Archive for März, 2011

Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona – The species-rich sky island

Dienstag, März 29th, 2011

Who thinks Arizona is a flat desert overgrown with cacti is only 50 percent right. There are quite a few mountain ranges separated by desert areas and therefore called sky islands. Only big animals and birds can move from one mountain range to the other, small animals are stuck. That’s why there are a lot of endemic species in Arizona’s mountains. There are altogether 40 sky islands in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Up to 1200 plants (there from 233 trees), 70 mammals, as well as 136 reptiles and amphibians live here. You can watch half of North America’s 295 birds.

Richard joins us on our today’s hike in Chiricahua National Monument. He doesn’t like to hike alone and doesn’t mind that we’ve planned a long one. The 68 years old widower is in perfect shape. One of the most beautiful parts of the National Monument is Echo Canyon where we walk through a marvellous maze of rock piles. The second highlight is the Heart of Rocks Loop where bizarre rock formations can be found: There are different balancing stones, “kissing” rocks and a stone duck. The hike wasn’t only one of the most beautiful of the last months, but we’ve had a most pleasant person to talk to. Richard is taken with our hike in a certain manner and invites us to Tucson for the upcoming week.

Tucson, Arizona – The living desert

Montag, März 28th, 2011

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is very well done, but zoos always cause mixed feelings in us. This is what the museum in reality is: a mixture of a botanical garden with 1200 desert plants and a zoo with 300 living animals in their natural surrounding. Plus there are two aviaries, beautiful mineral and other exhibitions. Even on a Monday morning the museum is jam-packed. Of course, the number of plants is incredible, but you can see most of them while hiking – without paying 14.50 $ entrance fee per person. You can get somewhat closer than usual to some of the animal species. But mountain lion and ocelot have very limited territories as the Mexican wolves have. I am kind of depressed to see that. At least the javelinas and the coatmundis seem to be happy. The zoo-keepers organise shows with their charges. There is a raptor free-flight, for instance. Very interesting, but also very well visited.

The Desert Museum gets across its message to arouse understanding for the desert ecosystem. A visit is ideal for children, people who like zoos, and those who don’t have time or don’t want to lengthily hike the desert. The others might think about sparing the high although appropriate entrance fee.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona – A perfect soundbox

Sonntag, März 27th, 2011

Saguaro National Park is divided into two parts: The less attractive Rincon Mountain Unit east of Tucson, having a disproportionately high percentage of old cacti or very young Saguaros. In Tucson Mountain Unit west of the city we find dense cactus vegetation of all age groups and many hiking options. This applies to Tucson Mountain Park connecting to the south as well. The namesakes of this park are one of the world’s tallest cacti. The largest specimen was 18 m high, had 50 arms and was 250 years old.

There are some interesting loop drives as well. Camping is possible in Tucson Mountain Park only. The Gila woodpecker doesn’t peck only holes into the bark of a tree to find some insects. It also pecks to attract females and to identify its territory. What could be better than making a little bit more noise than usual? There are a few lanterns with metal hoods around the campground that might be useful as effective soundboxes. Two woodpeckers on opposite sides of the campground spotted the lanterns to be beneficial for them and hammer for all one is worth to tell the adversary: Up to here and no further!

Phoenix, Arizona – Around the world on two wheels

Donnerstag, März 24th, 2011

Hwy # 152 winds its way over the Mimbres Mountains. The Santa Rita copper mine just before the village Hanover dug into the earth several hundreds of meters in two hundred years of mineral resources’ exploitations. Interpretive panels at the scar hole inform how wonderful and effective re-planting with grass after closure of the mining activities works. Silver City has to thank its existence in the past-silver time the copper as well. The city tries to cash in on the fact that the infamous killer Billy the Kid was born here.

In the Pinal Mountains we meet two bicycle drivers from Malaysia who try to circumnavigate the world in 288 days. They already managed 13,000 mi / 21,000 km from Malaysia via China and Turkey to Europe. From there they took an airplane to Miami, Florida, heading to Los Angeles and continue westward via Japan and China to Malaysia.

In the evening we meet Tracy and Mike in Phoenix, Arizona. We’ve met them last summer on the Alaska Highway in Canada at the Liard Hot Springs. They want to invite us to a restaurant tonight and we may choose what we like. We think we will have a lot of Mexican food in the next month and decide for a typical American barbecue.

Santa Fe + Albuquerque, New Mexico – Tent city made of stone

Dienstag, März 22nd, 2011

There is some storm and rain tonight, but the morning is clear. We visit Santa Fe, New Mexico’s capital. The city preserved its pretty adobe architecture. On the central plaza stand USA’s oldest house, a chapel, a cathedral, and several museums.

