Monthly Archives: May 2014

Just a Little Corner of U (Utah, that is)

So much to see and so little time has led us to leave our explorations of Utah for the next trip west. However, we did enjoy the short time we spent there and will look forward to  next time.

After leaving Monument Valley, we headed into the Valley of the Gods, in the rain, to camp. We did stop at Mexican Hat to take a picture of the namesake rock. We were a little underwhelmed, it was quite small and, especially in the rain, looked rather bleak.

VGods  0001

Ndeke Luka quickly got covered in a nice layer of red mud, which makes it look rather macho! Jesting aside, we found a lovely campsite near some buttes in the Valley of the Gods and spent a relaxing day there. ( N.B., The Valley of the Gods was used to film parts of the TV shows “Airwolf” and “Dr. Who.” Thanks to Tiger owner Jack Arnold for the suggestion that we go to the Garden:

VGods  0002 Battleship Rock

VGods  0004 Pretty Balancing Rocks (Several hundred feet high.)

We took a walk in the afternoon, after the rain stopped, and Denise saw at least two new types of spring flowers. One of the joys of this trip, has been the number and variety of spring flowers that we have seen blooming in the desert. We do not always know what they are but we do enjoy seeing them.

As we were so close, we went to see the Natural Bridges National Monument. Our road led us out of the Valley of the Gods, up an amazing road to Cedar Mesa, via the Moki Dugway. The road was a series of steep and sharp curves, as we climbed up and the views back towards the Valley of the Gods were amazing, especially as the rain had cleared any dust or smoke. Quite spectacular. The link from “Dangerous” sets the right tone:

VGods  0005

There are three natural bridges at the Monument; Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo.  ( There are trails to the bases of all three, the first two being a little rougher and more challenging than the third. We descended Sipapu to a marvelous oak grove at the stream under the bridge, via a series of paths, rocks, steps, ladders, and hand rails for great views and a little much needed exercise! We also climbed down to Owachomo, which proved somewhat easier and less strenuous (at least going down!) but also was well worth it.

The primitive campground at Natural Bridges was full, so we camped in the forest outside.

Natural Bridge  001Sipapu from the overlook. Hard to see the bridge at first, then you see the hole and can see how the water originally went around the pier of rock to the left of the photo.

Natural Bridge  002Sipapu from 3/4 of the way down. Note the beautiful green trees.


Natural Bridge  003Sipapu, seen from the bottom.

Natural Bridge  005 Denise at Owachomo.

Natural Bridge  004  

And on to Colorado. Utah we hardly knew you, but we’ll be back!

Arizona – Does anyone really know what time it is?

(With apologies to the the band, “Chicago.”)

We have never been in a state that made it so difficult to tell the time! Most of Arizona is NOT on Daylight Savings Time, but much of Arizona is on Navajo Reservations and they ARE on Daylight Savings Time. Just to make it more interesting, the Hopi reservations are on Arizona time. But fortunately, we have not been seriously early or late despite the challenges!  This is of course, one of the advantages of camping! One morning we left the campsite in Utah, drove four miles down the road back into Arizona and gained an hour and then lost it again on our return to the campsite! Endless opportunities for confusion.

En route to Flagstaff, we made a stop at the Painted Desert and Petrified Desert National Park. The colors of the desert were a bit muted due to the dust, stirred up by the howling gale, which was exceptionally strong that day, close to 50 mph. Talk about blowing a hoolie! We did brave the wind to see some wonderful petrified wood with its incredible colors, but I cannot say it was a pleasant experience.

PaintDesert  0002 PaintDesert  0003 Nifty custom built camper on an Iveco “Daily” 4×4. Owned by a charming French couple whom we met again at Sunset Crater.

PaintDesert  0004 PaintDesert  0006Dust blowing in the wind.

PaintDesert  0007 PaintDesert  0008 PaintDesert  0009 PaintDesert  0010You can really see the wood on the outside of this log.

