Turnbuckle Blues

I leave idyllic Urique and head off for El Fuerte. I had not intended to go to El Fuerte, in fact I had never heard of El Fuerte, but Luis told me that it was very beautiful. I also got the impression that it was about 4 hours drive away.

A diversion. You can no longer buy road maps. You are totally reliant on having a good phone signal and so access to Google maps. I have not had a good signal for the last week and frankly have no idea where I have been or how I got to where I am now. Another associated effect, which may only apply to me, is that you do not see the name of the place you are going on the map and thus have frequent reinforcement of the name. You have to rely on your memory of what someone told you. Thus I soon forgot I was going to El Fuerte. The name changed as I drove to, El Fuente, San Fuerto, San Felipe, The end result is that you do not know where you are and if asked where you are going you can only say, “No se.”

I have many rivers to cross

It is a dirt road through the mountains. I drive expecting to see signs for El er Whatsit, but there is nothing. We climb difficult roads up high mountain passes,then down into beautiful river valleys. It is very grandiose scenery and so, so remote. I see virtually no one apart from the odd truck coming in the opposite direction.

Amazing

I am expecting to hit a paved road just around the next mountain with a big sign saying, er San Blackpool. Not so, the road goes on and on.

Somewhere in Mexico. Do not ask me where.

A distinguishing factor of Mexican roads , even dirt ones, are speed bumps. I hit a huge one in the middle of nowhere that is not signposted. I am doing my usual speed of 15mph but it gives the truck a big jolt.

Turnbuckles!

The camper is held onto the truck by four turnbuckles. Since the camper fell off the truck a few weeks ago, I have been obsessive about making sure that the turnbuckles are super tight.

Calamity

The hooks of the turnbuckles are made of soft aluminum. The jolt had bent the hooks of all four turnbuckles and so the camper was no longer attached to the truck. Bad news. I had two spares and by cannabalizing hooks from these, I fashioned four working turnbuckles. I reattach them, which is a very fiddly and tedious job. I curse soft aluminum hooks.

On and on I go but there is absolutely no sign of civilization. I have been driving for 8 hours. I go through a ford that unexpectedly has a very abrupt exit. Jolt. Yep, the hook on one of the remaining turnbuckles has bent open. It is now getting dark and it is clear that I have to find somewhere to camp. I cannot drive as the camper is precariously attached.

I find a flat spot by the side of the road, which mysteriously is the parking lot for a ruined basketball court. I have no idea where I am beyond, in the mountains. There is not a single light to be seen anywhere but someone built a basketball court here. I pass a troubled night.

Camp. You can see the road snaking up the hill behind.

Next morning, in desperation, I bash the bent turnbuckle hook with a lump of rock, caveman style. To my joy it bends easily and I am back in business!

A bad workman blames his tools.

Some sort of civilization must be just around the corner but I drive another 6 hours and see nothing other than miles and miles of magnificent Mexican mountains. I am now convinced that I am going around in circles and will never get out of this maze. I am also running out of gas.

OK I have had enough of this now

I stop by a shack that has a horse outside. The guy sells me gas in 5 liter plastic bottles. We have a classic conversation.

“Donde es cuidad?

Qual cuidad?

No se.”

He points me down a side road and 10 minutes later I hit a beautiful paved highway! Another 10 minutes and I am in the city of Choix, Sinaloa. I have never heard of this place before! I stop at the first Ferreteria and buy the essential tool for traveling in a Four Wheel Camper.

Never be without a 2 pond lump hammer.
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Eureka !

I have now been on the road for over 3 weeks. It has been pretty tough due mainly to the sub zero temperatures and snow, making it difficult to do anything away from the heat of the truck or the camper. My vision of evenings outside, cooking wonderful meals over a camp fire, looking up at the Milky Way turned out to be me huddled in the camper eating Spam sandwiches, watching my beer freeze.

But now I have come to Urique. The name must derive from Eureka. What a discovery! 

View from camp
Tranquil.

It is a very small town on a river at the bottom of a deep canyon, one of the canyon complex known as Copper Canyon.. The temperature has changed from -15 in New Mexico to 27 degrees in Urique. I find the perfect campsite by the river, just outside town. I sit in my chair, watch birds and soak up the sun.

Perfect, the river is just over to the right.

The site is essentially in the garden of a couple, Theresa and Luis. Luis actually says “Mi casa, su casa.”

The house is very rustic and there are turkeys and chickens everywhere. There are about 10 dogs and puppies, who are delighted to see me and beg to let them show me around.

Theresa washes my clothes and cooks me delicious meals, which I eat on their terrace overlooking the river. All cooking is done over an open wood fire and each meal is accompanied with hot, homemade tortillas.

Huevos Rancheros, refried beans, tortillas, cafe, down by the riverside.
Clean clothes!

Luis takes me to have my hair, unfortunately mainly ear, nose and throat, cut.

Such fun!

