Getting Away from it All

We spend a weekend at our “summer” place on Howard Mesa.

It’s no secret that central Arizona, near Phoenix, gets brutally hot in the summer time. Daytime shade temperatures in July and August typically 110°F or above, and you can add 20 to 30°F if you happen to step out into the unyielding sun. We realized after just a few short years in Wickenburg that we’d need a place to escape to.

I heard about Howard Mesa on a radio commercial advertising 10-, 36-, and 40-acre parcels near the Grand Canyon. Mike was away at the time — he telecommuted to a job in New Jersey and spent about a week and a half each month there — so I hopped in my Toyota and made the 154-mile drive alone to check it out. I was soon seated in a big sedan beside Larry, who would be our sales guy, driving up well-maintained dirt roads to the few lots that were still available on top of the mesa. I fell love with the second lot he showed me, a pie-shaped wedge near the mesa’s highest point. The wide “crust” of the pie shape was flat and bordered state land, where I was assured nothing could be built. The rest of the land dropped off gently toward the west. Every inch of the property was buildable, but the obvious building site was right before the dropoff, where an old two-track road used by ranchers and hunters led to a clearing, where a single cow rested in the shade of a pinyon pine.

The land was off-the grid — that means no electricity, water, telephone, gas, or cable television — five full miles from pavement and about ten miles from the nearest store where one could buy a quart of milk. Williams, AZ, which had a supermarket and restaurants, was 20 miles south. Valle, the crossroads of Routes 64 from Williams and 180 from Flagstaff, was 14 miles north. The entrance to Grand Canyon National Park was another 30 or so miles north of that.

It was the quiet, beauty of the place that hooked me. Not a single building was within sight — just rolling hills of golden grasses, studded with the dark green of juniper and pinyon pines. Once Larry shut off his Buick, all I could hear was the wind, with the occasional call of a crow or raven.

San Francisco PeaksBut it was the 360° views that sold me. To the north, is Red Butte and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. To the west and northwest, are distant mountain ranges near Seligman, as well as Mount Trumbull on the Arizona strip 85 miles away. To the south is Bill Williams Mountain, just south of Williams. And to the east is snowcapped Mount Humphreys and the San Francisco Peaks, the tallest mountain in Arizona.

The price for all this amazing remote beauty? Less than $1,000 per acre. And our lot was priced higher than most others because of the view.

That’s how it all started. And what we realized just last night is that we’ve owned this place for ten years now. It was the Toyota that trigged the date memory. I bought my Jeep in the summer of 1999 and I was still using my Toyota as my primary car when we bought the place. That meant April/May 1999.

Our use of the place has varied over the years. In the beginning, we camped there on weekends in a pop-up camper, which we kept folded up on the property when we weren’t around. We had a round pen for the horses, which we’d bring with us. We got the entire 40 acres fenced in so the horses could run free. Then we began preliminary work on getting a house built. After a false start getting ripped off by Lindal Custom Homes — they told us we could build a home for $60/square foot but needed $600 to draw up the plans; the plans resulted in a home that would cost $120/square foot to build — we started exploring other modest custom home solutions. We had a septic system put in. I spent the summer of 2004 in a trailer up here while I flew for one of the Grand Canyon helicopter tour operators. And then, to give us a place to store our stuff while we were preparing to build, we put in what we call our “camping shed.”

And that’s where things got stalled.

You see, although I still love our place atop the mesa and would love to build a full-time residence up here, Mike thinks it’s a bit too lonely and remote. With so much going on for us in the Phoenix area these days, we don’t come up here nearly as often as we used to. To further complicate matters, the future of the area has become questionable. Much of the land up for resale and several property owners have put up commercial style buildings or trashed up their lots with a lot of junk. All this takes away much of the charm of the place. It seems senseless to pour a lot of money into a permanent residence when we’re not sure whether our new home will be looking out over a bunch of used shipping containers and broken down cars or another oversized Quonset hut or a second-hand mobile home left to deteriorate in the sun and wind.

