national parking, Travel

Roadside Attractions and Route 66 (Illinois and Missouri edition)

An old stretch of Route 66 in Dwight, IL

I like roadside attractions. You know this by now. (See: Cabazon Dinosaurs for previous stop.) And in the US at least there is no place for roadside stops quite like Route 66.

Route 66 has become, in and of itself, a bit of a roadside attraction in its own right. Begun in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985, it nevertheless remains in the cultural consciousness of the US. It was the road that could take you from Chicago to Los Angeles, the Main Street of America, the Mother Road, and it embodies the automotive spirit of America like nothing else. Countless communities along it prospered as long as the traffic came. And did that traffic come! Especially after WWII, the whole stretch of Route 66 became one of the most popular road trips in the country, and the little towns and mom and pop shops along it became iconic stops. But the traffic got to be too much, and the Interstates were born.

Ambler’s Texaco Gas Station in Dwight, IL

You can still find most of Route 66 if you know where to look. It’s been recognized by Congress and the World Monuments Fund as a significant cultural site, and there is an organization committed to preserving what remains. The National Park Service even has a published itinerary with links to popular roadside stops and essays and maps. And there’s something really enticing about it, after all. Two lane roads and tiny diners and places ranging from the comfortable to the just plain bizarre.

I’ve been to the beginning, in downtown Chicago. I’d like to go to the end some day, in Santa Monica. In the meantime, I’m exploring the section that’s within a day’s drive of where I currently reside.

The Lily-pad Room in Onandaga Cave State Park‘s Cathedral Caverns.

For the July 4th weekend, we followed I-55 (which runs parallel to the old Route 66) down to central Missouri and the northern stretches of the Ozarks to meet friends who live in Kansas City. It was a lovely trip, but on the way down and again on the way back, we made a point of stopping on Route 66 as often as we could. Even our final destination, at Onandaga Cave State Park, is part of the cave system that includes one of the oldest stops along the famed highway, Meramec Caverns.

Jesse James Wax Museum outside of Meramec Caverns

Outside of the Meramec Caverns visitor center is a Jesse James Wax Museum that combines my love of roadside attractions with my love of interesting conspiracy theories: the museum posits that the famous outlaw Jesse James faked his own death and lived to be 103, dying in the 1950s. It was bizarre and entertaining and worth the price of admission (if you like that sort of thing, which I do).

The Mill on Route 66 in Lincoln, IL

On the drive home, we stopped at a site called The Mill which has just re-opened after about a decade of fundraising and refurbishment. If you look at some of the old photos, this place was brought back from near collapse by a dedicated team. I like that it sits right at the intersection of the train tracks and the old highway.

We’ve made a few other stops along Route 66 over the last couple of years, but these are the most recent. Have you driven any of Route 66? Do you have a favorite roadside stop that I should add to my list?

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conservation, national parking, probably a tree hugger thing, thinking deeper

Yellowstone bison calf put down after human interference, or let’s not touch the animals, okay?

Everything expressed below is my opinion only and doesn’t represent any position on behalf of the National Park Service or any other entity, cited or otherwise.

Let’s talk about that bison calf.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? From a press release out of Yellowstone National Park today:

In recent weeks, visitors in the park have been engaging in inappropriate, dangerous, and illegal behavior with wildlife. These actions endanger people and have now resulted in the death of a newborn bison calf.
Last week in Yellowstone National Park, visitors were cited for placing a newborn bison calf in their vehicle and transporting it to a park facility because of their misplaced concern for the animal’s welfare. In terms of human safety, this was a dangerous activity because adult animals are very protective of their young and will act aggressively to defend them. In addition, interference by people can cause mothers to reject their offspring. In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd. These efforts failed. The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.

You can read the entire release here, and they cite other instances just in the last few weeks of humans getting way too close to these animals. From viral videos of people trying to touch bison to concern over an “abandoned and cold” calf, humans have gone way beyond crossing a proverbial line.

So what’s going on exactly?

