From Tucson to San Diego

Hi everyone,

I’m still in San Diego, or rather in Jamul (ha.ˈmu:l) in the southeastern suburbs, at the home of my friends Fabienne and Wayne. As you can see, I’m getting a lot of work done on the blog, but, I assure you, on some papers too.

The trip from Tucson to here was eventful.


September 30th to October 3rd

I leave Tucson early in the afternoon on September 30th, direction due west on Interstate 8.

I plan to stay at Picacho State Recreation Area in California, on the Colorado River. It’s a dirt road, however, some 18 miles long, that leads to the park from the small town of Winterhaven. I hesitate, but the website says that any low-clearence, 2 wheel-drive vehicle or RV can easily get there. I am really looking foward to spending a few days in an isolated and peaceful place near water, where I can swim and get some work done.  So I go for it. Unfortunately, I get a late start because I go shopping in Yuma. By the time I’m approaching the park it’s already dark and I can’t see the road very well any more. It’s a very sandy road and, of course, Van gets stuck.

Van, how could you do this to me? (But I know it’s my own fault.)

There’s only one thing to do, spend the night right here.  I manage to get Van over to the side of the road, to a level place where I can sleep. But wait, there is something else to do. Have a beer! I do so.

It’s only seven in the evening, but I’m exhaused, so I go to bed and read for a while. Needless to say, I don’t sleep very well.

I wake up early and as soon as it’s light I try to get Van unstuck which I manage to do quite easily. It’s a good road, in fact, just very sandy in some places. I imagine that if it hadn’t been dark, I wouldn’t have got stuck. I’m only two miles from the park now, but I don’t want to go any further, I don’t want to risk getting stuck again, especially since it’s downhill towards the beach and I might have difficulty getting back up. I’m disappointed, because I was looking forward to swimming. It’s very hot here. I turn around and head back to civilization, and to a good breakfast in a restaurant in Yuma.

But I do have a plan B. I head west again, stopping in the town of El Centro to wash Van. After that, it’s up into the coastal mountains to Laguna Mountain Recreation Area where I camp for two days.

I like it here. It’s an alpine area above 6,000 feet, so it’s cool; after the Arizona desert this is refreshing. The campground is nearly empty, though they’re expecting a lot of people for the weekend.

The campground is in Cleveland National Forest…

1_Cleveland National Forest

…in an area which, like Portal and Patagonia, is known for its varied bird population:

2_Voice of the forest_sign


The ritual photos of my campsite…

3_Campsite 1

…which may seem repetitive to you, but…

4_Campsite 2

…to me each campsite is unique. And when I move on I always feel a little sad.  This place has been my home for however long or short a time.


The Burnt Rancheria Campground (which is not burnt at all) is near this café where they have a wonderful coffee that has pine nut in it. They’re open for dinner in the evening and so I go there once for my evening meal.

5_Café & Tavern

And nearby there is also a post office, a sporting goods store and a general store with cabins to rent. Further along there are more campgrounds. We’re only little more than an hour from San Diego here, so the area is a popular mountain retreat.


Of course, some of the local wildlife can be dangerous:


I’ve been warned about rattlesnakes throughout my travels, even in the towns. Captain, Dirk and I nearly stumbled upon one near Gila Hot Springs. So I think it might be appropriate to say a few words about them.  You can learn more about rattlesnakes here, and see some pictures here. It’s reassuring to know that these snakes rarely bite and will do so only if provoked or surprised. If treated promptly, their bite is rarely fatal. More importantly, they are predators and help keep down the populations of many birds and rodents. They are also prey themselves to hawks, weasles and king snakes.

But if you see one on your doorstep one day, I’d understand a panicky reaction.


We’re in an alpine forest here…

8_Alpine forest

…with, as is frequent in the coastal regions of California, a fair amount of oak and other deciduous trees…

7_Green forest

…but, once again, the desrt is never far…

9_Desert is never far_Pacific Crest...


Just a short walk from the campground we are on the Desert View Trail where we once again find desert vegetation:

10_Prickly pear, again

For a short time, this trail is part of the well-known Pacific Crest Trail.


The presence of deciduous trees here leads me to discover something I haven’t yet seen on this trip, autumn colors:

11_Discovery here...

12_Autumn colors...

And I’m reminded that time is passing and that I’m now in the final month of my road trip.

I camp here for two nights and regroup after the stressful experience at Picacho.  But San Diego is waiting…

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

September 10th, 2014

I’ve promised you a more detailed visit of cliff dwellings.  About two hours north of Silver City, in the Gila Mountains, lies the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. Captain and I drove up there in Van to camp over night with Dirk, another friend from our days at Sonoma State University in California. We meet up at Gila River Hot Springs where we set up camp and then drive a short way to the cliff dwellings.

Captain and Dirk head up the trail towards the dwellings:

1_Captain and Dirk head up...

We’re very careful as we walk. At the trailhead they tell us that many black-tailed rattlesnakes have been sighted lately.


It’s a pleasant trail through a green forest along side a creek:

2_the trail...


Our destination…

3_...towards the cliff dwellings

…and in a close up.

4_...cliff dwellings zoom


After a short walk we arrive at the dwellings. The caves are in fact a series of alcoves carved by the action of water on the stone.

5_We approach the dwellings


In some cases only the barest foundations remain…

6_In some of the alcoves... 7_only the most foundations remain

…whereas in others the structures are quite intact…

8_...but in others... 9_the structures are quite intact...

…though sometimes reinforced for safety and equipped for accessibility…

11_...and equipped for accessability...


The view from within:


13_from inside an alcove


Information panels help us to understand both the dwellings…

16...and the reconstruction...

…and the numerous pictographs found here: to the mural paintings...


Some of the wall paintings… The one on the right isn’t very clear, but it’s a hand.  We’ll see this again later:

16b_a wall painting 16c_another wall painting_hand


An inscription from more recent times:

16d_inscription from a much later period


One of the big mysteries in these cliff dwellings is the exact use of the different structures. The smaller rooms were likely used for food storage.

17_one big mystery is the use of...


Smoke traces on the ceiling are evidence that these caves were occupied for thousands of years:

18_signs show inhabitation going way back...


But the remaining wooden beams in the houses are from trees felled between 1276 and 1287. The inhabitants of these cliff dwellings were only here for about thirty years.

There is much speculation as to why the inhabitants of these impressive structures stayed for such a short time:

19_but these dwellings were only...  22_there is speculation that it was an outpost

23_of more southerly tribes for...  24_agricultural purposes...

20_inhabited about 30 years...  21_about 700 years ago...

Some have advanced the theory that this was an agricultural outpost for a more southerly tribe and that when drought made it no longer viable the people move elsewhere.


The view across the canyon from the dwellings:

25_across the canyon from the dwellings


Down canyon:

26_down canyon


Up canyon:

27_up canyon


Later in the afternoon Captain shows us some other pictographs at another site on the way back to camp:

30_...some pictographs at another site...

30b_pictograph, where we also find a diamondback

We also stumble upon a rattlesnake here, but a diamondback and not a black-tailed.  We have surprised it and it begins to coil, but we back off and luckily the snake decides to move on. They don’t like us any more than we like them.


And we locate this depression in the rock, likely used for grinding corn:

31_...where we find this...


At yet another site Captain shows us this little-known structure:

32_...near this little known dwelling...


Dirk inspects the workmanship:

33_Dirk inspects the workmanship 34_workmanship2


At a last stop Captain shows us more pictographs…

35_at yet another site we find... 36_more pictographs

Here the hand is much clearer.


I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get these:

39_...these bis

40_...these ter


It’s late now and we head back to our camp at the hot springs.