With Winter Approaching (and Elissa too!)…

Crunch time… between hikes! Time to get caught up on my blogging. At this very moment I am camped in Grand Canyon National Park which, interestingly, is where I left off on the last tale of my adventure… on my way to the Grand Canyon. Hard to believe that was late November!

If you recall, I was heading out of Kanab Utah toward the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and hoping like heck to stay ahead of an incoming snowstorm. As I traveled south I got more and more excited about seeing the Canyon from the north rim. I understand that less than 10% of the visitors to this National Park get to the north rim because it is FAR less accessible. It’s also closed Oct 15-May 15 each year, with the exception of day-use-only (and no services available) through November 31st or first snowfall.

The snow did indeed catch up to me, but I called ahead to confirm the park road was still open. The thought of capturing the Grand Canyon… from the North Rim… with a fresh layer of snow… on what was likely the last open day of the year…  left me giddy with anticipation.

My plan was to leave my motorhome at the BLM office in Jacob Lake and drive my tow car out the 45-mile park road (Hwy-67) to the canyon, which is exactly what I did. I was amazed at the increasing amounts of snow I was plowing through, and glad I was doing it in my reliable AWD Honda CRV instead of “The Beast”. The thick layer of snow got me even more excited, as I KNEW the scene would be gorgeous!

I pulled into the parking lot near the lodge, stepped out of the car and walked over to the rim to take a look. What I saw as I stepped up to the view-point could not have been more shocking! There was no canyon below me! All I could see was a thick snow cloud!! I kid you not, if I had not known I was standing at the edge of a mile-deep canyon I would not have known it was there!

The following cell phone shot was simply documentation that I was there, although certainly not proof! There was no reason to pull out my real gear.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon from the North Rim, hidden beneath a snow cloud

Needless to say it was a LONG drive back to my motorhome, and a cold messy job hooking up before getting back on the road. My next stop was supposed to be a campground at the South Rim, 215 miles away, but with more anticipated snowfall and freezing temperatures I had to consider the possibility of getting snowed in. I was scheduled to pick up my daughter, Elissa, at the Phoenix airport in just a few days and there was no way I was taking a chance on not being there!

With a quick phone call I regretfully cancelled my reservation and continued south with no idea where I’d camp for the night. Eventually the snow turned into hard rain, and the dark day turned into an even darker night. I typically make a habit of being off the road before dark (for good solid reasons I’ve mentioned before) but there are those exceptions. As I neared Flagstaff (and wifi range) I decided to find a safe spot to pull over and do a search for local RV parks and wrangle up a safe place to camp for the night.

Clearly the travel gods were not with me that day. As I made my way into the city… under a combination of driving conditions I dread… darkness of night, heavy rain and oncoming bright headlights… add to that a solo traveler (no copilot to help navigate) in a 35 foot motorhome with a tow car in city traffic! With every muscle in my body tightening with the intensity, I’m thinking it can’t get any worse… and then my windshield wiper broke. The blade just suddenly flipped sideways! I quickly shut them off for fear of the metal scraping deep gouges in my windshield, and then I couldn’t see a thing! I made my first right hand turn without even considering where it led (and if I could get back out.)

Luckily it took me to a gas station I could navigate. With flashlight and raincoat I hopped out to see what could be done. It looked as though the little plastic thingy ma-jiggy that holds the blade to the arm popped off. Great! (Mind you, these are not wiper blades that can be purchased at the nearest auto parts store. They’re so hard to find in fact, that I had to special order them directly from Winnebago!)

So I’m standing there in the freezing, pouring rain contemplating my next move… cars coming and going all around me… “Helloooo! Damsel in distress here!” I was literally standing there cursing at the situation when I felt something under my foot. Horray! It was the thingy ma-jiggy! With the blade reattached I climbed aboard soaking wet and peeled off my not-so-rain-proof raincoat. I was greatly relieved to get back on the road with wiper blades working again. It could be that I was feeling a little too smug about my accomplishment and had to be slapped down a bit, because I hadn’t gone two miles before the blade popped off again! Again I turned them off and got off the road quickly… at another busy gas station.

With wet slicker back on, and flashlight in hand I step out back out into the downpour… the “damsel in distress” again. I couldn’t help thinking that if I had to handle this kind of thing on my own in the cold and wet and dark of night it would be nice if it weren’t in front of so many watchful eyes. It was too dark see what the problem might be, but the thingy ma-jiggy was obviously no longer doing its job. Next best thing… duct tape, and I just happened to have some. 🙂

With duct tape liberally applied I climbed aboard feeling confident that the wiper blade was not getting loose again. I was now freezing cold, soaked to the bone, dead-dog tired, and STILL didn’t know where I was camping for the night. At that moment I spotted a Sam’s Club sign down the highway. This would be a new experience for me, but that’s where I aimed The Beast. After a quick clothing change and shopping trip (wine, roasted chicken and a 40lb. bag of dog food) I got permission from the manager to stay put for the night.

