How I feel about living in a town that was my home for 15 years without actually living in the house that was my home.
My visit to Wickenburg again this winter brings up something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately: how Wickenburg was my home but isn’t my home anymore. This wasn’t really an issue in past visits, but is really on my mind this year.
What’s different? Well, I made friends with the folks who bought my old house.
New Friends in My Old House
It was Mary who started the dialog earlier this year. My wasband had left behind a metal sculpture she thought I might want. She tracked me down online; between this blog, my business website, my Twitter account, and my Facebook account, I’m really not that difficult to find. I didn’t want the sculpture and explained why. We started a dialog in email. I thought she and her husband might like my friends Jim and Cyndi (who I house/dog sit for in Wickenburg) so I made introductions via email. They really hit it off. We became friends on Facebook. And the other day, when I arrived at Jim and Cyndi’s, I got to meet Mary and Jeff in the flesh. I think it’s safe to say that we hit it off, too.
We’ve been hiking with the dogs at least once every day since I arrived.
The other day, I went to their house (formerly my house) to lead a hike on one of the horse trails I used to take. I thought it would be a nice introduction to the trails near where they lived. (That turned into a bit of a fiasco when the trail was longer than I remembered and obviously hadn’t been used in some time so it was hard to follow. And what’s with the fences?)
This Mexican fan palm, which was about five feet tall when we planted it in 1999, is easily 30 feet tall now.
I’d flown over the house in October on my way to Chandler to drop off the helicopter for overhaul. That was the first time I’d seen it in 3-1/2 years. Oddly, I didn’t feel any emotional pangs looking down at it from about 500 feet up. It was just a nice looking house with a well-kept yard and a very tall palm tree.
Still, I thought I’d feel weird about actually going to the house. After all, it was what the court referred to as my “marital home.” But again, the weird feeling never really sunk in.
Mary and Jeff have made some changes to the house and yard that really improve it and make it look better than it ever did while I lived there. They’d increased the height of the wall around the yard and installed some really pretty yet simple metal gates where needed. Whatever vegetation had survived since my departure in May 2013 — a lot died when my wasband turned off the irrigation before deserting the place in the summer of 2012 — had really grown. The single palm tree, the mesquite (Spot’s tree) in the back yard, the two saguaros, the desert willows, and the palo verde that I’d nursed from seed were all at least twice the size I remembered them being. All the overgrown plants and weeds had been cleared out and everything was nicely trimmed.
All these things combined made the house seem different.
Is that why I didn’t really feel any weird emotions while I was there?
Or is it because my mind has completely closed that chapter of my life? Because my mind closed that chapter on the very last day I was there, when I drove away for what I thought would be the last time?
In all honesty, it really wasn’t much of a “marital home.” How could it be? More than half the time I was there during my short, ill-fated marriage I was there by myself while my wasband played house in his Phoenix condo with a roommate or went back to New York to spend time with his mommy. It was my home, the home I’d painted and furnished and decorated the way I saw fit. Where I worked and played and relaxed, mostly alone.
There had been very little input from the man who occasionally lived there with me before abandoning it for a walled-in tract home in a decaying Scottsdale subdivision. The man who, for some reason, tried to keep me out when I returned that last autumn by changing the locks and fighting me in court when I got in anyway. (As if an $8 lock would keep me out of my own home.) The man who was so desperate to get me out after the divorce trial that he agreed to give me every bit of personal property in the house and his condo that I wanted. The man who wanted it so badly in the divorce that he eventually paid me half of its court-appraised value.
And then he never moved into it, neglected it, incurred huge expenses getting it ready for sale, and wound up selling it for less than his appraiser told the court it was worth.
(Yeah: I made more money on the sale of the house than my wasband did. I did mention elsewhere in this blog that he made a lot of really stupid decisions, right?)
Anyway, although I thought I’d feel weird about going to the house, I didn’t. It was just another house. Sure, I’d lived there for fifteen years, but I’d moved out and I’d moved on. Any fond memories I had about the place had been pretty much erased by the abuse and neglect I dealt with after I married the man who seldom lived there. My mind was on my current home, a home not haunted by a failed relationship and false marriage. My old house was no longer my home and I had absolutely no regrets about leaving this one behind. I was much happier where I lived now.
The “Then” Photo
One of the things I did before leaving home this November was to track down one of the framed photos that had hung on the wall in my old house. It’s an aerial image of the house, shot in 2000, not long after I’d started the landscaping in the yard. All the trees and other plants I listed above are still quite small. My horses are down in the wash — you can see almost all of Cherokee, but just Jake’s butt sticking out from under the shade that is no longer there. I’m standing near the front door, holding my aviation radio, wondering why a helicopter is hovering over my neighbor’s house.
I packed the photo that last winter mostly because I didn’t want to leave it behind, but when I got to my new home, I had no desire to hang it. So I packed it when I headed south.
The other day, I remembered to give it to Mary and Jeff. Part of me was worried that they’d think I was just getting rid of my old junk. I was prepared for a very unenthusiastic response. But to my surprise, they liked it.
I promised them a helicopter ride to get another shot just like it, so they can get a sort of Then and Now comparison. (I hope Mary or Jeff won’t mind riding with a door off to get reflection-free photos.)
I thought I had the original floor plans for the house, too. I distinctly remember them being rolled up and stowed away in one of the poster tubes I had in my office closet. But when I went through the poster tubes I packed and brought to Washington, I couldn’t find them. Maybe my wasband has them. Maybe when his old whore reads this — she follows my blog and tweets because her own life isn’t very interesting — she’ll ask him to look for them and send them to Mary and Jeff. He knows the address.
More likely, he threw them away, as he threw away the rest of his life.
How Do I Feel?
So how do I feel about being back in Wickenburg? Great!
My hosts here have given me a very comfortable place to stay while I watch their dogs and house. I get to enjoy daily hikes out in the desert I know so well and drive my truck down the desert roads I used to bump along in my Jeep. I get to eat at the restaurants I remember and like — the pollo asado burrito I had at Filiberto’s the other day was just as amazing as I remember it and I can’t wait to get up to Nichols West, “the best restaurant in Wickenburg.” (The joke is, it’s not in Wickenburg.) I get to see old friends who are all genuinely glad to see me. And of course, I get to soak up the sunshine in warm temperatures that let me wear t-shirts so I can start working on my summer tan.
What’s not to like?
Best of all, I don’t have the burden and responsibility of owning a home here. And I don’t have to deal with local politics and policies, which are apparently as close-minded, crooked, and skewed to favor the “good old boys” as they ever were. (Seriously, Wickenburg: do you really think hanging a digital sign on the Community Center is going to get the Phoenix/Vegas drivers to stop? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people stop at destinations. Hanging a tacky sign does not make Wickenburg a destination.)
I’m not tied to Wickenburg anymore and I like that. When I’m ready to move on — or my friends start hinting that I’ve overstayed my welcome — I’ll put my camper back on my truck and head out to explore other places. And when all my friends die or move away, I’ll likely stop coming here. By then, I’ll have other places I prefer to spend my winter time — possibly places a lot farther south than Arizona.
So “home” really isn’t home anymore — and I don’t have a problem with that at all.
I took my truck out to an old favorite destination near Wickenburg this afternoon: Box Canyon. This is literally a box canyon on the Hassayampa River, partially hidden by massive salt cedar trees. Upriver from there is a narrow slot canyon that the river is always flowing through. I drove through that, too, then exited on another road I know to make a loop drive.
I was scouting for tomorrow’s trip with friends who are new to the area — I wanted to make sure it was possible to reach Box Canyon in my truck before I tried bringing my friends. I can. I’m beginning to think my truck can go anywhere.
Here are a few photos from the drive. I’ll likely have better ones if the canyon tomorrow, since we’re going at midday.
I woke at around 5 AM. Actually, Penny woke me up that early. She left the bed and for a while I just lay there, half asleep, wondering where she’d gotten to in the vast attic guest room. Then I remembered that I hadn’t closed the door and realized that she might have gone downstairs. I jumped out of bed and headed down to find her.
She was in the kitchen at the back door with the other three dogs. I opened the door to let them all out. The morning was cool and the sky was clear with the waning gibbous moon hanging high in the western sky. The autumn leaves rustled in the gentle breeze. I waited patiently, then got the dogs back in, one at a time, and closed the door.
Megg was awake, getting ready for work. We talked quietly in the kitchen for a few minutes before she headed off to the shower and I headed back upstairs.
A while later, Megg was upstairs to say goodbye. I wasn’t sure how long we’d stay — it depended on when Jeremy could be ready — and she knew she wouldn’t be home until at least 10 AM. I hoped to be in the air by then. So we said goodbye, possibly until July, and she headed off to work.
Meanwhile Jeremy was still asleep and I wanted coffee. Megg had told me about a place walking distance from her home, Alchemy Coffee. I checked it out on Google Maps and saw that it was only 0.6 miles away and opened at 6:30 AM. I got dressed, grabbed my coat and Penny’s leash, and headed out for a walk — or more like a mission — in the predawn light.
I got a neat view of the Capitol building as I walked back to Megg’s house. There was something kind of surreal about the way the first light illuminated the flag outside.
