The Questionable Tastes of Bighorn Sheep… Plus Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley

Our house is in the final stages of being sold. We signed off on it today. The buyers will complete their part by the end of the month. “We’re homeless,” Peggy declared. “No,” I suggested. “our home is wherever we happen to be.” So what if it happens to be 22 feet long and is pulled by a F-150 pickup.

Right now we are in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s a lovely community filled with friendly people, great restaurants, a fascinating culture, and bookstores. The Grand Canyon is an hour’s drive north. Sedona is an hour’s drive south. A five minute trip out of town yesterday found us scrambling up and down steep canyon walls searching for thousand year old petroglyphs left behind by the Anasazi, ancestors of our modern Southwestern Native Americans. There are certainly worse places we could be.

But as delightful as this area is, we will be out of here this week. We are modern day gypsies, full-timers as they say in the RV world. The freedom of the open road is ours. We aren’t rookies at this. Once Peggy and I wandered around North America for a year. Another time it was for three years. We don’t know how long we will be this time. Our goal is something like ‘as long as we can get away with it.’ Given our combined age of 151, who knows...

Our focus will be on the wild areas of North America. Once again this will include the National Parks of the US and Canada. We’ve been to most of them, but this time we want to explore places we haven’t been, places where the vast majority of tourists aren’t. Today’s post on Mosaic Canyon is an example.

Mosaic Canyon is easy to get to. It’s just above Stove Pipe Wells, one of Death Valley’s main tourist watering holes. And it’s quite beautiful, as this photo by Peggy shows. But it isn’t advertised as one of the “must see tourists sites,” like Zabriskie Point for example. When Peggy and I visited Zabriskie, there must have been a hundred people there. We ran into a half dozen or so at Mosaic Canyon. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
On our way over to Mosaic Canyon, we passed by the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which are always worth a photo. The sand dunes are located next to Stove Pipe Wells and are easily accessible for a hike. Note the person on top. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Here is the road up to Mosaic Canyon. It’s gravel and dirt and a bit bumpy but short. (photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The entrance to the canyon is a wide wash. It quickly narrows down! You can see two of the six people we shared the canyon with. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I captured this shot of the narrows.
Another example. The smooth walls on the left are marble made from Noonday Dolomite.
The national park site recommended walking carefully when crossing the marble because of its slickness. Peggy solved the problem by sliding down. Her shadow makes it looks like she was levitating. “I’m Mary Poppins,” she declared when she saw the photo. But where’s the umbrella?
This breccia is another common rock found in Mosaic Canyon. You can see why it gives the canyon its name.
We were excited to find these flowers growing in the canyon. We had missed the profusion of flowers that sometimes appear in Death Valley after a rare spring rainstorm. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I took a close up. As you can see it’s pretty. But what’s with the hairy leaves. Turns out that this is a desert rock nettle, eucnide urens. If you have ever had a close encounter with nettles, you’ll know that means: ‘don’t touch!’
It’s a message that bighorn sheep ignore. Apparently they love the flowers. I caught this statue of a bighorn at the visitors’ center. I could see where its metal mouth might come in handy!
Eventually, we returned to the exit. Death Valley stretched out before us. We had lunch at Stove Pipe Wells and then returned to our parking lot campsite.

I’m not a huge fan of Sunset Campground at Furnace Creek. It’s a huge parking lot. The advantage is that it rarely fills up, which is not the case for the more desirable sites in the valley. I’ve used it three times over the years, mainly because my trips are never planned months in advance when registration opens up. When Peggy and I arrived, I expected that most of its 270 sites would be full. It was Easter weekend. What we quickly learned was that the campground closed for the season in four days. There were a half a dozen other vehicles in the huge area. When we left, there were two. In addition to normally being available, there are two other plusses: its close proximity to all of the services at Furnace Creek— and the views.

This was the view from our campsite.
Peggy took a close up.
One night we sat outside and watched the sun set in the west…
…and the moon rise. I’ll end my Death Valley posts with this photo. Next, we are off to Zion National Park.

Who’s Smarter: A Mule Or a Horse? Plus Death Valley’s Beautiful 20 Mule Team Canyon

Who’s smarter? This girl with her wild eyes and gorgeous eyelids…
Or this fellow with a large nose and impressive nose hairs?

Or, the question going through your mind might be, “Why in the heck is Curt asking this question when his post is on Death Valley?”

Well, it started when I was doing research on Death Valley’s well-know, historic 20 Mule Team. Given that I am featuring the 20 Mule Canyon on my post today, I wanted to provide some background information, which I will. But the first thing I learned (or relearned) was that it wasn’t a 20 mule team that was used to haul borax out of Death Valley from 1893-96. It actually consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses. All of the animals had very specific tasks. Some required more intelligence than others.

Luckily for me, the town just up the road from where we camped near Bryce Canyon (Tropic) had a Mules Days event going on and there was a horse corral just across the road from us in Cannonville. I was able to persuade a mule and a horse to pose for me.

