Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Catching Up - Part 8 - December 2017 - Greg heads to AZ: Picacho Peak, El Dorado Hot Springs, Piestewa Peak, Phoenix, Sedona, Twin Arrows, Sandia Resort & Casino- New Mexico

I (Greg) took a trip to Arizona to get out of the cold winter of Los Alamos for a few days.

The first stop was Faywood Hot Springs for a night soak in their hot springs pools. See earlier blogs for more about Faywood.

Lunch at Tuscon Sweet Tomatoes.  
I wanted to hike up to Picacho Peak, so staying at Picacho Peak State Park made sense. (Electric hookups for about $25 with nice shower/bathrooms).  Arriving just before sunset, I found plenty of sites to choose from. Before bed, a good hike around the entire park area was called for. After dark, the walk was fun with beautiful lights in the distance.

My campsite at Picacho Peak State Park.


The next day, I headed up the front trail (Hunter Trail) to Picacho Peak. It's not an easy hike (Rated: Difficult). Bring a lot of water. When I got to the saddle, I discovered that the trail dropped quite a long ways down the other side before it rose again to head to the top. I wasn't really ready for that drop and decided I wouldn't go all the way to the top on this visit.  There is a trail from the back side (Sunset Vista Trail) that doesn't do this unexpected up, down, up. Next time, I will take the back trail up to the top. 2-3 liters of water is recommended for these trails.

Looking down from the hike up Picacho Peak.

The view on the hike up Pacacho Peak.

Sign at the Saddle of Pacacho Peak.

Meanwhile, back in Los Alamos.

After my partial hike up Picacho Peak, I headed north to the El Dorado Hot Springs in Tonapah, AZ. El Dorado is a funky place with nice hot springs tubs. If you camp there you get 2 hours of private hot springs use. There is also a public area to soak 24hrs.

I arrived on an early December Thursday. The place was pretty much empty.  I signed up to soak in the Desert View pool around sunset time. It was great. After my hour, and wanting more soaking time, I headed to the public area called "Desert Pete."  I was the only one in the Desert Pete area my whole time there and enjoyed a full moon while laying on my back in the largest of the hot pools.

I have reviewed El Dorado Hot Springs in a past blog HERE.  It's $30 for 1 person to camp, $50 for two. $20 more for each person. (kids $10). Add $5 for access to an electric plug.

I got the Katie's Corner camp site and paid the extra $5 for an electric connection. You have to hunt for a working 15amp connection. Bring a really long electric extension, you might need it.

"Desert View" hot springs tub at El Dorado Hot Springs.
After my stay at El Dorado Hot Springs, I wanted to find a nice hike in the Phoenix area.  The Piestewa Peak Summit Trail looked like a great hike, so I programmed Google Maps to get me there.

Piestewa Peak turned out to be a really great hike. It's a short distance hike at 1.2 miles up but you rise 1,200 feet, so it is a heart pumper! There are fantastic views at the rugged top.

It's a popular hike.  Get there early. I got one of the last parking spots at 2:30 pm.

Lots of folks hiking up to Piestewa Peak. 
Greg at the top of Piestewa Peak.



The top of Piestewa Peak.

Sunset on the way down Piestewa Peak.
After the hike, being hungry, I found a store nearby to re-supply and then I found a Sweet Tomatoes for dinner. After dinner, I took a cruise through Scottsdale and ended up at a hospital employee parking lot in Phoenix. There was tons of empty space at night. It was a little dicey, as security was running around, but no one bothered me and I slept well and left early in the morning for my next stop.  (My van is setup for stealth.)

Stealth overnight at the Maricopa Medical Center/Hospital employee parking lot.

In the morning, I headed to Papago Park in order to eat my breakfast and then to take the short stroll up to Hole in the Rock.

When I was a young lad, my parents bought me a Batman Cape and mask for my birthday. I still remember clearly the moment when I was climbing up to Hole in the Rock and some older boys made fun of my batman outfit.

Ah, the little traumas of life!

Greg at Hole in the Rock at Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ, sans Batman Outfit. (I do have my "utility belt" or sling.)

Looking through the Hole in the Rock with van below.
 After programming my Google Maps, it was off to Sedona Arizona. My research said that "Devil's Bridge" was a great hike in the Sedona area. I headed for the trail head.

Map of trails northwest of Sedona, AZ
A couple of nice young women from Georga were going at my pace and they offered to take my photo and I took theirs on Devil's bridge.

On the trail to Devil's Bridge northwest of Sedona, AZ.

View from the trail to Devil's Bridge.

A couple getting a photo on Devil's Bridge.