Camping ShedSo we come up here on the occasional weekend and soak up the silence or the sound of the wind. If the nights are moonless, we can see almost as many stars as Hubble — or at least it seems that way — along with the distant glow of Las Vegas, 173 air miles away. Jack the Dog spends most of his time investigating the rocks, looking for lizards or pack rats, or chasing rabbits. Alex the Bird hangs out in his cage, playing with his toys and whistling along to the music on my iPod. Mike and I go for walks or do odd maintenance tasks to keep our camping shed in good condition. Sometimes we’ll go for lunch and a walk along the rim at the Grand Canyon. Other times, we’ll drive out to Flagstaff for some Thai food and to pick up some odds and ends in Home Depot or the RV repair shop. Still other times — like this weekend — we’ll just lounge in the shade on the camping shed’s “porch,” reading or talking.

Its restful — the perfect antidote for the poisons of modern civilization.

When I’m finished with this year’s cherry drying gig, I’ll probably spend a month or so up here with Jack and Alex. Mike will join me on weekends. I’ll work on the last of the three books I have contracted for this year. I’ll make day trips to Williams or the Grand Canyon or Flagstaff. I’ll enjoy the violent thunderstorms that roll through during monsoon season. I’ll take my Jeep to explore the forest roads bordering Grand Canyon National Park and likely find one or two new places to look down into that vast abyss without a tourist in sight. At night, I’ll look out at the stars and listen to the coyotes. It’ll be a simple life — an escape from reality.

Something I need more often than most people.

Landing Zones: Howard Mesa

Not my regular landing zone, but it worked.

A while back, I started a series of posts showcasing some unusual landing zones. I knew I had a picture of this one, but couldn’t seem to find it. Today, while labeling old backup CDs, I found it.

Howard Mesa LZ
N630ML at Howard Mesa, November 2008

This is my helicopter at our Howard Mesa property. You can see our camping shed in the background. I normally don’t land here — instead, I have a regular landing pad that’s covered with gravel. But because we didn’t get rid of the tumbleweed on the pad during the season, it had grown to be several feet tall. Landing on it with a hot engine would probably have caused a fire. We we landed nearby where the tumbleweed was a lot shorter. When Mike got out, he cleared away any dead tumbleweed from the back of the aircraft where the engine could heat it up. Since then, we’ve manually burned a lot of it away, hoping to kill the seeds and curb future growth.

I land here several times a year. It’s a good LZ, protected by intruders — including open range cattle — by a barbed wire fence.

Posts in this series:

A Flying Kind of Day

And proof that I apparently can learn a lesson.

I flew to Prescott, AZ today. I had to get my transponder’s biennial check and my annual medical exam done. Both my avionics shop and AME are based at the field.

How to Start an R44 Raven II

The first indication that I’d have a less than perfect day came when I started up the helicopter on the ramp at Wickenburg. The main part of the startup procedure on an R44 Raven II goes like this:

  1. Turn on the master switch. This provides electrical power to the aircraft.
  2. Push in the mixture to full rich. This enables fuel flow to the engine.
  3. Turn the key to Prime and count off the seconds. This uses the auxiliary fuel pump to prime the engine. The number of seconds depends on conditions such as outside temperature (cold means more priming) and engine temperature (already warm means less priming). This is something you get a feel for when you fly the same aircraft in all kinds of conditions.
  4. Turn the key to Both. This turns on both magnetos.
  5. Pull the mixture completely out. This cuts fuel flow to the engine.
  6. Push the starter button while slowly pushing in the mixture. The idea is that when the engine catches, the mixture should be full rich. This can be tricky, but most pilots get the hang of it pretty quickly.

When these steps are completed, the engine should be running. You then follow up with a bunch of other stuff to get the blades spinning and everything else working.

This morning, when I pushed in the mixture (step 2), it felt different — like it was scraping on something. It felt okay when I pulled it out again (step 5). Then it felt weird when I pushed it back in (step 6). The engine didn’t catch, so I repeated steps 2 through 6 again with a bit more priming. (It was cold out.) The mixture still felt weird when I pushed it in.

I debated whether I should shut down and talk to my local mechanic, Ed, about it. But then I convinced myself that the stiffness of the mixture cable was probably due to the cold. I finished my warmup and departed to the north.

Flight to Prescott

E25 to PRCPrescott is 30 minutes north of Wickenburg. It’s a “mile high” city, with an airport at 5,000 feet elevation. The airport is home to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, as well as two helicopter flight schools. It’s a busy place, with three runways and a tower that occasionally splits radio coverage to two frequencies to handle the traffic load.