Personally I think a combination of the desire for viral phenomena as well as a pure lack of real education about wildlife and our environment have created a hotbed for bad behavior. The strange thing about wanting to be a viral phenomenon is that almost nobody is going to remember your name afterward. Think about the last viral video or meme you saw: can you say the username of the person who made it? How about their actual name? No? That’s because it’s a flash in the pan situation. You’ll remember the blue and black dress (or is it white and gold??) but not the woman who wore it. That’s not a Thing that really needs to be Fixed so much as that people need to take a step back and ask why they’re really filming/photographing/recording something that may cost them (or an animal) their life.

And now we come to the bison calf.

One of the biggest reactions I saw when I started looking into this article is that people don’t understand why the calf had to be put down instead of being hand reared or even taken to a zoo. While I don’t know enough detail in this specific case, I can give you what my general impressions are from the press release and offer my best explanation based on my previous experience with zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, etc.

  • The bison calf wasn’t going back to its mother. This is a problem for many reasons. The main reason is that it is a young herd animal that needs its mother and the rest of the herd to feed it, protect it, and generally teach it how to be a bison. Without being part of the group, the calf was at risk for starvation, predation, injury or death simply from being alone. That’s the thing about herd animals– they need the herd to survive. That’s how they function.
  • The bison calf was approaching humans. This is very dangerous for the calf and for the humans. The calf was at risk of being hit by a car (and hitting a large animal with a car can be deadly for the humans involved, too!) as well as not getting the food and protection and other things provided by the herd. Humans just can’t do that. Not only that, but having a young bison near humans might A) attract other bison, including the mother, to be near humans (and bison are dangerous) and B) might contribute to disease being spread. Many many many of the weird strains of flu and other viruses come from humans being too close to wild animals. This calf was probably A-Okay, but it’s still not a good idea.
  • The bison calf was born in the wild to a specific wild herd. This is probably the number one reason the calf couldn’t go to a zoo or other sanctuary. As I said before, bison are herd animals and the calf needed a herd, but it wasn’t going back to its own. The calf would be hard pressed at best to join another herd in a zoo or sanctuary, and at worst would be outright rejected, leaving it in a yet more vulnerable situation.
  • The bison calf might pose a health risk to other bison. In addition, if the calf were carrying any diseases or pathogens, even ones that are normal and healthy in a wild herd, it could decimate a different population that has been bred and raised in a zoo. With bison considered “stable, but near threatened” according to the IUCN, populations in captivity shouldn’t be put at risk for a single individual.

So let’s get some wildlife watching education.

There are a few general guidelines to follow that will help keep wildlife watching safe for you and the animals. Here are some tips!

