Thursday, October 30, 2008

A nice balance of activity and leisure

“Time flies when you are having fun” sure speaks for me. I’ve had time for park work, Personal Chef magazine writing and editing, hiking, reading, motorhome chores, and getting acquainted with campers and other volunteers.

As usual, I’m up early – at least an hour before sunrise. It is a special time for me; often I’m out for a pre-dawn walk, enjoying the sounds of the desert critters. It’s also my time to count my blessings and brush away regrets. I like to remind myself of something I read awhile back:

Life's too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so . . . Love the people who treat you right. Forget about the ones who don't. Believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, TAKE IT! If it changes your life, LET IT!

This morning it was just light enough to I see an owl atop a saguaro cactus, softly hooting. I glanced away to make sure I was still on the road as I walked and when I looked up again, the owl was gone. I didn’t hear it leave.

During the day a variety of desert critters visit my campsite – I have water out for them. It is not unusual to see a rabbit and some birds drinking at the same time. I’m also visited by a small squirrel. Birds that come by are quail, dove, cactus wren (Arizona State Bird), house finch, thrasher, flicker, woodpecker, sparrows, and some I have not identified yet. I’ve only seen one coyote, but often hear them at night.

Cat also watches the coming and going of the critters from the window. One bird feeder filled with whole sunflower seeds is suction-cupped to the window. Interestingly, with the darkened windows, the birds can not see in and therefore can’t see Cat. Often Cat will take a swipe at a bird in or on the feeder and the bird is oblivious to this and does not fly away.

Another interesting thing about Cat’s motorhome life is she hardly ever is on the floor. She can jump from sofa to dining area, walks across the kitchen counter (I keep supplied with Clorox wipes) to jump on my bed. I’ve put a leash on her a few times so she could go outside, but after only a minute or two, she goes back into the motorhome.

My mail has finally caught up with me – I’m having it forwarded to the park. What a surprise to get a letter – and a check – from the State of New Mexico. It was a $50 Refundable Income Tax Rebate “State Assistance for Low-Income New Mexicans”! It also notified me that I may qualify for assistance programs including food stamps and USDA food commodities! It sure took me by surprise!

Most days I head out for a morning hike. The trail head to the Clay Mine is nearby – and it connects with several other trails. The park has six trails of varying lengths, and five of them start at the day-use area that is a bit more then 1 mile from my campsite. To get to the five trailheads, I can either walk on the park road, or use the Clay Mine Trail.

Above is a photo of the Clay Mine; the plaque on the locked gate says, “This mine was originally dug in search of gold. The land was later bought by a woman named Leila P. Irish. She believed that even though the mine contained no gold, its high levels of clay sediment could still be profitable. Leila bottled this clay and called it a miracle elixir that was said to cure all ailments. Though this was not true, it did cure one ailment exceedingly well. Dysentery, a disease from drinking bad water was common at this time. She made a fortune off her scheme, a fortune that her descendants still enjoy.”

One of the guided hikes next month is to Clay Mine, and the park supplies hard-hats for those who want to go in the mine. I’m looking forward to that hike.

A few days ago I went on the bird watching hike led by Park Supervisor Amy. What a bird education I got and I was amazed at how many different birds we saw. We watched a curved-bill thrasher as he worked on a nest. It seemed to me the “wrong” time to be nest building since eggs would not be laid until spring. Amy explained that the male thrasher builds a number of nests – perhaps to impress a female of his building skills. The extra nests also serve as decoys to the egg-robbing critters. The most vocal bird is the cactus wren.

One hike took me to a good vantage point to see the progress – or lack of it – on the new visitor center/nature center building. It is the first I’ve seen the outdoor amphitheater. The building is a “green” building – solar, etc. The latest estimate for completion is the first of the year. Here’s the photo I took from the trail.

With the building behind schedule and the new facility the reason I was “hired” as a volunteer, Amy and I met to talk about things I can do in the meantime. She (and all park supervisors) has been tasked to increase the numbers of campers and day-use traffic, so I’ll be working on marketing and customer service projects. We’ll be developing camper packets similar to the ones we did at Pancho Villa State Park. The packets will include a variety of information and hopefully some coupons from Cave Creek merchants.

I’ll also write press releases on the guided park activities to build day use and also to build interest in the progress of the new facilities. My third project will be to develop a Friends of the Park organization. And I’ll still occasionally staff the entrance station. So for the most part, I’ll just set my own work schedule to work on my projects.

I do have a short trip to South Lake Tahoe coming up. I’ll be attending a family memorial service. I just checked the weather forecast and know to expect snow and rain! My brother Ed and I will fly to Reno on Sunday (Nov. 2) and return on Tuesday (Nov. 4). So if you don’t hear from me, you’ll know why.