Kasha-Katuwe Tentrocks National Monument is located between Santa Fe and Albuquerque east of I 25. The elements created here odd hoodoos with pointed cones from light grey volcanic stone. Some visitors might be reminded of tepees – from there the name Tentrocks comes – others maybe reminded of dwarfs’ pointed caps of even of rockets ready for take-off. The 3.2 mi / 5 km long combined hike of Cave Loop Trail and Canyon Trail passes a beautiful light-coloured slot canyon and brings us then steeply uphill where a photogenic overview on tent city made of stone awaits us.

Back to Albuquerque Brad brought some Unimog drivers from town together for a barbecue. We shoot the ultimate photo with four Unimog in a row.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona – Hurricane in the stone forest

Montag, März 21st, 2011

The wind is raging wilder and wilder. As we walk the Giant Logs Trail behind the visitor center we hardly can hold the camera. On the Crystal Logs Trail few miles further even standing of walking gets very difficult. Our wind meter shows 69 mi/h / 111 km/h, which correspond to wind force 11, hurricane-force wind. Breathing becomes difficult windward, lung and ears hurt due to the pressure differences. Flagstaff announces snow, and there is a blizzard in Grand Canyon. We receive warnings to close I 40. But we still want to see the colourful petrified logs. There are some fossils, ruins, and petroglyphs in Petrified Forest National Park as well. In the north part are pretty views to the Painted Desert, colourfully striped hills that look differently with each change in incidence of light. For now the view is murky because of the sand storm. Before the weather gets totally mad the tail wind pushes us to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Laura and Brad already expect us with spaghetti and beer. They own a Unimog 416 Doka with a tiny camper cabin. Brad invited us some months ago after discovering our webpage.

Flagstaff, Arizona – Volcanoes and Indian dwellings

Sonntag, März 20th, 2011

Two less noticed National Monuments are north of Flagstaff at a loop close to Hwy # 89: Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monument. Sunset Crater erupted in the second half of the 11th century. Despite the long period of time vegetation grows sparsely due to the low precipitation. The pitch-black lava stream is in stark contrast to the colourful surrounding. Where iron-containing lava got in contact with oxygen and humidity it changes colour to red. Spatter cones are created when a lava stream solidifies at the surface and moving liquid lava escapes from a crack.

On the same loop drive Wupatki National Monument protects some old Indian settlements. Wukoki Pueblo for instance is an unusual three-story house where two to three families lived probably in the 12th and in the beginning of the 13th century. Wukoki means big house in Hopi language and can be visited from inside as well. While most Indian dwellings nestle against cliffs under big overhangs, the Wukoki is built on top of a hill with a perfect all-round view.

Petrified Forest National Park that we’ll visit tomorrow doesn’t have any camping or other overnight options. Two souvenir shops on the park’s south entrance offer a kind of complimentary campground with pick-nick tables and few electrical hook-ups. Of course you can buy beautiful souvenirs from petrified wood as well.

Seligman, Arizona – Historic Route 66

Freitag, März 18th, 2011

Route 66 was originally the first and only east-west road connection in the United States. Once it connected Chicago with Los Angeles before it was built over for hundreds of miles of Interstates and substituted by them. The remaining parts noticeably decay except for a few stretches. Today the road mainly consists of nostalgia, myth, and loneliness. The section between Amboy, California, and Seligman, Arizona, is mostly a dead straight track. An exception is the part around Oatman where we cross the Black Mountains on the 3550 ft / 1082 m high Sitgraves Pass.

Since we reduced fuelling to a minimum in California due to the high prices we have to bunker diesel today. Instead of paying 5.10 $ per gallon on the Californian Route 66 we pay 3.90 $ in Kingman, AZ. I find the beggar remarkable who offers us his coke. As we refuse with thanks, he gives Joerg a freshly minted dollar coin from his collecting box. Do we already look as if we needed it more urgent than he does?

The major part of the tourism-oriented infrastructure in Route 66 is either decayed or no more existent. There are a few down-and-out motels, pubs, and diners. In Seligman the whole thing is charmingly fallen into disrepair. Several souvenir shops invite to rummage about and buy for fair prices. The diners traditionally offer milkshakes, hotdogs, and burgers. We stop off at Delgado’s Snow Cap where hundreds, if not thousands of people left their business cards. We take a leaf out of the other visitors’ book. The diner is set up with lots of humour. There are two door handles from which only one works. In the toilet is a – hopefully not connected – video camera. Asking for some tape to fix the business card it can happen that you receive a music cassette. Lovingly restored old cars stand in front of the family business in third generation. It might have flourished one day; today it is just a relic of the past that still shows up in some travel guides.