Megg lives in Salt Lake City proper, not far from Capitol Hill. If you think it would be very urban, you’d be wrong. It’s a really nice residential neighborhood with lots of houses of various styles and ages. Sidewalks on both sides of the street keep you off the road as you wander past front yards, often under overhanging trees. It wasn’t a long walk at all, but there was one steep hill, about two blocks long, just as Megg had warned me. I passed within two blocks of the Capitol building and arrived at Alchemy right around 7 AM.
I had my latte and an almond danish while sitting at an outside table with Penny. By that time, it was fully light, although the sun hadn’t cleared the mountains to the east yet. The coffee shop did a brisk business, with about half of its patrons parking briefly at the curb while they ran in for their coffee.
I caught up on Twitter and Facebook activity while I slowly drained my cup. I also checked in for my flight out of Phoenix the next day, very pleased that I’d gotten a First Class upgrade again. I switched my seat from an aisle to a window seat using the Alaska Airlines app. (Does anyone other than me remember the red paper tickets we used to have and waiting on line to change a seat?)
I texted Jeremy to let him know that I wanted to head out by 9 AM. He agreed that an early start would be best. Then I headed back on a slightly different route, really enjoying the variety of architecture along the way.
Back at the house, I let the dogs out again as Megg had asked me to. Her son was still asleep and I tried not to bother him. Jeremy was packing up. When he was ready to go — I’d already packed up before leaving for coffee — I used my phone to call an Uber. A car was at the curb less than 5 minutes later.
We talked Uber along the way. I’d recently become an Uber driver but didn’t drive much, mostly because demand was so low in Wenatchee that it was a waste of time to hang out in town waiting for a call. I learned a few things from the driver’s point of view. Unfortunately, he had trouble finding Skypark and I had to direct him the last mile or so. The fare was only around $12, which I thought was good for a 7-mile drive.
Leg 4: Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon
After preflighting and adding a quart of oil — I added either a quart or half quart at every fuel stop — we loaded up the helicopter, climbed on board, and started up. It was probably about 9:15 when we got airborne.
This closeup of the Salt Lake TAC shows how close Skypark is to Salt Lake City’s surface airspace.
The first challenge was crossing through the surface area of Salt Lake City’s Class Bravo airport along the I-15 freeway. I had to get clearance and I wasn’t able to make contract until I was airborne. Because Skylark is right next to Salt Lake City’s surface airspace, I had to head due east to make contact and get clearance. I called on the wrong frequency (of course) and had to switch to another one, which I managed to screw up once. So I was orbiting a bit out there until we got it sorted out and I got the clearance I needed. Then it was an easy flight south.
The only thing I regret is not turning on the GoPro. Although I had remembered to turn on the wifi and camera, I’d forgotten to turn the camera on. It’s a real shame because I think I could have gotten a few nice shots as we flew past downtown Salt Lake City.
The last tower I had to talk to — at least for a while — was Provo. Again, I asked for and got clearance to follow I-15 south. Using a landmark like a freeway makes it very easy to tell a tower what you want and make sure you both know exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Past Provo and abeam Spanish Fork, I veered to the east a bit to enter the valley that would take me along route 89 to Bryce Canyon. That put us in a series of long, relatively narrow valleys between mountain ranges that rose up to 9,000+ feet on the west and 11,000+ feet on the east. There were a few towns along the way and lots of farmland. Very rural, almost remote. And then another narrower, more remote valley with 11,000+ foot mountains on either side. It was 213 nautical miles from Skypark to Bryce Canyon and it took us nearly 2-1/2 hours to cover that distance. I’d been hoping to refuel at Page, AZ, but it didn’t look like we’d make it so we stopped at Bryce.
The old log hangar at Bryce Canyon Airport.
The last time I’d been to Bryce Canyon Airport had been way back in January 2013 on a photo flight with a good client. He’d been assigned by Airpano to get pictures of Bryce Canyon in winter for their panoramic image project. We flew up from Phoenix and wound up getting snowed in for two nights before we could do the shoot. You can read a bit about it here. On that last visit, the airport guy had been extraordinarily helpful with weather-related problems — so helpful that my client and I had each tipped him $100. I still have the t-shirt he gave me when I wanted to buy one; I call it my “hundred dollar t-shirt.” I was looking forward to seeing him, just to see if he remembered me. But he wasn’t there. It was a different guy who was older and not quite as friendly. I think he was put off by Penny, who first came into his office off-leash. Oops.
Anyway, he fueled us up while we used the bathroom. I was out on the ramp again chatting with him when the local sheriff’s office guy came up, in uniform. I wondered if we’d done something wrong but couldn’t imagine what it might be. But he was just there to chat with his airport buddy, to kill time on a nice day.
And it was a nice day — unseasonably warm for October, especially at Bryce’s 7590-foot elevation. The kind of day you’d want to sit out in the sun on one of the chairs they had on the FBO porch. In the 50s, at least. I didn’t even need my jacket.
Leg 5: Bryce Canyon to Sedona
Of course, Bryce Canyon Airport is only a few miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, so there’s no chance we’d leave there without a nice little flyby. I felt bad for Jeremy, who’d really hoped to visit friends and his daughter on the way south. I thought of Bryce Canyon, which he’d never been to, as a sort of consolation prize.
Bryce Canyon is really a misnomer; it’s not a canyon at all. It’s basically a cliff face where Mother Nature has eroded rocks with wind and rain, exposing the red sandstone layers and carving out towers called hoodoos. These are visible from various lookout points along a rim road on the top of the cliff as well as from the air to the southeast of the park itself. At least one tour operator does helicopter tours there. Although the airspace is clearly marked for the National Park, I know the rules: pilots are requested to avoid flight within 2,000 feet of the ground or cliffs (or hoodoos) within that area. That doesn’t mean flight is forbidden. So a quick flyby wouldn’t break any rules and likely wouldn’t bother many tourists. After all, there’s a tour operator likely flying by multiple times in a day for a lot longer and a lot closer.
And I did keep it quick. I made a big loop out toward Tropic and then came in closer with Jeremy’s side facing the park. He shot a bunch of photos. The nosecam didn’t really get any good shots, but one was sharable. Then we continued on our way.
Keep in mind that I was turning when the nosecam captured this image of Bryce Canyon.
It was around then that I first caught sight of Navajo Mountain. This is a huge landmark for me. It means coming home, returning to a place that I know very well: Lake Powell. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent over the lake with photographers on board. Easily over 200. I missed it and I wanted to fly it again, but I wasn’t interested in flying over it with a nearly timed-out engine that was making metal shavings. I’ve tentatively planned a photo shoot there in April 2017, before I bring the helicopter back to Washington from its California frost contract. If you’re interested, you might want to check this out. And tell your friends.
Typical terrain west of Page, AZ. If you look closely at the horizon, you should be able to see Navajo Mountain off it in the distance.
We took an almost direct route to Page, AZ from there, taking a slight detour to visit the Wahweap Hoodoos. Then we flew past the Glen Canyon Dam, over Horseshoe Bend, and down toward Lees Ferry. I skirted the edge of the Grand Canyon Airspace, flying over the Navajo Reservation, seeing wild horses and the remains of old hogans. All of this was familiar to me but new to Jeremy. For some reason, the helicopter felt lighter, happier, faster. Probably my imagination, but maybe it knew it was returning to familiar terrain?
Horseshoe bend from about 700 feet up. Not nearly as impressive as it is from much higher looking almost straight down.
Lees Ferry with the Vermillion Cliffs behind them.
Marble Canyon looks like a giant crack in the earth as it winds across the plateau toward the Grand Canyon.
We reached the Little Colorado River Gorge and I flew along the top of it, keeping the nosecam in mind for a different view. I think I could have gotten better shots from higher up, with the camera pointing more down. Next time?
The Little Colorado River Gorge, heading toward the Grand Canyon.
Then we climbed up onto the Coconino Plateau and I steered almost due south toward Sedona. There’s a lot of nothing out there, but Jeremy managed to spot some wild horses where I’d never seen wild horses before.
Closer to Flagstaff, the air was smoky. There were fires burning but because there were no TFRs in the area, I assumed they were controlled burns. We dropped down into Oak Creek Canyon just west of Flagstaff Airport’s airspace. It was a bit bumpy as we followed the canyon down. We were flying into the sun again, so the nosecam didn’t capture any good images. I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure this was Jeremy’s first time in Sedona. I think he was impressed by the red rocks.
We lined up to land along the taxiway. I was just looking for parking on the ramp when I remembered that they liked helicopters to park in the remote helicopter landing area far to the southwest corner of the field. I decided to try landing with the planes, which was much closer to the terminal and restaurant. I chose a spot in the last row, isolated from the parked planes, with my tail rotor out toward the taxiway so I didn’t have to worry about anyone walking behind me. In the old days, someone would get on the radio and tell me to move. But that day there was silence. There was someone mowing out by the helipads and I figured they either didn’t care or weren’t using them that day. So I shut down.
Of course, the woman operating the mower came out to scold me when the blades had stopped. She claimed it was “safer” for me to park down in no man’s land. (Okay, not what she called the helipads.) Safer? I couldn’t see how, especially since it required us to walk along an active taxiway to get to the terminal. I feigned ignorance and said we’d be gone soon anyway. Knowing she couldn’t expect me to start it back up just to move it for an hour-long stay, she left us, looking frustrated and annoyed.
I don’t see what’s so unsafe about this parking spot.
I ordered fuel and we chatted with the pilot of a Cessna on floats that was on a cross-country from Minnesota (if I remember correctly) to California. Seaplanes are pretty rare in Arizona (although the state does have more boats per capita than any other state in the country).