The main activity in town, is young men riding beautiful horses up and down the Main Street. They are incredible horsemen. The horses go sideways, backwards, they prance and stand quite still. The rider has very long stirrups and is essentially standing up. I am the only tourist. They are doing this as part of an elaborate courtship display I suppose. Well I am certainly impressed.

Bad photo but you get the idea
Good Ship Venus

As I wait for the Internet cafe to open, three children come up to me and sell me bunch of cilantro.

All the children are immaculate.

The next time I see the older girl, maybe 8, she is driving a huge quad bike up the Main Street with another little girl, who is holding a baby, on the back.

Girl power

A little further up the street a bunch of guys are butchering a pig. 

You know how it is.

I sit at my camp, watch the river and birds. I see a pair of Common Black Hawks, which despite their name are very rare. There are also masses of Black Headed Vultures, Great Blue Herons and Orioles. Alas no photos as my lens is not feeling well.

Shoe shop.
Evening games in front of the church.

I think I will stay here forever.

My camp is is at the extreme right of this photo.
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Road to Ruin

So, last night it rained like crazy.  I am here to visit the town of Urique, which is right down at the bottom of Copper Canyon and very far off the beaten track. After many questions and much driving around the town where I stayed, I head off up the road to Urique. My understanding was that the road would go down to Urique, it being at the bottom of Copper Canyon. On the contrary it is a very steep grade that means staying in first or second gear. After a couple of kilometers the paved road changes into a muddy track and also becomes very narrow. The surface of the track, after all the rain,  is slippery mud. Up and up for kilometers until I convince myself that I am on the wrong road, I mean we should be going down. At this point, a truck arrives coming the other way. The driver reassures me that I am on the right road and says I will love Urique; no mention of any potential difficulties.

Not a good sign

A bit further on the road is blocked by a truck that has slid into the ditch negotiating a fairly gentle bend. Frankly I am surprised it got this far. There are two guys and a Tarahumara woman with her son. I manage to get around the truck and we make a few doomed attempts to haul the truck out with my baby Tacoma. My clutch begins to smoke alarmingly and my truck skitters sideways as it attempts to haul out its much larger cousin. We give up. 

I nearly end up in the ditch on the other side.

They asks if I can give them a ride to Urique. I make space on the bench seat but then they start unloading big crates of stuff from the stuck truck. We somehow manage to stow it all in the back of the camper and off we go again, still first and second up hairpins coated in greasy mud.

Things get much worse as suddenly we enter the cloud layer. Visibility is awful.

Help!

On the right there are vertiginous drops and on the left is cliff face. Crawling up with 10 meter visibility, we come to a a very narrow part of the road with many statues of the Virgin and associated Saints snuggled into niches carved in the cliff edge. I hate to think what is on the right. The dense cloud is probably a blessing as I am ready to weep and a clear view of thousand foot drops would probably have done it. The lady is crossing herself and muttering prayers of desperation

The prayers seem to work as the road starts to flatten out and is about a meter wider. Suddenly a policeman emerges from the cloud, fully equipped with submachine gun, and behind him are two huge trucks. Again, how the hell did they get here!? The first one is OK but the second is horribly stuck in the ditch.

This one is OK
This one is not

Everyone seems to be in a very good mood except me. I feel the time has come to try to turn around and get off this terrible road. Of course, I cannot dump my Tarahumara friends and the truck drivers show me I can get by with at lest 30 centimeters to spare before my truck falls off the road and into the void. I hope I never have to do that again.

Anyway the road is now downhill, which adds to the overall slipperiness of the voyage. It is first gear for 15 kilometers.  Suddenly we burst out of the cloud and finally we can see, where we are and where we are going.

Long way down

The views are amazing as we hairpin it down the almost vertical mountain  side to finally arrive in Urique. I am panting. I have never, ever  been on such a crazy, scary drive. 

Road to ruin

What amazes me is that none of the several people I asked for directions, nor the guy in the truck coming the other way, in any way intimated that this was a very freaky dirt road, deep in greasy mud, strewn with stuck trucks and very, very dangerous. I suppose it is their commute.

At Urique, there are people waiting and the Tarahumara folk disappear with no thank you. Again I do not think they felt there had been any drama, just another normal day. 

My passengers are completely unphased.

However the road into Urique is blocked, not by huge trucks, but by a power cable pole that has fallen, cutting off power  to the town. There is no way in. I am writing this sitting by the roadside eating freshly roasted peanuts with truck drivers. It could be days before there is power again and I can send this from Ulrique’s Internet cafe.

No entry


Nice place to wait. Spot the truck.

I am in Mexico by the way.

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The Apache Curse

You will remember that I came to the U.S. to attend a Bird Photography Course at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. It was cancelled due to a strong cocktail of bad weather and Government shutdown.

I go to the Reserve anyway, I have come all the way from Okinawa so I might as well see the place. Although all the buildings are closed, there are masses of birds. I spend a wonderful day with my Tokina AT-X 300.

