Saturday, November 18, 2017

Buckskin Mountain State Park and the Parker Strip

It was an easy 30 mile drive from Lake Havasu State Park to our next destination, Buckskin Mountain State Park. Located on the Colorado River just downstream from Parker Dam, Buckskin Mountain is a wonderful park with a mix of full hookup and partial hookup sites, tent sites, boat launch and hiking trails.

Just a few miles from our park is the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge. Bill Williams River is only 40 miles long but is an important wildlife corridor as it cuts across a transition zone between the Mojave and Sonoran deserts before it empties into Lake Havasu just north of Parker Dam. The best way to access the refuge is near the visitor center on highway 95 and by kayaking up river from the lake. 

Not having kayaks, we drove the three mile Planet Ranch Road hoping to find some interesting hiking. It turns out the river goes underground at some points between Alamo Lake and Lake Havasu when water flows are low and only flows its full length above ground when water is released from Alamo Dam or during monsoon season. It was sad to see that years of drought have decimated some of the last stands of natural cottonwood-willow forest along Bill Williams River.

Bill Williams River was flowing for about a mile or so above Lake Havasu.
The cottonwood-willow forest along its banks was healthy and inviting,
but surrounded by a dense thicket of prickly mesquite trees that blocked our access to the river.

Reaching the end of Planet Ranch Road we finally found a place to hike.
That's when we discovered the underground portion of the river had probably not been above ground for years
and the forest was dying.

Dry Bill Williams riverbed, full of dead trees, kind of depressing to hike in.

Heading back towards hwy 95 we climbed a hill for a birds eye view of the river.
Looking west towards Lake Havasu we saw the lovely blue stripe of the Bill Williams River and its wetlands.
Looking east the forest overtakes the wetlands.
This would be a neat place to kayak!

We had better luck hiking the Buckskin Mountain State Park trails. There's a short trail that climbs the hill that separates the park from the highway and affords terrific views of the park.

A view of about half of the developed portion of Buckskin Mountain State park.
We can see part of our rig in the shadows on the right, backed up to the hill we are standing on.

The park has a pedestrian bridge over the highway leading to trails into the hills.

This area is an ecotone; a transition zone between two deserts: the Mojave and Sonoran, thus the presence of saguaros!

We did a loop drive that took us over Parker Dam into California and along the Colorado River down to Parker, AZ where we crossed the river once again and made our way north through the Parker Strip back to our park. Stopping to hike up a wash on the California side we discovered there are wild burros on the CA side of the river!

Parker Dam creates Lake Havasu.

Hiking in the hills on the California side of the Colorado River.

Some cute locals.

No trip to the Parker Strip area would be complete without a drive out to the Desert Bar. Located five miles out a dirt road, the Desert Bar (aka Nellie E. Saloon, named after the mining camp formerly on this site) is a hand built, off grid labor of love that is only open on the weekends in the cooler months. The easy way in is a fairly good dirt road (though I don't think I'd take a new looking Cadillac on it like we saw someone doing), and the hard way in is a rough dirt road used by those with real off road vehicles.

The church was built out of solid steel in the 1990's.
It's a great photo op and weddings have been held there, but no religious services.

The bar is an ever expanding complex, with live music, gift shop, multiple bars and food stands.
Quite the hopping joint and terrific people watching!

We thoroughly enjoyed site #12 at Buckskin Mountain State Park. We backed up to a rocky hillside with a neighbor on only one side, and plenty far away from us. Bird watching was excellent from our sitting area behind our rig. The hillside beyond our rig separates us from the highway so it was really quiet at night. Verizon and AT&T signals were very good with our booster.

Site # 12.


Awesome sitting area.

Rosie liked this park too!


We saw this beautiful roadrunner at least twice a day.

We got to experience a day in the life of a loggerhead shrike. One morning as I surveyed the bird activity in the bushes behind our rig I noticed a bird seemed to be pecking at another bird on the ground. It turns out a loggerhead shrike had killed an inca dove, no wonder it's known as Arizona's butcher bird!

Later I saw the shrike sitting atop the boulders surrounding our site, probably looking for its next victim. Then, while sitting outside watching the bird activity with my binoculars I saw the shrike flitting around in a nearby tree. On closer inspection with the binos I saw bird feet sticking up from the branch of a mesquite. True to form, the shrike had stuck about half of the inca dove onto a mesquite sticker so it could feast on its catch over time...gruesome but fascinating.

Half an inca dove impaled on a mesquite tree.

These quail are taking dust baths in the loose soil under a mesquite tree.


Arizona has the best sunsets!

Next up: a brief stay in Yuma.



Friday, November 10, 2017

Needles, CA and Lake Havasu City, AZ

Continuing our meander south we spent two nights in Needles, CA. Desert View RV Park was peaceful for our brief stay and within walking distance of the Colorado River and a terrific lunch at the Riverfront Cafe.

Early morning light on the Colorado River. 

We took a little drive and discovered Goose Lake, part of Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. We could have walked for several flat miles but there are very few birds there at this time of year; looks like a good place to take a kayak out exploring.

Havasu National Wildlife Refuge.



We spent the next four nights at Lake Havasu State Park which gave us time to visit some cousins who live in the area and do a little hiking in the local desert. Our beachfront site, #41, was spacious and fairly private but very noisy over the weekend due to a RC plane event around the corner from us as well as a busy boat launch...there are a lot of loud, fast boats on Lake Havasu! Week days are much quieter on the lake.

