A typical 'tow' would be 6-7 barges long and 5-6 barges wide.
The towboat pushes the barges into the lock to be allowed to proceed down the river.