Walter and Sara on the road to who knows where
On The Road Again!

The last two weeks of April we focused on getting ready to hit the road again for 6 months. It was hot in Sahuarita (in the 90’s) but we had a couple of days in the 70’s so I got out and finished preparing the yard to take care of itself while we were gone. I blew all the leaves out of the rock mulch and filled our trash barrel 1/2 full of them and the prunings from the oleanders in the back yard. And then of course just before we left the mesquites in the wash came into bloom and the wind blew and the back yard was full of little yellow flowers again. Just 3 weeks earlier the mesquites lost all their leaves into the back yard. Hopefully that will be it but since we won’t be there, ah well.

Meanwhile this amazing Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana) came into bloom near the entry to Rancho Resort. It will die when it finishes blooming so it really puts on a show in its last gasps. Their common name comes from the fact that their leaves contort around like the arms of an octopus.

Octopus Agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

On April 26th (after a day of wind) we had a marvelous sunset. By this point in the year we can easily see the sunset from our dining area sliding glass door which makes them hard to miss.

Sunset Ranch Resort AZ

It deepened a little before quickly disappearing.

Sunset Rancho Resort AZ

By Saturday April 28th, the house was clean and we’d done our last round of shopping at places like Whole Foods and Trader Joes and gotten Walter a new Yamaha traveling guitar. It’s 3/4 size and fits very nicely behind the bed in the trailer. It wasn’t very expensive so we don’t have to worry about it getting hurt. It doesn’t sound as good as his beloved Martin but it’s better than the nylon-stringed bass ukulele he’s been playing this spring in hopes of taking it along for the summer. We spent the day Saturday packing up everything we needed and then on Sunday April 29th we got Genevieve out of storage and loaded her up. Funny, it takes a whole lot longer to load up 6 months-worth of stuff than it does a week’s worth!

Once she was loaded up we drove Genevieve over to Green Valley RV Park (where we’d stayed in November and December) and spent the night in her. There were lots of beavertail cactus in bloom in the lot across from us.

Beavertail cactus in bloom

And the bees were thoroughly enjoying them.

beavertail cactus in bloom

On Monday April 30th, we left Genevieve in Green Valley and drove back to the house and did all the strange things you need to do to ‘summerize’ a house. We put Glad Wrap over the toilets and sinks (keeps bugs and sewer gas out of the house). And put 5 gallon buckets of water over the drains in the shower and tub. We dumped the ice out of the freezer (we’d packed all the food into Genevieve) and flipped the breaker on it so it was off and left the doors open. We put the hot water heater on Vacation (you can also just turn them off but since it’s gas then it needs to be re-lit). We turned the valves off to the water softener and unplugged the automatic garage door opener after stowing all our outdoor furniture in the garage. Then we closed all the shutters (and the new drapes I’d hung in the dining room) and turned the water off to the house. The house was plumbed such that you can leave the irrigation system on while shutting the water to the house off so the irrigation will still run all summer on automatic while we’re gone but we don’t have to worry about anything going wrong water-wise inside the house.

We locked the doors and then I stopped and took a picture of something REALLY exciting. One of our saguaros had buds on it!

Saguaro with buds

I’d always thought they just bloomed right at the top but lots of the saguaros we had seen in our drive to Tucson earlier in the week had buds on the sides and some were already starting to bloom. Here’s a close up.

Saguaro cactus buds

It was only in the 80’s that day and that was a welcome cool down. We stopped and did grocery shopping and then packed all that food into the trailer and hung out for the afternoon--aaaah.

On Tuesday May 1st, we headed out, fairly rested rather than frazzled (staying in the trailer for two nights was a really good idea especially when we’d not done the summerizing process before).

We headed north up through Tucson and then took Hwy 77 up through Salt River Canyon. There’s one viewpoint as you go through the canyon and we stopped there so I could take a couple of photos. Here’s the canyon with a bit of the river shining off in the distance.

Salt River Canyon AZ

And here’s one of the buttes that is to the left of the photo above.