We went to the restaurant and got a table outside so Penny could sit with us. Our waiter, whose name was Ferrari, was very pleasant but not a very good waiter. It took forever for him to bring our drinks. (Penny actually got water before we did.) We were all famished so I ordered an appetizer to share. We both ordered salads. The food, when it came, was good and really hit the spot. I shared some of the chicken from my salad with Penny. I also had one of their mango cake desserts, which was just as delicious as I remembered it being. Jeremy picked up the extremely large tab, I paid for gas, and we headed back out to the helicopter.
Leg 6: Sedona to Phoenix
By this time, my dinner date in Wickenburg had been cancelled and I’d made arrangements to meet my friend Mike at his airpark home near Phoenix instead. He had to go to work so time was limited. Still, I couldn’t resist detouring through Wickenburg. Since my old house was sold in 2015, I’d become friends with the new owners. They’d made some improvements to the house since moving in and although I’d seen a few pictures, I hadn’t actually seen the house itself since I left it in May 2013. I thought it might be nice to do a flyby. Maybe Jeremy could get some nice aerial photos that I could pass along to the new owners.
So we left Sedona flying northwest, along the red rock cliffs. Although the light wasn’t quite right for photos, I did manage to get a few good images.
Here’s a look at Sedona right after departing northwest bound from the airport, which sits atop a Mesa.
The red rocks of Sedona, west of town.
After crossing Sycamore Canyon, I headed toward Prescott on a path that took us within sight of Jerome. From there, we transitioned the southeast side of Prescott’s airspace and followed the Hassayampa River all the way down to Route 93 in Wickenburg. I adjusted my course to intercept Cemetery Wash and followed that up past my old home. It looked great from the air — the new owners are really taking good care of it. I was amazed by the size of the Mexican fan palm in the side yard — I remember planting that tree when it was shorter than me and now it stands at least 30 feet tall. I circled the house and Jeremy shot photos. I still haven’t seen them, but I’m sure he got at least one good one to share.
From there, we headed southwest toward Vulture Peak. I did a quick flyby, pointing out the trail that wound up to the saddle for Jeremy’s benefit. I looked forward to hiking the peak in a few months when I was back in town with friends.
Then I headed southeast toward Hangars Haciendas, the airpark where my friends Mike and Cheryl live. I worked the GPS and radio. I had to connect with Luke Approach to enter and transition the jet training area northwest of Glendale. That was the biggest challenge since I was flying only about 700 feet up — my usual cruise altitude — and had to call from so far out that they couldn’t pick up my transmission. That meant climbing. We finally connected and I got a squawk code and transition instructions. They asked for my destination and I told them Hangars Haciendas.
“What airport is that near?” the controller responded.
“It is an airport,” I replied. “A residential airpark southwest of Sky Harbor.”
Clearly, he had no clue where I was going, but he understood that I had to go through Goodyear’s airspace so he handed me off to that controller when I got closer. That guy cleared me to transition eastbound along I-10. There was a tense moment when he pointed out an aircraft in downwind and I couldn’t see it. I offered to stay north of I-10 and he accepted that. Jeremy saw the plane before I did and it really was no factor. But I could tell by the controller’s voice that he was concerned. I’m sure he was glad to cut me loose.
Of course, Hangars Haciendas does not appear on my Garmin GPS, although it is on ForeFlight. I used that to zero in on it. It was very difficult to find! I finally caught sight of it and eventually saw Mike, in his uniform, waving us in to his concrete hangar apron. I landed in the corner and immediately popped my door open. It was hot!
The nosecam caught this photo of my friend Mike waving me into parking on his hangar apron.
I cooled down the helicopter while Penny and Jeremy got out. It’s kind of funny when you think about it — the next stop would be the engine’s last stop before overhaul. Why bother doing a proper shutdown? Well, why not? Surely I could spare the extra two to three minutes to take care of an engine that had been so good to me for so long.
Zero-Mike-Lima parked in front of my friend Mike’s hangar.
Mike only had about 20 minutes to spare for us. He’d been on standby and had actually been called in to work. He needed to leave before 5 PM. So he wasted no time showing off his new plane and helicopter, both of which were tucked into his hangar. I also got a chance to see his home, which was still in its final construction phase the last time I’d been there. I didn’t get a chance to see his wife Cheryl because she was basking in the sun in Hawai’i that week. She’d be home later in the week, just before he left for China.
We parted ways a short while later. Mike drove off to the airport while Jeremy, Penny, and I went back to the helicopter for the last leg of our journey.
The Last Leg: Phoenix to Chandler
I have to say that the last leg was kind of bittersweet for me. Not only would it be the last time I flew until January or February, but it also marked the end of my helicopter’s first life. Its tired airframe, engine, rotor blades, and other components would be stripped down, rebuilt, and replaced. When I got it back, it would be the same helicopter, yet different.
We took off heading almost due east along the north side of South Mountain. Jeremy spotted another helicopter at our altitude nearby — he’s actually a pretty good flying companion — and I tuned into the Phoenix Air-to-Air frequency (123.025), which I hadn’t used in three years, to make a call. The pilot of the other helicopter, with a Firebird call sign — I’m thinking either DPS or Phoenix Police — responded immediately. They were doing some training work, hovering over a South Phoenix neighborhood. We exchanged pleasantries and I continued on my way.
Flying eastbound along the north side of South Mountain near Phoenix. I don’t miss Phoenix’s smog layer at all. That day was actually clearer that most.
After I crossed I-10 and made my first radio call to Chandler tower, I turned on the cockpit GoPro, which had been set up for the entire flight but never turned on. I figured I’d document this last leg of the flight. I started off chatty enough, but soon lapsed into silence. I guess I didn’t have much to say. You can see for yourself in the video below. It’s a shame that the setting sun over my right shoulder puts so much glare into the cockpit.
For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to document the last leg of our flight with a video.
It was a very short flight — less than 15 minutes from takeoff to landing. Again, cooled down the engine before shutting down. I patted the controls and talked to the helicopter. (Yeah, I do talk to my machines, even though none of them have names or genders.) When the blades had stopped, I got out with Penny and went to find the Director of Maintenance, Paul.
Paul wheeled the helicopter into the hangar where the overhaul work would be done.
The next hour or so was spent helping Paul bring the helicopter into Quantum’s big hangar, talking to him about the little problems it had that needed attention, and discussing core and replacement options. Together, Jeremy and I unpacked the helicopter, separating everything in it into three piles: his luggage, my luggage, and the stuff that would stay with the helicopter in the wheeled box I’d brought along. I was glad that my day pack had been lightly packed for the trip because I did have to take a few things home with me — my GoPros, Penny’s bed, and my Square card reader equipment. Finally, everything was organized and packed for taking or leaving. The sun was down and we were ready to leave.
I didn’t take one last photo. After all, I’ll see Zero-Mike-Lima again in December. I know they’ll have started work by then and it’ll be partially stripped. That’s okay. I’d rather remember it from the last few photos I took during that final flight. I left it parked between two other R44s, knowing that it was in good hands.
The folks at Quantum gave us a lift to the hotel I’d reserved off I-10. The driver was studying to be a helicopter mechanic and working toward his private pilot license. He refused to take the tip I offered when he dropped us off.
We checked in and got information about a restaurant with an outside patio that was within walking distance of the hotel. I was very pleasantly surprised by how comfortable and clean my room was. This was a Quality Inn — which allows dogs — and the room rate was only $65 with tax. I had very low expectations and was so glad they delivered a much nicer room than I expected.
We walked to the restaurant, which turned out to be a very nice Italian place in a strip mall. We sat outside, where the evening air was comfortable and cool. I had two drinks to celebrate the end of the journey. We had a light dinner — mostly because we’d eaten so much at lunch — and walked back to the hotel.
I left my Colorado River backwaters campsite and was on I-10 heading east by 11 AM on Tuesday morning — a full two days earlier than I originally expected. But that was okay — I was heading back to Wickenburg, the the comparable luxury of my friends’ guest house.
It was about 100 miles or so of driving without much traffic. By noon, I was hungry. I wound up stopping for lunch at a place in Salome that turned out to be a biker bar. Whatever. I ordered a burger and sweet potato fries and ate it out in the shade on the patio. My friend Jim texted me with a lunch invitation just as I was taking delivery of my food. I felt bad having to turn him down.
The rest of the drive was completely uneventful. I drove into the outskirts of town a little after one.
Unfortunately, although Jim and Cyndi have 10+ acres of land, their driveway is narrow and twisty and likely not navigable by my truck pulling the Mobile Mansion. I had to park my rig somewhere relatively close by that would also be safe and free. I came up with what I like to think is an ingenious solution: a piece of unused pavement inside a locked fence. Sadly, I don’t feel at liberty to say more — I think I’d get into some serious hot water if lots of people started parking RVs there. Let’s just say that it falls under the “ask for forgiveness, not for permission” rule of life. When I finally told the property manager that the RV parked there for two days was mine, he was cool about it, but if I’d asked in advance, he probably would have said no.
At Jim and Cyndi’s
After parking the Mobile Mansion and offloading the things I needed with me for the next five days, I drove over to Jim and Cyndi’s house. I let myself in through the garage — neither of them were home — and let their dogs out into the yard to play with Penny. Then I settled into the same room in the guest house I’d stayed a few weeks before.