Joshua Tree National Park, California – The broken rock

Donnerstag, März 17th, 2011

Driving the 18 mi / 29 km long Geology Tour Road is the best way to see the different rock formations. The park’s western part is situated in the Mojave Desert mainly above 2700 ft / 900 m, a so-called high desert. The Joshua trees, the park’s namesakes, grow only in higher elevations. The Wonderland of Rocks with many short hiking trails can be found in the center of Joshua Tree National Park. Here are most of the monzogranite formations, those soft-rounded grey-beige rocks. Another example for that is about 19 mi / 30 km north of the park. Giant Rock is the largest rock monolith in the western hemisphere. Unfortunately some fellow citizens of the modern age made an all too big fire under an overhang, and a big chunk broke off the rock. The numerous graffiti and slogans don’t improve the beauty at all.

Joshua Tree National Park, California – The retrieval of Californian police’s honour

Mittwoch, März 16th, 2011

The reputation of California’s police is re-established. We have Rick to thank for that. On I 10 we head to the Joshua Tree Park entrance. A highway patrol car has stopped on the hard shoulder. The officer checks another car, but during he fixes his eyes on our truck his head turns for 180°. I have the feeling this won’t be our last encounter. The next exit brings us to the feeder road to the national park. We stop briefly to ask a family on the other side of the street if they need help. The woman lies on the ground, but she only relaxes. As we drive off, a siren sounds behind us. A glance to the side mirror confirms: It is the highway patrol. “I bet the officer saw our German number plate and will ask us for it”, I say. And that’s what happens.

But the officer says hello, is very friendly and wants to know by himself if we imported the truck. He understands the tourists-with-own-vehicle-explanation straight away in milliseconds. He wants to see the vehicle license, but no passports. He comes to the front-seat passenger side to receive the paper, glances briefly on it to get to the subject then: If we want to have a photo session with him? Of course! I am enthusiastic. He asks us to leave the truck. His name is Rick and he has German ancestors. We take photos of one another and we may even sit in his police car. The man from the other side of the road, hoping to see an interesting spectacle, shakes his head in amazement. “You’ve got it!” he repeats constantly. We regained our faith in Californian police officers. Thank you, Rick!

After collecting information material at Cottonwood Ranger Station at the park’s south entrance we set off for the long way to Lost Palm Oasis. The varied hike over many hills leads through Colorado Desert that’s again part of the much bigger Sonora Desert, which spans from southern Arizona to Mexico. Here the lower eastern part of the park is located between 900 ft/300 m and 2700 ft/900 m where good smelling creosotes, yuccas and several cacti grow; among them the cosy looking Teddy Bear Cholla – cuddling not recommended. Many cacti are blooming. The reptiles awake from hibernating. The Chuckwalla, an iguana species, can become one and a half feet long. Feeling endangered it inflates his lung so that a predator can’t pull it out of its cleft in the rock. We even see a desert tortoise eating dedicatedly to satisfy its hunger after a long time of fasting. In the end of the hike a shady fan palm oasis awaits the rambler. Plan an eight miles hike plus another mile for exploring the oasis’ canyon where you have to climb down steeply in the end of the walk.

In the middle of the park thousands of Teddy Bear Cholla grow in Cholla Cactus Garden. Then we have to look for an overnight site, but the campgrounds are fully occupied. We are lucky that a Swiss woman stops us in the farthest corner of Jumbo Rock Campground and invites us to stay together with them on their site. She had already heard from us and recognized the truck – what a coincidence.

Palm Desert, California – Summer heat

Dienstag, März 15th, 2011

There are nice policemen in California as well. Repeatedly an official car of the close by police station stops at our Unimog. But always the officers ensure us that they are just curious and admire our truck. Then we leave Steve, Virginia and Travis before our clothes don’t fit anymore. We’ve had such a great time with them! We somehow have to cross the San Jacinto Mountains. A winding road leads through the green Bautista Canyon up into the mountains, paved in the beginning, gravelled later on. Halfway up there is a prison for less serious criminals like cheque blacklegs and others. What a nice surroundings to be imprisoned! And actually, there is only a very low fence around, keeping people from outside from getting into the facility much more than inmates from escaping. In the valley behind the gulch the chilling influence of the Pacific Ocean disappeared. The heat is oppressing with 95° F / 35°C that slowly cools down only when going up the slope on the other side of the valley heading to Joshua Tree National Park.