Butte in Salt River Canyon AZ

It was a long day because we drove nearly 260 miles (we usually only go 200) and the winding roads through the mountains make for slower going. We arrived in Holbrook, AZ in the late afternoon with the wind really blowing hard. It had been fine further south but up along I-40 it was really howling. We got a spot for 2 nights at OK RV Park. We’d stayed there before two years ago. It’s not real expensive but you get a full hook up and they have showers too. With our Good Sam card it was $32 a night.

It had rained a bit in the night but it was sunny when we got up the next morning with clouds on the horizon in every direction. The Petrified Forest National Park is just east of Holbrook and there was a hike we still wanted to do at the Blue Mesa so we drove over to the South Entrance. The southern half of the park is mostly about petrified wood and there are great hikes there which we did last time we were there. There are bits of painted desert/badlands formations too though.  

Badlands Petrified Forest National Park

We drove by all the nifty petrified wood hikes and up on to the Blue Mesa—not quite halfway up the park. There is a loop road that goes out to the mesa with overlooks. We stopped at the first overlook and I got out in the wind and took pictures.

Blue Mesa Petrified Forest NP

Straight ahead in the middle of this picture is a petrified log resting on the top of the hill. Eventually the rock below it will erode away and it will tumble down into the wash below. But for now it looks like it just fell over there 50 years ago—then again maybe a UFO dropped it there last week.

Blue Mesa petrified log Petrified Forest NP

There was a raven next to the truck who periodically would try to take off into the face of the wind and after a flap or two would come back to rest.

Raven Petrified Forest NP

The next turn off gives you a whole different view of the area.

Blue Mesa Petrified Forest National Park

If you walk around the other side of the right-hand formation you get yet another view.

Blue Mesa Petrified Forest National Park

The road loops around and the next turn off gives you a view looking west.

Blue Mesa Petrified Forest National Park

The Blue Mesa Trail starts just beyond this and takes you down into the canyon so you can be up close and personal with the blue/grey formations.

It was really windy at this point and just after these hoodoos Walter announced that he was NOT having fun and was going back to the truck.

Hoo doos Blue Mesa Petrified Forest National Park

I was the one who wanted to do this hike and I hoped that the canyon might not be so windy so I went on. This was a big deal. As well you know, we are basically connected at the hip and me hiking on my own isn’t ‘normal’. But we’ve come to realize that given Walter’s dizzy spells when he hikes that there are going to be times when I’ll have to hike on my own. In this case I’m really glad I did. It was FUN even it I did have to brace myself from time to time to get a steady enough stance to take a picture.

The trail goes along the rim for a ways and then comes to this lovely bench at the top of a long incline.

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park

You follow the trail (which is paved the whole way) DOWN into the canyon with views up side canyons as you go along.

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park

The trail takes you out into a wider portion of the canyon with views to the southwest.

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park

It loops out and around. In the center of this photo you can see three people standing on the rim of the canyon. That’s where the road is.

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park

You’re supposed to stay on the trail (away from the formations and the scattering of petrified wood here and there). But it takes you up close enough to really give you a great view of the colored layers in the formations.

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park

And enough distance at other points to give you a real nice photo op.

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park

The wind stopped for a short distance about here and it was lovely to have the place all to myself with the sun shining and having no trouble standing up.

There was a nice big chunk of petrified wood sitting up on a pedestal. I love how the softer rock erodes away to give all these balancing rocks here and there.

Petrified wood Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park

Here’s a nice cross section of a piece of petrified wood.

Petrified wood  Petrified Forest National Park

They come in all kinds of colors and are really wonderful.

As the trail looped back on itself I stopped to take a shot due south of the canyon. By this point, a couple had started to make their way around the loop so I was no longer alone but they were so quiet that if I hadn’t seen them off in the distance I wouldn’t have known they were there.

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park

I made my way back UP the trail and passed another couple setting a tripod up so that they could take of picture of the two of them along the trail in the sun. They said they had hiked the trail the day before and that the wind had been even worse and it was cloudy. At least we had some sun to bring out the colors at the moment.

