It is now March 23, 2018, and we are back in Arizona.
Last year at this time, we were in Medicine Lake, Montana, where I was teaching English.
Medicine Lake is in the northeast corner of Montana. Very beautiful, if you like wide open spaces and lots of winter snow. The colors are beautiful. And so are a few of the people. Easter Dinner was the very best! Right down to finding the bottle of wine at the end of the scavenger hunt, and watching as the dog dashed away with the ham, holding it like a beard.
Thanks, Dixie! I’m coming back to visit!
However, there isn’t much sunlight in Medicine Lake, and having spent the previous years in Arizona, I was – believe it or not – homesick for high desert.
The Pack and I headed to Miami, Arizona. Along the way, we camped in Wyoming, where the town we stopped in offers free camping in their city park. No kidding! We were even escorted there by one of the local policemen.
We stopped in Estes Park, Colorado, but stayed in a hotel. The snow and ice were a bit chilly. And, I must say, the mountains surrounding Estes Park seemed more intimate and intimidating covered in snow. I’ll have to go back, and explore this phenomenon…
We took a break to stroll around Pecos National Historical Park in New Mexico. I thought is somehow fitting that the only snake we saw was lounging around in front of the chapel. Some things never change, I guess.
Las Vegas, New Mexico, was our next stop. The folks at the KOA were a marvel. They sent us on a quest to find hot springs (they’re hot, and seemingly without a bottom), the best sugar cookies west of the Rockies, and the downtown region where Longmire is filmed.
We stayed an extra night to get caught up on laundry, and I got to engage in conversation with humans.
I love traveling with my dogs, but every now and again, it is comforting to have someone to converse with in the same language.
Friends of ours took us in at their house in Miami, Arizona. Bless their hearts, but four dogs and a weary woman are a lot.
We eventually headed into the regional national forests, with stops in Benny Creek, Greer; Tonto National Forest; and then Apache National Forest.
Greer is a lovely town at the end of the road. Benny Creek camping area provides composting toilets, and the occasional water faucet. Lots of good dreams, there. We also met a couple traveling with their FIVE dogs. Good people, obviously!
One of the funniest scenes in Benny Creek was around the campfire when the Boy Scouts showed up. The Friday night fire circle was filled with young men. The Saturday morning coffee circle was comprised of older men. Yes, indeed! Boy Scouting will make a man out of your boy … overnight!
The dogs and I spent our mornings around the lake, watching wildflowers bloom and fish swim.
Tonto National provided a ledge overlooking a pine-populated ravine. I had been apprised of a wildfire over the opposite ridge, and hoped the fire that we could see from our overlook was back burning. Nope. The Hot Shots working the range stopped by to let us know it was a new fire.
I’ve learned a thing or two about wildfires since living in Globe, but I still had no plans to stick around. The family with whom I shared the site left on Sunday. I followed close behind.
A word about the goodness of people.
Tonto Chapel is a small congregation of folks I had never met. We attended Sunday services, and were blessed by the kindness of the congregation. When they asked if anyone needed anything, I asked where I could find a laundromat. One of the ladies invited me to her home to wash my laundry, and to take a shower. Not an every day experience. She shared her lunch with me, and sent me on my way with a brand new bar of deodorant, no offense taken.
Camping in Arizona is a lot like living in Arizona. It is windy, and the dust flies. I was constantly covered in a layer of clay. And there was never a day without dirt under my nails. I’d wash, scrub, lather, rinse, repeat, and then, I’d pet a dog … never mind.
We moved over to Apache National. There was a sign along the road toward Eager, warning of Sheep Crossing.
Sheep Crossing indeed!
You simply have to love a planet where Big Horn Sheep, Elk, and other Wild and Living Things roam freely.
Apache National, in particular, the area next to the corral between mileposts 6 and 7 on the road from Alpine to Big Lake, has become my hearthome here in Arizona. We camped under an owl nest; hiked the elk path below the ridge; and the dogs swam in Sierra Blanca Lake until they came back exhausted covered in green algae.
The elk path is in a ravine of grass. Maeda, Molly and I headed toward the lake. I got the feeling someone was watching … sure enough. Four teenage elk were on the path behind us. Not being sure what their thoughts were about having to share their walkway with a human and two dogs, I was a bit cautious of continuing. They opted to climb up the hill alongside us, passed by without comment, and went on their way.
Elk, apparently, are not Moose. Now I know.
If you’re ever in Alpine, Arizona, on a Sunday, please go to the First Baptist Church. They also offer a thrift store – which is where I met Franz Thompson, the pastor. I must have been more dirt than anything, because he offered to let me wash my hands in the staff break room. He also invited me to church. So, I went.
I got there on a very hot day. So, I opened the windows and the back hatch of the Hyundai, so the dogs would be able to breathe.
“Bring them in,” said the pastor’s daughter. “Here is the leash I use for my dog.”
I have four.
Bring them in, she said again.
So, the Pack and I went to church. I now know that Molly is Baptist or from some other vocal religious order. She chimed her “Amens” and “Praise Gods” at just the right time.
Yvonne, the pastor’s wife, invited us to their house. I could use their shower; the dogs and I could stay in one of the kennels they keep behind their home. So, we did. No biting flies there! (Halleluiah!) And good, thoughtful, and contemplative people.
The summer was rich in generosity, love, companionship, and consideration. It did wonders for a bruised and lonely soul such as my own.
More to follow… But it’s time to settle the dogs.