It was hot. It was cold. It was windy. It threatened rain. There was sun, there were clouds. Death Valley gave us a little bit of everything on our brief 3 day tour.
We left Morro Bay Campground the morning of Feb 21, picking up some rocket fuel from Top Dog coffee shop. I got a “Bad Dog”: cup of coffee and double shot espresso. They have a “Rabid Dog” as well: 4 shots of espresso dumped into a coffee. Or in other words the Arrhythmia-Maker.
East to Bakersfield, we said “see you soon” to the Pacific. We’d be dropping Charley off at a dog-sitter Jamie found on Rover before heading to Death Valley.
May is a great month. Not just because my birthday sits at the beginning, but in the northeast, it’s the first real glimpse of the promise of finer weather to come. In Arizona, May is quite the opposite. Cactus flowers have already hit their stride and are shutting their doors for the fiery summer to come. The state tree, the Palo Verde, has already beautifully bloomed and subsequently shed their horrible buds of pollen, to the detriment of everyone with a sensitive allergy profile. Sunny days are now accompanied by an ever-present haze that disrupts the clarity of the distant mountain ranges.
So it was a perfect time to head home to the northeast, to see family and to watch our friends Joe and Olivia tie the knot.
We wrapped up our contract at Chandler Medical Center, said goodbye to coworkers, now friends.
My apologies as we’ve gotten away from our usual ~2 week blog post drop. Things have been busy, lots of moving parts, as we enjoy our last month here in the American Southwest and plan for the next location.
But let’s get to it.
The Mogollon Rim makes up the southern escarpment of the Colorado Plateau, and spans much of northern and northeast Arizona and into New Mexico. Its a dramatic climb from 4-5,000 feet above sea level up to around 7-8,000 ft. Tall stands of pine blanket the area, a sight seemingly surprising to those not familiar with the varied geographies of the 48th state.
Wrapping up our third and final shift of the week at work, we had been making plans to visit some national parks with our eight days off. Initially considering a trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas, we reconsidered, as it would add two full days of driving just to get there and back. So we settled on a stop in Santa Fe for 4 nights, and the next 4 were spent visiting Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, and White Sands National Parks. Charley would be spending the week back in Phoenix with my cousin and her family, as the national parks don’t treat dogs like humans (like we do), and thus they are forbidden.
Our route to Santa Fe took us up through Payson and to the Mogollon Rim, which we drove up and on to, and continued northeast for 7 hours or so until we reached our destination.
We’d spend the next handful of days getting the lay of the land, checking out a couple regions in the Santa Fe area, as well as the city itself- vibrant and charming in its old town, southwest turquoise vibe.
Over the next week or so, Jamie Charley and I spent most of our time working (or going to daycare) and doing local things in the valley. We did a couple evening hikes, both in the Superstitions and at South Mountain, checked out a gym offering a free month membership to healthcare workers, ran the nearby trails and roads, and grabbed dinner with our friends Maggie and Brandon. We kept busy, but didn’t make any trips out of town.
We’d picked out a camping spot near Roosevelt Lake for Monday the 27th, about a 2 hour’s drive northeast of Phoenix. Taking an off-road route about 30 miles through the Four Peaks Wilderness, we passed countless mounds of crumbled rock, hundreds of feet high, and broken saguaros, ripped apart by the aridity and baking in the relentless sunshine. We skirted the trailhead for Brown’s Peak, the tallest of the Four Peaks that make up the Valley’s eastern horizon.
We worked Monday and Tuesday, as my floor started moving back to its regular med-surg population. Jamie’s floor would be the last to convert from a covid floor. We finished up our couple work days and spent Wednesday relaxing locally for a bit. I went for a run that morning, and couldn’t help but compare my jog on the streets of Ahwatukee to former outings in Santa Barbara. Of course, if scenery is a necessity while running, I could always head over to South Mountain nearby.
After unloading the car at our new home, a process that now takes maybe an hour at most, we picked up dinner and drove over to Kaivan’s to visit. He’d done a cross country road trip back west after spending a couple months in Binghamton in the fall and we hadn’t seen him since early September when we left New York. It was nice to catch up, though Charley was a bit confused as to why Uncle Kaivan was here in Arizona and not in New York.
We awoke Saturday morning in St George rather sluggishly. The motel room’s heater was on the fritz, having only two modes: off and full heat blast.
We took our time getting out the door, recouping after the long traverse across Nevada the day before. That afternoon, we took a nice 10 mile off-road drive from the corner of town into the Dixie National Forest and set out on a short hike to Yant flats and the Candy Cliffs. Pale orange and red striations cut through the sandstone around us, as we leisurely climbed a few hundred feet over a couple miles through the sagebrush and juniper trees. Ground-hugging cacti spotted the trail along the way, and we were sure to be mindful of Charley wandering about so as to avoid any needle sticks.
Arriving at the Flats, we stopped briefly to take in the enormity of the landscape in front of us. An ongoing difficulty in the West is conceptualizing the scale of the cliffs, peaks and formations strewn about in the vast wilderness. The Candy Cliffs, farther along the same trail, offered a stillness that was lacking at the Flats, as most folks don’t continue on after that.
The day had come to leave our lovely little abode. It’s always sad to leave when our contracts are up, but I found Santa Barbara to be especially difficult to leave.
“Why the hell are we leaving?!” Jamie and I would ask each other. The hospital had offered to extend our contracts a while back, but we declined, as we were already set on heading to Arizona. It was a special time in SB, but eventually it had to end.
We packed up our car in typical Tetris fashion, sure to leave ample space for Queen Charley’s throne in the back seat, complete with a bed and only the softest and comfiest blankets.
So Monday morning, when all the preparations were set, we punched Lake Tahoe (specifically, Stateline, NV) into the GPS and left Santa Barbara in our rearview.
Before leaving Lake Powell, we had decided that our next stop was going to be Yosemite National Park in the Sierras. We were supposed to go there earlier in the road trip, but the park was closed for over a week due to hazardous smoke from the nearby wildfires. This park has been on our list for years, but nature has seemed to not want us to be there. Last time we were planning to go, there was a late season snow storm in May. We decided since they had opened up the park again and the conditions looked good, I scouted the campground reservations website the week before and was able to get a last minute campsite in the valley for our desired dates. We knew there would be on and off smoky conditions in the park, it was still worth showing up and hoping for the best.