Hemet, California – What is a calf?

Sonntag, März 13th, 2011

The men wish to eat something German. I suggest a couple of things, but their eyes are sparkling as I mention Wiener schnitzel. The American family never at that, but wants to try it with a typical potato salad for dinner tomorrow. But at first Steve and Virginia go with us on a Sunday outing. Citrus orchards extend as far as the eyes can see: orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees full of ripe fruits in front of snow covered mountains, waiting to be harvested.

There is no Hours of Trading Act in the US, so most shops, especially groceries are open on Sundays, some of them even 24 hours per day. I want to do the shopping for tomorrow. I’d like to serve the original schnitzel version with veal. There is no veal available at the meat counter, so I ask the young shop assistant. He looks at me as if I had asked for dogs’ gills or snakes’ thighs. “Veal? What was that – pork? No? Wait a second…that’s lamb, isn’t it?“ “Not exactly“, I try to clarify, “that’s more a baby cow. Young beef, so to speakHe has an inspiration, guides me to the freezer chest, and proudly shows me the veal liver. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Fortunately the young man has a somewhat more experienced colleague who knows that in the chiller cabinet there is – just one – kind of veal: It is schnitzel.

Hemet, California – Self-repair

Samstag, März 12th, 2011

Joerg repairs our cabin damage with a fibre repair set and paints it with paint we have brought with us. He polishes the long scratch as good as he can. After that it looks nearly new. Since most of the things needed were available in Steve’s workshop our material costs amount to some dollars only.

Hemet, California – Snow in southern California

Freitag, März 11th, 2011

Joerg can weld some small matters in Steve’s workshop during Virginia fattens us with poached eggs for breakfast, rich sandwiches for lunch, and chilli beans in the evening. Travis works hard to finish his pick-up truck for our excursion in the afternoon. We go on an off-road trail into the San Jacinto Mountains to more than 6500 ft / 2000 m elevation where it is exceptionally chilly compared to the lowlands and where still snow lies. The artists’ town Idyllwild is a pretty although expensive mountain resort with well developed touristic infrastructure. We go up through dense high forest that promises cooling even in summer to the foot of the 8000+ ft / 2500 m high Tahquitz or Lily Rock, a lone standing granite rock formation that’s popular among hikers and climbers.

Hemet, California – Roast beef and Vietnam War

Donnerstag, März 10th, 2011

After preoccupying Camille’s hospitality for an entire week and finally completing whatever has to be done we leave the coast. But another visit is on our agenda: Steve and Virginia in Hemet are further friends of Malcolm from Colorado. Virginia serves a completely self-made dinner with roast beef melting on the tongue, potato puree, beans, and brownies. Steve has a machine shop and a workshop truck with which he and his son Travis stationary and mobile repair more or less everything that doesn’t work anymore. The Vietnam veteran shows us incredible pictures that he bravely took with his small hidden camera.

Irvine, California – Insurance job with happy end

Mittwoch, März 9th, 2011

The procedure in the bank is a bit laborious and lengthy, but friendly as always. I have to show two different identity cards, and leave a fingerprint. But finally I get the money from the damage that happened to us in Death Valley National Park. The State Farmer’s Insurance eventually agreed without any problems to accept our estimate and sent the cheque to Camille’s address on time.

Los Angeles, California – Real and would-be stars in Hollywood

Sonntag, März 6th, 2011

Once in the area we have to visit Los Angeles. Since the single districts are scattered we decide for the classic: Hollywood. Camille drives us and her girl-friend Theresa from Chicago whom we also met hiking in southern Utah and who flew over yesterday. Graumanns Chinese Theater is situated at the Hollywood Boulevard. On the square in front if it many stars immortalized themselves in concrete with their hand and footprints and a slogan for Sid Graumann. Sid’s Chinese Theater accommodates cinema and restaurant today. The Walk of Fame starts here. Until now 2400 bronze stars were set into the sidewalk to both sides to honour stars, starlets and other celebrities of the showbiz.

The whole thing is a show arena. Would-be artists show their arts as musicians or rap dancers and try to press as much money from the audience as possible. Others act as photographic models like Darth Vader from the Star Wars Saga or Tom Cruise as Top Gun marine pilot – for a fee, of course. And then there are the completely manic ones that probably think they ARE Paris Hilton or Britney Spears and dress, move and behave like their idols, strolling around apparently unaffected hoping somebody buys their story. The upper open floors of a multi-storey mall on Hollywood Boulevard are a good spot to see the famous Hollywood letters on the city’s hills.