  • Do not approach wildlife for any reason. Think an animal is injured? Call a professional, be it a park ranger, a wildlife help hotline (really, those exist! I have a bird person and a small mammal person in my contact list), or even your local SPCA. They will ask you some questions to understand the situation and, if needed, come assess things. You aren’t an expert, even if you’ve seen a lot of Discovery Channel. Especially don’t approach large animals. Many parks have posted signs or regulations as well. In this case, there is a 25 yard minimum distance you must keep between yourself and the bison. Anything closer is breaking federal law and you could go to jail. Surely an instagram photo isn’t worth that. Oh, and bison? They have horns. That can gore you. That’s right, gore. Don’t believe me? Google “bison gore risk” and see what you find.
  • Do not feed wildlife. This means ducks and seagulls, too. I know it’s tempting to feed birds and other wildlife. I know how much it makes your kids happy. It is not healthy for the animals, no matter how “hungry” they seem. I could write a whole other post about this, but the biggest take away is that birds and other animals are not adapted to survive on human food. Bread and bread products are particularly bad for them, causing obesity and diabetes in animals that shouldn’t ever encounter it. Think about how unhealthy our modern diets are, and you want to give that stuff to a bird? Not to mention you’re changing natural behavior and disrupting a food chain, and possibly an entire ecosystem. Don’t be that disruption.
  • Do not move baby animals. Even if they look abandoned. Even if you think they might be injured. (See above.) Animal parents will often leave their young in a tucked away, camouflaged area while they go to look for food, or to try and lure larger potential predators away from the young. This doesn’t mean humans won’t occasionally stumble across this type of scenario. In every case, do not move the baby animal. Do not touch the baby animal. The parent is probably nearby, but moving the youngster may make it impossible for the parent to find it again, even if you’ve only moved it a few feet. Remember that the parent chose this location for its offspring and doesn’t think like a human would. Even touching the animal can cause harm, and not because the “scent of humans* scares away the parents.” This comes down to injury and disease again. You don’t know what germs you both might be carrying, or how to handle baby wildlife if you are not an expert. And here’s the thing– experts will only touch a baby animal as a last resort.**
  • Do take photos from a safe distance. Photos are a great way to remember what you saw, where you saw it, and share with others! They can also help you identify specific species you might not know. I photograph birds and reptiles all the time so I can take the pictures home and look them up online or in my wildlife guides. I can’t tell you the number of cool species I’ve seen, and only realized it because I had the foresight to photograph them for identification! Photos are also fun to share with rangers, who are usually interested in what animals are where in the park. It can even help build conservation knowledge about the animals to know where they are at certain times. The key is to stay at a safe distance. Don’t know what that is? Google is your friend, and park staff can give you good guidelines!
  • Do keep food in safe containers or locations when camping. And no your car is not a “safe” location– bears can break into cars like you bust into a can of baked beans. By keeping food where animals can’t get to it, you are not motivating them to come hang out where humans are. Not only does this preserve everyone’s safety, but it could save the animals’ lives: human food can make them sick and nuisance animals (i.e. animals that come too close, posing a health and safety risk to people) often have to be relocated or euthanized.
  • Do your research. This is huge, and relatively easy– if you’re going to be in an area with wildlife, just read up on what you might encounter. Look for official park websites, talk to park staff or rangers, even chat with someone at a zoo or aquarium who can tell you about animals in specific places. There is a huge amount of information out there, just waiting for you!
  • Do share this information with your friends! One of the biggest problems we face is that people lack education about wildlife, so become an animal advocate! Explain to your friends and family why it’s not a good idea to feed bread to ducks at the local park or why you aren’t going to move that baby deer at the edge of the woods. It will take time and a lot of effort, but the more we can spread the word about how to interact with wildlife, the more animal (and human!) lives can be saved. Don’t let this bison calf die in vain.

So there you have it. I hope this has been helpful for folks searching for answers about what happened to the little bison and why it “couldn’t just be put in a zoo.” It can be hard to see the bigger picture sometimes, but often taking a step back makes a big difference.

Got any other animals in the news you want to ask me about? I’ll give you my take!

[UPDATE: 5/16/16 1:20pm]

From Yellowstone National Park’s Facebook page:
Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read this post and share our safety messages. We’re reading through your comments and noticed many people asking why the calf had to be euthanized.

In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis. No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don’t have the capacity to care for a calf that’s too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.


*It’s a myth that birds won’t take care of their young if a human touches it, but use this knowledge with caution! If you know what nest the baby bird fell from, use a washcloth to touch it as little and as gently as possible, and put it back. If you do not know, there’s a better than good chance that baby is learning to fly and its parents are nearby watching. If the baby is still there a day later, call a local bird rescue and ask for advice.

**I think it’s important to note that sometimes experts do touch baby wildlife, or even adult animals, for scientific research and conservation purposes. This is usually a tagging situation, where they need to track an individual or population to help keep it healthy or to study its range in order to better understand and protect it. Think of California condors– many of them were tagged as chicks to help keep track– but the experts know the proper way to do this with the least stress and risk to the animals involved. You and I are not those experts.

national parking, Travel, updates

April Wanderings and Updates

Oh hey! WordPress just told me it’s my 7th anniversary with this blog. Huzzah for that!

Things have been pretty hectic here the last couple of months. We were supposed to move into a new place at the start of May but for various reasons which aren’t terribly interesting the timetable got accelerated… and we moved March 24 instead. I also have been picked up for a lot more hours at my job and have successfully interviewed and been taken on as a volunteer at a local place (details to come later, as I feel it needs its own post).

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#earglehaslanded

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In the meantime, I have been to North Carolina twice in the last five weeks, first for my sister’s bachelorette weekend and then for her wedding (how did it go? it worked!) and now I’m at the other end of all of the things and have a few days to finish unpacking my household and putting stuff on the walls and figure out what the next six months hold.