Georga ladies on Devil's Bridge.
 After the Devil's bridge hike, I was ready to head for home.  I would stop at Twin Arrows Casino Resort just east of Flagstaff on Highway 40. Twin Arrows has a good buffet for a nice dinner. I slept well in the casino's RV parking area.

Driving through Sedona, AZ.

Buffet meal at Twin Arrows Casino Resort

Twin Arrows Breafast Cafe.
In the morning, it was time to truck on home. I took a rest-stop for a hike at the Sandia Resort and Casino in Albuquerque. The Casino was all dolled up for the Christmas season.

Christmas Tree at Sandia Resort & Casino.

A nice walk around Sandia Resort & Casino looking up to the Sandia Peaks.
Sandia Resort & Casino use to allow RV overnight parking in the northwest lot. I asked the doorman guy why there were no RVs now. He said a new manager had banded RVs after the Balloon Fiesta RV parking got out of control.  He also said that a new manager was coming in and it sounds like this new manager will allow some RV parking in the future. I hope they do. It's a nice place to stop for the night and they have a good buffet. The casino is nice. Seems like a waste to have all these empty parking lots when instead you could have customers dropping dollars in your tills.

The trip was a nice break from the frigid December weather of Los Alamos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A friend is running for New Mexico State Representative

A good friend of mine is running for New Mexico State Representative so I thought I would link to her website. Christine For State House https://www.christine4statehouse.com/

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Catching Up - Part 7 - October 2017 - Weekend Trip to Southern New Mexico

For an October, cold weather break, we took a long weekend trip to Elephant Butte, Gila Hot Springs, Silver City, and Faywood Hot Springs.

Huge traffic jam in Pojoaque. 
We left on Friday night at about 4pm.  There was a terrible, fatality crash near Pojoaque on our way out of town. It took two and a half hours to get 5 miles. Traffic was snarled for miles in both directions.

After the traffic ordeal, we were hungry and decided to go to Bumble Bees.

Bumble Bees is a medium-fast food Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe. We chose it because it was close by and after the traffic mess we were hungry.  Bumble Bees use to be a great place for a quick meal in Santa Fa but has gone downhill IMHO. It's too expensive for what you get and I never have a good feeling eating there. It's crowded with tables. You use to get free chips and salsa. It's mediocre for the price. The food is good, but I just feel like the place isn't designed right. Food takes too long to be served. Lately, one plate is ready and another plate you have to wait for. Service isn't as friendly as it used to be. I dislike going there and would choose other places, like The Pantry in Santa Fe when possible.

After our dinner, we drove late into the night to Elephant Butte State Park.

We have YouTube TV on our phones and Karen watched recorded TV shows while we trucked across New Mexico. We really like the DVR functions of YouTube TV.  It worked well on this trip.


Waking up at Elephant Butte State Park.
Elephant Butte has a nice, very peaceful campground called Lion's Beach that has hookups and weak WiFi for a good price ($14). There is also a dump and showers. It's also a good place for nice walks with good views. You can primitive boondock on the beach for a lower cost ($9?).  We have blogged about staying here a few times before: Previous Blog Post.

Our spot at Elephant Butte - Lion's Beach.
Next, we drove through the Gila Mountains to the Gila Hot Springs Ranch. The ranch has a nice 12 site campground on the edge of the Gila River with three splendid hot spring soaking ponds. We've been here a few times now. It's a fun place to soak.  We go in more depth about this campground in an earlier blog post.

The older couple that own and run the place are super nice folks and the price is right ($6 per person, per night). You can soak as long as you want. Typically, there is nudity after dark, so be warned.

Greg relaxing at our campsite.

The Gila River from our site #11.
Just down a dirt road a ways is the Wildwood Retreat & Hot Springs. There was a flood on the Gila a few years ago and both hot springs places were wiped out. Wildwood has taken a lot longer to get back to full operation. We took a walk over to check it out.

Wildwood has natural hot spring water, cement pools, cabins, campsites. We liked what we saw there and will stay/soak there on a future trip. It's more expensive than Gila Hot Springs Ranch.

The nice looking pools of Wildwood (Clothing Optional Area).

The clothing required pool at Wildwood. 

One of Wildwood's campsites.
Call Wildwood before you go as they are sticklers for rules, it looks like, and sometimes they rent out the entire property to groups. You really can't just show up and expect to be accommodated all the time, it appears.

After our overnight stay at Gila Hot Springs Ranch, we took the gorgeous (but super winding) highway 15 to Silver City.

