Being from Nebraska, I’m no stranger to open spaces. But the landscape of my home state is soft, rolling, covered in grass or crops, and dissected by roads at regular, reliable intervals.
At Organ Pipes, nothing is soft; nothing is reliable. Jagged peaks, high enough to catch clouds, jut, without prelude, from flat earth. Hard spines cover nearly every plant audacious enough to grow out of this parched, gravelly dirt. You can not trust your eyes. Cuddly looking teddy bears turn into needle-covered cacti. One mile stretches to ten. A trail that, from a distance looks smooth, turns into ups and downs, dips through washes and scrambles up hillsides.
It’d been about six years since our last visit to Organ Pipes. A million things have changed, I’m sure. But, to our eyes, the increase in motorized Homo sapiens was the biggest difference.
Imagine a time before smartphones, before online reservations, before reservations were even necessary. In those RVing dark ages, we found campgrounds in a publication called “Woodall’s Campground Directory.” It was the size of a Manhattan phone book (what’s a phone book?). In addition, we used a 10” x 15” spiral bound Rand McNally Road Atlas to find the routes to get us to the campgrounds.
In the dog-eat-dog world of scoring an Arizona (or Florida) state (or county) park campsite during the winter months, patience sometimes pays off. Open sites at Catalina State Park northeast of Tucson are as elusive as a good hair day coinciding with date night. We’ve never gotten in. Usually I don’t even check. But, early one morning, to put off starting on taxes, I pulled up their camping reservations site and—eureka!—3 nights were available! In the following days I kept checking and found two more nights, and then two more nights! Seven nights in a row at Catalina State Park in February!
“Mitch is going to freak out,” I said out loud to myself as I peered up through the windshield at the low-hanging branches. I was in the Jeep leading Mitch, in our new (to us) 12-foot-2-inch tall, 28 foot long class A RV, to our campsite in the Bonita Canyon Campground in the Chiricahua National Monument.
Remember when you were a kid and you ran just because you could? Not to keep your blood pressure down or to be able to eat that chocolate thunder hot fudge sundae, but because you were outside and you had legs and those legs wanted to move. Trail running feels like that to me. But not just any trail. Playful trails, single track, curvy trails; trails that go up and down through dips and gullies; trails that say, “You gotta see this.” Those are the trails that give me the elusive runner’s high. You finish out of breath, noodle-legged, but you say, “God, that was fun.” In the hill country of Texas, about an hour west of San Antonio, we stumbled upon a city park campground in the town of Kerrville with a small system of trails that were made with me in mind. A trail runner from Colorado or Vermont or any area with more than one contour line on their topographical map might consider the Kerrville trails child’s play. But where we live in southern Delaware, elevation is measured in inches, and single tracks are short, and soggy, and end at hunting blinds. Six sections made up the trail system in Kerrville-Schreiner Park, and most were short—1.5 to 2 miles. Connector trails combined the sections to create a grand loop of 9ish miles. About 350 feet of elevation gain made for some short heart-pumping, but not toss-your-cookies, climbs. Did I mention these trails were great fun for my green-level mountain biking skills, too? Icing on the cake was the paved bicycle trail, accessible from the park, that followed the clear, blue waters of the Guadalupe River into downtown Kerrville (six miles one-way). We’ve been RVing for nearly 15 years now and less than a handful of campgrounds make it into the coveted top tier of the Mitchell-Adams-Mitchell rating system – Anastasia, Grayton Beach, McDowell, Dead Horse Ranch. Our scoring system is purely subjective but some factors include exercise options, how close the sites are to each other, park vegetation, what type of clientele the park attracts (loud, obnoxious versus quiet, respectful), etc. Unfortunately, Covid put the brakes on one of the most important categories in our rating system: quality of bars within biking distance from the park (extra points for cute microbreweries). Kerrville has great potential in this area. And while, at this point, it’s looking pretty good for Kerrville-Schreiner, our scoring is incomplete. We’ll have to return after Covid for the final rating.
The blunt twin pontoons of the Hobie Wave catamaran pounded down the trough of the surprisingly large wave, sending a shudder through the shroud lines to the top of the mast. Water pushed up through the trampoline mesh and sluiced over the lacings. Wind gusts whined through the rigging. The leeward bow submerged. I gasped.