We did hit up a national park while we were down south: Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War ended and General Lee surrendered his troops. They’ve got much of the original village either restored or replicated, and it was fascinating to visit it having just been to the Abraham Lincoln Home in Springfield, IL, about seven months previous. The two are, of course, closely tied together and the perspectives on everything happening at that time are fascinating and sobering.

One of the things I like about national parks in general is that they preserve slices of things important to our heritage, whether it’s vast forests that have unreachable depths, ancient homes, or sites where important things happened that directly impact us today. It’s a way to literally touch history. I also generally just like being outside and doing things, so that’s nice, too.

Other big things include launching a new YouTube channel for Geek Girl Pen Pals. We don’t have many videos up yet, but the plan is to have regular content focused on our monthly site themes, and to encourage response videos from members of the community.

There have been many other things happening in the last couple of months and I may not get to all of them on here. If you need my new mailing address, please contact me in the usual way. ~_^

national parking, Travel

The Volavkas are Going East

grand canyon, J and J

As I’ve mentioned previously, we’re moving this month. And next. And maybe for part of December, too, I’m not really solid on that front at the moment. Basically the Navy is sending us to a new place (again) and the never-ending adventure continues. We just figured this time, as it’s our first move that doesn’t involve crossing an ocean and water-tight shipping crates, that we’d make the journey into an epic. This is the beginning of that journey.

We left San Diego on Monday, October 20. As of now it’s Wednesday, October 22, in Mountain Time-zone. I’m in Colorado. I’ve never been to Colorado before yesterday. It’s rather beautiful. But how did we get here in two days? All. Of. The. Driving. There have been plenty of amazing stops along the way; we try for at least one big Thing a day. Monday we stopped for lunch in Temecula before driving late into the night to reach…

grand canyon, under a tree

The Grand Canyon. It’s…. well, huge doesn’t quite do it justice. Monumental? Humongous? It doesn’t look real, I will say that. At least, not without hiking down into it I’m sure, and we didn’t have an entire week to tackle that. Suffice to say we’ve seen it and it is large and beautiful. As one of the US’s signature natural features, Grand Canyon National Park has been on my life-list for years.

Point of interest: We had lunch at El Tovar Hotel’s dining room and scored one of the best tables in the house overlooking the canyon. The hotel itself opened in 1905 and still has the old style and grandeur, plus the food was tasty and reasonable. I had the Navajo frybread taco, definitely recommend. Of course, I’d recommend anything with Navajo frybread… ~_^

From there, we drove on to Colorado and…

mesa verde, cliff palace

Mesa Verde. I’ve been fascinated by Native American culture since I was a kid, and it was amazing to actually get to visit these adobe cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in person. For some size perspective, you can see an archaeologist surveying the site in the above photo. This is Cliff Palace, one of the biggest sites in the area. The cliff dwellings were built by the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the area between 1500 and 800 years ago. There are over 20 tribes descended from them today.

mesa verde, climbing out of cliff palace

Point of note: Getting in and out of the sites is tricky, and involves climbing wooden ladders. Between the steepness and the high altitude, this is rated as a “strenuous” climb and not for people who aren’t in at least descent physical shape. If you can make it down and back up again, though, it’s very much worth the trip.

mesa verde, spruce house

The other major site we visited was Spruce House, which is the best preserved of all the dwellings because it sits so far back into the crevice that it’s protected from the elements a bit more. Though access also involved hiking down and back up, there is a paved trail with benches along the way for catching your breath, and not a ladder in sight, which makes it a bit easier. I still got more winded on this one, though, simply because it was a longer trek. Altitude is rough when you’re not used to it.

mesa verde, trail to spruce house

It’s gorgeously autumn here, with the leaves changing and all, and I’m actually enjoying the cooler weather. Cooler. Not cold. This is important, as I’ve got a whole heap of cold waiting for me at the other end of this trip… But that’s not for today. Instead I’ll leave you with this really cool monumental tower we passed today. Tomorrow we head south again, toward Petraglyph National Park. (Are you seeing a pattern yet?) More when I have internet again.

mesa verde, nearby monumental view

national parking, Travel

San Francisco and the Muir Woods

San Francisco Golden Gate bridge crossing

The day after our visit to Monterey, J and I continued up the coast to San Francisco. Since we were so close and we’d both always wanted to visit, we couldn’t resist. We picked a destination (the Muir Woods, but I’ll get to that next) and headed north. In less than two hours, we found ourselves driving right across the Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco Muir Woods, tall redwood trees

Muir Woods is a national monument and park with some of the southern-most redwoods in California. They aren’t the massively wide variety you find way up north, but they are massively tall. It’s hard to describe the size of them, and only slightly less hard to photograph the size of them, but I did try. You’ll see J standing in the middle of the wooden trail for a reference point. Muir Woods is also where the UN met to memorialize FDR’s death; he’d used the forest as an example of the value of national parks, and to show the potential for them. Many of the trees look much the same in photos from that era as they do today.