Blue Mesa Trail Petrified Forest National Park 

It began to spit rain (even though the sun was still out) as I made my way back to the truck. And by the time we had driven off the mesa it was raining a bit. We decided to drive north on the park road (hoping to have our lunch at one of the picnic areas up on the north end of the park). It wasn’t raining too hard when we passed the Tee Pees which are just north of Blue Mesa.

Tee Pees Petrified Forest NP

We’d have rain for a few minutes and then it would stop and we’d drive on wet pavement and then it would be totally dry again. It wasn’t raining when we got to the place where the old Route 66 crossed the current park road. So I got out to take a few photos. You can see that it had been raining (and that the wind was coming from the west because the ground is dry in front of this great bit of historic chrome).

Route 66 Petrified Forest NP

There’s a 1932 Studebaker parked out on the original route.

 1932 Studebaker Route 66 Petrified Forest NP

We stopped at one of the Painted Desert Overlooks and I took this shot out the truck window in the rain.

Painted Desert Petrified Forest NP

The Painted Desert has such great colors here in the park.

Painted Desert Petrified Forest NP
By this point we had bagged the idea of a picnic—it was way too wet and windy. On our way out of the park a herd of 9 deer crossed the road in front of us and then stood for a moment or two watching the cars watch them before they bounded away.

9 Deer Petrified Forest NP

Thursday May 3rd, we drove east on I-40 toward Gallup, NM. Just before we hit the border this wonderful set of rock formations appeared just south of the highway. There were no signs about them but they sure were pretty.

AZ NM border I-40

In Gallup we turned north on Hwy 491 towards Shiprock. Along the way we passed some nifty buttes which are right next to the road. Managing to get decent photos of things like this from a moving vehicle is a real win. Way to go, Walter.

Butte Hwy 491 NM

We thought at first this might actually be Shiprock but it turns out it’s much farther off the road and much taller (over 7,000 feet). We did have another great formation appear before we reached the town of Shiprock though.

Butte Hwy 491 NM

There’s nowhere much to stay in Shiprock so we turned east on Hwy 64 to stay at the Homestead RV Park in Kirtland, NM. It’s a big gravel lot with both back-in and pull through spots and a very nice building with showers and a new high efficiency laundry. We got a full hook up pull-through spot near the laundry for just under $35 a night with our Good Sam card.

Holbrook is about 5,000 feet in elevation and Kirtland was over 5,500 feet. The nights were cold but not so that we were uncomfortable—just grateful to have electricity so we could run the heater in the morning.

There’s not a whole lot to do in the area but the Aztec Ruins National Monument in Aztec (about 20 miles east past Farmington) is worth a visit. This was a large ceremonial center built in 1100 by Ancient Pueblo peoples who also built structures at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. The style of building is very similar to that found at Chaco so it is generally believed that folks from Chaco came here either to form a new community or just to build a new ceremonial center. Eventually some of the buildings were remodeled and people began to live here full time until the site was abandoned and the people moved on in the 1200’s.

The site became a National Monument in 1923 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. There is a nice museum with a good introductory movie and then you follow the trail out to explore the ruins. We watched the movie with a field trip of middle schoolers and then headed out to do the trail ahead of them. There were 13 kivas scattered across the ruins. Not all of them have been excavated but this one gives you a nice idea of what many of them looked like (sans roof).

Kiva Aztec Ruins NM

In 1921 Earl Morris excavated much of this site including the Great Kiva. In 1934 (at the request of the government) he supervised the rebuilding/restoration of the Great Kiva. We entered via the south facing door.

Great Kiva Aztec Ruins NM

The columns have this nifty wood and stone work showing on one side.

Pillar in Great Kiva Aztec Ruins NM

And ceiling is fabulous.

Ceiling Great Kiva Aztec Ruins NM

We didn’t stay long because the field trip arrived (en masse) and while their teacher was instructing them to be quiet they were not coming close to meeting that request.