There is a ton of information on the twenty mule teams. This may seem like a lot until you take into consideration that the 18 mules and 2 horses were actually hauling close to 9 tons of Borax at a time out of Death Valley in temperatures that sometimes exceeded a 100 degrees F. (Operations were halted over the hot summer months.) They started their epic journey from the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek and traveled for 165 miles over primitive roads to the railhead near Mohave. As you might imagine, it was quite the challenge. It required close to a heroic effort on the part of the mules, the horses and the muleskinners. Millions of dollars could be made if the venture was successful, however, and it was. Borax has lots of uses.

Still, all of this would be a mere note in the history books except for a couple of factors. One, Borax Soap featured the mules in a very extensive advertising campaign. The second was the radio and TV program, Death Valley Days. For those of you who are old enough to remember the 50s and 60s TV show, you may also remember that Ronald Reagan hosted the show in the mid 60s just before he jumped into his campaign for California Governor.

I think this 20 mule team traveling through 20 Mule Canyon is a team that Borax Soap used to promote its product. The photo is from the US Borax’s Visitor Center in Boron, which is well worth a stop. The two large wagons were for hauling the borax. The last wagon contained water for the mules since water holes were few and far between on the long, dry 10-day journey— and it was very thirsty work. The man at the back of the line is riding one of the two horses. The two lead mules, both female, have bells.
This historic photo provides a good perspective on just how big the wagons were. The large wheel is seven feet tall. The man on the left is the muleskinner who was in charge. On his right was his swamper who carried out a number of supportive jobs including handling a back up brake to be used if the wagon decided to run away going down hill.The muleskinner earned $4 per day, his swamper, $2, and the Chinese laborers who did the hardest work of digging out the borax, $1.25

I found a rather amusing, imaginary discussion with a muleskinner on the Death Valley National Park site. The greatest challenge he noted was in getting around corners. He used a diagram to describe the operation. An 80 foot chain connects the lead mules to the wagon.

Here’s what he had to say about the process: “Now I’ll tell you just how smart my mules is: it’s one thing drivin’ along a straight road; it’s a whole nother thing turnin’ corners on a mountain pass. My 2 lead mules, both mares, are about 80 feet ahead of me–so far away I can’t even begin to use my 9-foot long whip on ‘em. I’ve been known to throw pebbles at ‘em to get their attention. Aim’s good too. Back to gettin’ around corners. The next 5 pairs of mules are my “swing teams”, they ain’t real smart, they just know their names and what ‘pull’ and ‘stop’ means. Now the next 3 sets of mules behind the swings are my “pointers”. These mules are trained special to jump over that 80-foot chain and side-step away from the curve to keep that chain tight and my wagons goin’ ‘round that corner right. Next comes the 2 big horses. They’re strong enough to start my wagons rollin’, but that’s all they’re good for. A dumb mule (and I ain’t seen one yet) is a whole lot smarter than a smart horse.”

So, there you have it— which animal is smarter. At least from the perspective of a muleskinner. I’ll allow that a horse lover might have a different point of view. Grin. And now, it’s time to get away from all of the words and take you through 20 Mule Canyon in photos. The canyon starts no more than a mile above Zabriskie Point. And even though the road is dirt, cars with two wheel drive seem to handle it easily.

The dirt road.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught a photo of me hiking up a trail. There are a number of stops along the road where you can get out, stretch your legs and take photos, if you want.
I captured this photo of Peggy Woohoo! And the next two photos.
I’ll conclude today with this photo of a very colorful place along the road. The colors are created by the oxidation of minerals/metals. I cover which metals cause which colors in my next post. It will be on the even more colorful drive to the Artists Palette. I am going to feature pup fish as well. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

To bring you up to date, Peggy and I have now spent a week in Zion Canyon National Park and a week in Bryce. We are now in the small, but fun community of Kanab, perched on the border between Utah and Arizona. Here’s a photo we took last week to give you a view of things to come.

A pair of hoodoos we found near Bryce Canyon. The name hoodoo is derived from a Paiute Indian name meaning scary. I think I can see why.

Finally: We Are on the Road… Did You Miss Us?

The book cases are gone, as are the books, and almost everything else. Packed up and shipped east or given away. The house feels lonely now, but soon it will be occupied by someone who is excited to have a home in the woods. The sale is pending!

My blogging friends Linda and Karen from Texas called yesterday and wanted to know where in the world were we. It was special for them to check up on us. They caught us between Death Valley and Las Vegas.

Peggy and I hadn’t dropped into a black hole and simply disappeared from WordPress as people sometimes do. We had forgotten how much work goes into moving and selling a house. It’s number three on the top-five list of stress producers— right after the death of a loved one or divorce, and before having a major illness or losing a job! There was no time for blogging during the day, and by night, I had reached zombie status. Sitting and vegging were about all I could muster. I had gone beyond couch potato; I was a couch turnip.