San Francisco Muir Woods, inside a trunk

I suppose part of the reason the trees didn’t seem all that wide was the sheer height of them by comparison, though obviously a very tall tree needs a very wide trunk to support it. This trunk is hollow in the middle, and rubbed smooth by the generations of park visitors running their hands across the bark. Because of this, it’s one of the only trees you’re actually allowed to touch.

San Francisco Muir Woods redwoods

The trees tower overhead, some of them in circles around a dead stump, the new generation of already ancient forests. I was fascinated by the bark that seemed to be folded into long strips along the trees, sometimes looking like stripes, and by the vividness of the red wood. We only did the short (two mile) round trip hike, and I’d like to go back and explore the area more.

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

From the Muir Woods, we drove back down to the Golden Gate Bridge National Parks area. Turns out there are a lot of national parks (and therefore a lot of places to get my passport book stamped!) It includes the bridge itself, Fort Point (a Civil War-era fort beneath the bridge), a warming hut, a wildlife area, all sorts of things. We only got a visit a few and at a very quick pace*, but it was worth it.

San Francisco under the bridge

Fort Point was one of the best areas, and also one of the least crowded. The signage wasn’t fantastic and we weren’t even sure it was open, so were happy to discover not only could we walk around the inside of it, but it had a lot of great exhibits. The Fort is directly under one end of the Bridge (as you can see) and also has a lighthouse (which you can also see) and a nice collection of canon.

San Francisco Fort Point

The inside of the Fort is in remarkable shape, and there are exhibits and classrooms on all of the levels, so it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. There are also nice views of Alcatraz and the coast from the top of the wall, accessible via a spiral staircase.

San Francisco floating docks sea lions

By this time, we were getting hungry so we headed back down to the pier area. There are several active piers (for cruise ships and fishing boats and the like) but several have become restaurant a shopping areas, including Fisherman’s Wharf. We walked a bit of the area but quickly settled on a place to eat dinner and were rewarded with awesome views of the water. After dinner we were able to walk down through the shops and see better views of Alcatraz as well as more sea lions, the Bridge in the distance, and other iconic sights.

San Francisco Alcatraz

Alcatraz sits in the middle of the bay and is a lot more colorful than I imagined. See the purple wildflowers on the hill? The day was sunny and clear and we were able to see a lot, which is unusual for this time of year.

San Francisco Lombard Street

On the way out of town, we crossed an intersection with Lombard Street, so we took a short detour to drive down the winding block that is so famous. The view from this street is gorgeous, and it’s nestled in rose gardens with the houses on either side. J and I both got a kick out of the little drive, and then hit the road toward home.

San Francisco will definitely need another visit, there was just too much to see in one day, but I feel like we gave it our best shot. We even bought a round loaf of sourdough bread for the ride home.

—————

*It takes SEVEN HOURS to get home from San Francisco, which is fine for a weekend, but if the day gets away from you… LONG NIGHT OF DRIVING.

national parking, Travel

Joshua Tree National Park, revisited

Joshua Tree NP

As it is springtime (and as he hadn’t been), I took J to Joshua Tree National Park in search of wildflowers. We seem to have arrived about a week (or maybe two) too early, but it was still beautiful and the afternoon sunlight stretching across the desert made the colors all the more vivid.

Joshua Tree flowers

The Joshua trees themselves were blooming, which was fascinating. They seemed a lot greener than I remembered, but maybe that was because I’ve spent more time in deserts since my last visit.

Joshua Tree rock monument

The rocks didn’t look quite real until we got right up close to them, and they look much smaller than they really are. And this isn’t even proper perspective, since the man crouching is very close to me and the rocks are not.