Site 41 was a nice beachfront site.

View of the north half of the campground.
Sites are extremely varied at this park, some private and well separated, some with zero privacy.

SARA Mountain Park is a large recreation area for hiking and mountain biking in Lake Havasu City. We've done the popular Crack Trail there before so this time we chose to hike SARA Mountain Park Loop. It's supposed to be five miles with some rolling hills but we took a wrong turn and ended up with a seven mile double loop with some big hills!

We loved the cloudy skies as we headed into the hills.

Red rock grotto.

Big views to the Colorado River from the blue trail.

Our wrong turn took us up and over and around a big mountain.

Another day we hiked the Water Tank Trail, a 6.2 mile out and back hike on a jeep road through the hills just south of town. I had researched the route via satellite and discovered a single track trail that would make our hike into a loop. It turns out SARA Mountain Park trails connect to the jeep road allowing many miles of hiking in this area. It looks really good for mountain biking.

The jeep road cuts through Aubrey Hills.


That's horse hoof point and below it to the left, barely visible, is the "tank",
a flat corrugated metal water collection device that flows water into a metal tank for wildlife use.

Our return trail below the Aubrey Hills.

We enjoyed brilliant sunsets daily over Lake Havasu from our site.



Onward to Buckskin Mountain State Park...




Monday, November 6, 2017

Las Vegas Contrasts

Leaving Lee Vining, CA we had a long taxing drive on a series of small highways to Beatty, NV. The first portion, Highway 120 east, took us through unique forested volcanic lands with terrific scenery but quite a lot of ups and downs. Then a combination of tiny route 6 to 264 to 266 became rather featureless desert terrain that ended with several miles of dips before our final leg on highway 95 to Beatty. This was a difficult drive for Rosie, curvy mountain roads topped off with dips make for a sick kitty.

Beatty was just a quick overnight at Beatty RV Park where we'd stayed in late April. Then it was a relatively short drive into Vegas where we spent six nights at Las Vegas RV Resort, a block from Boulder Highway and Sam's Town Casino. Not a bad park for an urban RV park. The deluxe sites have decent separation and road noise is not too bad.

Clark County Wetlands Park is an unexpected oasis of green near the RV park. It was convenient for some easy walking when the temps were in the low 80's and we didn't feel like driving far to hike.

An average of 180 million gallons of water a day passes through the nature preserve on its way to Lake Mead, mostly originating from the water treatment facilities located along Las Vegas Wash. The excellent onsite Nature Center does a great job of explaining the history and environmental impact of these wetlands.

An unexpected delight in the harsh desert and urban center of Las Vegas.

Hans and I are morning people, rarely staying out late at night, but when Hans noticed there would be a night of live surf music at the Double Down Saloon during our stay we worked it into the schedule. It was a fun night at a cool dive bar with Thee Swank Bastards (Las Vegas), The Boss Martians (from Seattle) and the Messer Chups (all the way from Russia).

We walked around vibrant Fremont Street before heading to the bar and discovered the hip East Fremont district
and its wonderful neon.

The Messer Chups at the Double Down Saloon.

Hans has been fascinated by drag racing since he was a teenager and any time we'll be near a city with a drag strip he'll check the race calendar. He got lucky with our stop in Vegas. He managed to convince me I should see drag racing at least once and scored some reasonably priced tickets on Craigslist for a NHRA national event with many top fuel nitro and funny cars racing.

Several rows of semi's lined up create the pits.
Here is a funny car chassis with its body sitting off to the side.

The pits are open to all attendees and it's fascinating to watch the crews at work.

The semi's are super functional, with elevated storage for transporting the race cars.

We had fantastic seats. Ear protection is a necessity!

I found drag racing to be exhilarating and exhausting! The thunderous vibrations as the cars pass by is intense, shaking you to the core. The smell of nitro fuel gets in to your pores...we thought we could smell it for an entire day after the event. I wore earplugs almost the entire six or so hours we were there because we were blasted with sound constantly.

After days of urban experiences (including staying in an urban RV park) we were more than ready to get out in nature. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a colorful outdoor lovers haven on the western edge of Las Vegas. Within minutes of the glitter and grime of the big city we found ourselves breathing a sigh of relief as our feet propelled us into canyons free of man made objects and sounds (and, being a Monday, almost free of people too).

Early morning clouds provide a cool contrast to the bright red Calico Hills.

Morning sun peeks through the clouds to throw golden light across the hills.

Big valley views.

We hiked the White Rock/La Madre Spring Loop and found a little bit of fall color in the washes.

Our critter sighting of the day, a small Great Basin Gopher Snake.

Wonderful swirly colors in this rock.

Ancient hand prints.

The canyon we hiked through held a forest of pinyon pine and juniper.

Colorful layers seen from the scenic drive.

We met up with John and Pam on our last full day for a hike in Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. Petroglyph Canyon Trail was a great way to catch up with these two whom we last saw on the Oregon coast this past summer, and will see again in San Diego in a few weeks.


After a bit of a slog up a sandy/gravely wash we had to climb up several pour overs.


There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of petroglyphs on both sides of the canyon.


This one was hard to photograph because it was high above us, but it held some very interesting designs.
There seemed to be petroglyphs from different periods throughout the canyon.

Unfortunately this was the only kind of bighorns we saw on this hike.

Pam and John.

Looking back into Sloan Canyon Preserve, a harsh desert environment.

From here, we continue south for more desert adventures...