Anyway, long story short, two weeks ago, Peggy and I made a final walk around our house, hooked up Serafina, the trailer, to Iorek, the truck, and drove up our road, honking as we had promised our neighbors we would in a final farewell. Beep, Beep, Beep-Beep, BEEP—BEEP. 

Peggy and I took a final walk around our house and said goodbye to the Red Buttes, the Oregon pioneer rose, Peggy’s garden, the deer and so many other things that we had taken joy in.

Saying goodbye wasn’t easy. We had lived in our little home in the woods for 11 years— longer than either of us had ever lived anywhere since heading off to college. We had come to love the five acres we were responsible for with its irrepressible wildlife and even gotten used to the deer pressing their noses up against our windows to see what we were doing inside. Or leaving their babies sleeping on our porch as the moms went off to browse. That speaks to how much the deer trusted us. It gave a whole new meaning to baby-sitting. Then there were the squirrels and foxes and bob cats and cougars and bears. Oh my! Bald eagles flew up and down the canyon and soared into the air where they were joined by osprey and hawks. Numerous other birds lived on our property or stopped by on their way elsewhere. Watching them gather at our bird feeder and determine who was boss provided endless entertainment. Having a national forest in our backyard and a river in the front yard wasn’t half-bad either. Nor were the views of the Siskiyou mountains, a scant ten miles away with their snow-covered peaks and incredible sunsets. 

Last, but certainly not least, Peggy and I had great neighbors. They were a diverse group that came from widely different backgrounds but genuinely liked each other, almost a miracle in this age of irreconcilable differences.  On Friday we had them all over for a going away potlatch party, which, in case you don’t know, was a tradition of the Northwestern American natives where the chief would call everyone together and give away most of what he owned at an opulent feast. 

Our potlatch didn’t quite qualify. For one, we weren’t chiefs; for two, our opulent feast was a beer, wine, booze and pizza party. Papa Murphy’s did the honors on pizza and we cleaned out our liquor cabinet for the beer, wine, and more serious alcohol, like 98 proof rum and Tom’s Blackberry Surprise. The surprise was the amount of vodka he added to juice from the five-gallons of blackberrys we had picked last summer. Drink a little and it tastes good; drink enough and it is the best concoction you had ever downed. There was plenty of alcohol to make everyone happy. An opulent feast wasn’t necessary and the pizza was scarfed down. 

And finally, we didn’t give everything away. Hardly. We’d already sent a 16’ x 8’ packed moving pod off to our daughter’s home in Virginia with our treasures— mainly books, book cases, a buffet, art, a couple of comfy chairs and some heirlooms. We had also made numerous trips to Goodwill and the dump. And, while we had shipped 30 boxes of books to Virginia, we had also given 15 to Friends of the Ruch Library to sell to benefit the library. Peggy had been the president of FORL for six years. To top it off, Serafina and Iorek were loaded to the gills with everything we might need for the road— Plus. Peggy kept stuffing things into Serafina or showing up with bins for me to find room for in Iorek. Even with all of that, none of our neighbors went home empty handed. There were still couches and beds and chairs, and kitchen supplies, and lamps, and food, and sporting equipment and left over alcohol. There was even a 24 roll pack of TP from Costco. That would have brought a fortune at the beginning of the pandemic. People would have killed for it. We could hardly give it away.

As tough as saying goodbye was, Peggy and I were more than ready for our new life of full-timing. After all, the name of this blog is Wandering Through Time and Place!

With two weeks on the road behind us, we are almost human again. What we did, actually, was drive down to Reno where we camped out for a week while we relaxed and reacquainted ourselves with life on the road and our new trailer. And then we drove on to Death Valley, getting there four days before they closed the campgrounds for the season. A blog is coming.

A teaser from my next blog. This was taken along the 20 Mule Canyon Road. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We’ve now moved on to Las Vegas and are getting ready for our next National Park, Zion Canyon. We have four travelling companions along: Bone and Eeyore of course. They’ve travelled with us for over a quarter of a million miles. This time, however, they have been joined by Goofy and Iorek’s avatar. Goofy has been hanging out with me since the 70’s when a friend learned that one of my in-law relatives had been responsible for the creation of Goofy and, I might add, Bozo the Clown. I identified more closely with Goofy. Yuk, yuk. Iorek’s avatar was sent to us by Chrystal Trulove, one of our close blogging friends, as a Christmas Tree ornament. He told us that he would much prefer to be on the road with us than be packed away in a moving pod.

Goofy is patting Bone on the head. Bone is dressed to travel in his quilt. Usually, he runs around naked. Iorek, who is new to our menagerie, peaks out from under Eeyore’s ear.
And finally, me, happily settled into Serafina, the trailer, and back at blogging. Our Murphy bed morphs into a comfy couch, only a part of our Africa quilt is showing! (Photo by Peggy.)