Joshua Tree San Andreas Fault

I also took J to the overlook where you can see the San Andreas fault and the Salton Sea. Pardon our scruffiness, we were camping the night previous.

Joshua Tree wildflowers

On the way out of the park and heading home, we did see the start of the wildflowers. They are bright and are starting to creep over the landscape, and I’m told they eventually blanket the dry ground before fading again for the summer.

(Photos begin here.)

national parking, Travel

Trailer park fun and vintage things older than me: Joshua Tree camping trip

Joshua Tree camping trailers

I apologize for the break in daily posting. Last week J and I went camping (of a sort) with some friends in the Joshua Tree National Park area. We stayed in an artists’ retreat, of the sort that values their privacy (and so doesn’t give out an address, just directions a few days before you arrive) but with enough fun and random things to do to make it a really fun getaway.

Joshua Tree camping our trailer

The property has several themed trailers, from one based on a wig shop in New Orleans, to one that’s like stepping back into the 1970s (which is where we stayed). It came outfitted with everything from an 8 track to a color changing speaker system to a plug in fireplace. We had a good time just exploring the place, but they also offer activities.

Joshua Tree camping archery

There is a small BB gun and archery range, a place to play corn hole, a rooftop Jacuzzi, a saltwater swimming pool, ping pong, a place to grill out, and a tepee with a fire circle inside so you can roast marshmallows for s’mores. The setup contributed to such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere that everyone staying there the night we were hung out around the fire, chatting and getting to know each other. They ranged from musicians to engineers, photographers to physicists, and it was fun to sit in the middle of such varied conversations.

Joshua Tree camping 70s trailer

The stars were gorgeous (though hard to photograph) and we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, though it was possibly made more orange by the fact that our trailer practically glowed with the light of the 1970s.

More photos (plus some from the following day) are in this album.

Joanna problems, national parking, Slight sarcasm, Travel

Well, I SAID I wanted to see the Sonoran Desert.

So here’s the thing.

I’ve been trying to go to as many national parks (or historic sites, as the case may be) this year as possible. I’m excited about my passport stampbook (as I’ve previously posted) and especially since we now live in the half of the country with all of the huge natural areas, I want to see them!

One of the exhibits I’ve always loved at the North Carolina Zoo is their Sonora Desert dome, so when I noticed on my newly-acquired roadmap of Arizona that the interstate went THROUGH it, I couldn’t resist! On the way home from the Casa Grande ruins, we looked it up on our GPS and found a place labeled “Sonoran Desert National Monument.” That sounded promising, so we programmed it to take us there.

And we started driving.

And driving.

Arizona, Sonoran Desert sign

See that? PROOF we were in the RIGHT AREA.

Arizona, Sonoran Desert road

We took a couple of smaller roads, then wound up on a two lane highway going straight across the Sonoran Desert, generally back in the direction of I-8, which we would pick up on the other side after stopping at the monument. The desert was fascinating, with far more plant-life that I expected in a desert, and we drove between two long mountain reaches, watching for wildlife (though we never saw any) and grateful for the full tank of gas and water bottles.

It was interesting, too, that there weren’t many cars. Most of the “scenic” stops were closed for the season, but that didn’t bother us because we planned to stop at the monument.

Arizona, Sonoran Desert wide

At this point I want to note that there are not that many photos from this drive. That’s because I kept expecting to, y’know, GET to something. These photos of cacti?? Actually from BEFORE we got into the national monument area.

After a while, we reached the point where the GPS told us to turn and drive 11 miles to the monument. We slowed down to make the turn…

…and then stopped. We were facing a sandy track that crossed some railroad tracks that ran parallel to the two lane highway. On the near side of them was a VERY large sign that said: “DO NOT ENTER.” Oh, and some WILD COTTON BUSHES.

Arizona, Sonoran Desert wild cotton

I looked again at the GPS. We’d followed the directions correctly. But then I noticed that the 11 mile “drive” was supposed to take over an hour… across sand… And we realized then that the “Monument” was probably the DESERT ITSELF.

THANKS, GPS. We were now in the MIDDLE of the Sonoran Desert. Well, about 11 miles from the middle, as far as I can tell.