We came out of the Great Kiva to yet another large Kiva.   

Kiva Aztec Ruins NM

And a lizard doing pushups on a rock.


Part of the structure here was at least 3 stories tall. And there is an unusual doorway that sits at the corner of the structure.

Corner doorway Aztec Ruins NM

When people actually lived here the rooms closest to the central plaza and the Great Kiva were living quarters and the rooms behind them (these were lined up shotgun style) were used for storage.

Doorways Aztec Ruins NM

I stooped through the first two of these but kept getting my knapsack/purse hung up on top of the doorway so I didn’t go all the way to the back wall.

There were these lovely layers of thinner stones built into the walls of the front-most room.   

Stone layers Aztec Ruins NM

And as an extra bonus I spied this nifty little lizard.


The trail takes you across the main plaza and past yet another kiva.

Kiva Aztec Ruins NM

There was a ranger out repairing mortar and we stopped and talked with him. Except for the stone work in the Great Kiva everything else here is original. There is a crew of rangers who works year-round repairing mortar to keep this place from degrading any further. When the weather is bad they stay inside and write reports. You could tell that he much preferred being outside!

Several of the rooms along the main plaza have T-shaped doorways. I asked if these were ‘normal’ and was told that they only showed up in a few places and only along the main plaza.   

T-shaped doorway Aztec Ruins NM

My thought was that if you were a dancer with one of those big Kachina headdresses that a doorway like that would come in real handy.

We followed the trail through a number of open rooms and there you could see how posts had been used to hold the ceiling up.

Ceiling post holes Aztec Ruins NM

They used mortar (sand and adobe clay) to hold the poles in place.

Ceiling post hole Aztec Ruins NM

The next doorway was even lower than the ones I’d stooped through before.

Low doorway Aztec Ruins NM

Here’s Walter making his way through to the other side. These folks were clearly not 6 feet tall.

Walter Cooke low doorway Aztec Ruins NM

The trail takes you into a section of the ruins that still has its original ceiling—900 years old.

900 year old ceiling Aztec Ruins NM

The support beams are Douglas Fir that came from the mountains 40 miles away. They’ve taken core samples from them so that they can date them using tree ring technology. All this wonderfully preserved wood has allowed them to date the building of each section of the ruins.

900 year old ceiling Aztec Ruins NM

You can look through one of the windows of this section (it had dirty glass) and see an original willow mat that was left hanging over a doorway. It’s woven together with yucca fibers.

900 year old willow mat Aztec Ruins NM

As we came out of the doorway into the light again we passed an elevation marker: 5642.6 feet.

Elevation marker Aztec Ruins NM

The trail takes you behind the north wall where you can see the ends of those old support beams sticking out of the stone walls.

log in wall Aztec Ruins NM

And then you head out to an unusual tri-walled kiva. This is one of only several in the entire Southwest.

Tri-walled Kiva Aztec Ruins NM

From here you get a great view of the back wall of the ruins.

Aztec Ruins NM

There were 3 rangers working on these walls.

Ranger working on wall Aztec Ruins NM

The north wall is aligned so that the sun rises along it on the Summer Solstice and sets along it on the Winter Solstice.       

North wall Aztec Ruins NM

The west wall is decorated with stripes of green stone. This is probably symbolic. The modern Pueblo and Navaho Indians say that they are symbols of water and protection for the community. In any case they are really nifty.

Green stone stripe Aztec Ruins NM

Here’s a close-up shot where you can see that there’s not only two lines of green but a layers of the thinner stones too.

Green stone stripe Aztec Ruins NM

From here we climbed up some steps and got a great view of the entire site.

Aztec Ruins NM

And one more lizard came out to do some pushups in the sun.

Lizard in sun

We had our picnic lunch sitting in the shade in their picnic area. It was a lovely day in the low 70’s.

Aztec Ruins may be mis-named since there were never any Aztecs here but it’s a lovely set of ruins and a very worthwhile place to visit. It was just the right size for us on a ‘down day’.