I’ve flown to Prescott more times than I can count over the past nine years. This morning, I planned a direct route. I departed from the ramp at Wickenburg and crossed the runway low level, heading 017°. Then I began my climb toward the first of two mountain ranges I had to cross: the Weavers. I had about 15 miles to climb from 2400 feet at Wickenburg to the 5,500 feet (minimum) I’d need to cross the mountains just east of the flat-topped Antelope Peak.

I was past Wickenburg within minutes, climbing at nearly 500 feet per minute at 100 knots. It was just after 8 AM and the sun was still low in the sky, casting deep shadows on the cactus-studded Sonoran desert below me. I listened to my iPod, catching up on Future Tense podcasts. The miles passed quickly. Soon I was crossing the Weavers and leveling off at 6,000 feet.

Now I was over the high desert, passing Yarnell, Peeples Valley, Kirkland Junction, and Wilhoit. I began another climb, to 7500 feet, to cross over the Sierra Prieta Mountains. There was snow on the north sides of the hills in the mountains below me. Ahead of me was the town of Prescott and the wide, flat areas of the Chino and Prescott Valleys.

I tuned into Prescott’s ATIS and used its altimeter reading to set my altimeter. Then I keyed the mic to call the tower. “Prescott Tower, Helicopter Six-Three-Zero-Mike-Lima is nine to the south with Zulu, request landing at Mile High Avionics.”

“Helicopter Six-Three-Zero-Mike-Lima, Prescott Tower, proceed inbound for landing on the numbers of Runway Three-Zero. Report two miles out.”

I read back the instructions and modified my course to come in from the southeast, pushing down the collective to begin my descent. I was cruising at 120 knots, descending at about 300 feet per minute. My course took me over the south end of Watson Lake and the Granite Dells. I was three miles out and had both the tower and runway end in sight when the tower came back on the radio.

“Helicopter Zero-Mike-Lima, cleared to land on the numbers of Runway three-zero. You can then taxi down the runway to exit at echo-three and taxi to Mile High.”

I read back the important parts of the instructions, wondering whether echo-three was prominently marked. Helicopter pilots rarely deal with taxiway exits, so we don’t usually study airport diagrams to learn them.

I exited at the right intersection and taxied over to the big ramp on the back side of Mile High Avionics’ hangar. I cooled down and shut down. The blades were still spinning as the big accordion doors opened. A short while later, we had the ground handling wheels on the helicopter and were pushing it into the hangar.

Errands in Prescott

It was 8:45 AM and the avionics guys were ready to get to work on my helicopter. My doctor’s appointment was at 10:00 AM right across runway 30. The only way to get there was to make a five-mile drive around the airport.

The avionics guys very kindly gave me a pickup truck to use while they worked on the helicopter. I headed over to the doctor’s office to see if I could get my medical exam taken care of early. It was a good thing I did. The doctor took ill not long after my exam. As I was leaving with my new medical certificate, an ambulance was arriving to take him away.

I’d like to think that taking my blood pressure and having me read an eye chart didn’t give him a heart attack.

I took the pickup to a hardware store in Chino Valley, where I picked up some weed pre-emergent. I have a gravel “helipad” at our Howard Mesa property and we’ve had some serious problems with tumbleweeds there. I wanted to get the problem under control this year.

Then I went to breakfast at the airport restaurant. Bacon, egg, and cheese on an English muffin. Yum.

I was back at the avionics shop by 10:30 AM. The helicopter was done. I paid up and the avionics guys helped me pull the helicopter back outside.

Next Stop, Howard Mesa

When I started up the helicopter, the mixture problem was just as bad as it had been that morning in Wickenburg. But now it wasn’t cold. There was no excuse for it. I was getting concerned.

PRC to Howard MesaThe tower cleared me to depart to the southwest, parallel to Runway 21, which the planes were using. A plane had just taken off and was climbing out. The controller had me switch to the north tower frequency and that controller instructed me to make my right turn, staying low level to depart to the north. I was at 5300 feet, about two miles north of the airport, when the controller asked what my altitude was. I told him and he replied with “Frequency change approved. Have a good day.”

I thanked him and wished him a good day, thinking that that last exchange had been a little weird.

I listened to an episode of Skeptoid on my iPod as I flew north, over Chino Valley and Paulden. I was heading toward the west side of Bill Williams Mountain and would have to climb to about 7500 feet to get up onto the Colorado Plateau. I was abeam Williams’ Clark Memorial AIrport before I saw it. I was already on frequency and made a courtesy call to the empty airspace.