Jim and Cyndi cooked dinner for us that night: spaghetti with a thick and meaty sauce. Wickenburg treated us to an amazing sunset. I retired early to the guest house to do laundry and relax. I was asleep very early.
Sunset at Wickenburg.
On Wednesday, Jim and I went down to Phoenix to get the speakers on one of his cars fixed. We went to Fry’s Electronics on Thunderbird, which is one of the few stores in the Phoenix area that I really miss. I bought a CD head cleaner and a new battery operated vacuum for the Mobile Mansion. We sat around in the cafe, waiting for the repair to be done. Afterwards, he took me to a burger place on Bell Road that he really likes. Then another stop in Wickenburg for some errands while I did some shopping and met up with some old friends. Along the way, I passed by where my old neighbor works and had to introduce myself — he didn’t recognize me after the nearly three years since I’d moved out of town.
I made dinner that night. I had some pork tenderloin and salad and bought some macaroni and cheese to go with it. I’d invited my friends, Janet and Steve, to join us — they were also staying in town and had brought their horses by earlier in the day to stay at Jim’s place — but they’d had a late lunch. They did join us after dinner, where we all sat around Jim’s gas fire pit talking and drinking wine or beer. Steve’s dad, Archie, was also visiting. I love Archie and hadn’t seen him in at least 10 years so it was really good to give him a hug and catch up with him.
On Thursday, I took Jim out to Wickenburg airport and another friend’s house to introduce him to some of the local area pilots. Jim is a retired airline captain and I think he’s having trouble keeping himself busy. Two of my airport friends are also retired airline pilots; the others are simply involved with aviation. Three of them are building planes. We spent a few hours meeting and greeting folks. Hopefully, Jim forms some good friendships with guys he has a lot of common with.
That afternoon, the other guesthouse guest arrived. Ron is a photographer based in Cottonwood, AZ. Jim and Cyndi had purchased one of his works months before and had suggested that he get a booth to sell at Gold Rush Days, Wickenburg’s big annual event. My friend Janet, who is an artist, was also selling her work there; that’s why she and Steve were in town. Ron turned out to be a really friendly, down-to-earth guy who was a pleasure to hang out with. Jim and Cyndi took us to dinner at our favorite Wickenburg restaurant that’s not in Wickenburg, Nichols West.
On Friday morning, I helped Jim and Cyndi set up a booth in town for Cyndi to sell the jewelry she makes. Then, while Jim headed down to Phoenix on an errand, I hit the art show around the library in town. It was surprisingly busy; I didn’t expect the Gold Rush kickoff to begin until Saturday after the big parade. I visited Janet’s booth and Ron’s booth; both looked great. (Janet later won first prize for Best Booth.) I saw two metal sculptures I thought would look great hanging on the front wall of my home: different versions of a sun face over four feet in diameter. The one I liked better had a hefty price tag and I decided to give it some more thought before splurging.
Afterwards, I headed back to the house. I was tired — I hadn’t been sleeping well — and although I wanted to get my truck washed, I decided to put it off until I got to California and took the kayaks off the roof. (Yes, I drove around with the kayaks up there for five days.) I spent the afternoon napping and reading and being lazy. I’d begun reading a Robert Galbraith book and found it difficult to put down. I need that kind of reading to keep my attention.
That evening, two of Jim and Cyndi’s friends joined us for a trip up to the T-Bird Cafe in Peeples Valley for pizza. Ron didn’t come. He’d begun feeling under the weather earlier in the day and just wanted to rest. I had a great pizza topped with all kinds of meat — I love meat on my pizza; you can keep the veggies — and we all brought back some for Ron. But he was asleep, knocked out by the cold medicine.
English breakfast at Nichols West. Yum.
On Saturday, I went up to Nichols West for breakfast. Simon, the owner, is British and there’s an item called English Breakfast on the menu. I’d had it before and liked it, so I went back for more. I highly recommend it.
Penny, the tiny trail dog.
Afterwards, I headed up to Granite Lake with Penny for a hike. It was early — not even 10 AM when we arrived — and still cool. We parked on the back side of the lake and, after walking along the lake’s edge for a few minutes, struck out along a trail heading northwest. That soon joined up with another trail that climbed into the saddle between Granite Mountain and the smaller hills to the west. There were horse tracks along the trail, along with patches of ice, snow, and mud. The trees were a mix of evergreens, manzanita, and other high desert varieties. Granite boulders were everywhere. A trickle of snowmelt formed a tiny stream that wound down the hillside, sometimes across the trail, to the lake.
I did a bit of photography around Granite Lake.
I was on the trail for at least 30 minutes when I realized that I’d hiked it before. I tried to remember when I was last there and who I was with. I know I wasn’t there alone. I started wondering whether I’d hiked it with my wasband years before. I remembered that we hadn’t gone far on the trail — I certainly went a lot farther that Saturday — and recall being winded by the climb. That put it before my big 2012 weight loss, when I was really out of shape. I was still married; had we hiked the trail together? Was a hike with my wasband that unmemorable? Unless I find photos or a blog post, I’ll likely never know. It’s probably better that way.
Penny and I hiked for a little more than a mile and half before taking a break and then turning around to go back. Although only two people had passed us on the way up, we passed quite a few people on the way back. It was much later in the day and I’d taken my time on the way out, stopping many times to take photos. Back at the truck, the lot was full of cars.
Sonic drive-ins apparently aren’t designed for full-size trucks.
I did a little shopping in Prescott before heading back to Wickenburg. On the way, I stopped at the Sonic drive-in for a shake and wasn’t surprised to discover that my truck didn’t fit into the drive-in parking space, even with the mirrors folded in. Sheesh.
Back in Wickenburg, I stopped at the art show in town. I’d decided to pick up one of the two sun faces I’d seen the previous day. But I was spared the expense: they’d both been sold.
The fire pit at Jim and Cyndi’s house.
I spent a lot of the evening getting ready for my departure the next day. That meant doing laundry, organizing my stuff, and packing the truck. Jim and Cyndi made spaghetti with Jim’s excellent meat sauce for dinner. Ron, feeling better even after a full day at the show, joined us. Afterwards, we sat around the fire pit and talked. It was a nice, restful evening.
Coffee and Donuts
The next morning, I finished packing and doing laundry and cleaned up the guest house. By 8 AM, I was ready to go. I said goodbye to Cyndi — who was still in her robe — and headed out to pick up the Mobile Mansion. It took a few tries to get it hooked up — I can’t understand why sometimes I line it up just right on the first try and other times it takes a dozen tries — but then it was securely connected and I was ready to move out.
The Birth of Coffee and Donuts at Wickenburg Municipal Airport
There’s a back story for this and I’ll try to make it quick. My company, Flying M Air, LLC, took over the fuel manager contract at Wickenburg Airport in January 2003. It was a sweet deal that included full access to the terminal building and the ability to sell refreshments and pilot supplies. All I had to do was provide a warm body to pump fuel. I split the profits on all fuel sales with the city, which actually bought the fuel. Under this contract, I netted about $60K a year — with employees working 12 hours a day 365 days a year. The contract made a ton of money in the winter when the jets came in and lost some money every summer when it was too hot to fly.
(Around this time, my future wasband was between jobs and wanted to start a consulting business. I set him up in the terminal and paid him $20/hour — which was double what I paid my other employees — to be the warm body, leaving him free to do office work for his consulting business while he was there. He lasted less than a week, claiming there were too many distractions. Needless to say, that consulting business never got off the ground.)
Anyway, when I first got the contract, I naively thought that if I brought more planes to the airport, I’d sell more fuel. So I started providing donuts and coffee every Sunday morning. Donations covered all costs — which is a good thing, because the pilots who came seldom bought fuel. By the time I sold the contract in the summer of 2004, sick of dealing with the town and disappointed that my future wasband wasn’t interested in working there, it had become a tradition.
I had one more stop to make: Wickenburg Airport. I’d promised Jim that I’d introduce him to “the gang” at the weekly coffee and donuts event.
I rolled into the parking lot in my truck with the Mobile Mansion in tow. There was a crowd of people behind the terminal building, where a keypad-operated door let them into the lounge and kitchen. I was amazed by the number of people who had gathered. I knew some of them, but most of them seemed to know me — after they recognized me! (I look a bit different from the old days: considerably slimmer with long hair.) I got lots of hugs. One of my friends asked how long coffee and donuts had been a thing at the airport and was very surprised to learn it had been 13 years.
Jim showed up in his Jeep and I introduced him around. He already knew a few of the people. I’m hoping he makes socializing with the airport’s pilots a regular part of his retirement routine. I know he misses flying — despite his denials — and there are a few pilots who would welcome a companion on a trip for a $100 hamburger.
By 9:30 AM, I was ready to get on the road. I wanted to be at my next stop by early afternoon and it would be a four-hour drive. I said my goodbyes and after a tight squeeze getting out of the parking lot, hit the road, northbound.
I have to say that the best thing about this trip to Wickenburg was running into so many people I know, getting so many big hugs, and having so many people tell me how great and happy I look.
“Divorce suits you well,” one of my real estate friends said.