We have a favorite breakfast place in Silver City called Adobe Springs Cafe. It was about 2:30pm when we finally got there, but they were still serving breakfast! Fantastic!

Greg and his veggie omelet with hash browns at Adobe Springs Cafe in Silver City.

Karen in front of the Adobe Springs Cafe.

An unusual car sticker. 

A fun mural in Silver City.
After a nice walk around downtown Silver City, we headed east to Faywood Hot Springs for some final soaking before heading back to chilly Los Alamos.  We have written a lot about Faywood before. You can read that old blog post here.


Greg at Faywood Hot Springs campground.

An amazing New Mexico sunset!
One the way home, we stopped at Sweet Tomatoes salad buffet in Albuquerque. We love that place.

Greg enjoying his salad at Sweet Tomatoes with gluten free muffins.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Catching Up - Part 6 - September 2017 - Trip to Yosemite via California Highway 395

In September 2017 we took a trip with the goal of meeting up with college friends in Yosemite. Our good friend, Nancy, had never been to Yosemite, so we took her with us.

Greg and Nancy at our first pit stop, the Twin Arrows Casino just east of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Twin Arrows is a great stop. You can dry camp for free in their designated RV parking area. They have a really nice buffet that won't break the bank. They also have a really nice breakfast cafe. We have been there a few times now and it has always been a good stop. The bathrooms are clean and the employees are always friendly.


A photo of us in the glass window at the Aquarius Casino Resort in Laughlin, Nevada.
We love to take photos of ourselves reflected in glass windows.

We decided that, after a long first-day's drive, we would treat ourselves to a hotel stay. The Aquarius is a good choice and is not really expensive. (Our other favorite in the area is the Avi Casino resort.) The casino hotel is run pretty well. They have a nice buffet and a new pool area. We like to walk the river walk that is in the back of the hotel.

We slept well and in the morning had a nice breakfast at the Aquarius cafe.

The next day, we had a pit stop at the Railroad Pass Hotel & Casino just west of Boulder City, NV.  It's a good stop before you hit the craziness of  Las Vegas area when coming up from Kingman Arizona.  Another mirror reflection shot.

Making dinner after another long drive, we made it to the Grandview Campground near the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
Grandview is a really nice campground. The cost is $5 (donation). There are vault toilets, tables, and firepits.  We really enjoyed our overnight stay here.


After a nice dinner, we took a sunset hike up a nearby ridge. Greg is taming a vicious snake with his magic flute.

View of the Grandview Campground from the ridge above. Our van is the white speck in the center.

Monkeys love a hot propane fire!!!! 

The view of Bishop California below.
The next morning, we drove the short drive up to the visitor's center for the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. We took the great hike around the Schulman Grove on the Methuselah Trail to view the ancient trees that may be the oldest living things on earth.

Nancy and Karen on the Schulman Grove trail (Methuselah Trail). 
A Bristlecone Tree.  Maybe 4000+ years old. 



Greg tames another vicious snake with his magic flute.

The Schulman Grove Trail (Methuselah Trail). It's a really wonderful trail. Bring water - it's a 4.5 mi trail that rises 500 feet overall.

After the hike, we drove down to Bishop and had a really nice, late lunch at the Great Basin Bakery

After lunch, we headed to the Inn at Benton Hot Springs
The Inn at Benton Hot Springs has 11 campsites that each include private natural hot spring water, man-made tub. The sites cost between $50-60 a night. We stayed in Hot Tub #2 that included this wood-barrel tub.  (You can see photos of all the tubs on the Inn's website.)

One problem we had was that the water in the tub was too damn freak'en hot. We found out later that we could have asked for help (supposedly) to cool it down a bit, but we couldn't figure out how to do it ourselves. Greg shut off the hot inflow and let the tub cool down overnight. Other than the scalding hot tub, we had a very nice overnight here.


Nancy had planned to sleep in a tent we brought, but a really nasty rain/lightning storm blew up around us and she was forced to sleep in our front passenger seat. It couldn't have been very comfortable, but she said it was OK.

In the morning, Greg got in the cooled down Tub. Nancy scared him. 

Next, we then drove to Mono Lake (South Tufa) and had a nice hike around the shore. The scenery here is outstanding.

We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli near Lee Vining. Greg had excellent pork chops.
The Whoa Nellie Deli is a great spot for a very tasty meal. The story goes that an excellent chef from a fancy lodge in Mammoth, disillusioned with the corporate restaurant industry, came here on his motorcycle and turned what was a non-descript fast food grill in a Mobil gas station, at the foot of the back road up to Yosemite, into an excellent restaurant that is held in high regard by in-the-know travelers. The Chef's concept was that "Roadhouse" food should be higher quality.

