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Changing Views

We awakened this morning to a thousand ball-peen hammers rapping on Howie’s roof. Hail, thunder, and lightning (sometimes really close!) continued on and off through the early morning. Ralph was adorned by an icy necklace, the sky ran back and forth a variable bright-to-dull grey, and the outside temperature hovered around mid-30F.DSC_1062

“These are the times that try men’s souls” – if you’re in a tent or pop-up camper. But in our totally self-contained Howie, we were simply delighted. The cold and wet circumstances just outside our door were held in stern abeyance, and we snuggled inside our modest rig with power, water, heat, lights, toilet, shower, bed, and kitchen all at the ready for whatever our hearts desired. If we were to become bored (Hah!), there’s always the TV or stereo.

Karin and I have both done a LOT of tent camping (out of the luggage compartment of an airplane), and I have spent an additional 20 years or so camping out of a 4×4 in the deserts and mountains of the western US and Canada. So we’ve truly “paid our dues”, and we feel not a single pang of guilt at our particular flavor of “roughing it”. In the middle of the forest in the middle of nowhere, warm-and-cozy is really quite a bit more enjoyable than chilled-to-the-bone. Next to nature, but not battered by it.

Internet is an issue. Internet is how we get the weather, do trip planning, research where we want to go next, and check on status at parks and destinations. We communicate with friends and family, share our experiences, and get a bit of news if we can stand it. The last couple of weeks have really spoiled us, because we lucked into reliable connections wherever we stayed.

But here, we are really remote. Internet here is at the “teaser” level. Mostly there’s zero to one bar of phone-only, which does NOT work for calls at all. Occasionally, some cosmic air current pokes up 2-3 bars of 1X, and some email headers and texts sneak through. That’s it. The nearest semi-reliable connection is about 30 miles away, either down south at the North Rim visitor center, or up north at AZ89A at Jacob Lake. Fortunately, I have a great tool to do off-line blogs. I write these whenever and wherever I can, and then post them all at once when I get a solid 3G/4G or wifi connection.


Click on the map for the large version. The white star on the map shows our camp site. Just to the east you can see the Cockscombs formation note. The purplish area to the south is the Grand Canyon National Park area, and the golden areas are Indian lands.

See the area to the west of our camp, west of AZ67 on the rim of the Canyon – – this region has miles-long single-track mountain biking, some of it precariously threaded along the precipices of the Canyon rim. It requires about 25 miles of dirt road to get there, but Howie has done it.

The day continued with on-and-off rain, patches of sun here and there. Even in dull overcast light, our solar system was busily re-charging batteries, a comfy feeling. Our catbird’s seat on the edge of the Canyon allows us to watch the weather come at us, driven by the East winds of the storm system.

Through Howie’s rain-streaked windshield, we are spectators on the day’s weather. Far across the plateau below, beyond the Cockscombs, rain showers descend from the bases of the storm cells. As the clouds approach us, they’re forced upward by the steep rise of the Kaibab Plateau, and rain (or hail) falls again, this time on our heads.DSC_1064

After the storms (mostly) went through, we took Ralph exploring around a bit. The big meadow over by AZ67 looked a lot different.


This cottontail seemed content to just sit and try to be warm. It’s 42F.


Just down FS611 from us, a large group of mountain bikers were stopping for the day and setting up camp. Pretty skanky weather for these folks, but they seemed in okay spirits.


All along FS611, there are multiple places to camp, and many of them have similar Canyon-edge views. Here is another one like ours, with the picture taken from the same place you’d put your tent or camp chair. Remarkable.


Tracks of the hapless cyclists going down the storm-muddied road to their camp. Hard to stay upright in this stuff. Some of the stragglers were coming in as we drove around; they were not in as good spirits as the early arrivers.


By the end of the day, Ralph had developed a strange “clunk” in the front suspension, and our nice efficient little propane heater quit due to the pilot not staying lit. I’ve also found that my laptop charger jams DC noise back into the supply line, which makes our LED lighting blink and flicker like crazy. Small potatoes all.

So we are now listening carefully to whatever Ralph is going to tell us, and we’re keeping warm off the noisy, inefficient forced-air cabin heater in Howie. I’ll charge the laptop during the daytime. “Into each life a little rain must fall.”

Tomorrow, more rain is due. We are planning to explore some way-back dirt roads, but if they get too muddy we’ll have to re-think that one.

Hangin’ at Home (a temporary condition)

We got back from the desert a week and a half ago, and have been busy non-stop since then. Home stuff, tax stuff, miscellaneous stuff, and a LOT of preparation for going out again.


It seems that I have this proclivity for thinking up “improvements” to Howie, Ralph, and our camping setups. When I’m out on the road, I am always eager to see my shop again so I can do the upgrades. When I’m home, I can’t wait to get out and away to try everything out.

We’re hoping to get away again right after tax season. Stay tuned…


Mines and Meandering

We knew that this was our last day at Hole-in-the-Wall, and we wanted to see just a bit more of the Preserve. One of the wide-spread features here is the large number of mines, and the old dirt roads/tracks that service them – – so we set out to see a few, namely the Columbia (off of Macedonia Road) and the Evening Star (off of Cima Road).

Our day was yet another potpourri of sights, rocky roads, gorgeous weather, and yes even a little adventure. The day was long, relaxing, scenic and even educational, and it begs for some elaboration. But words can pale, and rather than any attempt at narration, I’ll simply present today as an annotated slide show.