There was a lot of snow on the ground. I started wondering whether there would be snow on my landing zone. And whether it was wise to spread pre-emergent when I might blow it away when I took off. And whether there was something wrong with my mixture control that would prevent me from starting up when I was ready to leave.

This last thought was weighing heavily on my mind. I didn’t want to get stranded at Howard Mesa. Sure, I could always start up the heat in the shed and wait for Mike to rescue me, but I wasn’t interested in a repeat of my 2004 mesa-top helicopter repair.

I began to slow down and descend when I was still two or three miles out from Howard Mesa. By the time I flew over my place, I was only about 200 feet off the ground. I was surprised to see the windsock hanging almost limp. There were patches of snow on the ground and a series of partially melted animal tracks across the snow-covered driveway. I swung around, made a tight turn to the right, and came in for a final approach from the north. I set down behind the shed, pushed the collective full down, and opened my door to see how my skids were set in the snow and ground. I didn’t want to sink into any muck (again). It looked solid enough.

And then I made a radical decision: I wasn’t going to shut down. Instead, I cooled down the engine and throttled it down to idle RPM. I tightened the cyclic and collective friction. And I stepped out to take care of my chores, leaving the helicopter running.

Now before you other pilots start scolding me, remember this: there was almost no wind and I was on private property in the middle of nowhere with no one around. The cyclic and collective friction on my helicopter do what they’re supposed to; neither control moves when they’re tightened up. The blades had enough spin to keep them from drooping. I was facing where I needed to go, so there was no reason to walk behind the helicopter. There really was no danger. Really.

I offloaded the pre-emergent and brought it into the shed. Then I fetched the two small pieces of furniture I’d come to get. I put one on each of the rear seats, fastening them down with the seatbelts. I climbed back in, double-checked the doors, and fastened my seatbelt. I think I was out of my seat for about four minutes.

I loosened the frictions and spun up. Then I very slowly and carefully lifted the collective, just in case some of that mud was trying to suck me down. The helicopter lifted straight up. I pulled more pitch, pushed the cyclic forward, and took off between two trees.

Mixture Problems Back in Wickenburg

Howard Mesa to E25I flew a direct route back to Wickenburg, detouring only a tiny bit around Granite Mountain. I listened to NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! podcast.

There were three planes in the pattern when I arrived — all flight training planes doing touch and goes on Runway 5. I came in behind the last one and set down on one of the helipads on the west end. When I shut down, I recorded a total of 2.2 hours of flight time for the day.

I fetched my cart and towbar and brought the helicopter back to the hangar. As I was getting ready to back it in, I noticed that oil had been leaking on my muffler. I got down on the ground and took a closer look. Oil was dripping in the vicinity of the starter motor. A leak somewhere. That could explain why I’d been using more oil than usual later. I decided to see if Ed wanted to look at it.

He came over with me. While he was checking that out, I told him about my mixture control. We backed the helicopter into the hangar and he looked underneath while I pulled the control knob in and out. It made a weird kind of squeaking noise when I pulled it out.

Let me explain how the mixture works. It’s a knob that’s attached to a long cable. The knob is in the cockpit. You pull it toward you to cut fuel; you push it in to add fuel. AIrplane pilots know mixture controls very well, since they often have to “lean” the mixture in flight. Robinson pilots don’t do that. It’s either full mixture while flying or pulled mixture when the engine is shut down.

Ed also had a service bulletin to take care of for me. Since he didn’t have any planes to work on, we figured it would be a good time for him to take care of the SB, lubricate the mixture cable, and see if he could find the oil leak.

I spent some time updating my log book, then drove off to get my hair cut. When I got back, Ed shared some bad news. He’d been working on the mixture and, when he pulled it, the cable broke.

With a broken mixture cable, my helicopter wasn’t going anywhere.

A Lesson Learned

I took the news well. You see, I’d spent a good part of the day before writing an article about how inconvenient some mechanical problems can be. I’d concluded that preventative maintenance could have saved me a lot of bother.

In this instance, I’d identified a potential problem with the mixture control. Even though it still worked, I’d asked my mechanic to take a look at it at the first opportunity. Sure, he’d broken it, but if he hadn’t, I probably would have.

And maybe that break would have been on top of a mesa.

Or when taking charter clients to Sedona or the Grand Canyon.

Any mechanical problem that occurs anywhere other than at home base with a mechanic around is a mechanical problem you want to avoid. Writing that article had reminded me of that simple fact.