If you know anything about me, you probably know that I lived for about 15 years in Wickenburg, AZ, most of which was spent with my wasband — that is, when he wasn’t in one of his other homes in New Jersey or Phoenix. When I moved to Wickenburg in 1997, it was a nice western town with a real cowboy flavor. Indeed, it wasn’t unusual to see real cowboys, sometimes wearing spurs, in the supermarket. Over time, greedy real estate developers and the Realtors, mortgage brokers, and politicians that supported them rezoned much of the land to allow ever more dense housing. Horse trails in open desert were replaced by subdivisions. Since the town has very little in the way of real jobs, the new homes were bought up by retirees who often lived in town only half the year. Businesses that couldn’t survive with the seasonal fluctuations of customers regularly failed. Over time, most of our friends around our age moved away.
I started thinking seriously about leaving town as early as 2005, when I took what I commonly refer to as my “Midlife Crisis Road Trip.” For 18 or 19 days I roamed around the west in my little 2003 Honda S2000 (which I still own), exploring the countryside looking for someplace I’d rather live — at least in the brutally hot summer. I came back with the idea of building a hangar home in Cascade, ID, where I could base my business for the summer months. I even dragged my future wasband up there to see the place. But, as I soon grew to expect, he wasn’t really interested in relocating and I soon gave up.
Starting in 2008, I wound up spending my summers in Washington State, where I began to build a very good summer business that finally made my helicopter work profitable. By then, I was married to the man I’d been living with for more than 20 years. He promised me, around the time we got married in 2006, that he’d join me on the road when he turned 55 (in 2011). That’s why I wound up buying the Mobile Mansion in 2010 — I wanted enough space for two of us and our dog for up to six months a year. But in 2012, he decided he needed a mommy more than a wife who treated him like an adult and he dragged me into a long, drawn out, and oh-so-ugly divorce.
I still like Wickenburg — or at least that area of the desert southwest — despite the way the town’s government and chamber of commerce seem to be doing everything in their power to destroy what once made it such a desirable place to live. The Sonoran desert is an almost magical place, especially in the winter and spring, for exploring and hiking and horseback riding. Sometimes I almost wish I kept my house there. Almost.
And I still have friends in Wickenburg. One couple, Jim and Cyndi, have been very generous to me over the past few years, offering me their guest house as a place to stay whenever I like. I dog-sat for them last winter — they have a pair of energetic golden retrievers that Penny loves to play with — for about a week and stayed for another week. This year, I decided to take them up on their offer again and spend about a week in Wickenburg between Quartzsite and my next destination.
Getting to Wickenburg
I left Quartzsite early on Tuesday afternoon, as I reported in the previous post of this series, leaving my RV behind to get the landing gear controller card replaced. I packed all of my dirty laundry, which would provide clothes for the next week, any perishables in my refrigerator, my kayaks and related gear, and anything I wanted to bring home. That last group of things included a box full of odds and ends I’d bought during my travels and the winter gear I’d brought with me when I thought I’d be stopping in Salt Lake City on my way south. So although I wasn’t dragging the Mobile Mansion, I was driving a truck full of stuff with a pair of kayaks on the roof.
Wickenburg is only about 90 miles from Quartzsite. The route is pretty straight: I-10 to SR-60 all the way into town. Route 60 cuts through a lot of empty desert with just a few towns along the way: Brenda, which seems to exist solely for snowbirds who visit Quartzsite; Salome, which features a pair of residential airports and a lot of retirees; Wenden, a farming community; and Aguila, a sad little farm town with two or three residential air parks filled with more retirees. All of these places are a lot more remote than I’d ever want to live, with miles and miles of saguaro and mesquite-studded desert between them. I knew the route well — I’d driven or flown it many times. I made it in less than 90 minutes, making only one stop along the way to check the straps on the kayaks.
It’s a pretty straight shot through the desert from Quartzsite to Wickenburg.
The view from the guesthouse not long after I arrived. I brought my bathing suit, but it never got much above 70 during my stay.
I arrived at my friends’ house in late afternoon and we shared hugs all around. Penny immediately reacquainted herself with Bertie and Donny. After a short chat in the kitchen and a glass of wine, I brought my suitcase and cooler and Penny’s things down to the guest house. It sits in a separate yard where their pool is, offering quite a bit of privacy to both them and their guests. It also has the most wonderful sounding wind chimes outside on the patio when the wind is blowing just right. And hummingbird feeders that keep quite busy during the day.
I got my laundry started and settled in a bit. Later, I went back to the main house for a very nice filet mignon dinner, cooked up by my hosts. Cyndi suggested we go roller skating down in Glendale the next day and since I’m game to do almost anything, I agreed. Then we called it a night and I went back down to the guest house where I slept like the dead.
Still Life in Wickenburg
I’m an early riser but Jim and Cyndi aren’t. That means I had two breakfasts: the one I prepared when I got up and the one Cyndi made around 9 AM.
Afterwards, I moved my truck closer to the guest house. Jim unlocked the gate so I could come and go without going through the main house. I brought more of my stuff in, mostly to organize it. Then I pulled the kayaks off my truck. I wanted to fine-tune my setup and I didn’t want to drive around with two kayaks up there for a week.
By this time, I’d also finished doing my laundry and had taken a hot shower to wash off the Quartzsite dust and smell of campfire. It was very nice to be clean again and in clean clothes.
The rink referee took this photo of me with Cyndi. I hate getting my photo taken beside petite people because they always make me look enormous by comparison.
Cyndi and I left for Great Skates in Glendale around 11:30. I drove. I’m not sure if I wanted to show off my new truck or just felt like taking it out for a spin on a drive that didn’t start or end on dusty gravel. We arrived right after the afternoon session began. There were just three other skaters: all kids. We rented skates and got out onto the rink. I was a bit rusty at first, but the more I circled the rink, the better I got. I sort of wished I had my rollerblades with me and might bring them down for next time. It took Cyndi a bit longer to get her skating legs back and she spent some time with the rink referee — what else would you call the guy with the striped shirt and whistle? — before she skated on her own. He was a really nice guy — extremely friendly and patient — and made our visit very enjoyable. We skated for about 90 minutes, during which time I was reminded again why I don’t listen to modern pop music, before calling it quits.
We stopped at Trader Joe’s in Surprise on our way back to Wickenburg. I bought some supplies for the rest of my snowbirding trip: sardines, dips, chips, cereal, chocolate, etc. Then we headed home. It was interesting to see the changes along Grand Avenue along the way.
Later, we went out to dinner in my favorite Wickenburg restaurant — which isn’t in Wickenburg: Nichols West. I had my favorite appetizer, the fried oysters, and followed that with chicken saltimbocca. I also had one of Simon’s huge martinis, very pleased to see that he remembered I liked mine with three olives. I treated for dinner and let Jim drive my truck back.
On Thursday, I started the day early with a trip to Tractor Supply. I wanted to replace the straps that came with my kayak setup with some good ratchet straps. I also wanted to replace the bolts that held the vertical supports in place with shorter bolts. The four bolts install face down and I was very concerned with the possibility of one of them scratching the roof or sunroof of my truck if I went over a bump. They had everything I needed — it’s a great store that I wish had been around when I lived in Wickenburg — and it was nice to get everything at one stop.
From there, I visited my friends at Kaley’s. They sell and repair sewing machines and offer shipping services. They provided me with all the boxes and packing materials I needed to make my move to Washington without charging me a dime. (That was probably because of all the packing materials I’d recycled with them while I lived in Wickenburg all those years.)
Then Safeway for a few groceries.
From there, I went to Screamers, where I hoped to get a breakfast burrito. That’s when I learned that the owner, Avi, had died the previous summer. Avi was an immigrant who had bought the business from its original owner years before and he made the best breakfast. I always tried to give him business when I was in town. Breakfast, unfortunately, was not being served.
I found a new place where several other restaurants had been: the Pie Cabinet. (Did you say pie? Yes!) I went in and bought myself a slice of apple pie and a latte. I also got a whole pie for after dinner. Highly recommended.
I ordered these while I was in Quartzsite and had them shipped to Jim’s house. When I say that this is the only thing my new used truck needed to make it perfect for my use, I’m not kidding.
I got back to the house just as Jim and Cyndi were leaving for a hair appointment near Phoenix. I made plans to get an eye exam and meet a friend for lunch in the Deer Valley area of Phoenix. After installing six tie-down anchors on my truck’s bed rails, I got changed and headed out, leaving Penny behind.
I had lunch with my friend Ruth, a Phoenix area Realtor and part-time nurse. Oddly enough, I met Ruth through my wasband; he worked with Ruth’s husband years ago. When my wasband and I split, Ruth and I became friends, mostly on Facebook. When I come to Arizona in the winter, I make a point of meeting with her at P.F. Chang’s in north Phoenix for lunch at least once. She’s really upbeat and understands the importance of making your life what you want it to be.
After lunch was my eye exam. It was nice to know that my prescription has not changed. I certainly don’t want to get any blinder than I already am.
I got back to Wickenburg by late afternoon. I sat outside on the swing by the wind chimes and watched Penny play with her friends. She’s pretty funny — stealing toys from the much bigger dogs. And although either one of them could seriously hurt her, they keep their distance and just watch her antics.
Penny the Tiny Dog is a bully.
Jim made dinner — chicken marsala — and it was excellent. I brought up a bottle of wine to share with Cyndi, but she stuck with what she calls her “tried and true” favorite. More for me!
We finalized plans we’d started making to go to Flagstaff. Cyndi wanted to do some skiing and although I prefer cross-country skiing, I agreed to give downhill a try. Jim booked two rooms at the Flagstaff Marriott Springhill Suites and we planned to head north at about noon the next day. The dogs would all be boarded at Bar S Animal Clinic, where Penny had actually stayed a few times during my last few months in my Wickenburg home.