I didn’t even bother leveling and putting the slides out, just poured a glass of wine, whipped up some chicken salad and ate quietly under the amber glow of the parking lot lights. After sulking for a bit about my miserable day I decided to change my focus. First I reminded myself that as bad as the day was, tomorrow would be a fresh new day. In addition, I realized that I’m really quite fortunate because such miserable days have been rare for me on this journey. They do happen from time to time, but those days just make the good days feel that much better. Before I crashed I was once again feeling grateful for the wonderful adventure I’m on, the amazing places that I’ve seen, and the delightful people I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with along the way. And then… I slept like a baby!

The new day didn’t bring any better weather, but it was still a new day. I topped off the tank and turned The Beast toward Phoenix with visions of Elissa dancing in my head.

Arizona Highways!

On the road to Phoenix

Next stop…  Lost Dutchman State Park at the base of Superstition Mountain, just east of Phoenix. Since I cancelled my trip to Grand Canyon I was there a few days ahead of schedule. The good news… I was south of the snow. The bad news… I wasn’t south of the storm. I had hoped to hike on this unusual mountain while I was there, but it was rare that I even caught a glimpse of it. Instead I worked. And I found time with two old friends…Kevin Coons from my college days and Jan Mack, a friend from high school! I know I’ve said it many times before, but connecting with friends (old and new) along the way is one of the greatest blessings of this journey. The importance of these encounters is not lost on me, and I thank both of you, Kevin and Jan, for taking the time to reconnect and catch up!

Lost Dutchman campground near Phoenix AZ

Superstition Mountain shrouded in clouds

Phoenix Arizona

Superstition Mountain from Lost Dutchman Campground

And on my third night there I got my girl! Her flight got in very late, but I was absolutely delighted to see her when she walked through the gates at the Phoenix airport. The entire drive back to the campground was filled with animated conversation and happy energy. The following morning we were heading to San Diego to spend Thanksgiving with very dear friends we hadn’t seen in two years.

And wouldn’t you know… with the new day came the sunshine! I like to think MY Sunshine brought the sunshine! (I smile at the memory… “You Are My Sunshine” is a favorite song I used to sing to Elissa while putting her to sleep.)

Our destination for the day was Lake Jennings Park in Lakeside, just east of San Diego. I camped a night or two in this campground on my way through the area nearly two years prior and remembered it being spacious, quiet and far less expensive than most of the campgrounds and RV parks in the greater San Diego area. It’s literally perched on top of a hill overlooking the hills above “the city”, with sunsets galore and plenty of free space surrounding the campground to walk the dogs off-leash, which is how we all like it!

Lake Jennings

Jazzy and Sadie cruising the trail

Lake Jennings Campground, San Diego County

Lake Jennings and surrounding hills

San Diego County

Sunset from Lake Jennings Campground

While there we spent a joyous Thanksgiving with our good friends, the Kelly family… Kathleen, Monte, Jessica, Karly, Matt, their friend John and their housekeeper Rosa. Not many hostesses can pull off a tremendous meal like this in the midst of a major remodel, but this wonder woman did! Fun times! A million thanks Kathleen. We love you all!

Kathleen, Jessica and Elissa cooking up a storm!

Kathleen, Jessica and Elissa cooking up a storm!

the copyright should read Kathleen Kelly! :-)

the copyright should read Kathleen Kelly! 🙂

Point Loma, CA

View of San Diego from the Kelly’s!

While visiting the Kelly’s high on a hill in Point Loma we took advantage of the mild weather for dog walkin’ and a few photo ops.

The lovely Elissa, now 21!

The lovely Elissa, now 21!

Point Loma, CA

Jazzy, Sadie and “their girl”

Max, the Kelly's "gentle giant", feeling the love. :-)

Max, the Kelly’s “gentle giant”, feeling the love. And Sadie, of course, not getting enough. 🙂

It’s always difficult to say goodbye to my girl and put her back on a plane to Dallas. Even harder when I know it’ll be months before I see her again!  With Christmas approaching, and extremely limited internet connection, it was difficult to keep my mind off of that sorrow with the many work projects I hoped to tackle. Getting caught up on work was the whole idea of sitting still for awhile after all, and fighting with technology is a source of tremendous frustration for me. Needless to say it was a battle to fight off the funk without adventures on the immediate horizon. My solace was found hiking the local trails with the girls, and spending quality time with friends.

The Kelly’s saw plenty of me and the girls. I enjoyed a day with my dear friend Brandi while she was on a trip in the area. I drove to LA to meet up with one of my best buddies from high school, Diane Haun Sassen. And out of the blue I met a new friend, John, who just happened to be from my home town of Longview, WA! Sometimes it really is a very small world!

So… Christmas, which I was admittedly dreading without my girl, turned out to be a joyous occasion. My only decoration was this itty bitty “motorhome size” Christmas tree, a gift from John. Christmas day was spent with the Kelly’s. It has always been hard for me to be away from my family for the holidays, and I honestly can’t think of any place else that could feel more like home to me than with this family. (We were too busy sharing fun and laughter to get any pictures of the festivities!)

Charlie Brown's got nothin' on us! :-)

Charlie Brown’s got nothin’ on us! 🙂

My Christmas greeting, shared with my friends on Facebook, and those who follow the journey on my JourneyInFocus-Facebook Page. (You CAN “like” and follow me there btw! It’s far easier to stay current there.)