And I managed to remember it for a full day.

Anyway, we ordered the cable. It should arrive on Thursday. Ed will fix it then. In the meantime, I hope he tracks down that leak.

Another View, No Fog

A quick shot or two…or three.

The other day, I blogged about Thanksgiving and the fog we experienced the following morning. I even included a photo of the foggy morning.

Howard Mesa ViewHere’s almost the same view today. This is normal weather here — blue skies and almost unlimited visibility. Although this photo is a bit too small to see it, Mount Trumbull, which is about 80 miles away, is visible just left of center on the horizon. We can also see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (which is higher than the South Rim) about 40 miles away.

San Francisco PeaksMike shot this photo of Mount Kendricks (left) and the San Francisco Peaks (right) a little while ago. Both mountains got snow yesterday, although kendricks only got a dusting of it. If you’re not familiar with the San Francisco Peaks, Mount Humphreys, which is the tallest of the peaks, is the tallest mountain in Arizona. Don’t quote me, but I believe it’s somewhere around 12,000 feet. (No access to the ‘Net right now, so I can’t look it up).

SunsetAnd because I can’t resist, here’s a sunset photo taken on Friday evening. Clouds (or particulates in the air) are what makes for nice sunset photos. I rarely get an opportunity to take a decent sunset photo because there are rarely any clouds in the sky in Arizona. But there were clouds Friday and I snapped a few shots from right outside the camping shed. The mountains silhouetted on the horizon are about 50 miles away, near Seligman, AZ.

An Off-the-Grid Thanksgiving

A pleasant challenge.

Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day, Mike, Jack the Dog, Alex the Bird, and I took the truck up to our getaway place north of Williams, AZ. It’s an off-the-grid camping cabin on top of a mesa, 5 miles from pavement. If you’re not familiar with the term off-the-grid, it means that it’s not connected to any public utilities. We have solar panels with related equipment for electricity, a propane gas tank, and hauled water.

We left Wickenburg at about 9 AM for the 2-1/2 hour, 154-mile drive. We made one stop on our way out of town — to buy milk and an onion — another stop at the Chino Valley Safeway gas station (where we got a 70¢/gallon discount on diesel), and a final stop at the Jack in the Box restaurant in Williams.

More about Jack in the Box

I do need to digress a tiny bit here. This was the first time since my college days 20+ years ago that I’d been in a Jack in the Box. The last one I’d been in was in Hempstead, NY. I’d been standing at the counter, waiting to place my order, when someone robbed the place by reaching over the counter and grabbing money out of the cash register drawer when it opened. The robber fled quickly — the whole thing happened in about 5 seconds. I clearly remember the manager of the place vaulting over the counter with a sawed-off shotgun. When I say it was a rough neighborhood, I’m not kidding.

The robbery isn’t why I’ve avoided Jack in the Box restaurants all these years. Back in those days, the menu at those places seemed to center around tacos that weren’t very good. I’m not a big fast-food person — I haven’t had a McDonald’s hamburger in at least 10 years — so it wasn’t easy to avoid Jack in the Box. But yesterday surprised me. Mike and I both had hamburgers (since we planned to have turkey for dinner) and agreed that they were probably the best fast food burgers we’d ever had.

Muddy Roads…Again

Anyway, we ate the burgers on the road. There was snow on the ground — maybe about 3 inches of the stuff. It was wet and didn’t completely cover the ground. The clouds were low and thick and slow-moving. Every once in a while, we’d get a clear view of some upper level clouds or some blue sky. Everything was wet and clean looking. It was so un-Arizona. It was magnificent.

Howard Mesa RoadsWe made the turn off pavement and started the five mile trek up to our mesa-top retreat. We’d gotten about 2 miles in when the road’s surface started getting snotty. That’s really the only way to describe the reddish brown dust when it gets wet enough to make mud. Soon, it had coated the truck’s tires and we were starting to fishtail. Mike put the truck in 4WD. We continued up a gentle grade. The truck would not stay pointed in the right direction. This was not a good thing since (1) the road was only a tiny bit wider than a single lane and (2) there was a deep ditch on one side with water flowing in a shallower ditch on the other side. The photo here shows what it looked like the next day, after at least two other vehicles had passed through. By this time, the snot had solidified a bit and the road was passable again.