Here’s where we’ve spent the last eleven days. Barstow to the west, Las Vegas to the north, Needles southeast. Our base-camp is Hole-in-the-Wall, lower-right from center.DSC_0429

On the slope above camp, a gang of barrel cacti supervise operations. Howie is in the foreground camp site. I-40 is about 15 miles distant.DSC_0430

Our early-morning walk produces the usual smattering of cottontail rabbits.DSC_0438


Barrel cacti are solemn, smooth, un-threatening – – but if you really intrude on their space, their two-inch-long quills are a hell of deterrent.

These are woody, stiff spikes with points sharper than hypodermic needles.

Keep your distance.




Hawks are on patrol everywhere, and the furry rodent population scurries below them across the brushy plain of their dinner table.




Old mine shafts are usually blocked, grated, or otherwise shut off to prevent injury or death to people and animals. This one was casually boarded up, easy to enter, and way too dangerous to do so.

It’s difficult to imagine how people made their living in this rugged terrain.









Ralph perches on a gradual slope which leads down the the railroad tracks. A long freight train is crossing the valley below.

DSC_0457The “new” trash from late-era mining always looks much more shabby than the early efforts’ leavings. It’s all still trash, but the 1800’s stuff looks more like it belongs with the terrain.

DSC_0465Whenever a sand-wash crosses a railroad, there’s an underpass to permit natural drainage. Problem is, the underpass fills up with gravel and sand. Clearance can be an issue.


Nope, it’s a no-go.


Gotta dig the ruts a little deeper.

It needed about four inches deeper in each rut, for ten feet or so.



Ah, that’s got it (about one or two inches of clearance). A miss is as good as a mile, they say.











After many more miles of rocky road, the towering old structures at the Evening Star mine make it all worthwhile.










It’s an imposing affair, sound on the bottom but unsafe to explore any further up.






Another closed and covered mine shaft in the area, very large and deep.




Back in camp for the evening – – the distant lights of Las Vegas out-do the feeble glitter of the few campers remaining at Hole-in-the-Wall.

Mixed Bag

We started out the day just as relaxed and kicked back as yesterday, but somehow the afternoon developed a life of its own.

DSC_0425This morning, Karin took her usual walk. She has not yet gotten around to investigating burrowing animals here. And why should she?

We bought an intriguing little book, Desert Holes, and have been studying up. At first, we thought it just a simple guide to what critter digs what hole (and it is), but it also has a plethora of information about things we didn’t know existed.


Did you know that the Mojave desert provides habitat for (among many others):

  • Howling predatory carnivorous mice
  • Asexual lizards that self-fertilize using double-chromosome sets
  • Honey-storing ants with grape-sized abdomens which feed their working brothers

– – – the list goes on. Amazing stuff, take a look at the book here on Amazon.

I laid around and read, browsed (Internet is much improved during daytime), and whiled away the morning. Afternoon just begged for more exploring, and off we went. Did I say “get stuck” in a previous post? Really I didn’t mean it. Really.

DSC_0409We turned off of Wild Horse Canyon road to the west and made our way toward Blue Jay mine. The road went from marginal to ugly and then pretty much impassable.

Ralph is set up as a multi-purpose vehicle, and doesn’t compete with off-road-only configurations (some super-mudder tire prints of which preceded us). At 31 inch tires and 9 inches of ground clearance, Ralph’s qualifications are modest, and the road was extreme.

DSC_0401Rainy seasons had made enormous gullies and ditches, not wide enough to drive in, but not narrow enough to straddle. The result was severe off-camber runs, punctuated by horrendous piles of washed-up jagged transmission-eating boulders.

As we worked our way towards the inevitable no-go, a minor clutch of rocks tossed one up toward the rear driveline connect linkage.

One flying stone nudged the link just a wee teeny bit toward the driveshaft, and it got caught in the spin and instantly mangled to a pretzel.


In the cab, all we heard was bangitty-wappity-bangity-wappity, nearly the exact same sound as when a U-joint bearing fractures and collapses (ask me how I know this). Karin and I looked at each other with lots of white around our eyeballs. It was with real relief that I found the culprit. A few minutes with some wrenches and pliers and I extracted the junk parts, shifted the connect by hand, and we were off again.

DSC_0403But soon after, the trail stopped (for us) at a V-shaped “road” full of hatchet-edged boulders the size of lawn chairs. We walked up the road only a few hundred yards more to discover the mine, which was in pretty good shape.DSC_0404

DSC_0407Couldn’t say the same for the workers’ lodging, which was totally derelict and abandoned, old iron stove and bedsprings rusting in the desert air.

Truly, it was a bleak sight, nestled amongst the old burned trees on a gray, flat day. Very hard to imagine living and working out here.

DSC_0406We have better sense than to enter any old mine, regardless of how sound it looks, so we just snapped some pix and went back to Ralph. DSC_0411

He was waiting patiently, but he was pretty nervous that we might want to take him up that awful road. Pretty relieved when we turned back home. Us too.

DSC_0408Walking anywhere in this area must be done with caution, not only because of treacherous terrain, but because of a local piece of pure vicious called Cat’s-Claw. This shrub-tree looks innocuous at first glance, but reveals its true colors when you get within a foot or two. ANY brush or intrusion is met with tenacious, needle-sharp hooked thorns that catch in clothing, skin, boots, even leather. Once hooked, a professional surgeon must be summoned to extract the claws. This maniacal desert assassin is also called the Wait-a-bit bush. Obvious.

On the way back, we checked out the water supply for the mine. No water was in evidence, but near a natural drainage there was a large iron tank and a broken-up concrete cistern, typical technology of the time and area.DSC_0415

So, all considered, a pretty decent afternoon. Got stuck, got broke, got fixed, got home. Saw some interesting stuff along the way.

Nothing wrong with that.