A 70 degree, sunny April day is a gift not to be squandered. Even if the wind is gusting as high as 30 mph. Too windy to sail, we decided to go biking. But biking at the beach in strong winds, in the spring, when copious amounts of chicken manure lie loosely over barren fields is a disgusting olfactory experience.
Check out Mitch’s fantastic St. Augustine video. My role in it was very painful:
Usually we freeze in St. Augustine. Winter in north Florida can be cold, and it’s a damp cold – the worst kind. Those that live out West don’t understand. “Fifty degrees?” they say. “Fifty degrees is nice.” In Moab or Steamboat or Fountain Hills, fifty degrees is shorts weather. But in Florida, a damp wind-blown fifty degrees penetrates stocking caps, gloves, winter coats, and especially bones.
To some, five nights in the jungle conjures visions of anacondas, tarantulas, stealthy jaguars ready to pounce, humid air heavy with the whine of mosquitos. For me, the most terrifying moment of my five nights in the jungle was
All summer long I tell people to kayak into the wind first, do the hard work at the beginning so that the return trip, when you’re tired and have to go to the bathroom, is easy. Yet here we were, about to set out on a bike ride (my first in three months) doing the down hill portion—the easy part—first.
Less than an hour earlier we’d arrived in Jim Thorpe, PA and had checked into our cute boutique hotel room at Kelly Suites on Broadway for a one-night getaway to celebrate my birthday and our first break of the season. Two days earlier, when Mitch surprised me with his plan, I’d never even heard of Jim Thorpe, or of this impressive bike trail which stretches 165 miles from Wilkes-Barre, PA to Bristol, PA.
Home is where you’re safe. It is familiar; you know your way around so you feel comfortable. You belong. And even when it changes – maybe it gets crowded, or things you thought you could count on disappear, personalities come and go – you still flock to it. At least if you’re a bird and home is Point of Cedars Island in Little Assawoman Bay.
“There’re some waves out there,” Mitch said as we paddled away from the ramp towards the mouth of the Ocean City Commercial Harbor. He couldn’t hide the excitement in his voice and I was trying to decide if he was legitimately surprised.
The Prickly Pear Trail at the Fresh Pond State Park is one of Brandi’s favorite places to run. She loves the surface – a combination of packed dirt, grass, pine needles, and crushed gravel. She loves the distance – about 3.5 miles. But the biggest reason she loves it is the “Brandi-time” she gets about two miles into the trail.
The Breakwater-Junction Trail is a rare 17 mile loop route connecting Rehoboth and Lewes, Delaware. (Rare because most bike trails are out and back.) But the fact that it is a loop is not its only attractive feature.
Only an hour from the beach still buzzing with post-Labor Day vacationers, the boat ramp at the end of George Island Landing Road seemed eerily vacant. The ample asphalt parking area surrounded by rip-rap hovered barely a foot above the calm surface of the bay. If too many vehicles were to park on one side, it looked like the whole thing would tip into the water. To the north of the area, one empty, newish-looking house perched on its spindly pilings over the bay. To the south, an abandoned commercial fishing operation sat rusting on its bulkhead. The word that immediately came to mind as I surveyed the scene was “lonesome.” Perfect.
“How much you wanna bet we see a snake today?” Mitch said as we settled onto our bikes, bumping over the rocky dirt trail. (Mitch turns everything into a competition.) Even though it had sprinkled earlier, the sun felt intense as it broke through the clouds. The first warm day of a long, nasty winter – Mitch knew it was perfect snake conditions. But to me, the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge seemed pretty big, and it borders the even bigger False Cape State Park. Why would the snakes be on the trail when they had plenty of other opportunities to sun bathe unharassed? I took the bet.
Although there’s not much to Bluff—a few dusty streets fit between incongruously orange bluffs and a snaking river, a handful of old Victorian homes, and a cemetery with a beautiful view—we’d like to go back. We had an appointment in Flagstaff so we had to pass through without thoroughly exploring the area. (I think you’d need a lifetime to really explore this corner of the earth!) Through the years, Bluff yo-yoed between multiple booms and busts (agrarian, livestock, coal, gold, oil, uranium) so it has an expectant feel to it as if biding time for the next big thing.
The sun is setting. “How long are we on this road?” Mitch asks, not hiding the irritation in his voice. We’re inching along, everything down to our fillings rattling as we swerve back and forth, trying to find the path of least wash-boards.