Quartzite Time

Beautiful in its own way
Beautiful in its own way

If you happen to watch (or read) Nomadland, you glimpse part of Quartzite, AZ, probably the best known BLM camping area in the U.S. This is my first visit, and I arrived with preconceptions of what it would be like. After finding a spot, setting up, and wandering about a bit, I quickly realized my expectations were way off.

Quartzite is also a town where a surprising number of permanent homes and residents exist. With a population close to 4,000, a median age of 69, and median income a bit over $20,000, it seems primarily a retirement destination. Yet I do wonder if those in houses really live here during the summer when temps average +100 degrees and often well exceed that mark. In the RV and van life world, this is the mecca of cheap, long-term in-vehicle living especially suited to the winter season. Many such dwellers will live here in the winter, then migrate north into the Arizona mountains, then back to Quartzite the next fall and winter.

It is a stark place, yet has a beauty apparent after you settle in, stare out the van window for some quiet reflection, then take time to wander through the landscape. Right now it is quiet here, although after Thanksgiving when the snowbirds descend en masse I imagine quiet would not be a useful description. Vegetation and wildlife survive despite the struggle evident by the disfigured saguaro cactus and long-dead weathered trees. The landscape of mostly scrub bushes, gnarly trees, and more rocks strewn about than I have ever seen, are obvious hints little rainfall happens here and few days of relief from blistering sunshine. Whatever vegetation dies here lives on in another form, the wind, heat, and low humidity weathering and preserving remains, vestiges of former plant lives in fascinating shapes and extreme textures. I expected a typical desert, but there is far less sand and soil here than you might think. In the eon-long war waged here between sand and rocks, clearly the rocks won long ago.

As someone who enjoys rock hunting, Quartzite is a treasure trove where one could spend hours hiking without ever looking up, step after step leading your eyes to one cool rock after another. On this morning’s two+ mile hike, I over-weighted my down vest’s pockets to the point I worried about tearing them and had to jettison a few choices I picked up. Truth is, if I stayed here long, I would undoubtedly fill boxes of rocks to take home.

This stopover of three days happened between time in Phoenix to resolve a van coach heating issue and an appointment in San Diego next week for some seriously cool van upgrades. It gave me a chance to check out BLM Quartztite since my tentative winter plans may include spending several months here. Better to dip my toes first now before showing up unaware for a long stay later. Where I am now is in Hi Jolly Campground, one of the free, 14-day-max-stay areas. There are LTVA locations (long-term visiter area) where one can stay up to seven months at a stretch, and I will settle in one of those campgrounds for the longer visit. LTVA spots are $180 flat fee regardless of stay, but offer the luxuries of onsite trash facilities, water, and dump stations, whereas the 14-day free spots require one to leave and go into town for those supports.

On my walk this morning I slowly felt my notions of this landscape change from desolate and stark, to appreciating the beauty and variety it offers if one takes the time to immerse, open the mind and senses, and let go of any preconceived notions and restrictions defining beauty in nature. From the amazing textures of weathered wood, to the variety of rocks, to the living vegetation that is surviving despite the odds, this Sonoran Desert landscape is a wonderland in its own way.

Ghost Ranch Hiking

Ghost Ranch entrance

The famed northern New Mexico Ghost Ranch excels at workshops and retreats, yet also provides some excellent immersive nature hikes. During my visits over the years, I’ve slowly chipped away at the list of hiking trails with just a few left to explore. Yesterday under partly cloudy blue skies and temperatures pleasant in the sun, but one-layer short in the shade, I thinned the list by hiking the four-mile Box Canyon Ti b’uiu’u trail.

An enjoyable, gentle hike, the path wanders through the grassy plains between towering mesas and then beside a meandering creek as the elevation rises and the canyon narrows. In between two mesas, the trail plays hop-skotch with the small, wandering stream adding a whimsical enjoyment in finding different ways to cross the creek. This rock or that one? Or for fun, jump from bank-to-bank or from that big rock.

Along the trail there were also a handful of unexpected sweat lodges, and although not old, they added historic ambiance to the hike.

To read more about the Ghost Ranch and see photos from a previous hike on the Chimney Rock trail, check out this post from 2019.

