Escaping Winter: Part 2

Spring seems to be arriving early at the farm. Today I was walking around in a t-shirt while the low winter sun warmed my face. The pregnant sheep and goats are close to having their babies, and we’re scrambling to get ready for the season ahead. I have more of our winter get-away to write about, but if you’re dying for some farm-related news check this out: http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=76509a2c1f99173c27cbcc178&id=d67b98781a

I also promise to post baby animal photos as soon as they arrive, so be sure to check out our facebook page as well: www.facebook.com/brightideacres

And now…back to the Southwest!

After leaving Salt Lake City, Andrew and I spent an uneventful night in Moab, Utah, one of our favorite spots from our 2012 road trip. Unfortunately in the winter Moab is like a ghost town, and most of the restaurants and shops are closed for the season. In light of this, we left early the next morning and headed down into Arizona. We debated about whether or not to hit the Four Corners region, but decided instead to drive through Monument Valley, which is in the Navajo Nation Reservation. We were fortunate enough to drive through this amazing landscape after a recent dusting of snow. The roads were clear and safe, but the red rocks that jut out of the ground like alien formations on Mars were sprinkled with white powder. The contrast of colors made for an unforgettable experience, especially when the semi-wild horses wandered past. We listened to the local Navajo radio station as we drove through, and felt our souls vibrate in tune with the native chanters as we marveled at the magnificent terrain.

That night we stayed in the Canyon de Chelle at a Navajo run campground. It was a frigid night and the campground water tank was frozen solid, so we melted snow to make some pasta and curled up in our tent early. I was thankful for the extra heft and warmth our new Pendleton blanket provided! The next morning we drove into the Canyon to take a look at some of the sights. This is a holy place to the Navajo people, and I was excited to notice some tokens of offering that had been left at the base of Spider Rock. I am thankful to Andrew for always packing every possible item we may need on our trips; were it not for the binoculars I would have missed this small, reverent detail. Our next destination was the Petrified Forest National Park, a place I had visited as a child. Unfortunately after the beauty of Monument Valley, the Painted Desert fell a little short. Many of the petrified logs once held glimmering crystals, but rude tourists and other scallywags have dislodged and stolen the crystals over the years, which also added to our sense of disappointment.

Happily for us our next stop was Tucson, where plenty of joy and amusement awaited. We were stoked to meet up with my sister Meghan, her husband Jonathan, and their baby Juniper, and spend some quality time with my grandmother as well. Tucson activities included swimming in a lovely heated pool (Jonathan’s all-time favorite pastime, and Juniper’s first swim!), visiting Biosphere 2 out in the desert, hiking in Sabino Canyon, enjoying delicious food and drink (including the various meats and eggs we hauled down with us!), and taking a family portrait at JC Penney for Grandma. One of the days we went to lunch in downtown Tucson at one of our favorite places, The Blue Willow. We invited our old nanny Kaye, who took care of Meghan and me from infancy through childhood while our parents worked during the day. Kaye was 90, and her health had rapidly declined in the year since I’d seen her last. I’m so grateful we were able to spend that lovely afternoon with her, as it would turn out to be our last. Kaye passed away last week at home with her family. If only I can be so lucky as Kaye, to live a long, happy, joy-filled life and pass away in my home surrounded by love. She was like a grandmother to me, and I will never forget the warmth and tender care I received from this wonderful woman.

We spent close to a week in Tucson, and were itching for some rock climbing so Andrew and I headed north to Queens Creek Canyon up near Phoenix. The desert landscape here was gorgeous, and Andrew and I hiked through a canyon, past a little pond where we waited out a rain shower under the shelter of a small mesquite tree, and came out on top of a cliff. We strapped on our gear and rappelled down a route known as Geronimo. This exposed cliff was nerve-wracking for me since I haven’t done much outdoor climbing in the past few years, but I was proud of myself. Once we rappelled down we had to climb back up (of course!), and I managed to do it without help from Andrew since he was ahead of me and couldn’t do much but holler encouragement from above. As we hiked back down to our truck we were treated with a gorgeous rainbow, and we deeply inhaled that damp, musky, invigorating scent that only rainfall in a desert can produce. That night we made friends with our camp neighbors and enjoyed some beer and company around a roaring fire.

While we would have loved another day or two in Queens Creek, we had Joshua Tree on our minds. We hightailed it through Arizona (thanking our luck that gas prices had dropped to $1.84/gallon outside Phoenix!), and zoomed into Joshua Tree in the evening. Joshua Tree is a very special place for us: we met there, were married there, and I even have a Joshua tree tattooed on my ribcage, so we were excited to spend some time in one of our favorite spots. We wound up sharing a campsite with a young couple from Montana. Sam and Ian were kindred spirits, and we had a good time sharing meals, laughs, and campfires with them. We even took them to the Chasm of Doom one night, which is a fun cave scramble you do in the dark (assuming you have a knowledgeable guide like Andrew!). Unfortunately for me my fickle stomach wasn’t on board with this adventure, so I spent most of that time lying on a picnic table in the dark alternately listening to their hoots and hollers as they wormed their way through the cave and keeping an eye out for nosy coyotes.