The Flagstaff Trip
I had just enough time on Friday morning to write a blog post about Quartzsite — I don’t know why I put it off so long — before we loaded up in Jim’s Expedition and headed out. We stopped at Bar S to drop off the dogs and the supermarket to pick up sandwiches. Then it was the 2-1/2 hour drive to Flagstaff. It was a nice drive across Route 74 and up I-17. I spotted a bald eagle perched on a tree branch north of Camp Verde, up on the Mongollon Rim. We got in around 3 PM.
I made dinner reservations at Josephine’s, one of the nicer restaurants that I’d eaten at with my wasband and some friends years ago. (For some reason, people seem to think I want to avoid places I’ve been with my wasband. I don’t; I’m very eager to create new memories in good places that don’t include him.) I had a wonderful pork osso bucco while Jim had beef tenderloin and Cyndi had a salad. Cyndi and I shared a bottle of Argentinian Cabernet.
Some research told us that there was an afternoon ski session at the Arizona Snowbowl that started at 11 and ran until 4:30. We decided to shoot for that the next day.
My room at the Marriott was comfortable, although the heating system was noisy. I slept well and woke early (as usual). I was very pleasantly surprised to find an excellent buffet breakfast in the lobby at 7 AM. Lots of fresh hot and cold choices. Also lots of kids in ski pants. I started wondering where they were all going.
I’d brought along some of the winter gear I’d brought with me for the Salt Lake stop I hadn’t made on my drive south: Under Armor leggings and shirt, ski pants, and ski gloves. I put it all on after breakfast and met Jim and Cyndi at 10:30 for the 20-minute drive to the Snowbowl. When we made the turn onto the 7-mile drive up the mountain, we began getting an idea of what was ahead of us. There was a line of cars with attendants telling them that the parking lots were full. A shuttle bus would take skiers up. We told them we were getting dropped off — which was the plan because Jim didn’t want to ski — and they let us go. More crowds at the rental and lift areas up top. I bet every single one of the kids from breakfast was there with parents and lots of friends.
Cyndi and I grabbed our bags and got on line. She needed rentals. I needed rentals and a lesson. The last time I’d attempted downhill skiing had been in 1982 when I was dating an avid skier. That hadn’t gone as planned. Let’s just say I never made it to the lift line.
We were on line almost two hours. The line split. My line was shorter. When I got to the front of the line, I managed to get Cyndi up there with me. The rental people had already run out of all adult snow boards, all snowboard boots over size 10, and several sizes of ski boots. When I got to the front of the line, they announced that they had run out of skis for anyone 5’4″ or taller. In other words, people like me.
Great, I thought. I have an excuse to skip skiing. Jim had gotten a parking space and was sitting at a table upstairs in the restaurant. I started thinking about cocoa, possibly spiked with Kailua.
“I’ll give you the demo skis,” the rental clerk offered. And before I knew it, she’d grabbed a set of blue skis with a $700 price tag on them and took my credit card. Petite Cyndi got the regular rental skis. No cocoa for me, spiked or otherwise.
I won’t bore you with the details of my struggle to get the ski boots on, open my rented locker at the bottom of the locker bank, or carry my skis to the lesson area by 1 PM. Cyndi disappeared. Or maybe from her point of view, I disappeared.
Heather, a girl in my ski lesson group, shot this photo of me waiting for our lessons. That’s the top of the mountain behind me.
There were dozens of people waiting for lessons. We waited some more. Eventually, they took away the people with some experience leaving 19 raw beginners behind. We split into two groups. We went with Instructor Tim to a spot about a third of the way down what I’ll refer to as the Bunny Hill.
There were lots of people taking skiing or snowboarding lessons on the hill. Easily over 100 of us. While Tim taught us basics, we were treated to a free show of wipe-outs. No one got hurt. It was all kind of funny. We’d be performing soon enough.
I also won’t bore you with how Tim taught us. It was good and thorough and it took a lot of time because we had a lot of practice. Still, it was 90 minutes before we actually had both skis on. Once we demonstrated that we knew how to turn, he set us a goal of getting to the bottom of the hill so we could get on line for the conveyor belt back up.
Mount Humphreys of the San Francisco Peaks is the tallest mountain in Arizona. The snow bowl sits on its southwest side. The red X near the bottom of this image is the Bunny Hill, which sits at about 9,200 feet elevation.
I didn’t do badly. In fact, I was one of the few who didn’t fall until we had both skis on. I fell during practice, which was a real pain in the ass because I couldn’t get up with the skis on. So it basically took me 10 minutes to get ready for another try. And then, when I was ready to try again, a newbie on a snowboard wiped out right into me, throwing me right back into the snow, this time with both skis pinned partly under me and my knees bent in painfully awkward positions. Lying flat on my back, I couldn’t really move.
My instructor skied right up and released my two skis while reading the snowboarder the riot act. “You’re responsible for avoiding everyone downhill of you,” he said. “In the state of Arizona, what you just did would qualify as a traffic accident.”
I assured everyone I was okay and accepted the snowboarder’s repeated apologies. It bothered me more that he’d knocked me flat right after I’d spent 10 minutes getting up than the fact that he’d hit me at all.
Another try, another fall. It was getting old but I was improving.
My next try was dramatic because I went faster than I wanted to and found myself heading right toward a group of people. Somehow I managed to turn and miss them and then another group before pointing parallel to the hill and coming to a stop. My instructor was very excited and pleased with my progress. But in my eyes, I’d screwed up because I’d wound up somewhere other than where I wanted to be.
I skied over to the line for the conveyor belt and promptly fell. Sheesh.
Once I was on the belt, the lesson was over. As I rode up, I looked at the Bunny Hill. Could I ski that by myself? Did I want to try?
But I was saved by the bell. My phone rang. It was Jim. Cyndi wanted to call it quits at 3:30. I looked at my watch. It was 3:10. No time for skiing — I had to head back.
I took off my skis at the top of the conveyor belt and walked back up to the rental shop. Due to the high elevation (and too much time spent too close to sea level lately), I had to stop three times to catch my breath.
Needless to say, I was very glad to get rid of the skis and boots, change into my jeans, and wait with Jim for Cyndi. He’d fetched the car by the time she came out and we were headed back down the mountain by 4 PM.
It was the second time in my life I’d bought a lift ticket I hadn’t used. And yes, it will be the last. Downhill skiing is not for me. I can fly a helicopter, but I’ll never be a skier. I guess I’ll just have to settle for that.
We went back to the hotel for a while, then went out for pizza at a restaurant I can’t recommend. I had a calzone and it was good but it took forever to get. And I don’t think either Cyndi or Jim were happy with their pizza.
I’d had the foresight to crank up the heat while we were at dinner so my room was toasty warm when we got back. I then turned off the heat for the night so I didn’t have to listen to it.
Still, I was tossing and turning very early in the morning with pain in my left knee. Apparently that snowboarder crash incident had done some damage. Being still overnight had caused the knee to stiffen up. When I finally woke at 5 AM, I was in a bunch of pain. Ibuprofen and ice, my Facebook friends recommended. So while I waited for Jim and Cyndi to wake up down the hall, I nursed my knee, read the news, did a crossword puzzle, and heated up my leftover calzone in the microwave for breakfast.
I brought the ice with me in the car for the ride home.
Back in Wickenburg
Sunday gave us another gorgeous afternoon down in the Sonoran Desert.
We were back at Jim and Cyndi’s house by noon. I’d been missing Penny since I dropped her off on Friday, but being back at the house without her really made me miss her more. But Bar S wasn’t open on Sunday so I’d have to wait until Monday morning to get her.
I relaxed and snacked on some of my Trader Joe’s goodies. Their corn and black bean salsa is very good with their multigrain tortilla chips. I also washed my ski clothes and hung them on hangars to dry. And I started this blog post.
My knee wasn’t bothering me much. I don’t think there’s any serious damage.
I went out to replace the long bolts on my kayak carrier. The rear rack was easy to get to — I could reach it standing in the truck bed — but the front one was a different story. I had to climb up on the hood of the truck and sit against the top of the windshield. It was tougher to get down than get up. But I like the way the new bolts fit — flush with the bottom of the rest of the hardware. No worries about long bolts scratching the top of my truck.
On Monday, at 8 AM sharp, I was back at Bar S to pick up Penny. Since I knew Jim and Cyndi slept late, I figured I’d pick up Bertie and Donny, too. They climbed into the back seat of my truck while Penny sat up front. It was good to have her back.
Around midday, I decided to take a hike on the Vulture Peak trail. Vulture Peak is the landmark mountain south of Wickenburg. It’s an old volcanic core with much of the rest of the mountain eroded away. I could write more about it, but I already have; read about a 2009 hike with my wasband and his cousin here. Of course, I’ve hiked it several times since then — in fact, it was a favorite destination during my last winter season in Wickenburg. I’d lost so much weight the previous summer that I was able to reach the summit without so much huffing and puffing.
In the old days, when my Jeep was in town, I’d drive my Jeep to the trailhead at the base of the mountain. The Jeep road was narrow and very rough and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to attempt it in my big truck. So I drove to the parking area for the main trailhead. There was just one spot open in the lot, right next to a car that looked a lot like my 1987 Toyota MR-2. As I parked, I realized that it was my old Toyota.
