Monday, January 08, 2007

We're in Kingman, AZ for the night, at the KOA. I'll post the journal from the last - what is it? three nights, I think.

January 5, 2007

We found out what the big mess on the highway at Reno was all about. A tractor-trailer had jackknifed on the road and brought all the traffic to a halt. We waited to leave Reno until the sun had heated the road, and we encountered very little ice along the way, at least on the road itself. We stopped for gas and R nearly froze to death standing at the pump in gale-force wind. The plan was to go to Death Valley today, but we didn’t quite make it. When we got to Beatty, NV, we saw an otherwise unimpressive RV park advertising a free mineral bath, and given the shape my back is in, that was too good an offer to resist. Besides, R had had to do most of the driving, so he was ready to stop as well. Along the road we saw the Ponderosa pines of yesterday give way to agave and brittlebush, and though the temperature barely topped the freezing mark even this far south, at least we are no longer driving past fields of snow. At one point we saw a raven fly across the road. Right afterward, we slowed down for an approaching wide vehicle, just in time for a coyote to run across the road in front of us. No roadrunner, just the coyote and the raven. Those have to be signs of something good to come, don’t they? We have both had more than enough of winter.

January 6, 2007

Stopping at Bailey’s RV Park turned out to be a very good idea. Last night the wind was fierce, and the temperature was below freezing, so we didn’t even attempt to check out the hot spring, which would have involved a stroll up the hill and possibly being blown into the next county and found frozen to a Joshua tree. Instead, we sat in the motor home, rocking in the wind, playing Scrabble until it was time to sleep, by which time the wind had died down some.

This morning we went exploring. Although the temperature was still -2C, there was no wind, so we felt brave. We went to the park office, a faded orange and white Dodge Jamboree camper parked at the base of the hill at the back of the park. Someone has painted RV OFFICE in red along the top of the camper. In case you miss that, there is a cheerful red and yellow wooden sign planted in front of the vehicle. It also reads RV OFFICE, but with the word WELCOME below it in white on a blue background. Beside the camper is a small wooden bench, atop which sit three keys attached to numbered wooden blocks. The keys open the doors to three different mineral baths. There are also three rocks to weigh the keys down, lest they also end up pasted to a distant Joshua tree, so if you go looking for a key and it isn’t there, you know that that pool is in use. If it is there, and you take it, you can be assured that you will have that particular pool to yourself.

I had pictured the spring looking something like the original one at Fairmont – a long, narrow bathtub hollowed out of the rock, with a surface like sandpaper. It isn’t that way at all. We went to #1, said to be the mid-temperature pool. We crossed a wooden bridge over a reed-filled stream – a ditch, really, which drains the hot water that gushes from a pipe below the baths. On the other side of the bridge we followed a hard dirt path up to building #1, climbed the steps to the porch, unlocked a brown wooden door, and found ourselves in a rather dank concrete block vestibule with benches along two walls and hooks on which to hang our clothing. R was way ahead of me. He was in the water while I was still dithering, and I heard him call “You’re going to love this!” Steam billowed into the vestibule. I undressed and walked over to the doorway, then down four steps into water that was deliciously warm – just teetering, for the first few seconds, on the edge of being too warm. The pool takes up the whole room, which is about 8x12 feet. The concrete walls give way to natural rock and gravel at the bottom, and at the top to a corrugated steel roof vented to allow steam to escape. We splashed and floated and stretched our aching muscles until we were thoroughly relaxed, and then we came back to The Turtle to have breakfast and head for Death Valley. Before we left the park, R reserved our spot for tonight and paid in advance. One visit to the spring just wasn’t going to be enough.

At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I was sitting on top of a sand dune – but five hours earlier, we were already in Death Valley, more than 3000 feet below where we slept last night. We drove to Furnace Springs, where the Visitor Centre is, and where you pay your $20/vehicle admission fee (good for a week). We took the bicycles down from their rack for the first time on this trip, R cleaned them, and then we set off to explore. We visited Furnace Creek Ranch, which boasts a restaurant, saloon, golf course, stables, tennis courts, a post office, and a museum devoted to the history of mining in the valley. I decided I would like to send a post card to England, so we cycled back to the motor home. While I was writing, R pointed out two roadrunners strolling around in the parking lot. When I rode back to the post office on my own to mail the card, I had to move slowly, because a coyote was ambling across the road in front of me and he refused to be hurried. I guess he hadn’t noticed the roadrunners.

