As much as we love our spot on the Olympic Peninsula, the winters can get a little long and grey. This year Geoff and I decided to head south and hit the big gem and mineral show in Tucson and combine it with some hiking, camping and exploring. The temperatures in Tucson were almost as cold as the northwest for part of our visit, but at least we had sunshine and stayed long enough to get some nice warm days along the Mexico border. [Note: if you don’t like travel log types of things – here’s a good spot to hit the back arrow and then go to my Shop to load up on cool jewelry!!]
We worked our way south in our truck camper near the end of January and took the western route along I-5 due to the cold temps forecast on the arguably more scenic interior route through eastern Oregon, Nevada, and Utah. This first part of the journey allowed us to check out some cool areas in the San Joaquin Valley in California (we even spotted a few (million) nut trees) and to meet up with Geoff’s mom and stepdad at their family cabin near Joshua Tree National Park. We were able to check out Joshua Tree with Geoff’s folks and then headed east to the Tucson area, where we camped for a little over a week.
While camped at a Pima County campground called Gilbert Ray, I made several trips into Tucson to attend the gem and mineral show. This was the third year I have attended the show. It can be a little overwhelming - with literally thousands of vendors from all over the planet in 11 different (huge) shows located in different areas throughout Tucson - and over 65,000 people who attend. I have my favorite vendors and communicate with friends/other jewelers to try to narrow my focus onto particular types of gems that I love - or to work with particular vendors that I have come to trust. For a collector like me - this show is fun. It is also kind of exhausting. I spent pretty much three full days (10 am to 4 or 5 pm) looking at an amazing array of color, texture, and light. Some of my favorites are the rough-cut rubies and opalized wood. I am also pretty excited about my new turquoise, maligano jasper, druzies, tourmaline and some big fun pearls to pair with beach stones.
In the mornings/evenings before and/or after my days at the gem show, we were able to do some nice hikes either right from our campground in Tucson Mountain Park or from nearby trailheads. I never get tired of seeing all the different types of cacti; saguaros, chollas, prickly pears, fishhook, etc... and in all the various stages of life. I seem to be particularly drawn to their ‘skeletons’ as they decay. Geoff would stalk along with his binoculars to look at bird species that were new and exciting to him - while I admired the intricate textures of the desert plants. We also had an amazing hike by accident up a ridge north of town thanks to a glitch in Apple Maps that took us to the end of some dirt (four-wheel-drive) road that happened to have a little trail straight up a hillside to the ridge. We saw one person on this hike on a beautiful sunny Saturday. He was a man about our age who had the upper hand on his cancer thanks to stem cell therapy and the loving donation of his sister. Believe me, he was doing well- that hike was not easy.
Other highlights in and around Tucson were the Desert Museum (close to where we camped), the Botanical Gardens in town, and the (free) drop-in pickleball at a city park with 12 very nice courts and lots of welcoming players of all skill levels.
After we finished our week in Tucson, we headed to a National Conservation area to the southeast called Las Cienegas on the recommendation of one our camp hosts at Gilbert Ray. Following a lengthy stop for a truck repair (oil leak - replaced gasket - Thank you Raul’s Auto Repair!) in Tucson and some other errands, we found an open area for disbursed camping. We had a nice quiet evening walk and some spirited Rumikub games in the camper. This place was such a wonderful contrast to the dense saguaro ‘forests’ around Tucson; open grasslands with small mesquite trees - and rolling hills for miles. We had a couple of nice walks in the morning – one from camp along quiet two-track roads through the grasslands and another in a riparian area with running water, huge cottonwoods, lots of birds, and even a doe-fawn pair of Coues Whitetail deer. Geoff was hoping for javelinas – but failed to spy any.
After Las Cienegas – we headed south and west and spent two nights at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. We had a nice long hike to an abandoned mine site there one morning and enjoyed 80 degree afternoons relaxing in the sun and reading (or napping – Geoff). We were so close to Mexico we could sees miles and miles of the border fence. Odd. In so many ways.
Our exodus from the border desert had us migrating north toward home – with passage through a bunch of AZ – including a night at a BLM campground called Burro Creek near Wikieup, AZ – then a nice stop in Flagstaff for some coffee and pastries – then toward the Vermillion Cliffs and the upper end of the Grand Canyon. We saw a couple pairs of California Condors soaring and on nests near the Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon on the Colorado River and then moved on to find a place to camp along a (long!) dirt road in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Condors have been released in this area to aid in their recovery. From our camp spot we had a great wander in this amazing landscape. We tried to get up one set of cliff bands and chickened out – and then went up through a different set for some amazing views. Evening happy hour at the camper with beers and chips/salsa included an appearance by a condor that cruised along the cliffs and circled and circled in the evening light – much to Geoff’s (and my) delight. Many ‘WOW’s’ were exclaimed by Geoff as he took in the display through his binoculars. This area was a definite favorite for both of us.
The next day we continued up the 30-mile dirt road and stopped at an empty trailhead that said something about petroglyphs. We stretched our legs out in the cool morning to get a treat by seeing some of the most detailed wall art we have seen anywhere. Then we stopped and checked out a real nice campground (with only one family in it). I went and chatted with the guy in that camp and he clued me into a hike not too far from there – so we stopped, got a permit (available on-line from the trailhead – which amazingly had cell service) and headed out down the Wire Pass trail to Buckskin Gulch. Both sections of this trail had some of the coolest slot canyons we’ve been in. Wire Pass was deep, winding around, with a log ladder over a 20 foot drop- and Buckskin was huge and more white. The confluence area – where sun warmed some of the walls – was amazing. But as Geoff says – ‘ you seen one slot canyon, you’ve seen em all’….
After VC – we headed toward Zion. We camped 13 miles outside Zion on some BLM land (found on Campendium!). It was a great spot – with amazing views and 3 bars of cell service! Woot! The next morning we hit the Zion entrance gate at about sunrise and had a nice hike out to the canyon overlook. We only saw a handful of people on that trail and actually had the overlook to ourselves at the end of the trail. We then navigated the long tunnel and hit the Visitor’s Center – where I was determined to get the rangers to share their secret- off the beaten track - hikes with us. When I asked the nice masked lady for those sweet secret spots – her laugh fogged her glasses. Enough said, I don't think there are too many secret trails in Zion. We did have an entertaining hike from the lodge near the Grotto up to Angel’s Landing. The upside? The campground was very nice and had a strong cell signal so Geoff could drink beer and watch the stuporbowl on his laptop while I read out under the trees.
After Zion, we headed out early the next morning for our transit out of Utah and across most of Nevada. We saw lots of golden eagles along the some of the straightest and most deserted roads I’ve ever seen. Classic and beautiful (to Geoff and eagles) basin and range country. We camped south of Battle Mountain, NV and woke up to a few inches of new snow. The next night made it to a nice campsite on the Deschutes River near Madras. We had the quiet campground to ourselves and enjoyed watching a golden eagle soar the cliffs then go into a full stoop and fly at 100 mph a few feet off the ground for several hundred yards down the steep hill below the cliffs. The next days drive was pretty easy and we made it home midday.
Good to be home – but we had a great trip. Above, you have a peak into the interior of our camper. We spent 3 weeks in 32 square feet and loved it! We did about 4300 miles total and between the gems and little botanical treasures I collected here and there – I am excited to get back in the studio and make some new pieces. I’m starting with rings first – because I like rings. Here are a few of the stones on my bench right now that will be in the next batch of rings. Look for my next collection release at the end of March.