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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Palm Canyon and the Colorado River

This was a fun day all over the Lower Colorado River Valley.

After a hearty breakfast at our hotel we were off for the 50-mile drive north on Highway 95 toward Palm Canyon in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Kofa is an old contraction of "King of Arizona" Mines, as this range of dry rhyolite peaks was once inundated with mines. The old jeep trails still take climbers to remote sites, but most are hard to get to and require 4x4 vehicles. Saguaros, Teddy bear Chollas, ocotillos, creosote and palo verdes line the desert floor here.

The drive on Highway 95 was an adventure in itself. Lined with slow-moving RVs and elderly men driving ritzy sedans, I had to watch traffic in both directions. For every Senior driving a slow RV there was an elderly man in a hurry. I was glad to make it to the trail head by 10:30am just to get off the road.

Three vehicles were already at the trail head, but the trail itself was not crowded. The turn-off for the high-growing palms was a mere half-mile into this narrow and high canyon, and most people didn't venture further into these peaks. Three people were resting at the turn-off. I wanted to go up into the palms, and then Kevin started talking to the three. Their accents sounded familiar. It turned out they were from Maine, which always results in Kevin asking more questions:

"Where in Maine?"
"That's Bush Country!" I replied, just to add my two bucks worth to the conversation.
"But we are originally from Massachusetts."
"Where in Massachusetts?" (Here we go again)
"Woburn?!?! Do you know..."

What a small world this is, as the one seated woman turned out to be the old neighbor of Kevin's former mother-in-law in Woburn back in the mid 1970s. They sat there and talked about relatives and old neighborhood people going that far back. I took this opportunity to climb up to the palms for some photos.

And what a climb that was! It was perhaps no longer than a half-mile. This this was steep, unstable and slippery terrain up a narrow slot. The majority of the palms have been buried by a massive boulder slide, and only 20 of the alleged 100 are visible. Many more barely are sticking out of the rocks. According to the Kofa literature, these palms are remnants of when these mountains were cooler and wetter.
I climbed up this canyon with my Canon dangling around my neck and my smaller camera in my hand. Neither allowed me sturdy hold. I only made it half-way up the palms, as the larger boulders required me to have better gear and a spotter to make further climbing safer. I rested on one large boulder and took in the views. If I were to get injured here, it would have been a pain for search and recovery teams to get me out of this tight canyon. I was boxed in.

I took a different slot down. This trail was less steep but just as unstable. Kevin said he could hear me coming from all the rocks that were sliding down with me. The narrow and steep canyon walls made every sound echo more than usual.

I could feel my shins from the work-out. When I rejoined the group the conversation hadn't changed any. After a bit more talking about this part of Arizona, we departed and drove back toward Yuma, but first we made a few more stops along the highway. Kevin wanted to get something sweet at the Stone Cabin, a small white house with two small eating areas attached to it that sold hamburgers, ice cream and drinks. The Stone Cabin was an oasis for the hungry traveler. Locally famous date shakes were also sold here. I asked to try one, having heard of this special, and as quite surprised at how naturally sweet the treat was. I saved my appetite for lunch, though, and that was later at an Applebee's. We still had the Imperial Wildlife Refuge to check out, but here the attendant couldn't guarantee any more viewings of spectacular birds. We hadn't seen much wildlife up to this point, not even lizards in the desert.
We didn't even spot any bighorn sheep that allegedly live along the higher peaks near the water. All we saw were fishing tourists and birders and standard waterfowl such as coots and cormorants, a few egrets and herons and an isolated Cooper's Hawk every now and then. Perhaps all the motorized boats scared off the wildlife? We didn't stay here for long, and opted instead to drive back into town for a late lunch. It was Valentine's Day afterall. Kevin treated to Applebee's.
The franchise we were at was a quiet one, with an eclectic clientele (meaning not all of them were blue-haired retirees). Three TVs around the bar showed either collegiate basketball or the Daytona 500. With the Winter Olympics I was hoping to catch some speed skating or downhill skiing, but instead I just stared at the screen without much notice of any scoreboard.
Northern Yuma's streets were starting to look familiar as we drove back toward the river for a night out along the water. We drove back to Mittry Lake, just like the tourist lady yesterday recommended, and got the last decent spot of the lake: an open vista view. Here is where we pulled over to listen to the waterbirds, experience a quiet sunset, and bunker down for the night. We were comfy outside our sleeping bags until 2am. Even though we were right off the road, there was very little traffic over night.

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