After a couple days of rock climbing, lounging, and general merriment, we told Joshua Tree “goodbye for now”, and headed into Desert Hot Springs for a few hours’ soak in a natural hot springs pool. The resort we went to obviously had its heyday in the 1980s, and we enjoyed the cheesy music, cheap prices, and delicious mai tais as the desert dust rinsed away. That night we spent at Andrew’s grandparents’ house in San Clemente. Andrew’s grandmother always prepares for his visit by baking a fresh batch of his favorite chocolate chip cookies, and we always have a warm comfy bed on standby. We had a nice breakfast the next morning and polished off the last of our traveling bacon, and then headed through the LA madness towards his other grandparents’ home. We stopped at my favorite LA spot: Scoops Ice Cream for a delicious treat, (their flavors are incredible and they have the BEST soy ice cream options I’ve ever seen!), and the stress from LA traffic vanished at that first bite. Once we made it to Andrew’s grandparents’ house we sat and chatted with them for a while about life, death, grief, and other important topics before hitting the road yet again.

Our next couple days were full of driving, though we were lucky enough to have the time and good weather to drive up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We stopped for a night in Mammoth and saw my pal Jill, and stopped for a couple hours in Reno to catch up with some of Andrew’s old friends from college. Finally we made it to Eugene, Oregon where we spent the night with my brother and sister-in-law (and their menagerie of dogs), and before we knew it we were back on the farm, frantically planning for the season ahead. One month later and we’re still at it, working on spreadsheets, business plans, and figuring out how we can afford to buy the animal feed we’ll need to keep 1,200 broiler chickens, 120 laying hens, 40 pigs, and 100 turkeys alive and healthy. Thankfully the goats and sheep eat grass, but there’s a lot of work involved with those guys too, so it’s bound to be a busy season for us again. After this nice relaxing winter I think we’re ready for the challenge!

A Homeless Homecoming

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of the pickup, outside my favorite taco shop in San Diego. “San Diego!?” you say. “You’re still in Arizona!” Okay, I admit I have fallen hopelessly behind on blogging about my adventures, and for this I apologize. I know many of you (okay, maybe just you Jane!) are sitting glued to your monitors wondering where in the world the Ides are now.

After departing the Grand Canyon we headed down south towards my native city of Tucson to visit my grandmother, who at 88 years old is just starting to experience some health issues. Once we were on our way to Tucson we started to get the sad feeling that our trip was coming to an end. We saw more and more California license plates on the road and realized our teardrop traveling days were dwindling. We tried to keep our spirits up with diversions. We stopped in Sedona for lunch, and we went into every single jewelry store in town so Andrew could find the perfect silver wedding band before he finally settled on a very cool Hopi design. We braved the snow flurries on the crazy mountain pass outside Jerome, and then hunkered down for a freezing night spent in a campground near Prescott. Despite the bitter cold we were not alone, and made a point of camping as far from possible from the group of young men rocking out heavy metal while huddling around a large bonfire.

Sadly, this was to be our last night in the teardrop. We spent our first night in Tucson with Jane, an old family friend who lives out in the desert in an area so remote that she came out to meet us on her four-wheeler as we were driving up. We had a lovely time visiting Jane and her husband Don, while also mooching free laundry and dinner. We have become quite adept at taking advantage of people’s generosity, and fortunately so far people seem to actually enjoy helping us. I am grateful for all of the help and hospitality we have received along our journey. I wonder how long we can keep up this charade…I really think I could have a future in hobodom!

The next few nights were spent at my grandmother’s house, and we visited her every day in the rehab facility where she is being treated for a mysterious infection. While in Tucson we distracted ourselves by having a drink with Chaz, an old high school buddy of mine who happened to be in town. He showed up in his Navy khakis (he is an officer), and talked about his plans for nursing school. Yet another example of one of my peers having achieved so much already and having responsible plans for the future. Who are these people?!?

Most of our time in Tucson was low-key, so we had plenty of time to think about our options and fret about our own future. We figured we were all set to move in with Andrew’s parents for the winter, but we were beat to the punch by his sister, her husband, toddler, and their two dogs. Andrew’s family is very generous and accommodating and still welcomed us to come, but having six adults, a toddler, and three dogs in one house was starting to sound like “crazytown” to this girl, who is used to being alone in the woods with her little family. Additionally, as I spent more time with my grandmother I realized that, while she has a wonderful network of friends in Tucson, there is no family nearby to take care of the day-to-day tasks that she needs assistance with. She had been in the rehab facility for five days before we got there, and still only had the clothes she was wearing when she arrived. I started thinking maybe I could be of use to her this winter, so Andrew and I began grappling with the idea of parting ways for a few months.