“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the “house” two creatures were stirring and neither a mouse!”

The night before Christmas with Sadie and Jazzy

The night before Christmas with Sadie and Jazzy

That brings us to New Years! Two years ago while in the area I reconnected with a photographer friend, Amy Cantrel, and was invited join “The Sketchy Crew” (self named for reasons I learned very quickly) for their annual New Years gathering off-road in the Anza Borrego Desert. Having grown up surrounded by forests and mountains and huge bodies of water, I never considered myself a “desert rat”, but I’ve come to discover that the desert does have an alluring quality to it. New Years two years ago was my first REAL desert experience, and I spent it with a hilarious group of desert veterans! See The Beast way off-road here… My Resolve.

This time around the gang got even farther off-road… to a place The Beast didn’t stand a chance of getting to. Hangin’ with the Sketchy Crew was too enticing to pass up, so I loaded gear and dogs into Zippy (my super tough and reliable little Honda CRV) and spent four days tent camping in the desert. We didn’t get pictures of the off-road trek this time, but you folks would be amazed at where Zippy has taken me!)

Allow me to introduce the Sketchy Crew, and then I’ll let the images tell the story of our “celebration of life” in the desert. The crew…

Amy and her husband Andrew, newbies to the group- Mark and Karri, Me and “the girls”, Grace, Hector and our youngest member Nate, and in the foreground… Johnny “the camp dog”. (Don’t ask me how he got that name. As far as I’m concerned Jazzy and Sadie are the camp dogs!)

The Sketchy Crew  -photo credit to Johnny "the camp dog"

The Sketchy Crew -photo credit to Johnny “the camp dog”

Our home away from "home".

Our home away from “home”

My friend Amy. This woman knows how to camp! :-)

My friend Amy. This woman knows how to camp! 🙂

Anza Borrego Desert, CA

Andrew and Hector on a perch above our campsite

OUR party canyon

OUR party canyon


Ansa Borrego desert

Anza Borrego

Dusk in the desert

The youngest Sketchy member, my little buddy Nate!

The youngest Sketchy member, my little buddy Nate!

This gang knows how to celebrate. With a generator tucked away where we couldn’t here it they brought out a large screen and set up a projector to play music videos next to the “dance floor”, which we made great use of btw! 🙂

The stage is set, let the celebration begin!

Anza Borrego Desert, CA

New Years party in the canyon

Moi, Grace and Amy… the dancing queens! :-)

Me, Grace and Amy… the dancing queens! 🙂

Jazzy and Sadie wore the neon bling too, just so we could see them in the dark! In fact, I think the green blob in the foreground of the prior image is Jazzy doing her “shuck-n-jive” dance moves. 🙂

What a tremendous time we had with this crew! So fun in fact, that we stayed two days longer than intended! Needless to say we were crusty and dirty as can be by the time we reached our next destination. It took days to rehydrate and get the sand, grit and grime out of everything… car, tent, sleeping bag, clothing, dogs and myself! So worth it though!! Many thanks to my desert friends! Count on us circling around for another celebration with you!

Although we’re well into 2014 at this point I’d like to wish all of you friends and “followers” a most joyous and fulfilling year. Thank you again for being a part of my journey!

I’ll close with one last shot from the Kelly home in Point Loma. And I promise to return with continuing tales from the road after I’m done enjoying Spring Break with Elissa!

One last sunset from Point Loma before departure

Another sunset from Point Loma


As a side note; this post was delayed by more than a week because of some technology snags that came about with my last WordPress update. No longer do I have thumbnails beside my posts on the home page, and worse yet I have no control over the feature image at the top of each post. In case you’re wondering why some unrelated scene sits at the head of this blog post… that’s why, and I’m tired of fighting with it. Until it’s resolved that’s just how it will be, and those of you who know me, know how unsettling that is for me. 🙂

Enjoy! I’m off to spend a few more hours in Zion with Elissa before we head for… Vegas! (It’s still spring break. God help me. 🙂 )


4 thoughts on “With Winter Approaching (and Elissa too!)…

  1. Fran, You never cease to amaze me!! Your stories and photographs are just fabulous! I think someone has mentioned you need to get a series on the Travel Channel (or something like that…). Well, I’m here to say “I second that!” 🙂

    I absolutely love the picture of Elissa and the girls walking down the street, that should be used as a marketing device for the harbor!!

    Hope you have a wonderful Spring Break with your girls!

    • Thanks Susan! Elissa and I had a marvelous time… Grand Canyon, Zion and one night on the Vegas Strip before she flew home… and I rolled into Death Valley. Future blog posts! 🙂

      As for the series… it is a thought. I believe it has merit. I may have to put my friends and followers to the task of campaigning for me when the time comes, and social media is where it’s at! Will keep you posted. In the mean time… keep your eyes and ears open for a contact at Harley corporate. That project goes nowhere until I find an ear there!

  2. Pingback: Grand Canyon National Park | Journey In Focus

  3. Pingback: Kanab Utah… Central to So Many Cool Places! (Part 2) | Journey In Focus

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