Although I’d given this car to someone who lived in Wickenburg, I still think it’s a weird coincidence to see it parked in that parking lot on the same day I came to hike.
Back in 2011 or 2012, I’d given it to my local helicopter mechanic and he was still driving it. I ran into him and his wife on the trail. After exchanging hugs and catching up a bit, he confirmed that it still had the same clutch — I’d bought the car new 30 years ago and had learned to drive stick shift on it. That says a lot about Toyota reliability.
Penny and I hiked on the foot trail from the main trailhead to just past the one at the base of the mountain. That’s where I stopped for a break and to eat the chicken I’d picked up at the supermarket along the way. I took a lot of photos, both with my iPhone and with my Nikon D7000, which I rarely use. The Nikon had been giving me exposure problems and I was doing some tests with it. No sign of problems that day, though.
The view from the foot trail between the main parking area and the trailhead at the base of Vulture Peak. No flowers, but lots of cactus.
After a rest and some water for both me and Penny, we headed back to the truck. This time, we walked on the Jeep trail I used to drive up. It’s not nearly as pleasant a walk — it doesn’t go up and down and wind around as much — but it might be slightly shorter and I was curious to see its condition. It wasn’t bad until we got near the where it comes out of the wash. On both paths in, it was too badly eroded to take a big truck through.
This shot of Vulture Peak was taken from the foot path near one of the places where the Jeep road (on the left) comes close.
We got back to the truck a little after 2 PM. Instead of heading straight back to the house, I drove out to the local airport. I was looking for a place to park the Mobile Mansion for a few days where it would be safe while unattended. I figured the fenced-in airport area was a good option. I found a spot that was out of the way and easy to get to. And there was a good chance no one would actually take notice of it there until I was ready to hitch it back up and continue my travels.
While I was there, I chatted with one of the pilots — someone I didn’t know who knew me. (I lot of people in Wickenburg know me.) I was hoping to get a bunch of the pilots together for one of their infamous afternoon cocktail hours so I could introduce recently retired airline pilot Jim. The pilot who was there suggested that we come by on a Sunday morning for coffee and donuts at the terminal — a weekly ritual that I started when I held the airport fuel manager contract in 2003-2004. (They never stopped doing it.) I’m still hoping to get an afternoon party going when I come back to town.
I secured both kayaks to the roof of my truck by myself. Not terribly difficult, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it every day.
Back at the house, I took it easy for a while, then went out to prep for my departure. The main thing I needed to do was get the kayaks back on the roof of my truck. I fiddled around with the roof rack a bit to fine-tune its setup, then lifted the kayaks into place, one by one, and secured them. They’re not terribly heavy, but they are awkward. And I didn’t want either one of them to fall off before I could secure them, especially with a truck door open. The whole thing went smoothly, though, and I was able to tightly secure them with the new ratchet tie-down straps I’d bought. I then trimmed about 3 feet off each strap and using Velcro ties, secured the loose ends. I’m still not 100% happy with the way the rack attached to the roof at the front of the truck, but since everything held together, I can’t complain.
I spent some time doing a load of laundry and packing my bags. The things I had with me were going to two different places: some of the things would be going back home to Washington with me later in the week while other things were going to be stored in the truck and taken back to the Mobile Mansion when I returned. I had to be careful about how I packed so I didn’t screw things up. At first, I thought I could get everything to go home into my big suitcase with my little suitcase inside it, too. When I did that and tried to lift it, I realized that it would be more than the 50 pounds allowed by the airline. So I kept the little bag separate. Because I’m an Alaska Air MVP frequent flyer, I get two bags checked free.
Jim and Cyndi made a chicken and spinach dish for dinner and then settled down to watch the Democratic town hall meeting on television. I went back down to the guest house, enjoyed the peace and quiet of a star-filled sky for a while, and then went in to finish packing.
As usual, Penny went back to bed after her morning pee. But Tuesday morning, I had to chase her off the bed.
I woke early (as usual) the next morning, stripped the bed, and got the laundry going again. Whenever I stay at the guest house, I leave it as clean (or cleaner) than I found it. I had plenty of time to launder the sheets and make the bed, so I did. I also had coffee and breakfast in the guest house, followed by a second breakfast at 9 with Jim and Cyndi in the main house.
I packed the truck as carefully as I packed the bags that went into the truck. I wanted all the things that would go home to be together so I didn’t have to struggle to find them at my next stop.
Then it was 11:15 and time for me to head out to my next destination.
A quick summary of where the current images were taken and who I was with.
You may not realize it, but I shot all of the photos that appear in the header on this site. There are currently more than 90 of them and they’re set up to appear randomly. Each time you visit this site or click a link to another page here, the image up top should change.
I noticed just the other day that although all images were shot within the past 10 years, the vast majority were shot when I was alone. That made me realize how much I traveled by myself, even when I was married, and how the places and things I saw were beautiful or interesting enough to capture an image of.
Anyway, here are the images, with summaries.
This was an alfalfa field near where I spent my summer in Quincy, WA. I think I shot this in 2008. Alone.
American Coot Family 1 & 2
I shot these two images at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.
I like photos that show texture. These close up photos of bark were shot at Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.
Barn Roof, Wagon, and Waterville Farmland
These three images were shot on the Waterville Plateau near Douglas, WA, probably in 2009. I was with my wasband.
I’m pretty sure this photo was shot while repositioning my RV from Washington to Arizona by way of Glacier National Park with my wasband — one of the last “vacations” we had together — in 2009. I think it’s at Palouse Falls.
BC Mountains Pano
This was shot from a cruise ship on an Alaska Cruise with my wasband in 2007. Our last day on board took us between Vancouver Island and the mainland.
This was shot at Quincy Lakes in 2008 or 2009. I assume BHCB is an abbreviation for the type of bird. Alone.
I liked the way the sun shined through these leaves in the late afternoon. Shot at Quincy near the golf course in 2008. Alone.
Blue Heron & White Heron
I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in Central California in 2014 when I shot these photos of herons.
This was shot at Glacier National Park in 2009 while traveling from Washington to Arizona with my wasband.
Bryce and Bryce Dawn
These two photos were shot at Bryce Canyon in 2011. I’d gone there with a client in January on a photo flight for this 360 interactive panorama: Bryce Canyon in Winter, Utah, USA.
These four images of Cache Creek were taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on an early morning flight up Cache Creek in Central California in 2014. I was alone.
This image of a ridge and cloud-filled valleys was taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on a flight between Wenatchee, WA and Hillsboro, OR in 2012. I blogged about the flight here and shared video from the flight here. It’s notable not only for the perfect weather and amazing scenery, but because it was my dog Penny’s first helicopter flight — 90 minutes long! And yes, that is Mt. St. Helens in the background.
Cherry Drying Cockpit
This is a shot from a GoPro camera mounted in the back of my helicopter during a cherry drying flight. It was probably taken in 2011.
Close Up Wheat
This closeup of wheat growing in a field in Quincy, WA was shot in 2009. I was alone.
This aerial shot of a wheat combine at harvest on the Waterville Plateau in North Central Washington was shot in 2011 during a flight between Wenatchee and Coeur d’Alene, ID. My friend Jim was flying his helicopter; I was on board with a camera.
I like patterns. This field of young corn plants in Quincy, WA was capture in 2009. I was alone.
Cows in the Road
I was on my way up to my old Howard Mesa, AZ place one bright winter day when I came upon these cows following tire tracks in the road. When I approached, they just stopped and stared. I took a photo before continuing, herding them along with my Jeep. I can’t be sure of the date, but I expect it was around 2003 or 2004. I was probably with my friend Jeremy.
I shot this alongside the road to Alstrom Point on the northwest end of Lake Powell in Utah. It was probably shot in 2008. I was alone.
Crescent Bar View, Yellow Flowers
I shot these photo of Crescent Bar in Quincy, WA in 2009 not long after drying a cherry orchard down by the river there. I was alone.
I shot this photo of a dandelion seed puff in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.
Desert Still Life & Desert Wildflowers
I shot these photo of hedgehog cacti blooms and California poppies near Wickenburg, AZ between 2009 and 2011. It was probably on one or two Jeep outings and I was probably with either my wasband or my friend Janet.
Patterns and textures again. This was shot in Alaska sometime during a cruise with my wasband in 2007.
I shot this image of a float plane taking off at an Alaska port while on a cruise with my wasband in 2007. It was shot from the balcony of our stateroom.
Golden Gate Bridge
This image of the Golden Gate Bridge was shot during a trip to San Francisco in 2011. Not sure if I was alone — isn’t that odd? — but I was probably there for a Macworld Expo speaking gig.
Glacial River Rocks
I shot this closeup of rocks in a river bed while on a trip to Denali National Park in 2007 with my wasband.
Attach a GoPro to the bottom of a helicopter with the lens pointing down. Then hover over a golf course green and drop hundreds of golf balls. This is what it might look like. Shot in late 2011 or early 2012. My client was dropping the balls.
Grand Canyon Sunset
I’ve been to the Grand Canyon countless times so I don’t know exactly when this was taken or whether I was alone. I know it was shot before the summer of 2011.
Gyro Cache Creek & Gyro Pattern
I learned how to fly a gyroplane in the spring of 2014. These two shots were made with a GoPro mounted on the mast. In the first shot, I’m flying up Cache Creek; in the second, I’m doing a traffic pattern at Woodland Airport. Both were shot in Central California.