A Hike To Repeat

Overlock with stone shelter built in the 1930s by CCC
Overlook with stone shelter built in the 1930s by CCC

Some hikes are good exercise and enjoyable just to be in nature. Then there are those hikes you would love to do again and reverse your travel direction to get a different appreciation. Yesterday’s 4.1 mile final hike at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North) is one I would like to do again from the other direction.

This was the best hike I have taken at the park, both during this trip and the one I made in July. Long enough to be a workout but not so long as to feel like a march. With varied geography, scenic views mixed with forest walking, stretches of sun and shade, some of it flat, other parts requiring ascent/descent, lots of wildlife too…all combining to make it an enjoyable experience. The only thing it did not offer that I enjoy is some rock scrambling when necessary to forge ahead on the trail.

If you get a chance to go to the north unit of the park (in my opinion a better, more intimate experience that the south unit where most people visit), then drive to the River Bend Overlock, park, and hike this trail known as the Caprock Coulee Trail. I think you would enjoy it immensely.

To view the images below in a slide show, click on any image.

Walking Wonders

Teddy Roosevelt National Park
Teddy Roosevelt National Park

Finally back to one of my favorite activities (hiking) after a long spell away. Yesterday’s 6.5-mile hike was a pleasant meandering under a crystal blue sky with temps around 80 and a light breeze. Ideal conditions and despite losing the trail at one time, a good opening hike back into my usual multiple-hikes-per-week travel norm.

Teddy Roosevelt National Park’s geography is the badlands type, and is host to a lot of wildlife, most notably bison. This visit I haven’t seen too many of them (unlike the July trip when a herd of ~80 wandered into the campground and lazed about for a good two hours). What I’ve seen have made for good photos, as well as some turkeys, antelopes (no pix), deer (no pix), and prairie dogs.

There are enough valleys in between the mesas and such to make getting lost not a huge problem, and easy to one’s way back if needed. Still, this was my first hike since acquiring a Garmin inReach Mini, a GPS text device used by many hikers (especially good solo hiker gear). The InReach provides texting capabilities but more importantly an SOS button with a rescue service at the other end if needed. As I hike farther and farther distances into more remote wilderness, the inReach seems like a smart accessory to carry.

Enjoy the photo gallery below from yesterday’s hike (tap any photo to enlarge and launch slide show). Sorry about the sun flare in the photo at the top, but the shot was so beautiful I decided to use it anyway! See you down the trail.

Circling Patterns

Life has a habit of circling us back into our past, taking us back to places from which, perhaps, we haven’t yet found what we were meant to discover.

Two years ago in April I first visited Abiquiu in northern New Mexico, introduced to it by a now former friend who has land here. It was a mystical experience I wrote about back then (posts here, here, and here). My soul felt rested here, making me wonder if this the place I should settle? Of course, since then, Covid-driven prices have made this area even more unaffordable than back then, so those thoughts are likely faded.

Now having circled back around these two plus years later and intending to spend a bit more than a week here, the land still makes me feel welcomed. As I sit here outside a quaint, vintage RV trailer I’m renting via airBNB, and staring into the distance at the layers of landscapes with different colors and tones, I’m left wondering why I’ve wandered back to this of all places when there are so many I’ve yet to visit.

We often, given the chance, lean to revisiting special places we’ve been. I wonder if it’s because we yearn to relive the good feeling those places gave us, or whether we’re sometimes more comfortable visiting the known rather than the unknown.

Certainly on this trip of now 32 days long, I’ve only stayed where I’ve never been until I arrived yesterday in Abiquiu. And before I’d been here 12 hours I’d decide to extend my stay from four days/nights to eight. It’s not that I’m lured to see more of the area, having deeply explored the area back in 2019, but there seems to be another reason.

I decided to stay because it’s a place I feel slowed down, connected, and one that stirs my creative juices. And so I reasoned that since I haven’t been writing as I’d planned to do on this trip, plus being way behind on YouTube videos (I have a mountain of video taken in the four national parks I’ve visited since the last post video on the channel), what better place to park it, give Obie a rest, and spend some serious days in creative mode.

PS: This is the first chance I’ve had to learn to fly the drone I bought for this trip! All the time before now I’ve been staying on one for or another of federal land where drones are forbidden. Outside of that, I could have used a few Walmarts I overnighted at, but at those places I like to be as stealthy as possible and a drone would definitely draw attention. Anyway, above short clip of the first test flight! More to come.