Irvine, California – The plundered parcel

Samstag, März 5th, 2011

We received a parcel from Germany, shipped to Camille’s address. The parcel arrives but some content is missing. After closer examination we detect that it was slit open and neatly stuck together again. Of course only “valuable” and resalable things were stolen: break pads and high-quality polishing and cleaning agents. Is this an insurance case?

Irvine, California – California’s police gone wild

Freitag, März 4th, 2011

Californian police seems to be generally hyper reactive. Camille tells us that she went on her bike for training with 13 other friends. They pedalled up a steep hill of which hilltop is a stop sign. The 14 friends slowly passed the stop sign with walking speed to prevent the bikers in the rear from having to stop and start several times on the steep hill. The junction was completely without any traffic. A police man in a hidden car pulled over the entire group and issued a ticket to everbody. Every single ticket contains a fine of – believe it or not – 487 $! The bikers jointly take the case to court. Not to deny their obvious fault, but to claim a lower fine or community service instead.

Los Angeles, California – The Moloch

Donnerstag, März 3rd, 2011

The compass points further south. We drive into to Solvang, a town that looks like being punched out of Denmark and replanted into California. It was founded in the beginning of the 20th century by Danish immigrants, what’s not only reflected in the many Anderson and Petersen name plates. The once started Southern Scandinavian architectural style was consequently continued till today. Corresponding souvenir shops and restaurants shall not be missed. Santa Barbara in comparison looks like copied from a Mexican picture book. The here located meteorological divide makes itself imminently felt with raising temperatures.

We go on the Pan Americana to Malibu and to Los Angeles, with 15 million inhabitants after New York City USA’s biggest conurbation. Actually it is a densely packed accumulation of a multitude of cities for which one of the cities’ names was chosen standing for all of them. Six-, seven-, up to twelve-lane highways cut through the Moloch. The excellently fully developed road network was recorded as exemplary for long time. Unfortunately the town planners poorly looked ahead and relied on private transport in a one-sided way. After the system collapsed about 20 years ago, and without being able to build multi-storey freeways due to the constant earthquake risk, everybody put up with the all-day endless rush hour. There are stricter emission rules in California to counteract the threatening smog risk than in other parts of the country. We find an above-average number of hybrid cars in Los Angeles.

Thanks to Lissy navigation through countless motorway intersections is relaxed, and we eventually reach Irvine undamaged. We visit Camille, the super-sporty iron woman whom we met while hiking in Grand Staircase – Escalante.

Pismo Beach, California – River crossing

Mittwoch, März 2nd, 2011

On our way to the beach exit we have to again cross a book. Only that it carries much more water than yesterday. It looks deep and waves ruffle the surface. The high tide isn’t long ago and still pushes up the river mouth. The nightly rain additionally swelled the creek. Several cars stand on both sides of the brook, among them four ranger pick-ups, pretending to be heavily busy: They are eating sandwiches, or watch the area, apparently not interested in the river. Joerg just takes a short look at the water and sets off. As we passed through without any problems very suddenly busy traffic commences and everybody crosses the creek. The must have waited for the first twit to be brave enough to cross the brook.

Pismo Beach, California – The big sandbox

Dienstag, März 1st, 2011

Around North Beach Campground in Pismo Beach there is a big colony of monarch butterflies that overwinter in the eucalyptus trees. Pismo Beach is the only beach at the entire west cost where it is allowed to drive with a car and even to camp. The entrance fee to Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area is 5 $, for two days including overnight camping 10 $. With an OHV or ATV you can drive on the tough broad beach but in the soft dunes as well. I manage to sink into one of those dunes – not too deep, and not for too long – but I get some spectators anyway. In the rear part of the beach you can just camp on the beach, but make sure to be far enough from the waterline; the flood will come!

An old Dodge military ambulance from the 40s chugs by. You can go for a walk at the beach, collect shells and sand dollars, or watch birds. Sand dollars are spineless relatives of the sea urchins with the appearance of flat discs that crawl in funny loops over the sand. The skeletons of the dead specimen show a beautiful pattern on top, among it the fivefold petal of their former respiratory organs. Tiny little western snowy plovers race along the waterline like dervishes with absurd speed. They just stop for turning around and picking a shore crab. They prey insects and invertebrates with their conspicuous run-and-pause-technique. That’s all a lot of fun, and we are nearly alone here.