That’s it for this blog entry. I’ll leave you with this table grace. My friend Annette Hubbell is working on a book of graces, and this one was motivated by something my sister Linda sent:

Heavenly Father,

Please bless this food and those who made it.

And let us take this moment as we sit together

To reflect that life isn't about how to survive the storm,

But how to dance in the rain.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Moonlight hike, trail dedication and high school reunion – it’s been an adventurous week!

As we age, most people lose that expectancy, that urgency of hope, that delightful, childlike, wide-eyed joy of faith that keeps us full of anticipation and excitement. May God deliver us from a grim, stoic, stale shrug of the shoulders! (unknown author)

In fact, it’s been a great first week here at Cave Creek Regional Park. As soon as I awake – often before the sun rises – I’m excited to see what the day will bring. There’s no lolling around in bed for me. I toss on some clothes and head out for an early morning walk around the campground. The early birds are chattering and the rabbits are scattering as I walk. Except for the first night here when the temperature dropped enough for me to reach over and turn my electric blanket in, it’s been in the high 60s at 6 a.m.

The nearly 3,000-acre park is at altitudes ranging from 2,000 feet to 3,000 feet. The landscape offers interesting geological formations, scenic views and the Sonoran desert flora and fauna. The park has more than 11 miles of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding (mixed use; no motorized vehicles) trails. Most days temperatures have been in the 90s range.

I wonder where we put ---?

My first two days here were spent in organizing stuff in my motorhome. With both my sister Alice and I transferring things from my house and garage to Jeremiah II (yes, we got everything in with some space to spare), it’s been like a treasure hunt. A few things are yet to be found.

The status of the new visitor center/nature center/gift shop

I was “hired” specifically to get this new facility open and staffed, and the original completion date was November 1. Well, like a lot of construction projects, this one is delayed. Now it looks like a January opening. Bummer! So in the meantime, I’m being trained as a regular campground host and I’ve had my first three shifts of training at the “contact station” which is at the entry to the park, the “iron ranger” a self-pay station, and tallying each day’s park fees (day use, camping, and annual passes paid by cash, check and credit card). There are lots of things to remember but it is all beginning to make sense. Thank goodness for my previous business experiences.

New trail dedication

I was invited to go with park supervisor Amy and park ranger Jim to the dedication of a new mixed-use trail not too far from here. It was a big deal attended by local residents, trail advocates, staff from county parks and recreation, politicians, and other bigwigs. The trail is a segment of a 240-mile trail that connects the county’s parks that ring the Phoenix metro area. Among the bigwigs was a man from the Navajo Nation who blessed the trail and about a half dozen horsemen/women on horseback. I met lots of folks and had a great time. The trailhead has parking for horse trailers and a water trough.

“Creeping out” moonlight hike

Ranger Jim led this leisurely hike, and I was tail-ender. About 45 locals came out. Along the way Jim pulled things from his pack to show the hikers: a tarantula, king snake and scorpion. The park offers several hikes each week. The early Thursday morning hike is billed as a “fitness hike. “I push people to get their heart rate up; no slacking off,” explained Jim.

52 years ago -- where was I?

I was a senior at Washington High School in Phoenix. 1956 was the first year for this school; juniors and seniors could choose to stay in the high school they had been attending (the new school took students from Glendale and Sunnyslope); freshmen and sophomores in the district had no choice. As a result, we had just 49 in the senior class and about 100 in the junior class. We were big-shots on the campus – deciding on the team mascot, school colors, starting the first newspaper, designing the first yearbook, etc. And you’re probably not surprised to learn that I was in the midst of everything.

Over the years I lost track of classmates and the school lost track of me. I missed the 50-year reunion, but did reconnect with a few past friends. This past Saturday night was a reunion for any person who attended Washington High that first year; there were just five from the first senior class. The event was at the large and spacious home of one of the 1956 sophomore students. I was told that more than 200 folks were gathered on the huge lawn and patio that was filled with tables, chairs, etc. The DJ played 50s music. It was such fun!

Busy but yet gifting myself with times of solitude.

I was reminded about the importance of slowing down and having time to think and rethink things when I read this passage written by Pastor Chuck Swindoll:

Instead of speeding up, slow down and rethink. I've thought about them for years. Instead of speeding up, let's find ways to slow down and rethink. Taking time to discover what really matters is essential if we're going to lift the curse of superficiality that shadows our lives. Don't wait for the doctor to tell you that you have six months to live. Long before anything that tragic becomes a reality, you should be growing roots deep into the soil of those things that truly matter.

Until next weekend…slow down and appreciate all you have!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Jeremiah II is finally ready!