Our next cycle ride took us to a campground that reminded us of the state park at Lake Havasu. Taking the back way out, we found ourselves at the Visitor Centre again, so we decided to drive the motor home to Stovepipe Wells, to revisit the sand dunes where we walked two years ago.

Half an hour later, I left R sitting on a dune with the camera while I clambered on ahead. The temperature had risen to about 16C. I wore jeans and a t-shirt, hiking shoes and my water bottle belt. A couple of dunes away, I sat down and began to write in my notebook. I had tears in my eyes, overwhelmed once again by this place. Writing that postcard earlier in the day, I had said that R and I both love being in the desert, that there is a wonderful silence about it, not just for the ears but for the eyes as well. Now, sitting quietly alone, I realized that this particular place isn’t really silent. There is a quiet hum, almost a sigh, here. I listened to the hum, I watched the play of light and shadow on the distant dunes and hills, and I wrote “I feel like a pilgrim.”

January 7, 2007

On the way home from Death Valley yesterday, we stopped in bustling downtown Beatty at a shop that advertised Really Good Jerky. I didn’t want any jerky, but they also advertised desert honey, so I went in. I was allowed to taste the buckwheat, clover, and sage honey, and one that was called Gus & Nancy’s Really Good 100% Honey. That is the one I bought. It has a very rich taste that reminds me of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, and it is extremely thick. I have no idea what the bees fed on, but I’m going to go in and ask when we come back here on the way home from Mexico. It’s probably a “once around the apiary” special. I also bought a jar of Sicilian olives stuffed with garlic (delicious) and a bag of pistachios. We’ve got to get out of this place!

As I was leaving the shop, the proprietor – whose name is Ron, not Gus – asked me whether I had ever seen the mushroom on a $1 bill. Can’t say that I had. So he showed me. He folded the bill one way, then another, until the picture of George Washington was transformed into a picture of a mushroom. Very cool, I said. Had I ever see 9/11 on a $20? Rather apprehensively, I said no, I hadn’t. There ensued another flurry of folding that produced a semblance of the Twin Towers on one side, and the U.S. Capitol Building on the other. Hmmm, I said. I liked the mushroom better. Ron agreed. He asked whether we were staying in Beatty, and I told him we were at Bailey’s. His face brightened. “You’re at the hot spring? That’s great. You’re very lucky to be staying there.” He described our park manager as being a very spiritual man, a very good man, and asked me to send his regards – “Tell him Ron and Marcie said hello!” When we got home to Bailey’s, I passed his message on, and the manager responded by singing Ron’s praises in return. If you’re going to live in a small town, it should be like this one.

When the time came for our visit to the spring last night, we went back to #1, but on the way home we stopped in for a look at #3. It turned out to be even better than #1. We estimate you could get thirty people in that pool if you wanted to do such a silly thing. There is no vestibule – you walk in the door and the pool is there, on your left. There are benches and hooks along the wall on your right. The water is a little cooler than in #1, like a warm bath. I was standing by the wall as R walked down the mesh stairs, fully clothed, to check out the water temperature. Suddenly he cried out “Ooh- that water is so clear, I walked right into it!” I’m afraid I laughed (Bad wife!). I apologized, but I laughed, just the same. Then we walked back home, one of us sloshing a little, and propped R’s right shoe up to dry.

We played cards, and the wind rocked the RV again. It was like being on a ship at sea. Fortunately, things calmed down again before bedtime.

Today we drove back to Death Valley, but this time we headed straight for the dunes. I sat on a dune and wrote and read and met a couple of red ants. R went for a walk in the other direction and met a lizard. I rode my bike to the general store in Stovepipe Wells and back – twice. When it was time to leave, R started out 15 minutes early on his bike, and I went to pick him up. I had just about got to him when I was flagged down by a man who had (Why?) driven his car off the road and got stuck in the sand. He was from Ontario. I told him I would be back as soon as possible, drove on, picked R up, and told him the situation. We went back, tied the car to our back bumper (this is the royal We. It was really R that did it.) and pulled the fellow out. I did drive the RV for this part. As we were trying to help, another car came along, and those people stayed in case they were needed. Then the police came along, and they helped. A fine time was had by all, and the very embarrassed Ontarian went on his way. He was looking for the sand dunes, and I told him where they were. I hope he didn’t try to drive on them.

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