After lolling around Tucson for a few days we said goodbye to Grandma and headed back into San Diego for a few days before the exciting Mexican leg of our adventure; the grand finale if you will. Returning to your hometown without actually having a home there is tough. You feel like you’re home, and you start spending money on all of your favorite restaurants and such, but you don’t have a routine, and you don’t have a place to settle. You also don’t have a job, so the whole spending money bit is treacherous! After floating around San Diego for a few days we dropped Zephyr off at Sunnybrook Farms, an awesome dog-boarding farm that lets the dogs run around in a pack and play all day. It was bittersweet to say goodbye. Zephyr has grown on me, despite (or maybe thanks to) his crazy antics, but it was nice knowing he was going to have a grand time with some canine pals.

Our Thanksgiving trip to Baja, Mexico was planned months and months ago, much to the dismay of my father who usually hosts Thanksgiving. Fortunately Dad was generous enough to give me his blessing. I love family and I love Dad’s turkey…but when life asks you “Sacramento…or Mexico?” you’d better say Mexico! Our friends Danny and Katie travel to Baja frequently, and Danny’s family owns a house near the town of Mulege which is about 12 hours south on the Sea of Cortez. After a few days in San Diego the four of us crammed into Katie’s (mostly) reliable sedan, along with oodles of fishing gear, spear guns, snorkeling equipment, coolers, and a wakeboard, and left San Diego at 0’ dark-thirty in the morning.

Ain’t Life Grand?

We entered Arizona on a blustery day, which led to several entertaining complications. Just as we crossed the border, Andrew yelled some profanities and I looked behind us to see that the hatchback to the trailer had managed to pop open. The latch for the hatchback had broken many miles and states before, but there was enough weight in the door to keep it down. I’m not sure if the wind is completely to blame, but for some reason the door had swung up and open, and so we pulled over to assess the damage. My first concern was for the coffee, especially since it had been so cold and wet these last few days and coffee has become my morning lifeblood. I ran back and saw that the coffee was still safe and sound, and assumed that meant everything else was in order. We secured the door with a bungee cord and continued on our way, unaware until later that we had actually lost four plastic cups and my vanilla sweetener somewhere down the highway.

The second funny thing happened when we pulled over at a scenic overlook so Andrew could make a sandwich. It was incredibly windy so I decided to stay in the truck while Andrew fought the wind. Apparently the wind won out, as I once again heard Andrew swearing. I opened my door in time to see bread, ham, and cheese go flying past. Andrew had set his sandwich down for a second on the tailgate and the wind had lifted it up and sent it sailing. Not one to let a good sandwich go to waste, Andrew put it back together after attempting to brush out the gravel. It turned out to be a rather crunchy sandwich, and he ate begrudgingly with a hearty side of grumbling.

We continued on into Northern Arizona, driving through the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation on our way to the Grand Canyon. Heavy, dark clouds loomed ahead, warning us of the cold, wet weather to come. I zoned out in the warm truck, delirious from lack of sleep and the physical exertion of our morning hike in Zion. On the radio we picked up a local Navajo station, and I was lulled into a spiritual stupor by the steady drumbeat and harmonic chanting as we passed increasingly impressive chasms and colorful canyons.

Our first order of duty upon entering the National Park was to take showers. We arrived at 5 PM, and only had one hour before the showers closed so we high-tailed it over to the laundry/shower facility.  I was still cold and damp from our rain-soaked hike, so I was prepared to spend $4 for 16 minutes of shower time. As I put in my first two dollars, the machine got jammed, and when I pushed with force one of my quarters popped back out. I don’t know what happened, but the shower started running, and not only was the water hot and wonderful, somehow the timer was disabled and so I was able to shower as long as I liked for $1.75. I was so stoked for this little bit of luck, I felt like I could go out and buy a lottery ticket and win the jackpot.

After our showers we were wonderfully warm and dry, just in time for the hail/sleet/snow to start falling. At this point we couldn’t imagine sitting outside in the cold trying to cook and enjoy our dinner, so we took advantage of how developed the Grand Canyon is and headed to a restaurant. We had a mediocre and overpriced meal, but I would have paid double just to sit inside and drink my spiked coffee. After dinner we went back to our campsite to let Zephyr run a bit, since he had been cooped up in the truck all day. As we shivered in the snow, Zephyr ran, romped, rolled, and shook about, in love with the weather. Being half husky he is naturally prepared for the cold, and his joy was palpable. That night I made a promise to Zephyr that I would never take him to Florida, or any tropical locale, ever again!

The next morning I awoke early to the eerie silence that accompanies bitterly cold weather. I bundled up and went outside to let Zephyr out, but was thwarted by the frozen truck doors. After a lot of yanking, pulling, and cursing I pried open the back door and let him out. I fed him and then grabbed his water bowl, only to find a thick layer of ice instead! We had some fun sliding on frozen puddles, and then packed up and headed to an overlook parking lot that was in the sun to cook our breakfast.

Sun aside it was a frigid morning, with a temperature of 27° F and a wind-chill of 18° F! We ate our breakfast quickly, and had a brisk walk along the Grand Canyon’s rim. We would have preferred to take a hike down into the canyon, but dogs are strictly forbidden and so we satisfied ourselves with the occasional rock scramble to get some good photos. After our stroll we loaded up and drove out into the chilly Northern Arizona day with our cold noses pointed south towards my native city of Tucson.