Oct. 10 to 13, 2008

After a little more than two months, I finally picked up my sweet motor home. What a beauty! My dealer, Rocky Mountain RV in Albuquerque, tackled the job of replacing the motor home walls – not a simple or easy job. (If you missed previous posts and emails, Winnebago determined that there had been a chemical reaction between the exterior fiberglass and the paint, causing the paint to bubble.) Jeremiah II was sparkling clean inside and out.

My sister Alice and I flew from Phoenix to Albuquerque the morning of the 10th and went straight to RMRV and then drove Jeremiah II to my Rio Rancho home to get it loaded and ready to travel the next morning.


By the time Alice and I were ready to leave, storm clouds were gathering, the wind was blowing, and the weatherman was predicting rain. And it did rain! Somewhere west of Albuquerque – between Laguna and Grants on I-40 – the rain came pouring down. Visibility was very low a good bit of the time and the Interstate shoulder didn’t look wide enough for me to pull over. Thankfully all the traffic slowed and we just kept going. I was reminded of something my sister Linda sent:

Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain.

We mentally danced as the rain continued. When it finally stopped we were on two-lane NM Highway 53 and headed for the reservation town of Zuni and the New Mexico-Arizona border.

The ranger station at El Malpais National Park was a welcome stop, more so than expected. The park was having a special fall open house and was serving hot apple cider and hot chocolate along with cookies. Inside were a couple of Navajo weavers at work and all books were discounted.

We took advantage of the pine country to take photos. Here’s Alice enjoying the cool breezes.

In my quest for books for my winter volunteer job, I bought two books: “Tread Lightly, venomous and poisonous animals of the southwest” and “Naturalist’s Guide to Observing Nature.”

Hwy 53 is lightly traveled and goes through a variety of landscapes. We talked and laughed, discussed politics.

Along the way we drove through 7.1 miles of construction – the recent rains turned the now-dirt road into sloshy potholes. As we crept along at 5+ miles an hour, we took this photo:

Freshly painted Jeremiah II was no longer shiny, rather it was caked with New Mexico soil.

The next stop – after an unplanned tour of the village (I had unknowingly passed up the last possible place to park the motorhome) – was Turquoise Traders, a wholesale/retail business just loaded with beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry. Between the motorhome and the store, several Indians offered to sell us their hand-carved fetishes. With jewelry in mind, we declined their offerings.

Our day ended at Lyman Lake State Park on Arizona Highway 191. It was windy, but a pleasant evening. Alice and shared my traditional champagne toast before getting beds ready.

Alice played the Bejeweled computer game and after brushing her teeth declared that she didn’t like my toothpaste at all – Arm & Hammer toothpaste made with peroxide and baking soda. I’ll admit it takes some getting used to, and I actually like it now.

The evening was so pleasant that we had windows open and only set out flannel sheets for bedding. I didn’t even think of turning the propane on.

Along about 1 a.m., I was cold and got up to put warm pajamas on and an afghan for my bed. I also got a warm blanket for Alice. At 4 a.m. it was colder. “This is crazy,” I muttered as I tossed on a sweat shirt and went out to turn the propane on so we could run the forced air heater. Yea! In the morning we learned that it got down to 28 degrees! Brrr.

The morning was bright and clear and not windy. I took a photo of Jeremiah II at the campsite.


Our route today will take us through Show Low, Payson, Camp Verde and south on I-17 to Cave Creek Regional Park and all the small towns in between.

Although roadside signs told of elk and deer, and in the past I’ve seen wild critters, we only saw a dead skunk on the road’s shoulder. I was glad that someone else’s vehicle was reeking of skunk and not mine. It’s one thing to have a stinking car, but I certainly wouldn’t want my rolling home to be the recipient of this lingering odor.

At one point, there was a flashing sign announcing “Elk Crossing Test”. What?? Alice suggested that maybe along the way an elk “statue” would pop out to test our reflexes! Were they testing to see if elk would cross the road at this place? Go figure. At any rate, we didn’t see any elk.

We oohed and aahed over the rolling amber hills and mountain meadows as we rode the roller-coaster roads.

I was unhappy that Jeremiah II was so dirty – and pondered what to do about it. I didn’t want to spend the winter in a dirty motorhome. At Payson we found a do-it-yourself car/RV wash. I had never used one before and when I asked for help from the attendant, he took pity on us and after putting money in the slot he did the washing for me! He got most of the dirt off, and now I’ll just do the finishing a bit each day while at the park.

It was nearly 4 p.m. when we arrived at campsite # 9 at Cave Creek Park. Alice did a great job of directing me as I backed in. She is a great travel companion.

Later in the afternoon my brother Ed and his wife Debby delivered my Ford Explorer (I had left it at their house before flying to Albuquerque). They took Alice back, and Cat and I settled in. We'll be here until spring.