On the last leg of our trip to Flagstaff, we made a little detour, to Meteor Crater. When Fred was a child, he crossed the United States twice by car, and both times drove right by the crater without stopping. This time, he was DETERMINED to see the thing. And from the south side. (Which requires a small scramble over the rocks to an old mine site.)

MeteorCrater  0003

MeteorCrater  0002Looking north towards the visitor center.

 MeteorCrater  0004Looking west towards the San Francisco mountains, over Flagstaff.

Once in Flagstaff, we needed to prepare both ourselves and Ndeke Luka for the Overland Expo, so we headed to the KOA campsite which was in a good location. We found it full of various campers and off road vehicles heading to Overland Expo, including Robinson Fuso and its owners, Jon and Emily Turner, with whom Fred had corresponded but had never met. So, it was fun to have company while we organized laundry and cleaned the Tiger. We went first to a car wash with large bays, then cleaned inside to make Ndeke Luka presentable. We did spend a day in Flagstaff learning both the local history by visiting the Riordan Historic Mansion, built by a local family who owned the lumber mill, and the geological history by visiting the Sunset Crater, a cinder cone just outside town. Flagstaff sits on the slopes of the San Francisco mountains, the remnants of a mega volcano that blew in prehistory and the whole area is a mass of lava and tuff and contains many craters. None are active, for now.

As we travel it is fun to meet and re-meet acquaintances. We met a French couple at Painted Desert and again at the Sunset Crater, where they were staying in the campsite. They too were impressed with the crater.

We also made a day trip to Sedona. The town was highly touristy, as we expected, but we did get a great pizza and salad for lunch. The drive up and down the Oak Canyon road was fun and the views from the top were great.

SedonaOEXPO  0001 SedonaOEXPO  0002 SedonaOEXPO  0003 SedonaOEXPO  0004

(Right after we left the Flagstaff area, there was a terrible fire in the Oak Canyon area. We saw the smoke from the Grand Canyon.)

With a clean camper and a larder full of food (not to mention the fridge), we set off for Mormon Lake Lodge, site of the Overland Expo.  This year’s event was very successful with several thousand attendees. We parked in the Provan Tiger section, along with a Bengal that Mark Guild had brought and a Malayan LT.  Fred gave four presentations and was also took part in two roundtables, so Denise was responsible for showing our Malayan HT.  Each day produced a steady stream of interested persons, so it was a busy time and quite hard work!  However, all the visitors seemed to like the vehicles and were appreciative.

SedonaOEXPO  0006Tigers, old style and new.

SedonaOEXPO  0005

Norlina Bleu, handing out Tiger literature. We had to explain that the cat was NOT included in the price.

Along with Robinson Fuso (and Jon and Emily) we then headed north to the Grand Canyon. ( We could not get a reservation for the North Rim Campsite, nor Point Sublime, but after a little research, we went into the Kaibab National Forest and camped on two of the Points on the Rainbow Rim Trail, overlooking the Canyon. With chairs placed in full view of the Canyon, it proved very pleasant to sit and enjoy an evening glass of wine. Our first campsite on North Timp Point was great. Our second, at Parissawampitts was a little more challenging but worked after Emily found a wonderful campsite. We enjoyed some great dirt roads, some walking and lots of great company. Denise also thoroughly enjoyed a one hour mule ride along the canyon rim on a greedy mule called Fancy.

GCanyon  0005 GCanyon  0001 GCanyon  0014 GCanyon  0015

Our last stop, barely in Arizona, was Monument Valley.  We set off to drive the circuit road, advertised as being unpaved and rough, for the full 17 miles and were soon exceedingly pleased that the Malayan drives so well off road. The road is indeed rough and reminded us of roads we have known and loved in Africa. Bleu, on the other hand, was not thrilled. He has decided he is not in favor of being an off road cat! He likes to ride on the dashboard when we are on unpaved roads as it bounces less but he keeps changing the settings on the GPS! But the drive was certainly worth it. It took us about 5 hours to make the tour and we loved every minute. The buttes and peaks are spectacular! We had a great day from a photography point of view with lots of amazing clouds as well as plenty of sunshine.