Update:  I just read that the Chef who made Whoa Nellie Deli what it is, moved in 2012 back to Mammoth Lakes to open his own restaurant there, featuring the same types of delicious meals.

Chef Matt Toomey started out as a beach volleyball bum in San Diego before he ended up at Mammoth Lakes working for others in a restaurant there.  He was taking a motorcycle cruise down Highway 395 when he had a chance meet up with the owner of the Mobil station at the back entrance to Yosemite. Toomey joined the team at the Mobil station in order to run the deli there. 16 years later, the Whoa Nellie Deli was called "one of the most interesting restaurants in the world," by Gourmet Magazine.

Toomey is now the owner/Chef of Toomey's in Mammoth Lakes.  I look forward to giving Toomey's a try on a future trip up 395.

Meanwhile, the daughter of the owner of the Mobil station has taken over management duties from her father and plans to expand the operation with an official sit-down restaurant as well as adding a 120 room hotel.

I'm concerned that this expansion might ruin a great thing.  I love the little backwater gas station with a surprisingly fantastic deli.  Turning this all into a big fancy pants operation is bound to take away a lot of the stuff I love about this place.  (I'm also concerned about a little stealthy boondocking spot nearby getting ruined by this expansion.  More about this spot later.)


Arriving at our next stop: Junction Campground
Our next stop was to overnight at the Inyo National Forest's Junction Campground on the way up Highway 120 close to the Yosemite's back entrance. We had a nice stay here.  It's an incredibly beautiful spot for a low price. We snagged the last spot available that day.


Nancy and Greg try to stay warm.

Snow damage at the nearby Tioga Pass Resort.
We took a short walk around the campground area. The big snows of 2017 caused major roof damage at the Tioga Pass Resort, which is closed.


Monkeys enjoying the trip so far!

Nancy at the entrance to Yosemite National Park. Her first visit to this magical park.

Monkeys love Tioga Lake.

Our nice campsite at Lower Pines Campground in Yosemite. Nancy's blue tent in the background.

Our obligatory Half-Dome shot.

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (Ahwahnee)

Along the Merced River.

Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Falls.

Climbing up the steps of the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls.


Heading up the Mist Trail

Karen and Nancy at the top of Vernal Falls

Looking down at Vernal Falls. Lots of water in the falls this year. They looked great.




A view of Nevada Falls.


Nancy enjoys the view near Nevada Falls on the John Muir Trail.

Enjoying a fantastic buffet breakfast at the Majestic Hotel (Ahwahnee). Great service and delicious food.

Karen and Greg in front of the Stoneman Hotel Rooms at "Curry Village."

We met a bunch of our old gang of college friends in Yosemite who were staying at Half Dome Village (Curry Village) Stoneman Lodge.

After Yosemite, we headed for South Lake Tahoe for an overnight stay in a hotel there in preparation for Karen and Nancy's flight from Reno back to New Mexico. (Greg would drive the van back home.)

Our former home in South Lake Tahoe.
In the mid to late 90's, we owned this cabin in South Lake Tahoe. We spent a few wonderful years living here. It's now become a vacation rental after we sold it. Greg maintained a beautiful green grass front lawn, but now it's just dirt filled with pine needles.

Tasty vegetarian food at Freshies Restaurant & Bar
We had a really great meal at Freshies Restaurant & Bar in South Lake Tahoe.  We stayed overnight at the Hotel Azure Tahoe, which has a nice view of Lake Tahoe and a large outdoor jacuzzi hot tub. The only problem with our room was that we were right on the main drag that was a little noisy, but not too bad. The view made up for that.


Nancy and Karen had breakfast at the Bear Beach Cafe. They thought portions were big and tasty. This is the large ice tea.

We had a walk over to the dock at the Timber Cove Marina nearby.



Near the Reno Airport, we took a pit stop at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino and saw this van with a large number of bikes on the back.
Greg dropped Karen and Nancy off at the Reno Airport so they could fly back to Albuquerque. Greg continued with the trip to return by van to Los Alamos.

Greg headed up to the Sierra Hot Springs for an overnight soak. This is the Dome that contains the "Hot Pool."  (photo source: Sierra Hot Springs)
Sierra Hot Springs has a few hot soaks with natural springs hot water. We really like this place. You can dry camp overnight near the Meditation Pool that is small, quiet and natural looking.  Above is the Dome that contains the Hot Pool. This pool is very hot. You can see in the photo above that there are two cool pools at the top to help relieve you from overheating.  I (Greg) had never tried them until this trip. I overheard a couple talking about how healthy it was to cool down in the cold pools and then to get back into the hot pool. I got up the courage to slide into the totally freezing waters of a cold tub. After the initial shock, I was determined to stay in long enough to go totally numb. After about a minute, I was numb. I jumped back into the hot pool.