Back in May 2005, as I summarized in my blog post, “The Roads of Howard Mesa,” Mike’s truck had slid off the road into a deep ditch about 2-1/2 miles short of our place. The conditions had been similar. We’d been fortunate in that a neighbor had seen us go off the road and had “rescued” us with a Jeep. But it had cost $250 to get a tow truck over to pull the truck out. Neither of us wanted a replay on Thanksgiving Day. So when it seemed clear that we weren’t going to make it up the hill, we decided to back down, turn around, and try another route. We wound up sliding into the shallower of the two ditches. Mike put the truck in 4WD Low and powered us down. It was a tense 5 minutes or so, but then we were making a tricky 3-point turn in a bend in the road and going back the way we’d come.

There are 3 roads to access the lots at the top of the mesa. The access road for two of them was the snot-covered road we knew we couldn’t pass. The other road went up to the west side of the mesa. Our friends live up there year-round and the road up is kept in good condition. Between their lot and our side of the mesa is a 2-track “road” carved in by ranchers and hunters years ago. It’s not maintained at all and seldom used. In fact, I’d venture to guess that I use it more than anyone else, since it’s a “shortcut” to our friends’ place from ours. But the good thing about the road is that it’s relatively level and free of the snot-like mud on all the mesa’s other roads.

So we went that way. It was a 2-mile stretch of snow-covered ruts. Mike took it in 4WD at a pretty steady pace. We were both very glad to see the big metal water tank at the other end of the road. We got back onto the gravel surface and drove the final 3/4 mile without any problems.

“Off the Grid” Doesn’t Mean without Conveniences

At our camping shed were more challenges. We had to get the systems up and running. That meant turning on AC power (flicking a switch), turning on the gas (a lever), getting the gas refrigerator started (sometimes tricky), getting the hot water heater turned on (also tricky at times), and firing up the furnace. It’s this last thing that caused the most grief yesterday. As usual, a mouse had build a home in the furnace’s burner area and it had to be cleaned out before we started it up. Our miserable ShopVac stopped sucking, making Mike’s job more difficult. He worked on it most of the afternoon while I cooked dinner.

Cooking wasn’t tough at all. After all, we had an oven big enough for our 7-lb turkey breast (and nothing else), a 4-burner stove, and the decent quality cookware I’d had at home until we replaced it last year. There’s enough counter space, a cutting board, two good quality, sharp knives, and all the bowls and other cooking implements I needed. If you didn’t know we were off the grid, you’d never guess it. The only thing I didn’t use was our 600-watt microwave — and that was mostly because I didn’t want to waste what battery power we had left on what had become a nasty, rainy day.

I made an abbreviated version of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner: turkey breast, stuffing. gravy, and rice pilaf. Although I’d fully intended to make a fresh batch of mango chutney to go with it (instead of cranberries), I’d forgotten to bring along the mango. Going to the store definitely wasn’t an option. So I made the mango chutney recipe with apples. It didn’t come out bad at all. I was going to make some brussels sprouts, but after cooking for about 3 hours, I was too tired.

By 5:30 PM, Mike had the heat going. It wasn’t cold in the shed — the oven and stove had taken care of the chill — but it was nice to get the heat up to a more normal temperature, especially while we ate. We got Jack the Dog back in — he’d spent all afternoon trying in vain to catch one of the fat pack rats living under the shed — and wrapped his wet muddy body in a towel. Then we settled down for a good Thanksgiving dinner, complete with wine.

Reward After a Long Day

After dinner, we did the dishes and spent some time relaxing. I really love it up here — it seems that the troubles of everyday life just don’t exist. We played some “Chicken Foot” dominoes, then loaded a DVD — “Flawless” with Michael Caine and Demi Moor — in my laptop, turned out the lights, and watched the movie. Later, we climbed up into the sleeping loft, where it was nice and toasty — remember, heat rises — and went to bed.

I spent a lot of time looking out the window into the almost perfect blackness. A cloud had descended onto the mesa and there wasn’t anything to see. I’m pretty sure we were the only people around for miles. Some brief flashes of light in the clouds to the north indicated a thunderstorm over the Grand Canyon.

View with FogIn the morning, when it got light, we were in a fog bank. We could see the clouds move in, then clear. It was all quiet except the sound of coyotes off in the distance.

I took this photo, mostly to remember the fog — and the moment. It’s the view from the shed, looking northwest.

In Arizona, fog is a special treat to be savored. There’s no better place to savor it than at our getaway place in the middle of nowhere.