MValley  0001

Rain at Monument Valley.MValley  0002 MValley  0003 MValley  0004

Obligatory portraits at the Mittens.MValley  0006 MValley  0007Dog, selling jewelry.

MValley  0008Iconic shot, from John Ford’s Point.

MValley  0009 MValley  0010 Ndeke Luka, with the dancers and the totem pole.

MValley  0011You could really make a Western here …

MValley  0013 MValley  0014 MValley  0015 MValley  0016Tourists, calling it a day.

MValley  0017 MValley  0018Dramatic clouds.


Even more Enchantment

We regretfully left Santa Fe and headed to the Frijole Canyon of Bandelier National Monument, a site occupied until the 1400’s by the Ancestral Pueblo.  ( There are remains of a pueblo village, Tyuonyi, which includes a circle of homes, plus several kivas (underground meeting rooms), two of which had been rebuilt, while the others appeared simply as dips in the ground and had not been touched. We also climbed up to view the cliff dwellings, including the Alcove House with its reconstructed kiva and ruins of cliff houses.  The views along the cavern were quite green, at least in comparison to the barrenness around it, due to the stream running through it. The views of the canyon itself, with the mesa behind it were spectacular.  We camped at a very nice campsite at the National Monument, though by the evening, the weather had changed and it was windy and cold.  It reminded us what a joy it is to have a warm Tiger in which to retreat!  The cliffs, where the houses were built, were formed by volcanic ash hardening after a massive eruption and we next went to see the caldera, at Valle Grande, which resulted from the eruption.  The caldera formed a huge grassland area at 10,000 feet, with occasional small “hills”, where the volcanic action continues.  The purported elk herds were absent without leave, though perhaps that was because it was snowing!  The weather on this trip seems to swing from one extreme to another with gay abandon.

Bandelier  0002

Bandelier  0005

Bandelier  0006

Bandelier  0008 Reconstructed kiva called the “Alcove House.”

Bandelier  0009The Alcove House from the valley floor.

We then headed to the Chaco Cultural National Park. (  En route, in additional to snow, it hailed and rained on us, though never enough to do any good and wash any of the dust off!  Our trip to Chaco proved remarkably easy and the Tiger acquitted itself well on the dirt roads. Denise loved driving!  Upon arrival, we purchased our camping spot but were told we could only stay one night.  A pity, but we decided to make the most of our time and set off to take photos of Fajada Butte, an amazing structure all on its own and of great significance to the Chacoan peoples who lived there for more than 400 years.  Near the campsite were also some petroglyphs, hard to see, but worth it for the ambience.  How many campsites have ancient rock art?

Next day, we were able to talk our way into a second night’s camping (someone had left early), so we signed up for that and then set out to view the sites.  There are five in total and we only saw three before exhaustion set in.  We began by hiking in a ranger guided tour to Una Vida, a small great house, most of which was under our feet as it has not been excavated.  The ranger was informative and we learned a lot about the sites as a whole.  We then climbed the cliff to view the petroglyphs (and take photos of course).  We then saw Chetro Ketl and Pueblo Bonito, both large sites with multiple buildings with many rooms and kivas, both the large Great Kivas and small kivas and round rooms.

It was a much warmer evening and Fred had energy to hike up to take evening photos of Fajada Butte.  I stayed behind to keep Blue company!  Blue is thriving as a camper cat and becoming more adventuresome all the time.  His leaps from the couch to the bed are quite amazing.

We left Chaco via dirt road, (this time with Fred driving) and were pleased again with Ndeke Luka’s stability.  We are headed to Arizona but stopped for the afternoon (and chores) in Gallup, NM at a very pleasant RV park on a Route 66 theme.  This is our first RV park for a week and we remain impressed with our constant solar power.  We have only plugged into RV park electrics on the three days in San Antonio when the temperature hit the upper 90’s. The air conditioning felt wonderful for sleeping!

