March 24th and 25th, 2014
It had been a few days since my last blog. Monday was a driving day from White Sands Missile Range into the South Western state of Arizona. We parked at a “Love’s Truck Stop” for the night. It was a little town by the name of Benson. Not much to report here other than some 50 other truckers sleeping in a mega parking lot.
Our game plan was to drive near Tucson and visit Saguaro National Park. We wanted to visit the western portion of the park. It is divided by the city of Tucson. I noticed, on the map, that one of the access roads had a note that “high profile vehicles” were banned from the Gates Pass road. With this in mind, I selected the Kinney road entrance. It was a long climb, but we finally arrived at the NP entrance. It is hard to imagine a forest of cactus of several species, with names that are difficult for us none natives to even pronounce. What is easy to take in is the beauty of this desert. With a video at the visitor center that gave us a native Indian interpretation of what the desert represents, we left there with a better understanding of this strange, but beautiful land.
The first thing was to join a Park Volunteer for a bird observation walk close to the Visitor Center. We were told that the snakes were out and to be careful of possibly running into one of the seven species of rattle snakes in this park.
One of our hopes was to be able to see the cactuses in bloom. This only happens in a short time frame each year. Luckily, the odds were in our favor as we started driving the Golden Gate Road. The flowers were everywhere and this gravel road wasn’t too heavily traveled. It was a winey, mostly uphill, narrow road with a few pullouts to stop and get close-ups pictures.
Our destination, on this side road, was to Signal Hill (2,446 feet) to view the ancient Petroglyphs more than 800 years old. When we arrived, it was time to take a short rest (better known as a nap) before hiking to the Petroglyphs. The temperature, in sun was recorded at 94 degrees and very sunny. About twenty minutes later, we awoke to find somewhat of an overcast sky. Off we went on our short hike, to the ancient rock carving site. Another Park Ranger told us to be careful of snakes…that one was spotted under a picnic table. Ok, we moved forward like a recon patrol looking for enemy snipers hiding in the bushes. The Ranger also said that it would rain! She said “30 inches, that’s one drop every 30 inches”. It hadn’t rained in months!
At the top of the mountain, we found the Petroglyphs, took pictures and talked to another couple who were hiking. The sky was now getting darker and we could see heat lightning and rain falling from the sky several miles away. The gentleman said to me (a native), “The rain is falling, but dries up before hitting the ground. Do you see way over by the mountains? It appears that the rain is falling up into the sky! That’s not rain, but dust blowing up from the ground”. He advised us that it was coming our way very soon and we all headed back to the vehicles. We did feel rain drops hitting us just a few hundred feet from the camper. Safe at last!
I had originally planned to take the Golden Gate road up over the mountain to save several miles back to civilization. The Park Ranger had said that this short cut was a passable road, but a high clearance 4x4 was needed. Just my type of vehicle. I was psyched to go for it. Ah, but wait a minute. Remember the possible coming rain. Maybe there would be some of those infamous flash floods coming down from the mountains! Play it safe, I was thinking! We took the long way out of the Saguaro NP and soon were on I-10 heading to Phoenix to our former neighbors Norm and Vi in Apache Junction.
Remember those dust cloud off into a distance? Yup, we were heading right for it! Helen was snapping pictures right and left. It wasn’t noticeable in driving the truck camper, just a light dust cloud covering everywhere. Minutes later, both of our phones went off nearly at the same time with a severe weather text alert about staying off the roads, don’t go out, if your on the highway pullover, shut off your lights and don’t step on your brake lights.
We both looked at each other and wondered what to do! The traffic was still moving, at least at a slower speed. We kept moving forward. At the junction of I-10 and I-8 (Case Grande), it got real bad. A State Trooper was heading in the opposite direction holding back the traffic to 40 miles per hour. Our west bound side was still moving faster than it should be. I tried to keep an extra distance in front of me, but the traffic nearly came to a stop. No good places to pullover were available at this location. Finally, the GPS said to take our scheduled turn off I-10 to County 587 road. It wasn’t more than two miles and the blue skies were all around us. We took another direction as directed and the dust storm caught up to us again! We did this three to four times again before we outran the direction of the dust storm.
We arrived at Norm and Vi’s home safe and somewhat sound. The only casualty was that my waterproof cover on my generator blew off somewhere. That was some adventure for today! Norm said that they never have dust storms like that until August. It isn’t a normal thing for this area. We spotted several photographers taking pictures of the upcoming storm.
All in all the desert is a wonderful and different land for us to enjoy and explore!
That was we did and saw!