Hello! We're currently in Monterey, California, where it is raining hard and very stormy. Being here on the seashore is quite a change from the last couple weeks of desert travel - it feels a little like home, actually! But let me back up a couple of weeks, and start from the beginning...
We drove pretty much straight to Chaco Canyon, in northwestern New Mexico, after leaving Washinton. It took us a few days to make the journey - it's a long way and the camper is no speedwagon. Chaco is at something like 6500 feet, so it is COLD this time of year. The first night we were there it got down to -2F, which would have been pretty miserable without the camper. Even with our little propane heater going all night, some pretty signifigant ice formed on the walls and windows inside the camper. The campground bathrooms were heated, and in fact one of our fellow campers abandoned his tent sometime in the night and slept in there.
The ruins and monuments at Chaco are incredible. I wont go too much into the archaeology here, but it was well worth the drive and the cold temps! There were some other visitors while we were there, but the area is large enough that it felt like we had the place to ourselves. The first morning we were lucky enough to see a bobcat sauntering through the scrub by the side of the road to disappear among some large rocks. We went through Pueblo Bonito (the largest ruin) with a great park ranger who was very generous with his time and knowledge. Then we hiked up onto the mesa above the ruins along an ancient trail that climbed up through an awesome fissure in the cliff face. We saw lots of bunnies.
The next day we did more hiking, an 8 mile round trip to an outlying ruin at Penasco Blanco, which was down the canyon a ways and then up on the mesa top. The views were spectacular, and there was rock art all along the trail. Hiking was pretty comfortable, as the daytime temperatures rose to slightly above freezing and the sun shone brilliantly all day. The stars at night were truly spectacular - I have never seen such clear, dark skies. It seemed like there were thousands more stars in the sky over Chaco than anywhere else.
Our third morning at Chaco we did a couple of short trails and went through the park museum before leaving and heading back towards Flagstaff in Arizona, where we resupplied. We stayed the night at Meteor Crater which is just outside Flagstaff, the site of an extremely well preserved (because it's in the desert) meteror crater, as well as a museum and campground. Pretty neat - I learned a lot about meteors!
The next day we headed south, to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which is on the AZ/Mexico border. Pretty much all of the Organ Pipe cactus' in the US is found there, as well as impressive saguaro forests. It was beautiful. We stayed there for two nights, and went hiking both days. It was considerably warmer, daytime temps were in the low 60s and nighttime was probably about 40F, but there was a strong wind which made it feel chilly at times. The wierd thing was that, being right on the border, there were border patrol agents and checkpoints along the roads, and certain trails were closed due to border patrol operations. It made me a little sad to see how militarized the border is.
After leaving Organ Pipe we headed to Joshua Tree in southern California. We came into the south part of the park, which I had not visited before, it is a very different ecosystem from the north (which is where the actual Joshua trees are). This is the wettest time of the year there, so many plants were growing and blooming, it was beautiful - almost lush! We hiked to a stunningly beautiful oasis, where there were actual pools and streams of flowing water with palms growing in the bottom of a hidden canyon.
We headed north out of Joshua Tree, and stopped overnight at a hot sping "resort" in Tecopa, just to the south of Death Valley national park. The next day we went into the park - what a spectacular landscape. Even in Death Valley, spring means wildflowers:It was the night of the full moon, so we camped at Stovepipe wells and night-hiked out into the sand dunes, which was amazing.
Then for our second night in Death valley we drove up to the extreme north end of the park (aprox 40 miles of gravel road, about 50% washboard!) to the Eureka dunes, which at 700 feet tall are the tallest sand dunes in CA, and definately some of the most remote.
The next morning we headed north over a couple of mountain ranges (again on the gravel roads) through snow-covered alpine joshua tree forests (very strange to see) until we came down out of the park in the upper owens valley. We drove from there all the way out to Monterey, where we are suddenly back in civilization attending an ecological farming conference for my work. Bit of an adjustment, to say the least!
Hopefully I'll get pictures up sometime soon (we've taken a couple) to accompany this narative, but that may have to wait until we get back home, which will be sometime next week. We continue north tomorrow...
Update: As you can see, I've added some pictures of Death Valley and beyond. Technical difficulties have delayed the posting of pictures from before DV - hopefully those will be resolved shortly! As a bonus, here's a picture of me from Ubehebe Crater, showing the sexy outfit I wore for most of my honeymoon: long undies (top & bottom), shirt, 2 sweaters, fleece jacket, jeans, and a hat. I'm not wearing my gloves and I dont have the coat zipped because I just got out of the truck.