Friday, 6 November, 1998. Malibu Beach, California.
Yes, its hard to believe but my mom has never gone camping. Sure she's spent plenty of time on boats, but never in a tent. So when I invited my mom to tour the southwest with me, I think she was a little nervous about what she was getting into.
I picked up my mom in Phoenix and she was amazed by the scenery she had seen flying in. After dinner in town, we tried to find a campsite outside of Phoenix. The first Forest Service campground was closed for the season. What we ended up with seemed more like a big parking lot than a campground, but we were both tired. There wasn't a suitable place for the tent, so we slept in the back of the truck.
About five in the morning, I heard critter noises. Turning on my headlamp, I looked out with sock to see a very large skunk poking around my food boxes. This is not good. We weren't sure if we should attempt to scare him off or not. So we watched him sniff, scratch and poke around the food boxes for a while. Finally we got up our nerve and scared him off. Whew! Actually the skunk was quite pretty, with a magnificant tail that was nearly as long has his body.
Having survived the night, we headed to Tonto National Monument. For the first time on this trip, I was too early for something! Tours of the better preserved upper ruins don't start for another week. So we started up the trail to the lower ruins. I shouted out a warning as my mom nearly stepped on a tralantula. The spider was as big as my fist! The second one wasn't quite as scary. The ruins were interesting, but not as good as those at Chaco or Mesa Verde. From Tonto we headed south to Tuscon to visit Saguaro National Park.
Ominous storm clouds caused mom to suggest dinner out. Sounds good to me! After a great dinner, we had a difficult time finding the road up to Mount Lemmon. Even with the use of Microsoft Streets we were still stumped. Finally I asked a local and we were set straight. And this time we got a "real" campsite. In the morning we explored the incredible Saguaro National Park. After a picnic lunch, we drove across town to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. More of a cross between a zoo and a botanical garden, this place is well worth visiting. The Museum focuses on the plants and animals living in the local desert.
This was my mom's first trip to the southwest, and I felt that a trip to this region wouldn't be complete without seeing the Grand Canyon. So north we went. About twenty miles north of Tuscon, we saw signs to come feed the ostriches. Intrigued by the idea of an ostrich farm, we stopped. The farm owner ended up running us off since his shop wasn't set up yet. He kept repeating that if people on the highway saw us here, they come in and he'd never get everything set up. Oh, well. Walking back to my truck, he must have felt a little guilty and drove up and handed mom a beautiful ostrich feather.
In need of a shower, we stopped at a truck stop. Each shower was a private room and quite clean. Of course they were $6 each, or fill up of 50 gallons or more.
We reached the Grand Canyon in time to catch the beautiful sunset. Mom had brought me a tripod and I put it to good use as we watched the light change on the canyon walls. After watching the sunset, mom was quite chilled and decided on dinner inside a restaurant rather than cooking outside. At the evening ranger program we heard the forecast for temperatures in the twenties. Before going to bed, I lent my mom long underware and fleece pants. And I insisted she wear a skull cap. Finally the tables are turned! With all this extra clothing she slept warm enough.
The previous evening's ranger program had been about hiking into the canyon. The ranger insisted a trip to the Grand Canyon wasn't complete without hiking below the rim, even if for just a few hundred yards. So we headed down, below the rim. He was right, the perspective from in the canyon was very different. I just wish that 100 high school kids from New York City hadn't started down the trail just before us. Argh!
Continuing to broaden mom's horizons, we headed to Monument Valley. Sure, I was just here not that long ago, but it is that incredible. We had arrived too late to explore the valley that evening, so we took a Navajo jeep tour in the morning. At first our tour guide, Jimmy, didn't say much. But he finally warmed and gave us an excellent tour. You can drive one part of the loop on your own, the remaining roads require a guide. Some of the best parts of Monument Valley are on the guided tour. Monument Valley has a long history in the movies and Jimmy pointed out where various movies and commercials have been filmed. Infact there was a crew from MGM filming part of an upcoming movie here.
My mom's flight was the next afternoon so we started back towards Phoenix. We stopped in Sedona and checked out some of the excellent galleries there. Near Sedona, we camped at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, a very nice state park with hot showers.
In Scottsdale we went to Taliesin West, the architecture school Frank Llyod Wright founded. Wright spent his winters here for many years. The school still operates today accepting eight students out of one thousand applicants.
After my mom's flight had departed I drove west of Phoenix to a campground. While driving through the phoenix sprawl I watched the moon come up. The smog was distorting the shape and color of the moon. It looked squashed and a bright pumpkin orange Pretty, but I don't like the cause. The next day as I drove towards LA, the sky was a dull gray because of the smog. How can people stand not seeing blue sky? The visibility was horrible around Palm Springs which is 100 miles east of LA.
I spent the night in an expensive ($17) California state park north of Malibu. I'd remembered the campground from my previous drive across country. Great spot, just wish it was half the price! This morning I'm enjoying the crash of the waves, and the cries of the gulls. This afternoon I'll pickup Brian Balukonis and we'll head out to either Red Rocks or Joshua Tree to go climbing. This is weird, but I've only climbed a few times in the past month since leaving Yosemite! I hope I still remember how to climb :-)
It was great having an opportunity to show my mom a place I really enjoy. I was a little worried, but she turned out to be a great camper. Way to go mom!