Camping Autumn Joy List: Photo Friday Style

Last weekend we went camping at Chiricahua National Monument near Willcox, AZ.  Pure bliss!

On the way down we stopped at Apple Annie’s and picked pumpkins and did the corn maze.  A very muddy corn maze but we enjoyed it anyway.

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IMG_8185Pumpkin checkers!

IMG_8217We found some fall color on our hike to Far Away Ranch. The weather was perfect, not hot, not too chilly.

Far Away Ranch has a great history filled with strong women.  The fireplace was made from stones taken from a monument to President Garfield that was falling down.  The names were chiseled by Buffalo Soldiers stationed there before Far Away Ranch became Far Away Ranch.

We had a wonderful tour of the house led by Ranger Anne.

IMG_8235In the afternoon we hiked to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain.  This is an old fire lookout tower and proof that we went all the way to the top.

IMG_8248At one point we actually hiked through the mountain!

IMG_8228I would have thought it was too cold for the snakes to be out, especially in the shade, but apparently not.  This is a black tailed rattlesnake I believe, right near the beginning of the trail. Luckily other hikers gave us a heads up preventing any heart attacks.

IMG_8250Still there on the trip back, we had marked his spot with a small rock cairn so as to not get caught unawares.

IMG_8191There are no fire pits at Bonita Canyon Campground so we brought our own, perfectly legal.  The rangers will let you have a small fire in the grill (if there are no fire restrictions of course!)  This was much nicer and we cooked hot dogs and s’mores the first night. It was perfect sitting around the fire weather.

Okay, while seeing the snake on the hike and a skunk (which I did not take pictures of) one night near our campsite (when I was sitting alone by the fire!) did not exactly bring me joy it was still cool (you know, afterwards).  But this guy brought a smile to my face:

IMG_8200The mom had already crossed the road and then I came along and the fawn stopped and I stopped and I told him to go ahead.  I could see the mama deer anxiously looking back and after a moments hesitation the baby deer bounded across the road and caught up to his mama.  We saw a lot of deer, they know they are safe in the National Park area during hunting season.

Chiricahua National Monument

More from our three day MLK weekend camping trip.

We almost went home Sunday morning. But small child wanted to stay so after the traditional rainy day lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup we opted to brave the elements and go for a hike. Turned out to be a great idea.  It was delightful being out in some winter weather.  Normally I would have taken very few pictures because of the cold but I found the above nifty gloves/mittens in the trailer and they worked great! And since I bundled up I was surprisingly comfortable and didn’t mind the damp and cold at all.

Our hike started around 7000′ and we walked the 3.3 mile Echo Canyon loop that went past the Grotto and down into Echo Canyon.  The weather changes as we descended and rose were quite marked.

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Snow at the start of our hike.

We started out in the clouds with a stiff breeze and some light snain (rain/snow mix).

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In the clouds.

Soon we descended below the clouds, were sheltered from the wind and the precipitation stopped.

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A fairly dry section of trail.

 

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We bundled up pretty good, it was 32° at the start of our hike, cold for us desert dwellers.

 

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At one point we seemed to be looking down on the clouds.

 

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We could barely see the rock formations for much of the hike.

 

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Whoooo

 

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Creepy tree.

 

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One last shot.

When we returned to the truck the weather was the same as when we left:  windy, damp and gray.  We were happy to return to our home on wheels and mugs of hot cocoa.  Nothing like cocoa on a wintry day, such a rare and wonderful desert treat!

Where is Autumn?

Autumn is the hardest time of year for me here in the desert southwest. September is hard because it is still quite hot during the day but cooling off at night. This means the pool cools off and swim season comes to an end before we can start going outside during the day and not melting.  (Next year we are getting a solar blanket for the pool to hopefully extend the season.)

With school starting in early August I am more than ready for it to feel like autumn sometime in September. But it seems like the autumn temps I am used to don’t happen until January around here.

By October I am depressed from the heat and the blazing sun. This is my 3rd autumn here and I decided it was time for me to learn some coping skills, see what I can do to create my own autumn and focus on the small, positive changes in the weather here in Tucson.

Cooking: I have gone ahead and started cooking like it is cool like fall should be. I have made turkey cutlets with an apple- rosemary glaze, butternut squash and pork tenderloin. We are lucky to be sort of near (1 ½ hour drive) a farm where we can go and pick fruit and veggies all summer and pumpkins in October (I can’t wait!) We picked lots of apples in August and early September. I made crazy yummy apple turnovers and froze an apple pie for around Halloween.

Best soup I ever made                                                             apple pie for freezer

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Maple sugar leaf cookies from last year

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Decorating: There may not be any signs of leaf color outside, but it is busting out inside. Last year I taped silk leaves all over the walls but I didn’t love the look. This year I used my leaf garlands in different places and am much happier. Now I have to figure out where to put all those silk leaves. Maybe in a bowl or two somewhere? I also have some apple pie scented wax I melt and sometimes I add a little pumpkin fragrance oil.  Definitely feels and smells like autumn inside.

Last year:

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This year:

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Traveling to Autumn: One positive of living here is we can camp year round. We don’t need to winterize our trailer, though if we have a rare below freezing cold snap we do run the heater and try and drain everything we can and keep our fingers crossed.  Last year we went to Oak Creek Canyon (near Sedona) in October and Chiricahua National Monument (near Willcox) in November.  We got to wear long sleeves and do lots of hiking and eat hearty soups. At Chiricahua it was down right cold in the mornings and one very damp foggy day we even saw some snow flurries. I was one happy camper!

This year we are going to Dead Horse Ranch State Park (near Cottonwood) in October.  It probably won’t be quite as cool as I would like but we are hoping to see some good leaf color. We are going to ride the Verde Valley Railroad and I am pretty excited about that.  No camping plans for November yet.  We have tickets to a University of Arizona football game the week before Thanksgiving.  I’d like to go back to Chiricahua for Veteran’s Day weekend but I need to check our schedule.  The negative of Chiricahua is they don’t take reservations and the campground is small.

I have one more place to find autumn: Mt Lemmon.  We are very lucky to have a nearby mountain with a very nice road to a small village at the top.  There are hiking trails, a couple of small restaurants, a gift shop and a ski resort! Crazy I know.  And in October the leaves change color up there!  Aspens, a few maples, lots of deciduous trees.  It is usually about 10 degrees cooler in Mt. Lemmon than Tucson, so once we hit 80’s here I will be going up to ~8000’ to enjoy the 70’s and gather leaves.

Last Year:

Oak Creek Canyon

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Chiricahua Nat’l Monument

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Mt Lemmon

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Closer to home: While the sun is still blazing down during the day I can see the difference in the evening and morning light.  I like the way the sun slants in my office window in the afternoon.  Sherlock and I have resumed our post-dinner strolls.  While it is hardly sweater weather, or even long pants weather the evenings now are pleasant.  I like walking as the shadows lengthen and a hint of nighttime cool emerges.  Soon there will be Halloween Decorations to admire in addition to the real bats swooping around and owls hooting.

Last year, leaves from Mt Lemmon scattered in our yard (so doing this again this year!)

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I may not have my ideal autumn, but I have made peace in my heart with where I am and found contentment with this new version of fall.