Chaco  0001 How often can you camp right next to ancient ruins?

Chaco  0002

Chaco  0003Denise admires an ancestral Puebloan building sheltered by the rocks at the Chaco campground.

Chaco  0004 Defaced rock carvings.

Chaco  0005 The carvings are up on the the cliff.

Chaco  0006 Sunset in the campground.

Chaco  0007

Chaco  0010 Beautiful stonework.

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Chaco  0014 The massive ruins of Pueblo Bonito rise four stories tall.

Chaco  0015 An excavated “great” kiva. All of these structures would have been underground.

Chaco  0016

Chaco  0017 The next great rock that will fall.

Chaco  0019

Chaco  0020 Unusual diagonal connection between rooms.

Chaco  0021 Original roof/floor beams, hundreds of years old.

Chaco  0022 Fajada (belted or sash) butte at sunset.



Tierra Encantada

We entered New Mexico from West Texas, from the desert, and continued to drive through the desert for days.  It was dry and bleak with an occasional oil well pumping and a few head of cattle occasionally visible in what looked like desert ranges. No shade anywhere and the sun shone down relentlessly from a deep blue sky. There was nothing enchanting about this.

Our first stop was at Carlsbad Caverns.  We arrived in the afternoon to get our bearings but decided to visit the caverns the next morning.  We did however return at 7.00 pm for the bat flight.  This was not spectacular as it is early in the season and there are fewer bats in residence in the cave, but we had an interesting introduction by a ranger and we did indeed see a number of bats fly out of the entrance of the cave and chitter above our heads.  Brought back memories of Bangui, where we had thousands upon thousands of bats in the trees near the Residence. These bats were considerably smaller and  quieter.

The campsite near the entrance to the Carlsbad Cavern National Park was full, but they let us stay in the residential area at a reduced rate and they had a laundry and excellent internet service!  Plus we were back up at the caverns by 8.30 AM the next morning when they opened the cave entrance, ready to visit.  We entered on foot through the Natural Entrance descending about 800 feet over a distance of 1.25 miles.  It was an amazing experience.  In order to reduce moss growth, the NPS reduces the amount of lighting, only using just enough that one can continue the descent.  Certain really spectacular formations are lighted but most are not.  It gives one a real feeling of how it must be to explore a wild cave.  Once at the base, we walked a 1.7 mile loop of the Big Room.  This is a huge cavern, which is the most popular part of the caverns to be seen by tourists as it has elevator service down and up. We enjoyed our visit and the many spectacular formations of stalagmites and stalactites.  They are still discovering new caves and galleries so it is an amazing complex.  At the end of the visit, we wimped out and took the elevator back up!

Carlsbad  0001

Carlsbad  0002

View back towards the Natural Entrance from the first room in the cave. A bat’s eye view, if you will, as this is their flyway.

Carlsbad  0003 Column in a pool of water.

Carlsbad  0004 It is a long hike down.

Carlsbad  0005 Enormous columns, over 50 feet high.

Carlsbad  0006 The lower levels of the cave are closed to the public. But the ladder from an old expedition is still available …

Carlsbad  0007 The Big Room is, well, big. Click the image for a larger view and look for the person for perspective.

We went on to visit the Living Desert Zoo and Garden, a botanical garden and animal research zoo, specializing in desert wildlife and fauna.  It was an easy way of seeing everything that is native to this region. As the temperature was near 90F, we saw a lot of dozing animals – Black bears, wolves, mountain lions, elk, prairie dogs et al were sending up lots of zzz’s.  It was a good visit though we might have seen more action in the morning!