Arizona, Sonoran Desert cacti

To be fair, I DID say I wanted to properly SEE the desert, and not just drive past it on the interstate. And boy howdy, I SAW that desert.

We checked our map and discovered we were closer to I-8 if we kept going forward rather than backtracking, so that’s what we did.

I guess some monuments are bigger than others. I’m still bummed I didn’t get a stamp for it, though.

national parking, Travel

Casa Grande Ruins: an unexpected very neat thing

Casa Grande, Arizona, Jo with Cactus

In my quest to see national parks (and collect passport stamps from them!), I’ve made it a habit to check for any that are an easy drive from a place I might already be. In this case, J and I were in Casa Grande, Arizona, for the renaissance festival, and we kept seeing signs that said “Home of the Casa Grande Ruins.” It showed up on my national parks guide, so off we went.

We stayed in the newer part of town, but as we drove toward the park, it felt like we were going back in time. The old town of Casa Grande looks about like I’d imagine it did in the 1960s, except with modern cars on the narrow roads. The signs are hand painted, shops are a little careworn, and pastels are everywhere. After about half an hour, we reached the entrance to the national park site.

Casa Grande, Arizona, sign

I think we were expecting something more like piles of rocks. After all, other ancient sites we’re familiar with (mostly on the east coast and upper midwest) tend to be mounds, or maybe some stones with carvings. We weren’t expecting anything like what we found.

Casa Grande, Arizona, wide of house

In the middle of a wide stretch of cactus-covered plain, there is a huge three story house. There are also the walls of a compound that surrounded the house, plus several other compounds, a ball court, and other signs of a huge community.

Casa Granda, Arizona walls

The dry, desert air has preserved the site. It used to have a small river going through it, and the people who lived there had an elaborate irrigation system for agriculture. The site was populated for a while beforehand, but the great house itself is about 800 years old.

Casa Grande, Arizona, back of house

We walked around, looking into the interior of the house where you can still see the places where wooden beams formed ceilings, floors. The walls were almost destroyed by graffiti in the 19th century, as the place was used as a waypoint for people traveling west, but has since been restored. The roof overhead was built in the 1930s and protects it from the summer storms.

Casa Grande, Arizona, house

All in all it was a very cool thing to find, and completely unexpected.

national parking, Travel

Joshua Tree National Park in January

in the desert

Last week, my sister came to California with me to help me settle back into the new place and to help me out with the errandy type things that always accompany a move, and which are much more easily accomplished with two people. Of course we also did some fun sight seeing (which is also better with two people) and one of the places we went was Joshua Tree National Park. We’ve been trying to get to as many national parks as possible, if you recall, and this was our first DESERT.

We had gone to Disneyland the day before, but that morning it was raining and we decided that rather than spend a second day at Disney in the rain, we’d go to see a damp desert. How often do you get to see one of those? By the time we got there (it was a good bit of driving), the rain had cleared, but it left everything softened, less dusty, and really colorful.

DSC_8952

One of our first stops was for a short hike to some Native American petroglyphs. Someone had painted over them, which was a shame because you can’t see their original form, but it was still very cool that they are visible.

The Joshua Trees themselves are bizarre looking, turning in all different directions, with seemingly harry trunks and strange, spiked green balls of leaves. They vary in size and shape, and seem surreal in the landscape, inserted as an afterthought.

Joshua trees

There are also huge piles of boulders and of small rocks. The scale is hard to imagine, but sometimes there are simply huge, smooth rock faces, worn into turrets and towers by the wind, and sometimes there are mountains made of what look like bits of loose stone.

Rock formations

It was chilly out, being January, despite how dry everything was. Apparently it won’t get warm again until March, when all of the wildflowers start blooming and people come to camp and watch the sunsets and all of that. It might be nice to go back then.

The last thing I’ll show you is the view we got of the San Andreas Fault, right before sunset.

San Andreas Fault

It’s hard to see, but it’s the hazy dark line in the middle of the lighter haze. Very pretty view, though. As the sun set, it kept getting colder. We drove to the other major park entrance in the section we were visiting, and saw an oasis. It looked much like the rest of the park, except with palm trees in a very dense, central area. All in all, a very cool day trip.

So that was our first visit to a desert. You can see the rest of the photos here.