Oh man, fantastic.

The feeling was heavenly. I was hooked. I spent a good bit of time going back and forth between a very cold tub and the very hot tub. I can't wait to return at some point to do the hot/cold circuit again! It was so amazingly good (and healthy)!

This is the large warm pool just outside the Dome. Lots of people spend many, long hours soaking in this pool. There is a deck where you can lounge and enjoy the meadow view or stars at night. This is Karen's favorite pool.
Before you head to Sierra Hot Springs, you should know that you will encounter a lot of very naked people. If this disturbs you, then I would advise heading elsewhere. You will probably not feel comfortable clothed in these pools.  The fee to camp and to soak is around $35 a person. You can soak all night long if you like. The stars, they are amazing here.

After a great soak and a sound sleep, I headed back down Highway 395 to again dine at the Whoa Nellie Deli. The drive down 395 is one of my favorite all-time drives.

I arrived well after dark and drove to the Veterans' Memorial that is just up the hill from the Mobil Gas Station / Deli. There were quite a few other RVs already parked for the night when I arrived.

Just a few of the vehicles who overnighted at the Veterans' Memorial. There is a vast view of Mono Lake from here.

Eggs and Potatoes breakfast at the Whoa Nellie Deli.
After a nice breakfast, I headed south to the Whitmore Hot Springs area south of Mammoth Lakes. There are a few scattered natural hot spring tubs here that are free and maintained by locals from the Mammoth Lakes area. Thank you, Locals!!!!!

Folks soaking at Wild Willy's Hot Springs

Another view of Wild Willy's Hot Springs tub.  I had a great soak here with amazing views.

A photo of the Hill Top tub.
Please, if you visit these tubs, clean up any trash you find there. They are free and it's up to everyone to keep these wonderful tubs nice. If we don't, we will surely lose them forever.  Also, don't camp right on top of any of the tubs. These tubs are to be shared and if you are camping too close to them it makes it hard for others to use them. Sharing is caring!

After a nice soak at Wild Willys and then taking a look at the nearby Hill Top Tub, I headed to Mammoth Lakes to get some supplies and then on to check out Devils Postpile National Monument

Devil's Postpile: "The formation is a rare sight in the geologic world and ranks as one of the world's finest examples of columnar basalt. It's columns tower 60 feet high and display an unusual symmetry." - National Park Service
Next, I headed back to Whitemore Hot Springs to soak again and spend the night. I knew that people could boondock overnight near a couple of the hot springs tubs.

My van and a few other boondockers overnight near the "Rock Tub" Hot Springs.

After a soak late into the starry night with a few other hardy boondockers, I got a good night sleep and was ready to head further south in the morning.

When I went to start the van, it would not start after a very cold night.  I guess my starter battery was nearing death. After a few cranks of the starter, I let the engine rest and prayed. My prayers were answered. On the next crank of the starter, the engine just barely sputtered to life.  I drove straight to O'Reilly Auto Parts down in Bishop without stopping. There, I purchased a new Optima Battery and had the store guy install it.

Onward !!!


Had a nice rest stop at Keough Hot Springs Ditch, but did not soak. You can soak free here but LA Water & Power patrols frequently and does not allow overnight camping. There is a nice commercial soak just up the hill from here with a nice campground.
Next, I headed east into Nevada and then south on Highway 95 to Las Vegas. I headed to the Orleans Hotel & Casino. The Orleans use to be very welcoming to RVers, allowing them to park in a back lot overnight. No longer. There are now signs that say something like, "no overnighting in your vehicle." (There is a trucker overnight parking area if you join the Orleans "Truck Club.")

I saw that another RV was in a back lot and looked like someone was in it.  My van is pretty stealthy and so I just parked in between a couple other vehicles and had a good nights sleep with no problems.

In the morning, I went for a walk around the hotel property before the breakfast buffet opened, but the hyperactive security guys hassled me and made me feel unwelcome, even though I planned to spend cash at the buffet. I left the casino without eating there and had something from my cooler instead.  Seems like security in Vegas has gotten crazy, hassling customer and ignoring the real issues.


The view towards the strip from the Orleans parking structure. My van is down there. You can see the truckers area.
After leaving the Orleans, I trucked home, which took all day long on Highway 40.

Good Trip!



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