LivingDesert  0001 LivingDesert  0002 LivingDesert  0003 LivingDesert  0004

Santa Fe is a lovely town with adobe architecture, amazing history, and the advantage of being much cooler!  In fact, it was chilly at times. Wonderful!  We camped at the Black Canyon campsite, just outside of town in the Santa Fe National Forest. It proved so pleasant that we remained a third night.  After days of desert, camping among pine trees was such a pleasure, even at 8,000 feet!  We visited the Plaza, including the Cathedral and also the San Miguel Mission, both wonderful old adobe churches, with statues brought from Mexico in the 1500’s.  We also spent a couple of interesting hours in the Governor’s Palace and History Museum, which was excellent.  We also had to support the economy of the jewelry vendors outside the museum of course!

Armies may or may not travel on their stomachs, but we are always on the lookout for a good feed. We had enjoyed our taqueria in San Antonio and we wanted to see if we could discover how New Mexican food differed from that of Texas and Mexico. Don’t know that we found the differences, but thanks to a tip from a local, we found “The Shed” half a block up the street from the Plaza. Built in an old building with a traditional enclosed patio, The Shed offered wonderful food and dogs. Lots of dogs. From a monster described as a cross between a standard poodle and a golden retriever, to a pack of labradors, all in training to be companion dogs. All in all, highly recommended, great food for man or beast.

SantaFe  0001 Even the tourist information center is beautiful.

SantaFe  0002 The baptistry in the Cathedral is modern and quite remarkable for its design and symbolism.

SantaFe  0003 The statue of Maria de la Reconquista. Today, this is taken as a reaffirmation of faith; after 1680, it was a very literal reconquest.

SantaFe  0004 SantaFe  0005 The Governor’s Place is one of the oldest buildings in Santa Fe having survived even the Pueblo revolt of 1680, occupation by the Pueblos, and reconquest by the Spanish.

SantaFe  0006 SantaFe  0007 Put a saddle on that beast!

SantaFe  0008

SantaFe  0009Obligatory nature/flower/animal/bird shot. (Taken in our campground at Black Canyon.)


I Knew Texas was Big, but …

it took two more days of pretty much just driving to reach our next goal, Fort Davis! Of course, there were wonderful interludes like stopping for coffee and an amazing cinnamon bun in a small town called Medina. The coffee shop also had that most wonderful of commodities, free internet! We then walked across the street to a wonderful ACE Hardware where we proceeded to buy peat moss, split loom wire protectors, tie wraps and some other odds and ends – we made their day for the most eclectic mixture of purchases.

We stopped for the evening in a really nice independent campsite (no other real options) called the North Llano River RV Park. They had a great laundry, which meant that the clothes got washed. It was pleasant, much cooler than the temperatures we had suffered in San Antonio and we were invited to share a glass of wine with some very pleasant Texans in a nearby space. (It all started when Denise accosted one of the ladies who was walking a beautiful German Shepherd.) We ended up joining them for dinner at a local dive and enjoyed chicken fried steak with lots of fried vegetables (potatoes, squash and huge onion rings. (Well, it is Texas!). There was a salad bar also, so the diet was only partly shot!

The next day we made it to a lovely state park, Fort Davis State Park. It was still very windy and temperatures had not made it above the low 60’s so it felt cold. The next day dawned cloudy and still super windy. It felt very cold, so having dressed in multiple layers, we headed out to tour the restored fort. The day continued windy and cloudy, but we had a wonderful time inspecting all of the exhibits and climbing to the top of the mountains behind the fort. Fort Davis had a long and fascinating history, from being established before the Civil War, evacuated and occupied by the Confederates during the Civil War, and reoccupied by the U.S. Army after the Civil War. It was manned by the famous “Buffalo Soldiers” for a time before finally being closed when the Indian Wars ended. See more here: Highly recommended.

FTDavis  0004Looking across the parade ground towards the Officers’ quarters. We climbed to the top of the mountain in the background.

FTDavis  0005

FTDavis  0006Denise playing the “Road to Fort Davis” game. It took about a month to reach Fort Davis from San Antonio.

FTDavis  0001 View climbing the hill. Note the school kids invading the site.

FTDavis  0003 FTDavis  0008Beautiful cacti on the hill.