Hoover Dam holding back Lake Mead, with the new bridge in the background. You can see the orange colour of the 3-story parking garage behind the dam.

I took extra time this morning to check the weather across the state of Arizona. It is much colder than I expected to see. In the eastern and northern parts of the state, snow and temperatures in the teens and twenties are widespread for the next couple of days. Well… such is the benefit of no fixed plans: I decided to head south instead of east today.  Originally I had not planned to go as far south as Phoenix, since my intent was to jet east as quickly as possible. Now I see that normal desert weather doesn’t exist for the next couple of days except south of the capital city.

First though, I wanted a better look at Hoover Dam. I haven’t been there for years, and from the bridge yesterday, it looked vastly less occupied than I recall. The truth is that the crowds were indeed thinner, but the steady stream of people and vehicles made it clear that this remains a substantial tourist attraction. What a good idea to get the highway off the dam.

The Mike O'Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge I stood on yesterday

Let me dispel the myths: you can still cross the dam for free! There is a beautiful new, convenient parking garage that costs $7 to park, but if you cross to the Arizona side, you can still park for free too, if you don’t mind a few hundred yards’ walk. You do have to pass through a security checkpoint, but it is quicker and easier than going through the bug station, so don’t give it a second thought. Another difference is that you cannot continue on and reconnect with the new highway. Rather, there is eventually a turn-around loop, and you must cross back across the dam in order to return to the highway. Please do make a point of going there if you haven’t already. Hoover Dam is an engineering feat rarely duplicated in the modern world. You will be impressed with the dam and the bridge, I promise.

While I stood on the dam, I spotted blue sky from over Las Vegas ever so slowly making its way toward me. I lingered. Before I left, I did indeed get to feel a blessed ray of sunshine. It planted the seed of an idea to dawdle on my journey. I knew better weather was coming and the more slowly I moved, the greater chance I had of experiencing another sunbeam.

Rain showers struck as soon as I reached open highway again, but my route took me south to Kingman. From there, I went south again, toward Phoenix. I re-examined my book of campgrounds, and chose a new one in the Lost Dutchman State Park. I drove south through rain, rain, rain. My windshield wipers never completely quit, so that was good, but they were giving me fits! I discovered that when I took the car to the shop last month and they “fixed a leak,” the leak did not actually get fixed and thank goodness I checked the oil on a whim because I discovered it empty!

A random, unmarked canyon that I trespassed into

At one point, out in the wide empty desert, I passed an unknown canyon so beautiful I pulled into the next crossover and headed back the other direction on the freeway. I parked as far off the highway as I could, and grabbed my camera and went for a walk. Though there was no sun, the rain had ceased for the moment, and it was pleasantly warm. I began walking and climbed a barbed wire fence, and before I knew it, was about a mile and a half up the canyon. The walk eased my frustrated soul. Rain drops spattered my face by the time I climbed the fence again to crawl back up the hill to the dragon-wagon. But I felt better despite the rain that poured down as I resumed my journey.

Driving the course through the city that I chose is hellish. Why oh why do people choose to live in cities voluntarily? Yuck. From Beardsley to Surprise to Sun City to Peoria to Glendale to Phoenix to Tempe to Mesa to where I finally left the highway is 62 miles of bumper to bumper traffic. Some parts of it were a maze to make the right connections, and rain poured down through it all: making visibility an issue as well. Very stressful. I turned off onto Highway 88 and went north to the park and found a solitary hike-in campsite as far away from the others as I could possibly be.

The agony through the city was worth it, however, because my choice of camp spot for the night was excellent! The park is a showcase for some of the most that a desert has to offer: craggy peaks, saguaro cactus, teeming bird life, orange rocks. I still couldn’t see much of the Superstition Mountains, towering above my tent, shrouded in ragged stratofractus and grey fog. I crossed my fingers that the next day would stop raining so I could see the whole mountain.

I set up my tent in the rain. There was no way to get through the evening dry. Ugh! Mud in the campsite, the camp gear and my backpack wet, sweatshirt and hat soaked. I put little rocks under the edges of the plastic my tent sat on, so water running through the campsite would go under the protective plastic and not touch the tent itself…but of course the rain that slid down the sides of the tent stayed on top of the plastic. So I got out a large waterproof tarp and threw it over the tent and then, using rope and rocks, I made a second shelter over the top of the rain flap.

Sunset lights up the cacti and low clouds obscure the distant peaks

Just before I went to bed, the clouds broke at the horizon and the setting sun shone through and lit up the desert. It was so beautiful, and the cacti glowed.

I had built a nice cozy bed in the tent with extra blankets on top of my sleeping bag and I stayed quite warm and was ready for sleep, but for a few distractions. There was a group of noisy kids in the campground: not trouble-makers, just joyous kid noise. There were dozens of dogs and several of them were the kind that like to go “Yap! Yap! Yap! Yap!” all night long. The rain stopped after a few hours, and a brisk wind picked up, rattling the second rain flap so loudly that I could not get back to sleep. I got up, put on my shoes, and dismantled the thing, throwing it over the site’s picnic table. I heard another joyous burst of noise that filled my heart rather than irritated me: coyotes! Very close and singing their own desert refrain. I smiled and went to sleep fantasizing that the coyotes might eat some of the pet dogs.

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