I’m pretty sure this was shot on the road between Upper Moses Coulee and Waterville in North Central Washington in 2009. I was alone.
This is a photo of my helicopter right after sunrise parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.
This was shot in 2008 near the Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, WA. I was on a daytrip with my wasband.
Another trip to the Grand Canyon. I suspect I was alone when I shot this one, possibly on a day trip by helicopter with clients from Phoenix. Sometime between 2009 and 2011.
Here’s another straight down image shot with a GoPro from my helicopter. This was Peoria, AZ in 2011 or 2012. I was alone.
I set up a GoPro on a tripod to record a beehive inspection in 2013. That’s me in the picture; I was alone.
This is a closeup of an old International truck parked outside the bakery at Stehekin, WA. I was there with my wasband and another couple on a helicopter trip in 2011.
Shot in 2008 at Quincy, WA. I was alone.
Patterns again. These are orchard ladders neatly stacked at an Orchard in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008.
An aerial view of Lake Berryessa in Central California, shot with my helicopter’s nosecam in 2014. I was alone.
Lake McDonald Sunset
This was shot on a trip to Glacier National Park with my wasband in 2009.
Another nosecam image from my helicopter. This is a dawn flight over Lake Pleasant near Phoenix, AZ. I was alone.
Maine Coastal Town & Main Fog
I shot these during a trip to Maine to visit some former friends with my wasband back in 2008 or 2009.
Another nosecam image from my helicopter. I’m pretty sure I shot this one on my way back from a Bryce Canyon photo shoot with a client in 2011.
An aerial view of the so-called “mini-stack” of at I-17 and Route 101 in north Phoenix, AZ. Probably shot in 2011 or 2012.
Mission Ridge Pano
I shot this photo from Wenatchee Mountain near Wenatchee, WA during a jeep ride to Mission Ridge with my friend Don in 2014. What an amazing day!
I’ve flown over Monument Valley dozens of times. Once in a while, there’s a camera on the helicopter’s nose. This was probably shot in 2011. I was either alone or with aerial photo clients.
Monument Valley Wide
I used to do multi-day excursions by helicopter to Arizona destinations that included Monument Valley. While my clients took tours, I’d explore on my own. This is Monument Valley from the overlook, shot in 2010 or 2011.
I used to camp out at a friend’s place overlooking Squilchuck Valley near Wenatchee, WA. This was one of the early morning views from my doorstep. I was alone.
North to the Future
I shot this in Girdwood, AK in 2008. I’d gone up there alone for a job interview. I got an offer but turned it down. Beautiful place.
I shot this with my 10.5mm fisheye lens at Lake Pateros, WA in 2008. I was with my wasband.
Orchard Still Life
These are apples culled from the trees in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008; I was alone.
This is one of the dozens of peacocks strolling around at the Lake Solano campground in central California. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.
This is one of the few images I didn’t shoot. I was on a kayak trip in the American River near Sacramento with a Meetup group and one of the other members shot this and sent it to me.
I’m not sure, but I think this was shot in Vantage, WA in 2008 or 2009. I was probably alone.
Another nosecam image, this time of downtown Phoenix. Shot in 2011 or early 2012; I was likely on a tour with passengers.
Poppies and Chicory
Another desert jeep trip near Wickenburg, AZ. I could have been alone, with my wasband, or with my friend Janet.
This wildflower closeup was shot on a trip to the Seattle area, possibly in 2007 with my wasband and his cousin.
A Gambols quail hen and her chicks, shot from my doorstep in Wenatchee Heights, WA in 2012. I was alone.
Put a GoPro in a head mount, get in a raft, and head down the Wenatchee River and this is the result. I was rafting with a bunch of friends in 2013.
Red Wing Blackbird
I shot these at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.
Rocks Under Water
I’m pretty sure I shot this in 2009 at Glacier National Park on a trip with my wasband.
I shot this photo of saguaro cacti among sandstone boulders near Congress, AZ on a Jeep trip in 2009 or 2010. I was probably with my wasband.
This is an aerial shot of the sand dunes west of Yuma, AZ. This was probably shot in 2008 on a flight to the San Diego area with my wasband.
What a memorable flight! This was on a ferry flight from the Phoenix area to Seattle in 2008. Another pilot was flying my helicopter so I got to take photos. Low clouds over the coast forced us high over San Fransisco. Amazing views!
The red rocks of Sedona at Oak Creek. Shot in 2010 or 2011 while on a multi-day excursion with passengers.
The view from where I spent several late summers at Wenatchee Heights. This was probably shot in 2012.
This is an aerial shot of the old Grand Canyon Railroad steam train. I used to buzz that train with my helicopter any time I saw it from the air. This was probably shot in 2007. I was alone.
I shot this on a photo walk at the San Xavier Mission in Arizona with my wasband and a group of photographers.
I can’t be sure, but I think I shot this from Howard Mesa in 2006 or 2007.
Surprise Valley Drugs
I shot this in California during my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” I was alone. It was one of the best vacations in my life.
An early morning shot of my helicopter parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. Shot in 2014; I was alone.
Another shot from my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” This was at the Grand Tetons.
Shot while I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in 2014.
I shot this at Brewster Airport in Brewster, WA on a day trip with my wasband in 2008.
Textures and patterns. What’s not to love about them? Shot in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.
Yellow Headed Blackbird
I shot both of these photos at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.
A yellow flower. Probably shot somewhere in Washington state in 2011 or 2012. I’m sure I was alone.
Although my kayaks are yellow, this isn’t one of them. This was shot at Glacier National Park on a trip there with my wasband in 2009.
A drawback of having just one phone for business and personal use.
The phone rang at 5:44 AM.
I was still in bed, but awake and reading. I’d slept great, hitting the sack at about 10:00 the night before and sleeping soundly until about 5:30 — close to eight hours of uninterrupted rest! My “morning routine” starts in bed, reading and sometimes doing a crossword puzzle on my iPad until it starts getting light outside. I was in the reading phase of that routine when the phone rang.
No one likes getting a phone call “in the middle of the night.” Now I know it wasn’t the middle of the night, but it was early enough to make me wonder what was important enough to call someone when they’re likely to be sleeping — obviously an emergency.
The phone said the call was from “Palmdale Area.” I only know one Palmdale, and it’s in California. In the seconds before answering, I consulted the database in my brain, trying to think of who in California would be calling me so damn early. One of my frost clients, maybe?
“Flying M, Maria speaking.” That’s the way I answer the phone when the call is either from a known client or an unknown caller.
The person on the other end seemed mildly surprised that I’d answered. “Is this Maria? Did I get you up?”
“Yes, it’s Maria but no, you didn’t get me up. Who is this?”
“Oh, this is Joe. I’m in Wickenburg right now.”
Joe is the name of the man who was gracious enough to offer me his house for the winter while he went to Arizona. (Well, it isn’t really Joe, but neither was the caller’s name. I’m hiding their identities for privacy sake. The names were the same.) Wickenburg was the town I used to live in in Arizona. Although it didn’t really sound like the Joe I know, I assumed it was him and that he’d come to Wickenburg and needed something from me, a former resident.
Of course, that assumption quickly evaporated as the caller hurried on. “I understand you used to run the FBO here. I emailed you the other day. I need a helicopter here.”
I remembered his email. Like most of the other email I get from people who have contacted me from Flying M Air’s website — where it clearly says I no longer operate in Arizona — I’d deleted his message. My bad.
“I don’t operate in Arizona anymore,” I said, starting to lose my patience. (How much patience do you have at 5:44 AM, less than 10 minutes after you’ve woken up?) “I don’t know of any operator in the area who can help you.”
I was ready to hang up but he wasn’t.
“Well, I need a helicopter here and was hoping you could refer me to someone who has one.”
“I was the only commercial helicopter operator in Wickenburg,” I told him. “I never had enough work to support my business there. I doubt whether anyone else would be stupid enough to start another helicopter charter business in that town.”
“Yeah, but maybe an ag ship? Something like that that I might be able to get my hands on?”
I might have laughed into the phone. “There are no ag ships in that area. There’s no agriculture in Wickenburg.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.”
I wanted to get off the phone and, at about this point, I started thinking about just hanging up on him. Seriously: I was that annoyed. But I really don’t want to be rude to people.
“You might try one of the operators down in Phoenix,” I told him.
“Yeah, I guess I could do that.” A pause, then: “Hey, did you hurt your foot about six years ago?”
Convinced I hadn’t heard him right, I said, “Excuse me?”
“Did you hurt your foot about five or six years ago?”
“No,” I replied.
“Okay.” Another pause. “Well cherry drying work must be doing pretty good for you up there.”
I couldn’t believe it. This guy called me at a quarter to six in the morning and was trying to have a conversation with me. “It’s fine,” I told him. I sat up in bed. Nature was making its first call of the day. I wanted to be off the phone. “Listen,” I said, “Do you realize that it’s a quarter to six in the morning?”
“Well, I’ve been up for two hours.”
“Maybe you might want to wait until at least eight before calling people?”
“Yeah, but I’m Florida and I run on east coast time. It’s nine o’clock there.”
I thought to myself: Who the hell cares what time zone you operate on? You called someone in Washington. But I said: “I really can’t help you. Sorry.”
I heard him disconnect before I was able to push the end button.
I guess it’s time to revisit the Do Not Disturb feature on my phone.