House Finch
To my shame, I do not know what this is. It should be so easy to identify with a crest like that. Any suggestions?
Red winged Blackbird
Meadow Lark
White winged dove.
Sandhill Cranes
There are lots.
Lots of Snow Geese too

At the end of the afternoon I notice that the love of my life is not feeling well. For some reason she will not focus at distance. This is not a good curse as this is, after all, a bird photography trip. Birds tend to be far away. I haven’t even got to Mexico.

I carefully scrutinize the lens and, sure enough, there are 3 tiny crosshead screws that are all very loose. I am surprised they have not fallen out. Phew, here is the problem, all I need is a tiny screwdriver. I rush back to Socorro.

Walmart has everything.
All tightened.


I am back at the reserve early, confident that the lens is fixed. It is not. The focus ring seems to lose traction as it moves out towards infinity. Oh dear. What a curse.

Last photo before lens bust. Northern Harrier? Anyway it is miles away.

Oh well, I go to San Antonio, tiny town near the reserve. The Owl Bar, on the corner of Highway 380 and Highway 1, is famous for its green chile cheeseburgers as well as having been a meeting place for the scientists who detonated the world’s first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site east of San Antonio on July 16, 1945.  I can’t wait to demolish a green chile cheeseburger and study the photos of physicists that must cover the walls. I have been looking forward to this. It is Sunday, it is closed. I have no food, I have not eaten all day. I cannot camp. I retreat to Socorro. Damned Apaches!

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Hunting and Meth

After my disappointment on not being able to follow the photography course http://www.friendsofbosquedelapache.org/photo-intensives.aspx?ce076808d5494627abcf7f9201fc8146blogPostId=a84db53173f54d4993f5bc6035b44f52 that I came from Okinawa for, I shake off dull care and head out. I decide to go down to Bosque del Apache anyway, who knows global warming might seriously kick in. I also decide to take the most remote route.

I go Blanding, through Gallup, then back roads take me to Grants and I am now in Socorro. It is the best drive! New Mexico is huge and under 2 foot of snow.

Fantastic views!

The snow has stopped and there is brilliant sunshine. A lot of the road has been lightly cleared and it is slow going over the snowy highway. This suits me fine as I like to watch.

Wo der Teufel bin ich

We stop at Quemado, an old guy there tells me, ” If it wasn’t for the hunting and the Meth, this place would have disappeared years ago.” Yay USA!

Amazing country. Click on these photos.

I am ashamed to say that I have been driven inside by the extreme cold and have spent the last 2 nights in $45 motels. I love these places.

Right on Route 66
Light fitting above bathroom mirror.

Read an article, which has my byline but I did not write, although I was given the opportunity to edit, about my camper falling off.

https://www.
truckcampermagazine.com/off-
road/adventures/the-camper-that-fell-off/
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What Now?

I wake up in Hovenweep in that silence that can only mean snow.

Here we go again.


I start on my walk around the ruins but it is hopeless as the path is hidden by snow and I worry about falling.

Looking for ruins

I do find some ruins, very impressive, built in the 12th century, but the hike round all the sites is definitely off.

Ruins
Another one. 1200 is long time ago.

The snow is getting worse and I head out for the nearest town, Cortez Colorado. The drive is very scary as Google maps takes me down farm roads that are covered in snow, such that you don’t really know if you are on the road or have driven off; this in a whiteout. Delighted after 2 hours of 20 mph crawling to hit a highway and make it to Cortez.

There I get an ATT strong signal and read email. The first says:

This is where I am.

The second is worse news:

Click on the image. It says the bird watching course has been cancelled!

What to do now? The course was the foundation of the whole trip. I booked it in October last year and then invented the camper trip out there and back. Now I am snowbound in Cortez, Colorado with no destination. At least the snowstorm stops me going anywhere, simplifying decision making for the moment.

Truck in Cortez, wondering what to do next.
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Respite

I gaze out of the window of the Super 8 Motel in Blanding onto a glorious sunny morning.

Hurrah, the snow has stopped and adventure is in the air.

I drive down the Comb Ridge Trail a dirt trail with the most spectacular camping sites.

Comb Ridge. Come again er in the spring.

I then head back to the Valley of the Gods. It is an amazing place in the sun. I set up camp. The furnace in the camper works. I cook chicken. Hooray!

Sun goes down on Valley of the Gods camp.

The next day, still beautiful weather, I have a look at Natural Bridges National Monument. To get there, you have to use one of America’s most unusual highways.

Click on this photo to see the road.

I then head over to Hovenweep, one of the best sites of Anasazi buildings.

The place is closed – Government shutdown. Notwithstanding, I set up in the amazing campsite that has a wonderful view over to the Ute Mountains in Colorado.

Looks like Cara, the island off Kintyre in Scotland.

The furnace works, I cook chicken again and look forward to a long hike around the Anasazi ruins tomorrow. Thank God the bad weather has gone.

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